Welcome to the NBA Star Power Index – a weekly gauge of the players who control the most buzz around the league. Reminder: registration on this list is not necessarily a good thing. It just means that you capture the attention of the NBA world. Moreover, it is not a ranking. The listed players are not ranked in any particular order when it comes to the buzz they generate.
When Chris Paul suffered what was considered a contusion to his right shoulder in Game 1 of the Phoenix Suns First Round Series against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, pretty much everyone thought it was ‘was the end of the Suns as the worst possible. The temporal wounds bug had once again stung the god of the point.
The Suns reclaimed their leader by staying alive long enough for Paul to return to what appears to be healthy, or something close enough, beating the Lakers in six games before taking a 2-0 lead over the Denver Nuggets with a convincing Game 2 win on Wednesday night in which Paul was absolutely brilliant with 17 points and 15 assists.
Paul, who is now the only player in NBA history to record a 15-assists, zero-turnover playoff game with three different franchises, has now tallied 38 assists against two turnovers in his last three playoff games. One of the clearest signs that Paul has returned to his normal state is that he is taking and doing 3-pointers effortlessly. He couldn’t do it a few weeks ago:
In seven playoff games, Kevin Durant is averaging 32 points on 55% shots, which is the second highest field goal percentage among all playoff players (minimum 100 attempts) behind just Kawhi. Leonard.
Brooklyn slipped Milwaukee in Game 2 to take command of this series. Durant had 32 points and six assists. He shot 12 of 18 from the field and 4 of 6 of 3. There’s literally no defense for this guy. By StatMuseDuring those playoffs, 90 percent of Durant’s 3 points were contested (highest score among all players), and he still shoots 50 percent on more than five attempts per game.
The skill and the release point are just too high:
But it’s not just the offense. Everyone wanted to know how the Nets were going to hold up defensively in the playoffs, and they’re getting better with every game. Giannis Antetokounmpo hits his proverbial wall again, and Durant is a big part of it. He’s averaging two blocks per game – a career high in the playoffs – and he’s on point with his rotations.
I love this piece below. The Nets overlook Giannis for a split second and it looks like he has a lead for a cut to the basket. He catches the ball on the move and Durant, who was initially following Brook Lopez to the baseline, quickly jumps to cut Giannis, then holds on on Giannis’ second penetration attempt before forcing him to drop one foot:
We know the Nets can score millions of points. But defense like that is how they’re going to win a championship. For his play on both sides, Durant is back to having a legitimate case as the world’s best player.
Mitchell scored 45 points (32 in the second half) in Utah’s game opener against the Clippers. Our Sam Quinn explained how Mitchell mercilessly chased away clips, waiting for the match he wanted before stepping on the pedal. This is something the Clippers could bear to do a lot more on their own. Too often, the Clippers just settle for whatever confrontation they find themselves in and engage in random pull-ups.
Let’s go back to Mitchell, who is quickly becoming one of the league’s highest-grossing playoff players. He’s been doing it since he was a beginner. He was averaging 36 per game in the bubble. He’s at 31.8 PPG so far this playoffs, and look at the company his name now resides in:
Utah, in case you haven’t noticed, is real.
Damian Lillard is out of the playoffs, but his name still makes the headlines as the Trail Blazers seek a new coach. Lillard said he wanted Jason Kidd, who quickly removed his name from consideration. It’s not entirely clear why Kidd did this, but I would say he knows there’s a chance Lillard won’t be long in Portland.
That’s the other part of Lillard’s headline. Is it going to be traded? Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has even declined to answer whether Portland might consider hitting the reset button and dealing with Lillard, but Lillard hasn’t asked for anything yet. If he does, everything changes despite being under contract with the Blazers until 2024.
Remember, James Harden was locked up for two more seasons (with a player option on a third) in Houston, and when he wanted to leave a franchise that seemed to have hit its cap, he walked out. Nobody says Lillard is going to do this; he is as committed to the local cause as any sports superstar.
But Portland’s options to improve significantly are minimal. They have no space for the caps. They don’t have young players who will be of particular interest to anyone. CJ McCollum’s trade is likely the only immediate route, and even his $ 100 million contract would be considered negative in the league. If the Blazers are indeed stuck where they stand, how long will Lillard be patient?
Nikola Jokic was officially named the league’s MVP on Tuesday night, becoming the third European-born player to win the award (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dirk Nowitzki were the other two). Jokic has been spectacular this season and he just led the Nuggets past the Blazers despite his winger Jamal Murray being out for the season.
Jokic already has a case as the best draft pick in history. He was ranked 41st overall in 2014 – by far the lowest spot for a future MVP (Steve Nash and Antetokounmpo, both No.15 overall, previously held this distinction).
From our Sam Quinn, who also wrote an interesting article making Jokic the most unlikely MVP in history:
Jokic became the first player in NBA history this season to average at least 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists with over 52% shooting. He achieved 56.6% of his field goals, eclipsing those who came close to his raw numbers. His 8.3 assists per game narrowly missed Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 8.6 for most by a cross in one season, and he was only three 3-pointers and 13 free throws to become the first center to join the 50-40-90 club. He did it all without missing a single regular season game.