When you’re a top player coming out of college, you have a lot of hype behind you. You were the top player in high school and went to a big college and played great ball in front of the entire country. Now you got drafted to an NBA team. Maybe you were a top 3 picks, maybe you fell a lot more than people thought, or maybe you were an unknown pick that many questioned.
No matter where you were drafted, every player in the NBA draft wants to do one thing…ball out. Nobody gets drafted thinking “you know what, I could be a good bench player”. No, every player wants to be the guy. They want to be the one that they build franchises around, and it starts the very first second they step foot on the hardwood.
Some players dominate right from jump street, and some players take time to have their first breakout game. Regardless of how long it takes, every great NBA player has that one great game where people say, “this guy is special”. So with that being said, here is the first big game for some of the best players in the league today.
Before we get into it, I think we need to establish what a “great game” is. I will be looking for the first time they filled the stat sheet. Many players have 15-20 point games but it may not have been that break-out performance.
Games Into Career: 1
Opponent: Sacramento Kings
Well, we didn’t have to go far for Lebron, did we? Lebron James was one of the most highly talked about high school players ever while playing for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. Also a highly scouted football player, Lebron was must-see in high school, so much so that St.Vincent-St.Mary played some home games at the University of Akron due to the high ticket demand to see Lebron.
He was named Ohio Mr. Basketball 3 times between 2001-2003, and was named Mr. Basketball USA in 2002, and 2003. King James was also the McDonald’s All-American Game MVP, and was named Naismith Prep Player of the Year, both in 2003. So suffice to say, Lebron was a God.
Drafted 1st overall by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA draft, Lebron made his NBA debut against the Sacramento Kings. This is the Sacramento Kings team that went up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals the year prior, where ex-referee Tim Donaghy alleged that Game 6 was fixed by the NBA.
While Cleveland lost the game, Lebron showed the entire world exactly what all the hype was about. Lebron played just shy of 43 minutes, where he scored 25 points on 12-20 from the field, with 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. That performance set an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his NBA debut.
We are still witnessing the greatness that is Lebron James, now in a Lakers uniform, but his NBA debut is definitely one we will always remember.
Games Into Career: 20
Opponent: Golden State Warriors
James Harden is looked at as one of, if not the best scorer in the NBA today. But it wasn’t always like that for The Beard. Harden has had a pretty weird route to the super-stardom he has today. Harden’s freshman year at Arizona State was good enough for him to be named first-team All-Pac-10, and the conference all-freshman team.
The rest of Harden’s collegiate career only got better from there. In the end, Harden was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, he was a two-time, first-team All-Pac-10 player and the 2009 Pac-10 player of the year. With the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, Harden was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Harden wouldn’t start a game in his rookie year, however, in a game against the Golden State Warriors, Harden would come off the bench and score the most points he’s had thus far. In just under 30 minutes, Harden scored 27 points on 6 for 13 from the field. He made it to the charity stripe 14 times, knocking down 13 free throws. He also registered 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, with a +/- of +17. Now, the Warriors weren’t the Warriors we all know now back then, however, they did have rookie Steph Curry, a very good Monta Ellis, and veteran sixth-man, Corey Maggette.
James suffered from being on a team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. In his 3 years with Oklahoma City, he only started a total of 7 games. This isn’t to say Harden didn’t absolutely ball out, because he did, and was voted Sixth Man of the Year in 2012. It wasn’t until he was traded to Houston after the 2012 season that Harden became an everyday starter. Harden is now putting up multiple 40+ point games in the 2019-2020 season.
Games Into Career: 7
Opponent: San Antonio Spurs
At just the young age of 13 years old, Doncic signed a five-year deal with Real Madrid Spanish basketball club and was immediately a stand out in the under-16 team. Doncic would lead Real Madrid to a Minicopa Endesa win, and was named MVP of the under-16 Spanish Championship.
