8 players and teams overshadowed by Warriors — including one of their own
You're right. Choosing the second-best player on the Golden State Warriors as someone who's getting overshadowed by the Warriors doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But hear us out. While Green might be this unstoppable juggernaut's voice, Stephen Curry is undoubtedly the face of the franchise. And sometimes it feels like the greatest shooter ever is the Michael Jackson to their Jackson 5. One specific aspect of Green's game needs a little more attention: Only two players in the entire NBA have more assists. That's right, only Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook. Everyone else is below a guy who best functions at center. For those counting, Green has 10 more assists than James Harden, in 77 fewer minutes.
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Favors' career has thrived outside the public eye for years, but now, more than ever with Rudy Gobert down, he's an All-Star who even deserves Defensive Player of the Year recognition. Utah's defense is 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when Favors is on the court. He can slide on the perimeter, block shots, rebound, guard the post and protect the rim. Right now, he's ninth in PER, eighth in Win Shares per 48 minutes and seventh in field-goal percentage. Favors can really pass and seems to get better by the day. Did you know he had a 35-point, 13-rebound game against the Indiana Pacers a few days ago? He did!
A few months after his Raptors were swept out of the playoffs, Lowry has decided to get in people. He leads the NBA in steals and is fourth in personal fouls. Oft-compared to a pit bull, Lowry's game is ballet in the mud. He's fourth in Win Shares and second in Real Plus-Minus, shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line (his career high is 38 percent). Paul Pierce infamously said the Raptors didn't have an 'it' factor before his Wizards spanked them last spring. It's unclear what this exactly means, but Lowry clearly took it to heart.
This list's first team defied its most optimistic preseason predictions. The Mavs are nearly operating at a top-10 level on both ends of the court (11th in offensive and defensive rating) with the ninth-highest win percentage in the league. How? To no one's surprise, Dirk Nowitzki is slaughtering defenses with a vintage 50-40-90 campaign. To everybody's surprise, Deron Williams is making his 3s, Dwight Powell and Zaza Pachulia are a rock-solid frontcourt tandem and Wesley Matthews is averaging over 30 minutes per game. If this sustains, it'll be one of the most impressive marks on Rick Carlisle's Hall of Fame resume.
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Remember Rondo? That four-time All-Star with unparalleled instincts, irritating boldness and visual flair? He's back to making you rewind your DVR at least six times every game. A little over a month into the season, it turns out those mid-November triple doubles weren't a fluke. Right now he leads the league in assists and behind-the-back passes that have crashed Vine. He's at 37 percent behind the 3-point arc, scoring on drives to the rim, flying around on defense and smoothly conducting the second fastest team in the league. The Rajonaissaince is real.
Noah Graham / Rajon Rondo
The Magic are a young team with a defense that's slowly squeezing the life out of its opponents. Right now the Magic are fifth in defensive rating, first in opposing baskets per 48 minutes and fourth in opposing field-goal percentage. It's small-sample-size theatre, but over its past 10 games, Orlando's new starting lineup, with Channing Frye in for Victor Oladipo, is crushing on that end, as is the Aaron Gordon, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith frontcourt trio. This is what Scott Skiles does.
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Kevin Durant's free agency/Russell Westbrook
Outside the fact that nobody cares about Kevin Durant's free agency because the Golden State Warriors are 23-0, what if this team does what most expect and cruise its way to a second straight NBA title? How would that impact Durant's momentous decision this summer? Would he peace out to the Eastern Conference, knowing he has a better shot of getting to the Finals playing for any team located 3,000 miles from the Bay Area? It's very possible. On another note: Westbrook! This guy leads the NBA in assist percentage and is boasting the highest True Shooting percentage of his career. If Curry didn't exist, we'd be having 'LeBron or Westbrook?' talks. Nobody in league history (including Curry!) has ever been this efficient with the level of responsibility Westbrook's assuming right now. See for yourself.
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San Antonio Spurs
Every season the Spurs are great. But, well, nobody was expecting them to be this great right out the gates. Their league-leading defense is allowing only 92 points per 100 possessions. The second-place Miami Heat are allowing 96 points per 100 possessions. The gulf between these two is the same difference between the 10th and 24th ranked units. That's kind of wild. Growing pains from LaMarcus Aldridge's assimilation are felt on offense, but not all that much. San Antonio is still 18-4 and undefeated at home. They're good, and the only team Golden State has any real reason to worry about come playoff time.