The flip of the calendar from December to January provides a new opportunity for players across the league landscape to make their mark. Here’s a look at five players who will look to build on the momentum they’ve established so far this season and carry it into 2023.
Quinten Grimes started just six games as a rookie last season and started this season as a backup as well. But he was moved into a starting position in late November, and he’s done all he can to take advantage of the opportunity. He averaged career highs across the board and had three 20-point performances since being drafted in the top five. He’s the prototypical wing in today’s NBA because of his ability to spread the floor on offense, and he’s shown real promise as a perimeter defender.
It’s not entirely coincidental that the Knicks went on an eight-game winning streak shortly after Grimes started (though they’ve come back down to Earth a bit lately). New York’s top two lineups statistically both feature Grimes, and he has the third-best efficiency differential on the team behind Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley, according to Cleaning the Glass. His role could continue to expand in 2023 as he continues to come into his own as a player.
Jaylen Williams hasn’t received as much hype and attention as some of the other players drafted ahead of him in the talented 2022 NBA Draft, but he’s been quietly having a solid rookie season in Oklahoma City. He is averaging 11.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game on the season while shooting over 50 percent from the field. While he needs to improve his 3-point percentage (28 percent on the season), he has real touch around the rim, where he finishes 71 percent of his shots. His quick jump and athleticism help there.
Early in the season, his role fluctuated between starter and backup, but he’s been a consistent starter over the past few weeks, playing nearly 30 minutes per game, and he’s seemed to get more and more comfortable on the floor. In the latest edition of our rookie rankingsJasmine Wimbish said about Williams’ upward trajectory.
He has such a great feel for the space around him on the floor and probably already knew he could make that spin move and go up for a dunk, which is probably why he was smiling at running back on defense. Williams continues to shine the more opportunities he gets to create for the Thunder, and if he continues in this direction, it can only lead to good things for his career and OKC’s future.
There is a lot of young talent in Oklahoma City, but in 2023, Williams should have a chance to really stand out.
After one season in Phoenix and three in Memphis, De’Anthony Melton is flourishing in his first season with the Sixers. He started 24 games due to injuries to James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, and he averaged career highs on the boards with 11.8 points, 3.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds and two steals in 30.2 minutes per game. He’s proven to be an ideal complement to Harden and Joel Embiid as a player capable of reliably spacing the floor on one end and solid perimeter defense on the other. An active defender, Melton is second in the NBA in steals per game and third in deflections.
He played so well in Philadelphia’s starting position that he is case be made that he should proceed to commence even when the team is at full strength. Even if Melton is eventually returned to a backup role, he will still play an integral role in any success the Sixers are able to achieve for the remainder of this campaign. In the process, he’ll have a chance to continue establishing himself as one of the best two-way players in the league.
Sengun is one of the most promising young players in the entire NBA. He is averaging 14.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 26.4 minutes per game while shooting 55 percent from the floor for Houston. He has strong feet and good touch around the rim, and he’s already improved as a passer from his rookie to sophomore season. As a result, he has caught the eye of some of the league’s top players with his promising play.
“The man is talented,” reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic said of Sengun. “He can pass the ball, post up, has touch and finishes well at the rim. I think they need to play through him more.”
Don’t worry, Nikola. As long as Sengun continues to play at the level he has so far this season, there are more minutes and recognition in his future.
Brandon Ingram’s extended injury absence has opened up an extra opportunity for Trey Murphy III this season, and he’s taken advantage of it. He’s playing twice as many minutes per game as he did last season as a rookie, and all of his scoring stats have doubled as a result. He’s shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc on the season, which makes him a perfect fit alongside guys like Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum as he serves to spread the floor for them. He also has the size and athleticism to be an impact defender, and he’s making strides in that direction.
Even if Murphy returns to the bench when Ingram returns, he’s clearly established himself as an important part of New Orleans’ rotation, and as a result, he could be in for a big 2023.