Also, Isaiah Thomas might challenge Kyrie for who can throw more shade at the Cavs
Welcome back to our NBA Star Power Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. Also, this is 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 for the rest of the season.
The Cavs are once again the talk of the league after GM Koby Altman (and, let’s be honest, owner Dan Gilbert) gave LeBron James basically an entirely new supporting cast at the trade deadline — bringing in George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson and shipping out Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Jae Crowder.
LeBron is clearly energized playing with these new-look Cavs, who, in their two games since the trade deadline, have embarrassed the Celtics in Boston on Paul Pierce night and taken down the Thunder in OKC. It’s seriously amazing how well this team is playing together on such short notice. You might not want to jump on the bandwagon so quickly and admit they’re probably the favorite in the East again just a week after looking like a possible second-round bounce, but ask yourself this: How much would you be willing to bet against them when LeBron — who’s averaging 30.5 points, nine assists and eight rebounds since the deadline — and company are feeling like this?
JR and LeBron are feeling good about the new-look Cavs. pic.twitter.com/YRTFHKgN2f
— ESPN (@espn) February 13, 2018
Isaiah might end up challenging Kyrie for who can throw more shade at the Cavs’ organization after being traded away. Since being moved to Los Angeles, Thomas — who went for 22 points and six assists on 4 of 8 from 3-point range in his Lakers debut — has already said he “got his joy back” while making a less-than-subtle reference to Cleveland’s known anti-practice ways by saying, “I mean, this is the first real practice I had all year.”
Then there’s this:
"I was talking to somebody yesterday close to Isaiah, and they said, 'Isaiah Thomas has absolutely no love at all for LeBron… He felt like LeBron talked down to him when he was there." — @Chris_Broussard pic.twitter.com/1KDmXwmQ4q
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) February 13, 2018
It’s pretty obvious Thomas just never fit with the Cavs, and now he has a nice opportunity with the Lakers to put up some numbers in an up-tempo offense as he heads into his free-agency summer.
It’s going to be really hard to keep the Rookie of the Year trophy from Donovan Mitchell, who has the Jazz on a 10-game win streak as every lottery team besides Boston that didn’t draft him continues to wonder what in the world they were thinking when they passed on him.
“The most impressive thing about [Donovan] is his consistency,” Ricky Rubio told me earlier this year. “Most rookies are kind of up and down, but he does it every night.”
Indeed, Mitchell is averaging just under 26 a game over his past three, and on Monday he scored not one, but two go-ahead baskets with less than a minute to play to cap off a win against San Antonio.
Get this: Mitchell is leading Utah in scoring, both per game and in total, over this 10-game win streak, making him the first rookie to accomplish that since Wilt Chamberlain in 1959-60, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
There isn’t a player in the league more overlooked in the superstar conversation than Damian Lillard, who has gone for 89 points over his last two games, including the 50-spot he hung on the Kings last Friday — in 29 minutes, mind you. Please look at the range on the first 3-pointer in this highlight package:
The Blazers are in a fight for their playoff lives. Entering Wednesday, they’re in the No. 5 spot in the West, but they’re tied in the loss column with the Clippers, who are the current No. 9 seed. A good team is going to end up getting left out, but I wouldn’t bet on the Blazers simply for the presence of Lillard, who is one of five guys in the league averaging at least 25 points, six assists, four rebounds and one steal a night. The other four? James Harden, LeBron, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. That’s the company in which Lillard deserves to be talked about, but too often isn’t.
Wade always looked out of place in Chicago and Cleveland, and getting traded back to Miami as part of that Cleveland overhaul was one of the truly cool stories so far this year. Erik Spoelstra said it felt like “family” to have Wade back in the building, and Wade looked like a little kid the way he was smiling all night as the Heat took down the Bucks in his return — thanks in part to Wade’s clutch block down the stretch with the Heat clinging to a four-point lead with less than a minute to play.
Score got close enough to add another clutch game to Miami's league-leading tally (39), but Wade saved things with a block in transition. pic.twitter.com/K17uWM3epk
— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) February 10, 2018
Wade said he’s done moving around, that he’ll be in Miami until he decides to retire. That feels right. But it’s not all nostalgia here; Wade can still play at a high level in stints and could really be a shot in the arm for this already tough-as-hell Miami team battling for home court in the first round.
Paul George is flat out one of the 10 best players in the league right now, and probably the best two-way player in the league until LeBron really decides to dial up the defense. Every time George puts up a three it’s a surprise if it doesn’t fall; he’s at just under 43 percent for the year and it feels even higher than that. Over his last four, George is averaging better than 31 points on 46-percent shooting from downtown. He hung 30 on the Warriors when OKC blasted the champs by 20 last Tuesday. George and Westbrook are building a a pretty clear chemistry together; I would be surprised if he didn’t re-sign with OKC this summer.
Since 2009-10, nobody in the league has more 40-point games that James Harden, who notched his 46th such game with 41 against the Heat last week. The MVP is all but his unless something freak happens, but somehow it still doesn’t feel like Harden is getting enough love for the season he’s having. You’d have a really hard time arguing against him as the best offensive player in the world right now, and that includes LeBron. What he did to a pretty damn good defender in Justise Winslow on this play is just a little snippet of how unguardable this guy is: