Five former Pac-12 stars who are breaking out or having career resurgences in the NBA
Over a quarter into 2021-2022 NBA season and a number of former Pac-12 basketball stars have enjoyed breakout or comeback seasons. From veterans having career years and athletic renaissances, to rookies announcing their arrivals on basketball's biggest stage, Pac-12 products are providing highlight reels nightly on NBA courts.
Gary Payton II
The Oregon State alumnus is off to the best start of his career for one of the best teams in the league. After years spent as a journeyman, Payton II seems to have found his place coming off the bench for the Golden State Warriors. The former two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is averaging the most points per game of his NBA career (6.9) and is on track to shatter his career total in games played in a season, appearing in 23 so far. (His previous high was 29 games with the Washington Wizards in 2019-20.)
After missing the full playoffs in each of the past two seasons, Golden State appears to be back to its dominant self, currently sporting an NBA-leading 20-4 record. If you listen to Warriors stalwart Draymond Green, Payton II has been a major reason why. “He’s been incredible, He has a tremendous skill set. He’s passed every test,” Green said about the former Beaver.
DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball
A couple of veterans with Pac-12 ties are having career resurgences for the new-look Chicago Bulls, propelling the Bulls to second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
DeRozan is approaching the age (32) when many NBA stars start to fall off, but the former USC Trojan has done just the opposite. Energized by a change of scenery, DeRozan has posted the second-best points per game (26.4) and three-point percentage (33.3) marks of his career.
After winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in his lone season at UCLA, Lonzo Ball has had an adversity-filled NBA career, due mostly to circumstances outside of his control. But like DeRozan, Ball seems to have found a foothold with the Bulls - who also happen to feature Zach LaVine (UCLA) and Nikola Vučević (USC). Ball is on pace to set career highs in points, threes, steals, and blocks. More importantly for Ball, who has never played in the NBA postseason, the “USCLA Bulls” would host a playoff series if the season ended today.
Mobley has been everything the Cleveland Cavaliers could have wanted and more from this year’s No. 3 overall pick. After enjoying one of the greatest seasons in Pac-12 history with USC—he became the first player ever to sweep the Conference’s postseason awards—Mobley has maintained his excellence at the professional level.
Mobley is third among rookies in points per game (14.0) and has led all rookies in rebounding (8.1 per game). But it has been his defense that has separated Mobley from the pack. He has averaged nearly two blocks and a steal through his first 21 games. Led by Mobley, the Cavs, a team that did not have lofty expectations at the beginning of the year, are in line for a playoff spot.
Another NBA rookie from the Conference of Champions, Duarte has enjoyed a stellar rookie season with the Indiana Pacers. Ever since he set the Pacers' rookie record with 27 points in his professional debut, the Oregon product has been proving that he is the steal of the 2021 NBA Draft (drafted 13th overall). Duarte leads all NBA rookies this year with 45 made three-pointers and is third in total points (315). And while other players on this list play for teams laden with talent, the Pacers have leaned heavily on Duarte, who is third on the Pacers in minutes per game (29.6). Not what one might expect from a player drafted outside the top 10.