Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column will run every week throughout the regular season.
Over his last eight games, James is averaging 29.8 points, 8.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks on 52 percent shooting in just under 40 minutes a night. Forget the age qualifier: he’s playing like one of the best players in the world, and Frank Vogel says better spacing has been the key.
To me, this was a not-so-subtle remark aimed at Anthony Davis, whose insistence on not playing center has led to two-big lineups including DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard all season. Add Russell Westbrook in there, and the paint is positively packed.
And that doesn’t just constrict LeBron’s own drives; it limits his impact as a passer when everything is congested. Open the lane up by playing small, as it has been with Davis out of the lineup over the last week, and LeBron can pick you apart as players around him are cutting into openings.
The stats in that tweet are correct, but listing LeBron at center is irrelevant. The Lakers are effectively playing sans center in these lineups: it’s LeBron on with four perimeter players, with Davis, Jordan and Howard off the court; who is technically playing what position doesn’t matter. They’re all outside the paint.
When Davis comes back, that won’t be the case. But playing one big man vs. two is an entirely different thing. Davis has to play the five, with no twin tower next to him, for the Lakers to have a chance at competing, and not just in closing stretches. Consistently.
The Lakers, flawed as they are and, again, without Davis of late, are 10-6 with LeBron in the lineup, and they’re 10.7 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court, per Cleaning the Glass.
Overall, the Lakers are outscoring opponents by 4.4 points per 100 possessions, per CTG, with LeBron-led lineups, but keep in mind that number has inflated some over the past two weeks with wins over the lowly Magic, Thunder and Pistons.
It was fitting that Curry became the NBA’s career 3-point leader at Madison Square Garden, where he first arrived on the superstar stage with his 54-point performance back in 2013. Almost a decade later, Curry sunk his 2,974th career 3-pointer, moving past Ray Allen, at the 7:33 mark of the first quarter on Tuesday night.
With this record being such a formality, I didn’t realize what a goose-bump moment it was going to be. You could feel the electricity inside MSG through the television, and you could tell it even hit Curry more than he might’ve expected. It was quite a thing to take in with Allen in attendance and Reggie Miller on the TNT call.
Those guys now represent No. 1, 2 and 3 on the career 3-pointers list. After rising to the top of that elite fraternity, Curry is finally comfortable calling himself the greatest shooter of all time, which everyone else has known for some time.
Outside the dramatics of the evening. Curry actually didn’t shoot well. Again. After finishing 5-for-14 from 3 against the Knicks, Curry is now shooting under 35 percent from the field over his past eight games. Perhaps getting the weight of this record pursuit off of his shoulders will snap him out of his funk.
Durant carried the depleted Nets to victory over the Pistons on Sunday with 51 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, passing Stephen Curry’s 50 points against Atlanta for this season’s highest single-game output.
Two days later, Durant posted a 34-point triple-double (13 rebounds and 11 assists) to lead Brooklyn to victory, with only eight active players (seven players, including James Harden, are in COVID health and safety protocols) over Toronto.
Durant’s 29.6 points per game are nearly a three-point gap over the next highest scorers, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young, both of whom are at 27 points a night. With the recent struggles of Curry, Durant, in my opinion, has moved into the MVP lead.
In keeping with the true spirit of this column, Jokic doesn’t belong. He generates almost no national buzz. Which is a shame as his amazing season — arguably better than his MVP campaign from a year ago — continues to fly under the radar with the Nuggets hovering around .500.
In truth, Denver even staying afloat in the playoff race is a testament to Jokic’s greatness without the services of Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray. When Jokic is on the court, the Nuggets are outscoring opponents by 9.5 points per game, a number bested only by Stephen Curry.
Per 100 possessions, the Nuggets are — get this — 33 points better with Jokic on the court, per CTG, and just under 20 of those points are attributed to the defensive end, where Jokic has become a legit top-shelf impact player.
Over his last four games, Jokic is averaging 31 points, 15 rebounds and 9.5 assists on 61-percent shooting. The only player you could argue has been better than Jokic this season is Durant, but my guess is he would be third in MVP voting behind Durant and Curry, and potentially fourth behind Giannis, if the voting happened today.
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