Welcome back to another installment of the Daily Deep 5 series, where I'll be taking a look at five players who impressed me over the course of yesterday's games. While Christmas brings joy and cheer to families across the country, NBA fans were left largely unamused after five uncompetitive basketball games. Even though the games weren't close, there were still players who impressed me and deserve a deeper dive into their performances. We'll get things started off in Miami, where a dragon performed at his finest on Christmas Day.
Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
The Dragon had a spectacular run in the Bubble last season that awarded him a nice payday on his most recent contract, and he's playing up to standard so far in this season. He carved up the Pelicans yesterday for 9 assists to go along with 18 points, and set the pace in a Miami Heat victory. Dragic was outstanding in the second quarter, as he was the primary cause of a 11-0 Heat run that saw him carve the Pels' defense for easy assists to Precious Achiuwa and Bam Adebayo. He showed patience in letting the defenders stray towards him before making the easy read, and threw a couple of lobs with pinpoint accuracy. He also had multiple drives to the basket where he used an array of moves to shake off defenders, including one beautiful spin move which translated to an easy layup. The only knock against him was his three-point shooting as he shot 0/4, but when Duncan Robinson is firing away, Dragic's woes get cancelled out. Dragic looked great in yesterday's game, and his efforts are a primary reason why the Heat were victorious.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
I'll come out and say it: when you think about the most lethal scorers in the NBA, Khris Middleton's name needs to be mentioned. Sure, he gets overshadowed by Giannis, but the dude is an absolute bucket-getter, and he proved it against the Warriors in a Bucks' victory. Middleton scored an effortless 31 points on 10/15 shooting, including a lethal 6/8 from three-point range. These weren't easy points either; most of these three-pointers were heavily contested with a defender right in his face, and he either created enough space to get his shot off, or he just let it fly anyways. Even on his mid-range jumpers he showed some remarkable footwork when in possession of the ball, as he was able to create space to shake off his defenders and stick a jumper. Aside from his shooting, Middleton also provided 4 rebounds and 5 assists, and also managed to record two steals on the defensive end, as he played a very well, all-around game. There's a reason why Middleton has been a back-to-back All-Star, and certainly looked like an All-Star in the Bucks' demolition of Golden State.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Kyrie returned to the Garden for his first regular-season game against the Celtics since his departure to Brooklyn, and he terrorized the Celtics all night long as the Nets recorded their second straight victory of the season. Irving was magnificent in the Nets' win, as he tallied 37 points, which is a new Nets' Christmas Day record, and shot an efficient 13/21 from the field, including a whopping 7/10 from beyond the arc. Irving acted as more of a facilitator in the first half, as he set his teammates up nicely especially Kevin Durant who benefited off of Kyrie's presence. It was in the second half where Kyrie flipped a switch, as he started raining threes on Boston from everywhere on the court, no matter which defender was on him. When he wasn't draining jumpers, he was attacking the rim and finishing with ease, usually using the backboard as a necessary means. However, the one play that stood out to me was due to his playmaking. Nearing the end of the fourth quarter, Kyrie whizzed a one-handed pass in transition past a Celtics defender to a wide-open Spencer Dinwiddie, who capped off the fast-break with an easy dunk. This play beautifully wrapped up Kyrie's performance against Boston, as when he wasn't dropping buckets on defenders' heads, he was getting other teammates open and pushing the ball in transition all night long. The Kyrie and KD tandem has proved to be a lethal duo just two games into the season, and the Nets have cemented themselves as team to watch all season long.
Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Lakers
One of the most notable moves of the offseason was Montrezl Harrell's inner-city jersey swap, as the traded a Clippers jersey for a Lakers jersey in free agency. Harrell's primary strength is his ability to finish around the rim, and he showed that in the Lakers' victory against the Mavericks. Harrell routinely got whatever he wanted around the basket, whether it was from a screen set by himself or creating opportunities by nabbing offensive rebounds. Harrell also had a few nice baseline jumpers on defenders like Willie Cauley-Stein and Boban Marjanovic who possess more size than Harrell. In all, Harrell had a really productive game, as he recorded 22 points on 10/13 shooting, and also grabbed 7 rebounds in the process. Harrell's bench presence makes the Lakers' second unit much more feared than last season, and he'll be a key contributor all season for the Lakers.
Nicolas Batum, Los Angeles Clippers
While he is traditionally thought of being part of one of the worst free agency contracts in recent memory, Nicolas Batum has had a very strong start in his Clippers tenure, as he was a key contributor to the Clippers' victory over the Nuggets. Starting in absence of Marcus Morris, Batum logged 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, while shooting 5/8 from the floor and 2/5 from three-point territory. Batum is a perfect fit into the Clippers' scheme, as he's a veteran that can come in right away and play important minutes, but he also plays smart and doesn't try to force anything offensively or get in the way of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. He's also a very versatile defender, as he was able to guard any guard or wing on the floor, and also poked the ball away from Nikola Jokic on a few occasions. While is he isn't the most athletic player, he does have a high basketball IQ and can be an effective spark plug for the Clippers moving forward.