Williams hung 50 on the Warriors who were without Curry, whose MVP case grows even in his absence
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.
Curry has been in pre-Kevin Durant mode since his return from the right ankle sprain the kept him out nearly a month, relentlessly hunting his shot and splashing it from every spot, and in every way, imaginable. At over 35 points a night since his return, Curry is scoring almost two points per shot attempt over his last five games — 176 points on 94 shots — which is silly, even for Curry, who is quietly forcing his way into the MVP conversation despite a collective reluctance to put him or teammate Durant into that conversation for the very logical reason that their team is, well, too good, which by extension means that Curry and Durant are too good to be in the MVP conversation.
Makes total sense.
Anyway, Curry’s true shooting percentage over the last three games is an utterly laughable 73.7. For the season it’s 66.7, which is nearly identical to the 66.8 mark he put up in 2015-16, when he was named the first unanimous MVP in league history. Also there’s this:
The last 6 players (and 8 of last 9) to lead the NBA in Offensive Box Plus went on to win the MVP.
Fancy way of saying the league's best offensive player wins it.
Your current leader halfway through 2017-18?
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) January 10, 2018
So everything is great for Curry and the Warriors, yeah?
Not so fast. Curry re-sprained his ankle in shootaround on Wednesday, which caused him to miss the Clippers game, which the Warriors lost. It’s the same right ankle that kept him out 11 games earlier in the season. It’s the same right ankle he has surgically repaired in 2012 as it was threatening to literally derail his entire career. The Warriors are saying it’s not serious, that they’re just being extra careful, and that’s probably the case. But still. Curry and “sprained ankle” in the same sentence will forever have an ominous ring to it.
Jimmy Buckets, man. This guy is just a total stud. In keeping with the MVP theme, Butler should be right in that MVP conversation along with Curry and Kevin Durant, and, of course, James Harden and LeBron James, who are probably the two favorites at the moment. You could argue that nobody means more to their team than Butler. You take him off the Wolves, they are fighting to stay out of the lottery rather than looking like a legit conference final contender. Have a look at what he was doing entering Wednesday in money time:
Most Points in Clutch Time This Season
LeBron James 115
Kyrie Irving 99
Jimmy Butler 97
Russell Westbrook 88
Butler and Westbrook set to go head-to-head at 8 ET on ESPN.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 11, 2018
Butler went for 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in Minnesota’s victory over OKC on Wednesday, and he guarded the hell out of Paul George, who was held to 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Minnesota has won three straight, and over that stretch Butler has scored over 20 points each game while never taking more than 15 shots. He’s 7 for 10 from three, he’s had at least eight assists and seven rebounds in each game and he has eight steals, including four vs. OKC on Wednesday, to go along with two blocks.
Not bad, Jimmy. Not bad at all.
Paul Pierce has been saying Durant is the best player in the league since last year’s Finals, and it’s hard to argue with him now that Durant is arguably the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year as he leads the league in blocks and gives the Warriors almost unfair versatility with his ability to reasonably guard any position. Check out what this lineup is doing with no traditional center or point guard largely because of Durant’s presence:
Friendly reminder: the line-up of Iguodala / Thompson / Durant / Green / Bell has played 22 minutes together this season … and has a defensive rating of 52.4.
— Fast Break (@GSWFastBreak) January 9, 2018
On Wednesday night, Durant scored 40 points against the Clippers to become just the 44th player and second-youngest to crest the 20,000-point mark for his career. There’s a very good chance he’ll end up with more than 30,000 when it’s all said and done, which is a mark only seven players have reached to date (LeBron will join that club soon), and all the more impressive, K.D. will have done it at an incredibly efficient rate as opposed to a one-track-mind gunner. If he had wanted to set his mind to volume scoring from the start, he probably could’ve eventually passed Kareem to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Guess he’ll have to settle for being one of the 10 best players in NBA history.
Let’s go back to Pierce for a second. After Minnesota’s victory over OKC on Wednesday, Pierce said on ESPN that for Minnesota to be a true conference finals contender, Towns has to leap Butler as the Wolves’ best player. Let me say: That is The Truth.
Lately, Towns has been very selective as a scorer; he hasn’t attempted more than 12 shots in any of his last three games. But he’s converting at a whopping 65 percent, averaging around 19 points a game over those last three, all of which the Wolves have won. He’s a generational offensive talent who is prioritizing the first real team success he’s had at the NBA level, and along the way he has 64 rebounds over his last four games. That’s 16 boards a night if you can’t do math.
To Pierce’s point, Butler is the heart and soul of this Wolves team and he’s a superb player for sure, but Towns is a generational offensive talent who’s coming around defensively and pounds the glass when he sets his mind to it. With his ability to shoot with range, he’s a matchup nightmare, and the playoffs are all about matchups.
