Welcome back to the 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 through the end of the regular season.
There’s been a lot of talk about Trae Young catching Luka Doncic in the Rookie of the Year race. I admit, I caught the Young fever for a minute (OK, I’ve been inflicted with it from Day One), but let’s be clear: Luka Doncic is amazing and he’s going to win ROY, probably in a runaway. While Young was drawing attention for becoming the first rookie in Hawks history to post a triple-double, Luka — who already has four triple-doubles — was busy doing this in the three games prior to Tuesday night’s tilt with the Spurs where he, admittedly, was playing through a knee injury.
- 19 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals
- 24 points, 8 rebounds 5 assists, 1 steal
- 31 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals
So, yeah. Let’s not forget, for one second, how incredible Doncic already is. For the season, he’s averaging 20.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.1 steals. Forget rookies, there are only three other players in the entire league averaging those numbers across the board: Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. That’s the kind of company that Doncic, at barely 20 years old, is already in. Indeed, he’s been a better player than Trae Young in every category other than, perhaps, passing, and that’s a closer debate than one might think given Young’s dazzling assist numbers and highlights.
No disrespect to Young, but Doncic is the clear ROY.
Curry, seemingly inadvertently, stirred up the Rockets when he said the struggling Warriors, after losing to the awful Phoenix Suns at home, have an “opportunity to make a statement” in their upcoming heavyweight tilt against the Rockets on Wednesday night. I can’t really figure out why this got under the Rockets’ skin, other than the fact that the Warriors seem to live under the Rockets skin, but it did nonetheless, and Houston responded.
“They should’ve probably said it [was a statement game] before [the Suns game] they lost,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said on Monday.
In other words, stop talking and start playing, no matter who’s on the schedule. More from Rockets center Clint Capela:
“Maybe they’re in that situation where they need to (call it a statement game) to prove themselves that they are at that level,” Capela said.
Hate to break it to you, Mr. Capela, but I hardly think the Warriors, winners of three of the last four NBA championships, need to prove to themselves, or anyone else, that they are at any level other than the top of the NBA. That said, Golden State is not playing well of late. Statistically speaking, their defense is the worst it’s been at any point in this almost five-year run now (15th league-wide entering Wednesday), Stephen Curry is shooting just 31 percent from three over his last seven games (this can, and will, change in a heartbeat), and just from a visceral fear factor standpoint, they don’t appear to have that psychological advantage they used to have where teams just knew the Warriors were going to kill people.
“What’s been interesting this year is if you talk to any analytics guy from any team, the prediction of the result prior to the game has been harder to predict this year than ever before — which in my opinion is great for the NBA league office because you know the blowback they get on that issue.
Four years ago, when Golden State started their dominance, it was almost like Tiger Woods on the Tour — that dominance. He was gonna go win. You felt like he was gonna win every tournament for awhile.
“I think the whole league felt that way on Golden State. I still think Golden State is the favorite, there’s no question, especially with their experience. They have the ability to turn it up in the most important moments. But that variance you described — that delta between them and the next group of teams — at least based upon the regular season results, the point differentials … it looks like it could be a tournament this year.
“I still think Golden State is the best team and we’re all kind of chasing them … but I think we’re in store for some really compelling TV. And uncertainty around outcomes is always best for sports leagues.”
If, to Lindsey’s point, all teams are still chasing the Warriors, the Rockets, once again, are starting to feel like the closest team to catching the champs. Over the past two seasons, including the seven-game Western Conference Finals last season, Houston is 8-5 against Golden State, and you know they have something to prove after having to play Games 6 and 7 of last season’s WCF without the services of Chris Paul.
Westbrook found the spotlight this week for an ugly reason, as a fan in Utah, Shane Keisel, told Westbrook to “get on your knees like you’re used to” — prompting Westbrook to fire back in a manner that wound up landing him a $25K fine for “directing profanity and threatening language” toward the fan.
“I’ll f— him up,” Westbrook said. “I promise you. I promise you. I’ll f— you up. You and your wife. I’ll f— you up.”
Again, it’s ugly. And assuming this fan indeed said what Westbrook and other eyewitnesses have attested to, there’s no excuse for this. Don’t give me the “I paid money for this ticket and can say whatever I want” line. Good for the Utah Jazz for taking actual, real action and banning this fan for life. The guy doesn’t deserve to come to games anymore.
Also, kudos to the players who’ve spoken out on the issue, including LeBron James:
And of course, Jazz star Donovan Mitchell:
Brandon Ingram’s shoulder injury that had been keeping him out of action turned much more serious with the news that he has a blood clot — Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT), specifically — in his arm. Ingram has been shut down for the season by the Lakers, who have basically no shot at a playoff spot anyways.
Many sports fan became more familiar with blood clots and the risk they pose through Chris Bosh, whose career came to an immediate end due to a similar condition. The issue is the blood thinners that are used to treat the condition. Playing NBA basketball on this medication poses a great risk for excessive, even life-threatening bleeding depending on how severe an injury a player might sustain.
With this being the first time Ingram has dealt with DVT, the hope is that it’s a one-time thing and he will be back to play next season with no further issue. But if this becomes a recurring problem, perhaps with even one more diagnosis, and Ingram winds up having to be medicated, it becomes a legitimate career-threatening situation.
Forget all the talk about how well Ingram had been playing in the wake of the failed Anthony Davis trade, and whether he was upping his value enough to give the Lakers more leverage in a potential Davis trade this summer — or, perhaps, if he was starting to look promising enough for the Lakers to reconsider trading him at all. This is about a 21-year-old young man with what should be a wonderful career and life ahead of him. All we can do is hope for the best.
As mentioned above, Young is putting together somewhat of a late Rookie of the Year surge, but it’s not going to be enough. Luka Doncic deservedly has, or should have, that award locked up. That said, Young is looking more and more like a future star in his own right. Again, he recently became the first rookie in Hawks history to record a triple-double, but that’s just the latest accolade for the, now, three-time Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month.
Look at the company Young is in when it comes to producing in the NBA as a rookie:
Seriously, if there happens to be a random seat left on the Trae bandwagon, grab it. Now.