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.
This is hard to comprehend. With 41 points in a win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, Doncic tied Dirk Nowitzki for the second-most 40-point games in Mavericks history with 20. Dirk played 21 seasons. Luka is less than 20 games into his fifth season. (Although it’s also worth noting that the Mavs lost a total of 17 games due to the COVID-shortened seasons of 2019-20 and 2020-21.)
The word insane gets thrown around a lot in NBA parlance. It’s usually some Nikola Jokic pass or Stephen Curry shot that is, to be sure, highly impressive but not really worthy of such dramatics. But this? Luka requiring basically just four seasons to record the same number of 40-point games that one of the greatest scorers in history needed over two decades to produce? That’s insane.
(For the record, Mark Aguirre holds that Mavs 40-point mark with 22 games, but at this rate Doncic might own it before we ring in the new year.)
Luka, the league’s leading scorer, added 12 assists and 12 rebounds to his ledger against Golden State on Tuesday night, making him the sixth player in history to record at least five 40-point triple doubles.
Add in Luka’s four steals, and he joins another exclusive list.
Doncic has now topped the 40-point mark in three of his last eight games, and the Mavs snapped a four-game skid to pull back to .500.
After scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting in a win over the Magic on Monday, Durant was asked when he knows he has entered into in a binge-scoring rhythm. “When I wake up,” Durant said with a dead straight face, and he ain’t lying. This man could score with his eyes closed. Of those 45 points, only 13 came from 3 or the free-throw line. That means he scored 32 points on, for the most part, highly contested midrange jumpers, making 16 of his 19 two-pointers. Just an absurd level of skill and shooting mastery.
Durant, who combined for 67 points in the two games prior to the Orlando outburst, is averaging 30 a night on 55-percent shooting, and the Nets have quietly won five of their last seven to crawl back to .500.
Through 19 games, effectively a quarter of the season, Brown is averaging over 26 points on better than 50-percent shooting. Only eight other players in the league can say that, and they are some of the biggest names in the game. Chop it down to the guys who are putting up those numbers on fewer than 20 shots per night, and Brown becomes one of five.
As Brown’s 3-point clip slowly rises — 40 percent over his last five games — he is maintaining his efficiency by converting five free throws per game (a career high) at an 83-percent clip (a career high, by far) and lighting up the midrange, where he’s making better than 50 percent of his shots for the season — including a scorching 60.5 percent in November, by far the league’s highest mark among players who’ve attempted at least 25 such shots.
Antetokounmpo won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for the second time in four weeks. Over his last four games he has put up 141 points, 50 rebounds and 27 assists, while also parading to the free-throw line 45 times. Antetokounmpo’s usage rate has skyrocketed past 39, which trails only Russell Westbrook (2016-17) and James Harden (2019-19) for the highest mark of the last half century.
But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Milwaukee’s offense generates just 93.9 points per 100 half-court plays, which breaks down to Giannis forcing something that isn’t always there. The Bucks need Khris Middleton back. Until that happens the combination of Giannis, who is the only players in the league averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, plus a dominant defense has to be enough.
The Sixers held the fort down without Embiid, winning three of the four games he missed before he returned against the Hawks on Monday. And what a return it was. Embiid scored seven of his 30 points inside the final minute, including what proved to be the game-winning jumper when he wound up with Dejounte Murray switched onto him with under 20 seconds to play.
One the ensuing possession, Embiid said he played a “cat and mouse” game with Trae Young, deliberately laying off John Collins as he rolled to the basket to bait Young into thinking he had an open lob, only for Embiid to anticipate and close the space for a monster steal before hitting three of four free throws to seal the game down the stretch.
Philadelphia has quietly moved to 12-9, one game back of Indiana for the East’s No. 4 seed as they await the return of both James Harden and Tyrese Maxey.
Ayton is the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week. Check out his last three lines.
Ayton being aggressive as a scorer, rolling hard and sealing against mismatches, establishing deep post position in early offense or off switches, making decisive, assertive moves toward the basket, is such a boost for the Suns, who become a different team when Ayton is on the attack. Look here how he catches at the elbow, immediate faces up, takes one hard dribble and spins into a little five-footer.
If Ayton gets to these deep spots, he’s a bucket. He’s converting almost 83 percent of his shots inside the restricted area — second-highest in the league — and when he catches with downhill momentum and attacks with bad intentions, forget about it.
That’s the mindset Phoenix wants to see from Ayton all the time. This guy can dominate games. We’ve seen it before on a consistent basis. He has incredible touch and footwork to go with his size and athleticism. And he’s a beast on the offensive glass.
Monty Williams has talked about how the Suns, as a team that doesn’t shoot a high volume of 3s, need to create more possessions in order to close that math gap against the teams that do fire away from deep, and indeed, Ayton scores 2.9 second-chance points per game, the league’s third-highest mark.
Ayton’s 64 total second-chance points (with a high-end 1.41 PPP) rank ninth league-wide, and he generates a lot more than that for the team as whole. Phoenix is scoring 16.3 second-chance points per game over its last six, which ranks sixth in league, and Ayton deserves the biggest slice of that appreciation pie.
All around, this is really good stuff from Ayton as of late. Let’s hope he keeps it up for a Suns team that seems to have been somewhat forgotten in the contender conversation. Truth be told, they should probably be at or near the top of that discussion.