Saturday, November 26

NBA Star Power Index: Stephen Curry’s toughest opponent is Warriors bench; LeBron James has cratered from deep

Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing — it simply means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the regular season. 

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For one night at least, Stephen Curry was able to cover for a Warriors bench that is a big problem at the moment, scoring 17 of his 47 points in the fourth quarter as Golden State rallied to beat the Kings. Over the 38 minutes that Curry played, the Warriors outscored Sacramento by 23 points. Over the 10 minutes Curry didn’t play, the Warriors were outscored by 20 points. 

This is a trend. For the season, the Warriors’ starting lineup is throttling opponents by 27.1 points per 100 possessions with a booming 129.7 offensive rating, which would lead the league by a mile. Take Curry off the court, and the Warriors are being outscored by 20.1 points per 100 with a cratered 99.2 offensive rating. 

Do the math, and the difference between the Warriors’ starters and the 12 or so minutes that Curry rests is a whopping 47-point swing per 100 possessions and over 30 points on the offensive rating. 

Even if you don’t want to narrow it down to just the starters, the Warriors are still plus-8.1 when Curry is on the court with literally anyone else, per CTG. Factor in the minus-20.1 net in non-Curry minutes, and that’s a 28-point swing in the wrong direction simply when Curry takes a breather. 

Yes, this is a problem. The Warriors are trying to give minutes to their young guys in the name of development, and that’s part of the problem. James Wiseman continues to be a massive drain on all things efficient. But it’s not just Wiseman, who doesn’t even play every night. The Warriors lost Gary Payton II, Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica from their championship roster and did not replace them adequately. 

It will presumably get a bit better when Donte DiVincenzo returns, but JaMychal Green has fallen out of the rotation. That means the youngsters are in line to make up most of the bench unit. Other than Jordan Poole, how much faith do you have in Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Anthony Lamb, Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ty Jerome? Depth used to be a strength for Golden State. Not anymore. Curry and the starters might have to log a lot more minutes than Steve Kerr would like if the kids don’t step up or Bob Myers doesn’t make a trade as the season progresses. 

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In my book, Donovan Mitchell should be the early MVP leader. He’s been incredible for an 8-2 Cavs team that was already very connected last season, but has palpably galvanized beside Mitchell’s presence. Mitchell’s 31.2 points per game ties him with Jayson Tatum as the league’s fourth-leading scorer, and after hitting eight to 11 3-pointers against the Clippers on Monday, he’s shooting 45 percent from 3 for the season. 

Mitchell is finishing at the rim more frequently and accurately than at any point in his career, while posting career highs in points, assists, effective field-goal and true-shooting percentage, and points per 100 shot attempts, per Cleaning the Glass. 

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Luka Doncic hung 36 on the Nets on Monday, marking his ninth straight 30-point game to open the season. Only one player in NBA history has a longer such streak. You may have heard of him. 

Doncic has a ways to go before getting to Chamberlain’s mark of 23 straight 30-point games, but I’m not sure I would bet against it. This guy is about a sure a bet to get buckets as we’ve ever seen. His 3-point shooting is hit or miss, but he’s impossible to keep out of the paint. And once he gets there, he’s so strong, so crafty, so blessed with such sublime footwork and feel for pump fakes, that the only way to stop him from scoring is to converge with multiple bodies and force him to pass, but he kills you with that, too. 

So far this season, Doncic is converting 70 percent of his shots that come as a result of drives, per NBA.com tracking. Doncic also leads the league in assists out of those drives, and his 152 points in the paint this season trails only Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 174.

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It’s likely a blip on the small-sample radar, but LeBron James’ 3-point shooting has cratered in the early going. Through nine games, he’s shooting just 21 percent from beyond the arc on seven attempts per game. Over his last three games, LeBron is 1 for 16 from deep. 

It’s hard to pick at a guy who’s playing legitimate defense on a bad team while putting up a 24-9-7-1 line in his 20th season, but the truth is LeBron has become increasingly dependent on 3-point shooting over the last handful of seasons, and these shots need to start going down for him. 

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From the department of “things that make you go hmmm” Westbrook is shooting 44 percent from 3 since he started coming off the bench, drilling 12 of his 27 triples after making just 1 of 12 as a starter. From our Sam Quinn:

By coming off of the bench and sharing fewer minutes with LeBron James, Westbrook has been able to average more dribbles per touch (4.93 compared to 4.28) and seconds per touch (5.35 compared to 4.89) than he did last year as a starter. He’s playing a more familiar role even if it’s coming in unfamiliar minutes.

It’s a good point. Westbrook needs the ball and the freedom to do with it as he pleases. That’s not necessarily going to make him a plus player over the long haul, but it will hopefully make him less of a negative. 

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Irving reportedly had a “productive and understanding visit” with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who added that the meeting with Silver clears the way for Irving, who has served 60 percent of his five-game suspension, to begin going through the necessary steps the Nets laid out in order for him to rejoin the team. 

Those six steps are detailed below:

  • Apologize and condemn the film he promoted
  • Make a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes
  • Complete sensitivity training
  • Complete anti-semetism training
  • Meet with the ADL and Jewish leaders
  • Meet with team owner Joe Tsai to demonstrate an understanding of the situation

Even if Irving checks off this list, it might not be this simple. League insider Marc Stein noted that there is “growing pessimism” that Irving will ever play for the Nets again, and that there’s a belief that this list of conditions “was crafted with the knowledge that Irving would be unlikely to complete all six and thus could conceivably subject himself to potential outright release,” which, if true, would be another way of saying the Nets don’t want Irving back and are possibly trying to create an exit strategy that would look like they gave the guy every chance. 

Oh the joys of employing Kyrie Irving. 





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