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 here are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the regular season.
It's baffling how great LeBron continues to be. Any decline is only in comparison to his former self, and it's also exaggerated. The man can still do pretty much whatever he wants on an NBA court.
He did it again on Tuesday, when he continually broke the paint in becoming the first Lakers player since Magic Johnson to record at least 30 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals in a single game (his final numbers were 31/11/8/5).
He's also the oldest Laker to record five steals in a game since the stat became official in 1973.
Oh by the way, the Lakers, largely thanks to LeBron's 15 fourth-quarter points and a monstrous stretch from Austin Reaves, edged out the Suns to advance to the In-Season Tournament semifinals in Las Vegas.
I mean, come on:
This In-Season Tournament, who is an absolute superstar playing on a small-market team that isn't going to make championship noise and needs a platform to showcase what is one of the most unique and electrifying skillsets in the basketball world.
So hidden from the common fan has Haliburton been that, until Monday, he had never played a single game on TNT. He took advantage of the stage, registering the first triple-double of his career (hard to believe) with 26 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds and zero turnovers in Indiana's upset win over Boston.
Check out his previous five games:
- at Miami: 44 points, 10 assists
- vs. Portland: 33 points, 9 assists
- vs. Detroit: 26 points, 10 assists
- vs. Toronto: 33 points, 16 assists
- at Atlanta: 37 points, 16 assists
Haliburton leads the league in assists per game and points created via assists. His 139.2 points per 100 shot attempts, per Cleaning the Glass, is a more efficient scoring mark that Stephen Curry (or any other player in the league, for that matter). He's shooting 45% from 3.
You would think it would be hard for Haliburton to get his shot off cleanly in tight quarters because of the low release, but he's one of the deadliest pull-up/step-back distance shooters in the league.
This is the shot that unlocks Haliburton, who isn't going to just blow by defenders off the dribble. He has to first get you off balance; nobody gyrates more than Haliburton does with the ball -- forward and backward, side to side, choppy, in-and-out steps, little bursts and hesitations, like a symphony of record scratches, all the while gaining little slivers of space.
Those slivers start to add up as the defender keeps taking these little bites out of the apple Haliburton is dangling. The apple is his step-back or quick-pull 3. And once the defender finally goes for it, even if just slightly, that's all the leverage Haliburton needs to win the angle and get into the paint for his floater, or all the space he needs to just pick up and launch.
Randle was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 24.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists in leading the Knicks to a 3-0 week and into the knockout stage of the IST. Unfortunately, the Knicks were promptly disposed of by the incendiary Bucks.
But Randle was still splendid, making his first nine shots en route to 41 points on 14-of-19 shooting. He was attacking downhill with force, bullying defenders in the post and separating easily for his mid-range jumper, and he made one of the best hustle plays of the season to find Donte DiVincenzo for a 3, reflective of his high energy all night.
Randle went for 25 points and 20 rebounds against Charlotte last week, and he missed a triple-double by one assist (he has 26 assists over his last four games) in a win over the Raptors.
Absolutely dominant paint performance by Julius Randle on Friday night.— Rit Holtzman (@BenRitholtzNBA) December 4, 2023
By my count, 44 points generated via his drives, post-ups, and offensive rebounds whether through points, assists, or hockey assists.
A total battering ram. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/zRZRAAgNF4
Randle got off to an atrocious shooting start this season, but he's filling it up now, and the Knicks, despite their IST elimination, are playing good ball.
I'll be damned if I'm not totally in love with Young's game. I critique him a lot because I think he should be even better than he is by committing to off-ball energy and, well, by actually making 3-pointers at a rate which is commensurate with his clear shooting talent. Still, sometimes I have to forget my wishes for more and just sit back and enjoy one of the most special offensive players in the world.
He made it easy for me this past week, hanging 45 points and 14 assists on the Spurs followed by a 32 and 12 showing in a win over the Bucks.
I have all the same "is Trae a winning player?" concerns that a lot of other people do, but his talent is truly exquisite. Young's defensive limitations/apathy notwithstanding, he gives any team he's on a good chance to win every single night, which makes it all the more frustrating that Atlanta has basically been a water-treading team since its surprise, and bracket-aided, run to the 2021 conference finals.
Dating back to his 54-point bombshell nearly a month ago, Giannis has gone over the 30-point mark in 13 of his last 16 games.
The Bucks are still figuring things out (especially defensively) and Damian Lillard hasn't been great outside of clutch time, which has dominated most of the Milwaukee coverage thus far. But Giannis has been pretty great, though not his best in some small ways (some of his jump-shot decisions are starting to concern me again).
In Milwaukee's IST quarterfinal win over the Knicks, Antetokounmpo went for 35 points and 10 assists, who are really starting to come together as Khris Middleton slowly rounds back into the half-court/shot-creating weapon he can be, and needs to be, for this team.
Everyone was hyped about Giannis needing just one dribble from half court to finish a dunk, but I want to be clear about this: He needed just one dribble from behind half court.
Jokic has 45 assists over his last three games. At 32.6 PPG over his last six, he's the most lethal scorer in the world -- and yes, I know that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are still alive.
A passing cyborg, inevitable in the post and a much better shooter than his 3-point numbers suggest, Jokic has recorded two 30-point/zero-turnover triple-doubles -- a line that hasn't been accomplished by a single other player, even one time, over the last 23-plus years -- in the past week alone.
We're talking about one of the greatest players ever playing, arguably, better than he ever has.
Nikola Jokić is averaging 29.0 PTS, 12.8 REB, 9.8 AST, 1.2 STL and 0.8 BLK, with a +5.8 rTS%.— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) December 3, 2023
Jokić's current box plus/minus of 15.58 is 1.86 clear of his all-time single-season record of 13.72.
That's about the same distance as the gap between 2nd and 10th all time. pic.twitter.com/ezo3y9GcFi
Jokic has to be the leading MVP candidate even though Denver has just sort of treaded water as Jamal Murray has been in and out.