With Damian Lillard out, Portland picked up two big wins over San Antonio and Oklahoma City this week, and you can thank CJ McCollum, who had 27 points and seven assists vs. the Thunder and dropped in this game-winner against the Spurs:
The Blazers lost a tough one to Houston on Wednesday, but as we’ve come to expect from this team, they are getting everything possible out of their talent as the No. 5 seed in the West as of Thursday. McCollum has been terrific. Here are his last five games:
CJ McCollum's last 5 games
Win vs OKC: 27 PTS, 7 ASTS (11-19 FG)
Win vs SA: 25 PTS, 7 ASTS
Win vs ATL: 20 PTS, 6 ASTS (8-13 FG)
Loss vs CLE: 19 PTS
Win vs CHI: 32 PTS, 8 ASTS pic.twitter.com/vkSRKyjvxY
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 10, 2018
Quietly, the Wizards have won six of their last nine after a slow start, and not coincidentally, the big-picture success has coincided with John Wall’s return from injury. The strange thing is that when Wall has dominated individually, the Wizards have struggled. Wall had 35 points and 11 assists in a loss to Utah on Wednesday, and 16 points and 16 assists in a loss to Milwaukee before that.
Still, Washington is playing pretty well and is up to No. 5 in the East as of Thursday.
Sitting right above Washington as the East’s current No. 4 seed is Miami, which has won nine of 11 and six straight. A big reason for the Heat surge is Goran Dragic, who is perhaps the most under-appreciated player in the league. He’s not quite a superstar, but he is just a great basketball player, plain and simple. A winner, as Erik Spoelstra likes to refer to him, with winning attributes that Spo said earlier this season he was trying to instill in the rest of the team.
It looks like it’s working.
Miami is as tough a team as there is in the league right now. It grinds out wins with a record of 9-2 in games decided by five points or less. Only the Celtics have more “clutch” wins, which means that the game was within five points with five minutes or less to play. It’s not one player they rely on, but Dragic is the center piece. He gets in the lane and kicks to Miami’s plethora of shooters, battles defensively, and can get his own buckets, too. Over his last six games he’s averaging 21 points and almost eight assists.
Just call the Sixth Man of the Year race right now. It’s over. Lou Williams, who probably should be an All-Star if the West weren’t so loaded with guards, went for 50 on the Warriors on Wednesday night. Sweet Lou went for 27 in the third quarter alone.
— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2018
Williams continues to be one of the best scorers in the league at better than 21 points a game. Please check out his last 10 games:
- @ Golden State: 50 points
- vs. Atlanta: 34 points
- vs. Golden State: 23 points
- vs. OKC: 26 points
- vs. Memphis: 33 points
- vs. Charlotte: 40 points
- @ Lakers: 23 points
- vs. Sacramento: 21 points
- @Memphis: 36 points
- @Houston: 32 points
As good as Williams has been this season, and with the Clippers struggling to hang around that No. 8 seed, you have to wonder if he’ll be traded to a contender at the deadline. If it happens, some team will be getting an absolute difference maker.
In NBA history, only five rookies have tallied at least 30 points and 10 rebounds while making at least five 3-pointers in a single game: Stephen Curry, Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Markannen, who joined the elusive club with 33 points and 10 boards to go along with eight 3-pointers in the Bulls win over the Knicks on Wednesday.
Markannen hasn’t been quite as aggressive as a shooter of late, but he hasn’t posted below double digits in points since Dec. 26. And he’s proving more and more that he’s not just a shooter. He’s a scorer. He can post up. He can put the ball on the floor. And, yes, he can dunk …
Lauri Markkanen putting Enes Kanter on a poster pic.twitter.com/99WLd5JkYN
— NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSChicago) January 11, 2018
Shockingly, Lonzo Ball is all over the news again for something his dad said. This time LaVar was speaking to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman from Lithuania, where, in case you’ve been under a rock, he has sent his younger two sons, LaMelo and LiAngelo to play professional basketball. Here’s what Lonzo’s old man had to say about Lakers coach Luke Walton:
“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” Ball said from a spa resort in Birstonas. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.
“That’s a good team,” he added of the Lakers. “Nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s too young. … He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player, he’s not connecting with not one player.”
You have to feel bad for Lonzo having to answer questions about his dad mouthing off nearly every day. Of course reporters had to ask him about his dad’s latest comments, asking him if he does, in fact, support Walton as his coach, and all Lonzo had to say was: “I’ll play for anyone.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but again, you can tell the kid is trying to keep his answers short just to get out of the interview as quickly and harmlessly as possible. This is a 20-year-old rookie trying to talk to these reporters who are clearly teeing him up to say the wrong thing.
Lonzo Ball on whether he is happy with Luke Walton as Lakers head coach: “I’ll play for anybody.” pic.twitter.com/9mSQFmReQo
— Bill Oram (@billoram) January 7, 2018
This is such a tough spot for Lonzo, and perhaps an equally tough spot for Walton, who made light of the situation by saying he took Lonzo out early in the Atlanta game this week because “his dad was talking shit.” Other NBA coaches, notably Rick Carlisle, Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy, don’t find nearly as much humor in this whole LaVar situation and went so far as to question why reporters continue to encourage the guy by covering his comments as if he has any kind of league authority.
It’s hard to argue with this point. In the end, LaVar is just a loudmouth parent who says idiotic things about his son’s coach, which is basically a time-honored sports tradition starting in Little League. Difference is, other NBA parents don’t have LaVar’s platform, and the simple truth is, when he talks, people listen, and read, and when people listen and read, media companies make money, and when media companies make money, they give a lot of it to the NBA for TV contracts, and in turn, NBA coaches and player are really rich.
Who knows the answer. LaVar could make it easy on everyone, including his son (who by the way is starting to really play well), and just shut up. Something tells me that isn’t going to happen.