Welcome back to the NBA Star 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 NBA Playoffs. 

There’s going to be a lot of talk about the Lakers’ offensive struggles so far in the bubble, but I’m not too concerned. LeBron isn’t going to be averaging fewer than 20 points per game — as he is so far in Orlando — in the playoffs. But the shooting sure needs to come around. So far in the bubble he’s shot 42 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3. Those numbers need to be closer to 50 and 35 for the Lakers to be clicking, because the truth is they just don’t have enough consistent options to create offense when and if LeBron struggles. 

The Suns — yes, the Suns — are off to a 3-0 start in the bubble, and Devin Booker is using this platform to announce his superstardom to the world. Booker is averaging over 30 points a game in Orlando, and on Tuesday he sunk the Clippers with the most Kobe Bryant-like buzzer-beater you’ll ever see from someone other than the Mamba himself. 

Booker has now scored at least 30 points and hit a buzzer-beater in the same game three times. Per ESPN Stats and Info, the only players in history with more of those games are Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Kobe, who each went for at least 30 and a buzzer-beater four times during their Hall of Fame careers. Reminder: Booker is 23 years old. 

Did someone — everyone — say Melo was done? Damian Lillard finds that hilarious. “I find it real funny and disrespectful how people speak on him,” Lillard recently said Anthony. “He’s a Hall of Famer.”

That shouldn’t even be a debate. Do not for one second let the things he’s not great at cloud your judgment: He is one of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history. And he’s still doing it in his 17th season at 35 years old for the Blazers, who are steaming toward a playoff spot. Anthony is averaging 16 points per game in the bubble while drilling 50 percent of his 3-pointers (7 for 14). And we’re not talking about garden variety 3s. We’re talking about HUGE, game-on-the-line 3s. 

A lot of people owe Carmelo an apology. 

Speaking of trying to bury a Hall of Famer with plenty of basketball life left in him, Chris Paul was left for dead when the Rockets traded him to Oklahoma City last summer. He was talked about as just another fading star with a bloated contract that no team wanted on its books. 

Turns out, Paul is still an All-NBA player, and he has picked up in the bubble where he left off before the season’s stoppage. The Thunder pounded the Lakers on Tuesday to move to 2-1 in Orlando, where Paul is averaging just under 21 points per game on 58-percent shooting. He still gets to his mid-range jumper as effectively as anyone in the world. 

What in the world is going on with T.J. Warren? Dude went for 53 points in the Indiana Pacers’ bubble opener against the 76ers, and he followed that up with 34 against the Wizards and 32 against the Magic. The Pacers are 3-0 in the bubble, and Warren is averaging … crunches numbers … 39.6 points on 65 percent shooting, including 61 percent from 3-point range. 

Warren can really score. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game this season on 39 percent 3-point shooting, which makes him one of the league’s real bargains at less than $11 million this season. So it’s not like this is coming completely out of nowhere. Well, OK, yes it is. This is out of this world. 

It’s getting to be about Dame time. The Blazers are 2-1 in the bubble and just one game back of the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed. Lillard is averaging 26.6 points and 11 assists in Orlando, and he’s got that thing going where even when he’s not scorching hot, the second he decides to get hot and start taking games over, he can pretty much do it on call. If the Lakers end up having to deal with the healthy Blazers in the first round, that is not going to be an easy series. Lillard and CJ McCollum continue to be killers.

Harden had one of the most impressive performances so far in Orlando with 49 points on 14-of-20 shooting in Houston’s bubble-opening win over Dallas. The Rockets are 2-1 in Orlando and currently the No. 6 seed in the West, and they look dangerous. Harden is going to be fresher than ever, and he and Westbrook are playing off one another brilliantly with Harden drawing the double teams and Westbrook attacking the rim through the space that creates. 

Luka is so great it’s just silly. So far in the bubble he’s averaging a triple-double — 34 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists per game. On Tuesday, Doncic put up 34 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists in Dallas’ win over the Kings (the team that passed on him to take Marvin Bagley IIII), making him the youngest player in history to record a 30-point, 20-rebound triple-double. The Kings and Suns — and probably even the Hawks (even though Trae Young is pretty great, too) — are never going to get over not drafting this guy. 

Michael Porter Jr. is taking full advantage of increased playing time with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton all yet to play for the Nuggets in Orlando. Porter became the first rookie in NBA history to put up a least 30 points and 15 rebounds while making at least five 3-pointers on Wednesday, when he went for 30 and 15 on 5-of-9 from 3 in Denver’s win over the Spurs. That followed up his 37-point, 12-rebound performance two days earlier in a win over the Thunder. Over those two games, Porter shot 67 percent from the field and 60 percent from deep. 

People forgot about Porter as he missed his whole rookie season with a bad back, which led to questions about whether he would be plagued by injuries his entire career. That’s how he slipped to No. 14 in the 2018 draft in the first place, because every scout in the country would’ve labeled him a top-five talent. The Nuggets, who also selected Nikola Jokic in the second round, might well have another monster steal on their hands. 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here