NBA Christmas was a blast but now we are heading into the middle of the season where the good teams begin to separate themselves in the standings from the pretenders.
While we have a large sample size to make determinations from regarding most players, there are a few notable players that have either returned from injury or seen more recent surges in production.
Let’s talk about a few NBA player props to watch entering the final week of 2022.
Players to Watch
LaMelo Ball, 3-Point Specialist
LaMelo ball has struggled to stay on the floor this season, but he returned on Dec. 14 against the Detroit Pistons and has been rolling since then. Over his last six games, he has played 34.2 minutes per game with averages of 25.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 4.8 3s on 11.7 attempts.
Overall, he has taken a step up from his sophomore season. LaMelo is scoring over three more points per game compared to last season and much of this has to do with a change in his shot profile.
He’s seen an uptick in his Usage of about 1%, but his shot volume has increased dramatically. He’s taking three more attempts per game, but he has extended the floor. Last season, Ball took 16.7 field goal attempts per game with 9.2 coming from 2-point range and with 7.5 coming from 3-point range.
This season, he is taking 19.7 attempts per game, but just 8.3 are from 2-point range but a whopping 11.3 are from deep. He went from taking 43% of his shots from deep to 56% from beyond the arc, per Cleaning the Glass. This is a significant change in his profile on increased volume.
As a result, he’s been crushing his 3s prop. I wrote about it specifically for Monday’s matchup against the Blazers for Best Bets, but Ball has made three or more 3-pointers in every game since he returned and in eight of nine games this season.
Additionally, his median points output has been 23 this season compared to 20 last season. He’s consistently scoring at a higher clip with 1.137 points per shot attempt. Look to bet on his 3s and points moving forward.
Check out our NBA props page, which automatically surfaces the best player props lines for every game.
RJ Barrett’s Rise
Editor’s Note: RJ Barrett will miss at least a week with a lacerated right index finger.
RJ Barrett set the world on fire on Dec. 23 with a 44-point effort against the Chicago Bulls in a game the Knicks ultimately lost. However, his play during December, especially during the Knicks’ eight-game winning streak was very strong.
Barrett, who is still just 22 years old, is averaging 23.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists with 46.6%/43.1%/73.7% shooting splits during the month of December.
His prop lines have recently been around 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists (plus-money), and 1.5 3s. Points and 3s are interesting, but I think 3s are the most enticing considering his recent play.
In 34 games this season, Barrett has hit two or more 3s in 20 of them (58.8%). In the first 17 games he played, RJ only exceeded 1.5 3s in eight games, in the second half, he hit that number in 12 games. His shooting is getting better as he’s found more rhythm within the offense.
Currently, Barrett is receiving passes most often from Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle (!!!). When he takes a 3-pointers off a Brunson pass, he is shooting 29.1%; however, when he receives a pass from Randle, he is shooting an absurd 45.2% from beyond the arc, per NBA Advanced Stats.
Randle’s ability to get to the bucket is undisputed, however, what makes Randle and the Knicks better is when he avoids playing hero-ball and becomes a willing passer; the Knicks’ offense is much more fluid. Over this recent 17 game stretch that RJ has shot well from deep, Randle is averaging 4.1 assists, a full assist higher than the first half of the season.
The Knicks have a good schedule this week for shooting 3s with matchups against the Mavericks, Spurs and Rockets. The Mavericks do a good job of limiting 3-point opportunities, but are about middle of the road at defending those looks. The Spurs are the softest matchup and allow their opponents to shoot 39.3% from 3.
I am looking to take alternate lines against the Spurs, a team Barrett hit three and seven 3s against last season. Finally, the Rockets all the highest frequency of 3s in the league and are bottom 10 in 3-point percentage allowed. That will be another prime matchup.
Barrett has these stretches and flashes of brilliance, but we will see if he can sustain this type of production long-term as he tries to turn a corner in his development.