When Doncic made his professional debut in Liga ACB, Doncic became the youngest player to ever play for Real Madrid in the ACB. Durin his time in the Liga ACB, Doncic would become 2-time ACB Best Young Player, a 3 time Liga ACB Champion, and a Liga ACB MVP. Doncic would also be named to the EuroLeague 2010-2020 All-Decade Team.
This would lead to Doncic being one of the most intriguing players to come out of the EuroLeague since Kristaps Porzingis in 2015. Doncic was drafted third overall by the Atlanta Hawks, but would subsequently be traded to the Mavericks in exchange for the rights to Trae Young. Many believed the Hawks made the right decision, with many EuroLeague players not working out in the NBA, but it didn’t take long for Doncic to have everyone questioning the trade.
Doncic became the youngest 20-point scorer in Mavericks’ history in just his second game, but we’re not going to talk about that game. Instead, we’re going to talk about Doncic’s first game in San Antonio. In said game, Doncic played just 5 seconds shy of 40 minutes, where he scored 31 points, on 11-18 shooting. Doncic also had 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Doncic also knocked down 4 of his 6 attempted three-pointers.
Dallas would end up losing the game, however, this game was definitely an eye-opener for the entire league. Doncic had an incredible rookie year, being named 2019 Rookie of the Year and being named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. He was also most recently named Sports Illustrated 2019 Breakout of the Year.
Games Into Career: 127
Opponent: Houston Rockets
“The Greek Freak” is making a case for the best player in the NBA. He’s still just 24 years old, but what he’s done in 6 years in the NBA is nothing short of extraordinary. Born in Greece, Antetokounmpo first played with the senior men’s team of Filathlitikos in the semi-pro Greek B Basket League. Just a few days after his 18th birthday, Giannis would sign a four-year deal with Spanish Club CAI Zaragoza.
In 2013, Antetokounmpo would make himself eligible for the NBA draft. He was selected 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis made his NBA debut at the age of 18 years, 311 days as one of the youngest NBA players ever. Giannis didn’t have a bad rookie year by any means. He scored in double digits 23 times and grabbed 10 or more boards twice, and even finished with 61 blocks, the most by any rookie that year.
Giannis had some pretty spectacular games, even scoring 25 points on February 4th, 2015, but it’s the next game that I want to talk about. In Houston against the Rockets, Giannis played under 35 minutes, and scored 27 points, while grabbing 15 rebounds and registering 1 block. Giannis shot 11-16 from the field and 5-6 from the line. Milwaukee lost the game, however, this performance, as well as his performances the rest of the week earned Giannis Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time in his career.
Games Into Career: 3
Opponent: Charlotte Bobcats
Anthony Davis played for Perspectives Charter School in Chicago, Illinois. By his junior year of high school, Davis was already 6’8” and was dominating. Perspectives High School plays in a division that often gets ignored by media due to the lower level of competition, however that didn’t stop AD from being rated as the number one player in the class of 2011 by Scout.com, as well as being listed in the ESPNU Top 100.
Before his freshman year at Kentucky even began, people had Davis pegged as the number 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Along with fellow Wildcat Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Davis led Kentucky to their 8th NCAA Championship, registering 15.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game in Kentucky’s 6 NCAA Tournament games. Davis was named the 2012 SEC Rookie of the Year, 2012 SEC Player of the Year, and was named the 2012 consensus national player of the year.
As expected, Davis was selected 1st overall by the New Orleans Hornets. In his first game against the Spurs, Davis scored a team-high 21 points, however, Davis suffered a concussion a few days after, forcing him to miss 2 and a half games. When AD returned on November 9th against the Charlotte Bobcats, he registered his first career double-double. In 36 and a half minutes, Davis scored 23 points, to go along with 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals leading the Hornets to victory.
Davis has since become a double-double machine along with becoming one of the leagues premier shot blockers. Pairing up with one of the sport’s greats in Los Angeles has made the probability of AD becoming a champion that much more likely.
So there it is! If you would like to see more NBA players first break out games be sure to let us know!
Featured Photo: Mike Rosa | GCSN
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