Gordon Hayward and LeBron James were respectively stellar in leading their teams to victory on Tuesday evening, but the top star of last night's slate was undoubtedly Devonte' Graham of the Charlotte Hornets.
The former Kansas product is breaking out in his second year in the Association, confirmed by ranking 29th overall on our basketball Player Rater, given such a solid balance of scoring, shooting and passing production. Graham delivered a career-high 35 points in the overtime win over Indiana on Tuesday, establishing a Hornets franchise record for scoring from the bench.
The list of players averaging at least six assists and three 3-pointers per game this season includes Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, Kyle Lowry, James Harden, Trae Young, Bradley Beal and Graham. While his inclusion in this collective of superstars appears aberrational, Graham is being trusted to orchestrate the Charlotte offense even with Terry Rozier enjoying career highs in usage and passing production.
The sample remains decidedly small, but Graham is making an early bid for Most Improved Player, given his leap from a forgettable rookie season to a spectacular sophomore campaign. Currently rostered in just 35% of ESPN leagues, go get Graham before your competition does.
Devonte' Graham, Charlotte Hornets: 35 points (10-21 FG), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 TO
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics: 39 points (17-20 FG), 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 TO
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers: 30 points (10-19 FG), 10 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 2 TO
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets: 7 points (1-5 FG), 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 TO
On the other side of the floor from Graham last night, the Pacers' T.J. Warren produced 33 points while missing just three of 18 shots from the floor. Warren's 83% shooting clip is the best by a Pacers player (min. 15 attempts) since Clark Kellogg made 94% of his shots back in January of 1985. Warren won't offer you much beyond scoring as a fantasy option, but at least he's warming up. Indiana's Malcolm Brogdon notched 31 points and eight assists to become the only Pacers player in the past 35 seasons with at least 15 points and five assists in each of his first seven games of the season.
The Lakers overcame a 19-point deficit in Chicago, their largest comeback win since last March against, well, Chicago. Los Angeles moved to 6-1 this season, their best seven-game start since 2010-11. They secured their sixth straight win, thanks to James' third straight game with a triple-double, tied for the longest streak of his career (the other streaks came in March of 2009 and Dec. of 2017). James is the first Lakers player with three straight triple-doubles since Magic Johnson, March 31-April 5, 1987 (four straight).
Hayward tied a career high in points and scored or assisted on 57 points, the second-highest total tally in his career. In a remarkable bit of shooting efficiency more impressive than even Warren's hot hand, Hayward became just the second player in NBA history to go 16-of-16 or better on two-point field goals in a game, joining Wilt Chamberlain (done twice). The stats match the tape this year in what could truly be a return to his elite level play in Utah, as Hayward has looked great thus far this season as one of the Celtics' key creators on offense.
The Thunder have now won back-to-back games after starting the season 1-4. A good deal of their success is due to the breakout campaign Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is putting together. SGA registered a game-high 24 points last night, his fifth 20-point game of the season after having just six such games as a rookie.
Trae Young's return to action on Tuesday was undeniably triumphant; he delivered a game-high 29 points in a win over the Spurs to become the first Hawks player with four 25-point games within their first five games of season since Joe Johnson in 2006.
The more significant news out of Atlanta is John Collins facing a 25-game suspension for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program. Jabari Parker steps into a starting role with far more offensive equity with Collins sidelined; the Duke product produced 19 points with eight rebounds in 32 minutes and a start last night. Shares of both Parker and rookie De'Andre Hunter could prove rewarding, given the void left in Collins' absence.
Injuries of note
A sprained ankle has D'Angelo Russell listed as questionable ahead of tonight's tilt with the Rockets. Draymond Green has been ruled out with a finger injury, leading to increased interest in surging rookie Eric Paschall tonight.
Detroit's Blake Griffin remains out with lingering hamstring and knee soreness. Derrick Rose is also sidelined with a hamstring injury. It's tough to tell who benefits in the frontcourt beyond Andre Drummond with Griffin out, but Rose's absence vaults Bruce Brown into a starting role worthy of attention in deeper leagues.
Kawhi Leonard will rest tonight ahead of a potential marquee matchup with Milwaukee due to, you guessed it, load management. With the Clippers facing a back-to-back scenario today and Thursday, this shouldn't come as a surprise, given how Leonard avoided playing in both games of back-to-backs with Toronto last season. With Leonard resting, Lou Williams' scoring ceiling is considerably higher, as is the pick-and-roll volume we might see for Montrezl Harrell.
Jaren Jackson Jr. avoided a serious knee injury over the weekend and could play tonight as a game-time decision, per buzz from the Grizzlies' beat.
Analytics advantage for Wednesday
The Rockets are 4-3 this season, but the defense has been a major issue. They rank last in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage allowed this season. Houston also ranks 28th in defensive efficiency in allowing 113.6 points per 100 possessions to opponents, ahead of only the 1-6 Pelicans and their opponents on Wednesday, the Warriors, with Golden State ceding a league-worst 117.6 points per 100 possessions.
While the marquee names are likely missing for Golden State, I'll gladly stream the likes of Paschall, Ky Bowman and Alec Burks against Houston's generous defense, especially as Houston rates second in the league pace (108.3 possessions per 48 minutes).
Conversely, Danuel House Jr. is a fun pickup to consider ahead of this matchup, given the Warriors' noted defensive woes. This game offers so much potential for added possessions and inflated scoring success that finding multiple paths to these rosters could prove helpful in competitive weekly formats.
Top players to watch tonight
The 76ers' Joel Embiid makes his return to the floor from a two-game suspension only to face reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert in Salt Lake City this evening. This battle of elite rim protectors and low-post scorers is one of just several fun matchups of the slate, but it is the most intriguing direct battle from the perspective of pure theater and talent.