Welcome to a new series installment on Hot Streak Sports titled Daily Deep 5, where we'll be diving into some of my favorite performers from the previous day's slate of games. Last night was the most basketball action we've seen in a VERY long time, and it's a trend that hopefully continues down the road. This isn't meant to be an overreaction to a previous night's games, but more of an analysis into some players who are worthy of further mentioning. There were plenty of positives to take away from last night, so let's kick things off with a budding superstar out of the Big Easy.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans defeated the Toronto Raptors in their season opener yesterday, as Brandon Ingram posted one of his best career games thus far, in my opinion. Ingram posted 24 points on an efficient 10/19 shooting, as he was able to score from wherever on the court. From driving in traffic to shooting off screens, Ingram showed similar abilities from the previous season, as he simply makes scoring look so easy. He also was active on the defensive end, as he posted three steals and one block, using his absurd wingspan to disrupt anything the Raptors were trying to accomplish. However, the most intriguing part of his game was his passing and his ability to get his teammates open. Ingram tied a career-best of 11 assists while only recording two turnovers, and was also 1 rebound shy of a triple-double. Ingram was wonderful in transition, as he took the ball up with a head steam and kicked out to his available shooters, most notably Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball. Even in a half-court set, he baited off-ball defenders to come to him when he was in possession of the ball, leaving at least one shooter on the wing or corner wide open, in which he would find the open man almost every time. I was very impressed with Ingram's playmaking in his season opener, and Ingram is forming himself into one of the league's scariest offensive threats.
Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
In a game full of stars such as Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, and Chris Paul, it was Mikal Bridges who was the best player on the court in the Suns' victory over the Mavericks. He made his mark on the game defensively as he was assigned to guard Doncic, and he did a superb job. He picked up Doncic full court and was able to stick with him through countless high screens, just terrorizing him during every possession. Doncic only shot 11/26 from the floor and was miserable 0-6 from three-point range, and most of his baskets made were on other defenders aside from Bridges. While Bridges didn't record any steals, he did have 2 blocks, and anyone watching could tell Bridges was wreaking havoc on Doncic, or whoever else he was guarding. On the offensive end, Bridges shot 5/11 from the floor and was 4/7 from three-point land, as his shot looked much more fluid and structured than in previous seasons. While was wasn't as effective in the paint, he did show more aggression on offense and absorbed contact on multiple drives to the paint. Overall, this was an incredible game from Mikal, as he was a huge difference maker for Phoenix, and he's setting himself up for a potential breakout season for the Suns.
Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
While Okoro didn't stuff the stat sheet in his rookie debut, he was very solid on both ends and played an overall really strong game. He recorded 11 points on just 5 shots, with his only miss a three-pointer. Okoro was thought to be an ideal two-way player in today's game coming into his rookie season, and it looked like he fulfilled the expectations of Cavaliers fans right away. His shot looked very solid even though he only took two jump shots, and his on-ball defense was really strong throughout the 34 minutes he played. His transition offense was really exciting, as he filled the lanes nicely and finished off a really nice lob from Collin Sexton, who also played well.
Even when he wasn't scoring, he was setting up his teammates nicely, as he recorded 5 assists. There was one fast-break in particular that he drove into Gordon Hayward to set up Cedi Osman for an easy layup, showing his awareness in transition and setting his teammate up for an easy bucket. Okoro plays with a lot of intelligence, and he definitely has a bright future with the Cavaliers.
Keldon Johnson, San Antonio Spurs
Keldon Johnson is a player that I'm really excited to follow this season, as am I the rest of the wings on the Spurs. He had a really solid performance in the Bubble and capitalized on the minutes he received, and is looking to do the same this season. Johnson scored 16 points in his season debut in a win over the Grizzlies, shooting 5/10 from the floor and 1/3 from beyond the arc. The most impressive part about Johnson's game was his driving ability, as he takes a full head of steam when attacking the rim. There were multiple drives where he levitated in air and absorbed contact from Jonas Valanciunas, even at one point sending the big man to the floor. He was also active on the defensive end recording three steals, as he's a versatile defender that can guard multiple players on the court. Johnson has a really bright future in San Antonio, and this matchup provided Spurs fans a glimpse of what's to come.
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
After a largely inefficient rookie season, RJ Barrett has some expectations lofting on his shoulder to improve on this season with the Knicks. While the Knicks did lose against the Pacers last night, it was not Barrett's fault, as he played a near-flawless game. Barrett dropped 26 points on 11/15, and even more impressive was his three-point shooting, as he went 3/3. Barrett was driving to the rim on command, as would commonly shift over to the left side of the court on his rim attacks, as he was routinely able to finish with his dominant hand. He wasn't just doing this against guards either, he was finishing over big men like Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, which is no small feat. Barrett was active all over the court as he recorded 8 rebounds and 5 assists, and his transition game was so smooth for just a second-year player. He looked much more relaxed on the court than last season, and I'm glad Barrett had a strong beginning to the season. Barrett is the player who the Knicks should be running their offense around, as he possesses the skills to be the franchise cornerstone of the Knicks, he just needs more usage and opportunities to showcase his abilities.