NBA Star Power Index: Ja Morant’s inhuman block, LaMelo Ball game winner, and Steph Curry’s icy shot

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Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: a weekly gauge of the players who have the most buzz in the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing – it just means that you are capturing the attention of the NBA world. It is not a ranking either. The listed players are not in any particular order. This column will be broadcast weekly throughout the regular season.

Klay Thompson’s return to the field after more than two and a half years has been triumphant. It almost didn’t matter how he played, but it was surely a welcome bonus that he had, in fact, played well. Thompson finished with 17 points in 19 minutes, making 7 of 18 shots, including three from 3 points. If you were wondering about his explosiveness or his legs in general after two major injuries, the dunk below has answered a lot of them.

In his second comeback, Thompson finished with 14 points on 5 of 13 shots. In their loss to the Grizzlies, the Warriors had a plus-17 differential in Thompson’s 19 minutes and a minus-25 rating in Thompson’s 19 minutes. he sat down. Take a game’s plus-minus numbers with a big grain of salt, but Thompson’s presence already means a lot in terms of how difficult it is for teams to sell Stephen Curry.

He’s shown he can create shots from dribbling, reaching and doing mid-range lone jumpers on multiple trips in his first two games. Her defense held firm when challenged. All positive signs.

Kyrie Irving has also played two games since returning to the Nets – both on the road, of course – and he’s doing pretty well too. Irving had 22 points and four assists in his opener, a win over the Pacers, and recorded those same numbers in a loss to the Blazers on Monday.

Ahead of the Blazers game, Portland coach Chauncey Billups called Irving the “most qualified” playmaker in history. I agree. I think. It’s a very interesting debate between him and Stephen Curry, but I’m leaning on Irving.

After the Portland game, Irving was asked about the play below – in which Nassir Little dives for a loose ball and ends up crashing into Irving, who ends up twisting his ankle. Here’s what Irving had to say:

Here’s what Little has to say in response:

Count me in Little’s camp. Was it a dangerous game? May be. But it was not reckless. Watch the game again, and you’ll see that the ball is still on the logo, a good distance from the touchline, when Little gets off his feet, and he puts his finger on it before kicking it out of bounds. A few more inches, and he could have locked that bullet or knocked it back from Irving.

Context needed: Little is not a star like Irving, whose place in the league and financial future are 100% assured. Little is on a rookie contract and is trying to prove his place with the Blazers and the league in general. He tries to save money and play time every time he walks on the ground. He plays tough, clear and straightforward, and it was more than justifiable an effort in a close game where possessions were paramount.

Additionally, Kyrie said he “tried to get out of the way,” but if you watch the tape you can clearly see that there is absolutely no effort on Irving’s part to get out of the way. In fact, he stutters right in front of the balloon, slowing down until he stops, becoming a kind of human shield, to block Little’s path to it. So I say it loud and clear for the rights holders in the back: if you don’t want to get caught in the way of a guy who plays harder than you, get out of the way.

I continue to see this push to make Ja Morant an All-Star. It’s a question ? The Grizzlies have won 10 in a row and 20 of their last 24 and Morant is the league’s fastest rising MVP contender. I call it top five on the strength of this block alone.

Whatever short inhuman words people have used to describe this block, they are insufficient. It is not of our species. Ja has officially become a television staple. It kicks you out of your seat multiple times in each game. Now that he’s shooting 38% out of 3, he’s pretty much indefensible (unless you’re Gary Payton II, who could quell a tornado).

Look at the Memphis League standings over the past six weeks.

The Grizzlies now have an incredible 19-8 against teams with a .500 record or better. I’m telling you, don’t count this team among at least the marginal contenders to come out of the West at your peril. It might not happen; it probably won’t, in fact. But there isn’t a team in the league that wants anything to do with Memphis in a playoff series.

LaMelo Ball continues to build on what is shaping up to be a fairly unassailable All-Star case. He’s one of five players in the league averaging at least 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, and he’s the only one in that group to add at least 1.5 steals per game while shooting better. that 37% out of 3.

Ball capped a 23-point night with the game winner against the Bucks on Monday.

Ball, like Morant, is on the TV show. Its flash is more fundamentally healthy than it looks. He plays the right game almost every time and often before anyone else sees him. Add Trae Young and Luka Doncic to Ball and Morant, and the league is flush with its next wave of superstar playmakers. These aren’t young guys here to learn from crafty veterans; they are there to teach.

The Hornets, who have won three in a row and six of their last eight games, are 22-19 and sit just outside a top-six seed with the No.2 offense of the league. Now if we could just do something about that 28th ranked defense and those slow starts that always seem to need Charlotte big comebacks, which are great for entertainment but not so much for consistency.

Stephen Curry’s frozen fire streak continues. In three of his last four games in a 3-point range, he’s 1 for 9, 1 for 10 and 2 for 9. He’s come down to 38% of season depth and just 42% overall, which would be both of the lowest in their career. by wide margins.

In five games in January, Curry shoots 27% of 3, and he’s only been at 35% since December 1. I maintain that this is not his normal cold streak; some of these pictures are missing by many. All the Warriors can hope for is that, as mentioned above, Thompson’s return to the fold frees Curry and ultimately puts him back on track.

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