NBA Star Power Index: LeBron James on a 30-point tear; Stephen Curry reaches 3,000 at 3 points


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.

The Lakers finally decided to throw LeBron center on Tuesday (meaning they played small, without a traditional big man, and it’s fine to call LeBron the “center” in those rosters), and he rewarded them with a 32-point, 11 assists, 11 triple-double rebounds in a Lakers win that ended a five-game losing streak.

LeBron has done all he can to lift this imperfect Lakers team which has also been decimated by injuries and COVID. At 37, he is tied for the league lead with 13 games of 30 points, along with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Trae Young. He has scored over 30 goals in his last five games.

Don’t get too excited about this newest one. It was against the Rockets. But there were encouraging signs in terms of the Lakers’ shots with more widely spaced ground. LeBron has played plenty of minutes this season without a traditional big man (not Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard), and the Lakers have taken those minutes by 7.2 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.

But it was the first time that the Lakers started a game with such a formation.

Playing LeBron as a de facto center in a small squad accomplishes a lot compared to the Lakers’ staff, but mostly it gives Russell Westbrook, who also recorded an efficient and effective triple-double on Tuesday, a chance to fight for. being a useful player without a second player who doesn’t shoot next to him, narrowing the Lakers’ already claustrophobic spacing even further.

This allows for things like this, with LeBron becoming a sifter / roller / cutter with Westbrook on top and an unobstructed path.

The reverse is also true, with the ball in the hands of LeBron and Westbrook flashing on the open lane.

Memo to Anthony Davis: The Lakers must lose both major lineups. If they had three other respected shooters on the field, fine. But they don’t. They have Westbrook. And two non-shooters is too much, especially when Davis shoots too, well, like Westbrook.

Ditch DeAndré. Spot play Howard. Scatter the ground as best as possible and let LeBron choose his points of entry and exit to the ball as he sees fit while Davis, God forbid, keeps going against the big guys once he comes back. Until then, little ball it is. This is the only logical conclusion to be drawn.

Curry is already the all-time 3-point leader, so every number he hits from now on will be a number no one else has ever hit. But we like the round numbers, so Curry hit his 3,000th career 3 Tuesday was one thing.

The irony here is that the 3,000th 3-pointer was Curry’s first of the game after what was arguably the worst first-half performance of his career. Curry got hot in the fourth quarter, hitting four more 3s and nearly pulled off a crazy comeback, but the Warriors fell short against Denver.

Steph finished with 23 of 5 of 14 of 3 points, where he converts to just 35% clip in his last eight games and 37.5% for the month of December. He’s also under 40 percent for the season, and his overall shooting percentage – 43.3 percent – is by far the worst mark of his career.

Golden State’s aforementioned run in a wild comeback against Denver on Tuesday was turned down by Jokic, who blocked Jonathan Kuminga’s potentially equalizing shot to the rim with less than five seconds to go.

If you look at the game again, you’ll see Curry fade widely towards the 3-point line after he initially ceded it to Otto Porter Jr., who should have gone straight back to Curry for a potential 3. C winner. It’s a split-second read, however, and Porter continued to force the action towards the basket, where Jokic was waiting.

It becomes one thing, Jokic blocking shots to save games. He’s done it three times already this season and the schedule hasn’t even changed yet.

Jokic finished with 22 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, four steals and that massive block against the Warriors, falling two boards from his third straight 20-20 game.

What a beast this guy is.

Speaking of beasts, Embiid is averaging 33.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 56/44/87 in his last five games. It also looks pretty good:

The Sixers have been a good team with Embiid on the court – plus 5.2 per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Their starting roster of Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris is plus-59 for the season, the fifth-best score of any five-man unit in the league and the second-best score of any unit that played at least 175 minutes together, behind just Utah’s starting five.

Overall, the Sixers are 15-8 with Embiid and 3-8 without him. That comes on top of an 18-16 mark, just above the line of play in the Eastern Conference.

News flash: The Grizzlies are no better without Morant, despite their 10-2 run without him which propelled them to the No. 4 seed in the West. Morant said he felt ‘hurt’ when he heard fans tell him to ‘sit outside’ in his first comeback, a 102-99 loss to an OKC team the Grizzlies previously had. strangled by an NBA record of 73 points in Morant’s absence.

On Monday, Morant reminded those ignorant few fans of what Memphis was lacking without its star point guard – an electric downhill creator – with 33 points and the winning bucket against the Phoenix Suns.

The Grizzlies’ defense has been much better without Morant, but offensively they can only survive for so long on offensive rebounds and transition buckets. They were an offensive last 10 half-court team without Morant, who smashes defenses as effectively as any player in the league. If Memphis is going to make any noise in the playoffs, it will be primarily because of Morant.

That’s not to say the Grizzlies aren’t full of good support players. They are. This organization has done a great job surrounding Morant with top two-way players, shooters / scorers and defensemen like Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr., in a way, say the Blazers have stranded Damian Lillard.

But Morant stirs the drink. If you were one of those ignorant fans who thought otherwise, don’t forget this again.

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