NBA

NBA Star Power Index: Bradley Beal jumps Stephen Curry in scoring race; Chris Paul playing MVP ball for Suns

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. 

Bradley Beal has averaged 34.5 points over his last four games to jump back in front of Stephen Curry for the league scoring lead by the thinnest of margins. Beal is now averaging 31.3 PPG for the year to Curry’s 31.2. More importantly, the Wizards are rolling, winners of 11 of their last 13 as they continue to occupy the Eastern Conference’s No. 10 seed, which would land them a spot in the play-in tournament. Beal scored 27 on 11-of-18 shooting in a win over the Lakers Wednesday night. 

In addition to Beal’s scoring lead, Russell Westbrook is leading the league with 11.0 assists per game. It has been 39 years since a pair of teammates led the league in those two categories in the same season — George Gervin (32.2 PPG) and Johnny Moore (9.0 APG) for the 1981-82 San Antonio Spurs

Earlier this season I labeled Trae Young an average shooter who thinks he’s Steph Curry, and I got roasted for it. But it continues to be a statistical fact. The league average from 3 is 36.6 percent. Young is shooting 35.7 percent for the season. He’s 34 percent from 3 in April over nine games, but if you take out one 6-for-7 game, he’s just 24 percent in his other eight, including 7 for his last 31. Young shot 33 percent from 3 for the month of March. He hasn’t shot better than 36.1 percent from 3 for a full season at any point his career, and that include college. 

Yes, he takes difficult shots. That’s also his choice. Young — who is injured right now but has the Hawks in line for a potential top-four playoff seed — is afforded total control over Atlanta’s offense, and simply put, his choices have gotten better. Specifically, as the Hawks have added scoring and creative support around him, he has trimmed the possession-killing 3-point bombs he simply hasn’t earned the right to chuck at high volume. You’re not seeing as much of this:

Last season, Young launched 430 3-pointers from between 25-29 feet, or 7.2 per game, making them at a 35.1 percent clip. This season he’s trimmed that number to 242 attempts, or 4.5 per game, making them at a similar 34.7 percent clip. Just a few feet is often a big difference. Look here as Trae walks into a 3 on the line and crosses over into one from a few steps deeper:   

The worst shots tend to be the ones Young jacks up early in the possession before anyone else has touched the ball. Last season, Young attempted 132 3-pointers within the first six seconds of the shot clock, making them at a 31.8 percent clip. This season, he has, to this point, cut that number by exactly half, attempting 66 3-pointers within the first six seconds and making them at a 27 percent clip. 

Stretching it deeper, Young jacked up 81 shots from 30-34 feet last season, and made 32 percent of them. This season that number is down to 56, also at a 32 percent clip. All told, Young is taking three fewer 3-pointers per game this season than he did last, down from 9.5 to 6.4. He’s the same shooter who’s shooting less, lending greater priority to his brilliant paint-probing/floater game, which, in addition to the better talent around him, has made the Hawks a more stable offense. 

Stephen Curry has made 90 3-pointers in April, an NBA record for a single month, and he still has one game to go Thursday night against the Timberwolves. He is pretty much single-handedly keeping the Warriors in the play-in mix and will surely end up in the top five of MVP voting.

Entering play on Thursday, Golden State holds a four-loss lead over the New Orleans Pelicans for the No. 10 seed. That might sound like a comfortable cushion, but the Warriors still have three games remaining against the Pelicans, who could make things interesting if they sweep those games. 

Michael Porter Jr. is having a standout season and has been on a tear of late, averaging 31 points per game over his last four games. Porter went for 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting in Denver’s win over New Orleans on Wednesday night. He scored a career-high 39 in a win over Houston on Saturday. 

Porter has now hit 21 of his last 40 3-pointers and is shooting 44 percent from deep on over six attempts per game for the season. And Denver needs every last bit of it. Losing Jamal Murray was likely a catastrophic playoff blow, but thanks in large part to Porter, the Nuggets have been able to keep rolling along in the regular season. They are 7-1 since Murray went down, and over that span Porter is averaging 26 points and 6.6 rebounds on 59 percent shooting, including 52.3 percent from 3. 

Knicks great Charles Oakley recently called Julius Randlea better version of Zion Williamson” with the rationale that Randle can do more things offensively. That much is true — which is to say Randle has a game outside the paint. 

But don’t confuse being able to do more things with being able to do more. Cam Newton can do more things on a football field than Tom Brady, but the few things Tom Brady does great are so great that it doesn’t matter. 

Nevertheless, Randle’s All-NBA season continues. He went for 34 points and seven boards in New York’s win over Chicago on Wednesday, and is averaging 27.6 points over his last three games. He’s also shooting 18 for 28 from 3 over his last four games. Randle is shooting 42 percent from 3 for the season, and entering play on Thursday the Knicks are owners of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, one game up on No. 5 Atlanta and two games up on No. 6 Boston. 

Chris Paul put up 28 points and 10 assists in Phoenix’s monster win over the Clippers Wednesday night, which clinched the Suns‘ first playoff berth since 2010. This seems good:

The chatter around Paul for MVP is getting louder. I don’t think it’s going to, or should, happen. Nikola Jokic is the winner. But the Suns are just one game back of the Jazz for the No. 1 overall seed. Utah is playing without Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley for the foreseeable future. If Phoenix jumps into the No. 1 spot, Paul could ride a pretty powerful narrative straight into the hearts of voters. 

Earlier this season, I cited the elite impact Paul has had on every franchise he’s joined during his Hall of Fame career by comparing the winning percentage of the team in the year before Paul arrived with the winning percentage in the year of his arrival. With what the Suns are doing this season, it bears repeating. 

If that’s not value, I don’t know what is.



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