While the current Virginia basketball team’s NCAA Tournament status is now in question, many former players who guided the Cavalier program to its current status as an annual threat during March are returning to action following the first half of an NBA season like no other. Virginia alumni’s veteran scorers as well as young emerging talent are providing a strong argument that the Cavaliers are capable of producing skilled players at the NBA level. These are the eight players making that case this season.
Guard Malcolm Brogdon
The leader of the pack, Brogdon has been playing the best basketball of his still young career for the Pacers, averaging a career-high in points with 21.2 this year — an almost five-point increase from his previous high of 16.5 last season. The 2017 Rookie of the Year has been underrated all year, keeping the Pacers in striking distance of a playoff spot largely with his scoring and playmaking ability, emphasized by the departure of former Pacer guard Victor Oladipo to Houston earlier in the season. Brogdon has picked up the slack and is yet to score less than 10 points in a game this year. He notably put up a career-high of 36 points and nine assists in a dominant performance against Toronto in January, while his versatility and athleticism were on full display with this dunk over All-Star center Joel Embiid. Brogdon’s pairing with emerging All-Star Domantas Sabonis makes the Pacers a team to watch as they make a playoff push in the second half of the season.
Guard Joe Harris
The former Cavalier sharpshooter has carved a niche for himself in a stacked Nets lineup, starting among All-Stars in guard Kyrie Irving, guard James Harden and forward Kevin Durant. With that level of scoring talent surrounding him, it’s somewhat surprising that Harris has found a way to up his own offensive game, posting a career-high of 14.8 points per game. Harris has excelled in shooting from beyond the arc since his days in Charlottesville, and this year he is shooting a ridiculous 50.6 percent from three, placing him among the best in the league with a minimum of 100 attempts. His eFG percentage — a stat that weights the higher value of three-point shots — is a league-best 69.7. His strongest performance so far this year came in a 30-point showing in which Harris knocked down eight three-pointers against Washington. With the Nets currently second in the Eastern Conference, the Chelan, Wash. native fits nicely into a team looking to compete for a championship.
Forward De’Andre Hunter
After having his rookie campaign abruptly cut short due to COVID-19, Hunter started off his second season in the league impressively for the Hawks before once again being interrupted — this time due to an unfortunate right knee injury that has him out indefinitely. Despite continued interference with his play, Hunter deserves credit for his early-season performance. Scoring 17.2 points a game on a 51.4 percent field goal percentage, Hunter was clearly demonstrating why he was worth being picked 4th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. Just before he was injured in late January, he posted a career-high 33 points in a loss to the Bucks. If Hunter can return from his injury with the same level of balance between his strong offensive and defensive game, his future in the league is bright, as evidenced by his recent selection to the U.S. Rising Stars team.
Guard Ty Jerome
After serving as a piece in the trade that sent guard Chris Paul to the Suns this offseason, Jerome headed into the 2021 season as a member of the Thunder. He received a G League assignment early in the year in order to recover from an ankle injury. Having successfully rehabbed, Jerome was recently recalled and has been an effective backup point guard for Oklahoma City, scoring nine, 15 and 13 points in his first three outings since his promotion. His seven assists in his return to NBA action are a record for a player making their Thunder debut.
“He can shoot, pass, put on the floor and do so many things,” Thunder starting point guard Shai Gilgeous Alexander said of Jerome. “It's easy for him to blend in.”
Guard Kyle Guy
Having spent most of last year in the G League, Guy earned a spot on the Kings NBA roster this season. Though he is currently fighting for minutes, a bright spot came in late February with Guy posting nine points, shooting four-of-five from the field. However, arguably his most impressive NBA highlight came in the preseason where he hit this buzzer-beater, reminiscent of his many clutch performances for Virginia.
Forward Mike Scott
A longtime NBA veteran, Scott has found himself on top of the Eastern Conference with a bench role on a strong 76ers squad. He has mostly served as a reserve this year but is reliable for a spot start when the team faces injury or fatigue. Known for his three-point ability and steady locker room presence, Scott is in a good position to compete down the stretch with the first-seeded Philadelphia team after 10 years in the league.
Center Anthony Gill
After stints in Germany and Russia, as well as a 2017 Summer League contract with the Hornets organization, Gill made his NBA debut this season with the Wizards. Though he has struggled to play many meaningful minutes, Gill received his first NBA start when COVID-19 ran through the Wizards roster in late January.
Forward Mamadi Diakite
After falling under the radar of many NBA scouts and going undrafted, Diakite signed a two-way contract with the Bucks and entered the 2021 season in the G League bubble. In 12 G League games, Diakite averaged a double-double, scoring 18.5 points per game and securing 10.4 rebounds. Also impressive was his average of over two blocks a game. Because of this stretch of dominance on both sides of the ball, Diakite earned a call-up and made his NBA debut last night, scoring the first two points of his career.