Two of the NBA’s finest have suffered severe injuries. How have the losses of Kevin Durant and Kyle Lowry impacted the Player Power Rankings?
The 2016-17 NBA regular season, and the Player Power Rankings alike, have been thrown for a loop. Two of the Top 10 players on the list have suffered severe enough injuries that they’ll miss at least one month of action.
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Due to the rule that the Player Power Rankings only includes active players, both have been removed. Thus, the question beckons: who are they and where were they ranked?
The first of two players is 2014 NBA MVP and current Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant. Durant was ranked No. 6 in the most recent edition of the Player Power Rankings and was in line to receive a Top 5 ranking on this week’s list.
Unfortunately, Durant will be sidelined for at least one month with a sprained MCL and bone bruise—and he may be held out even longer.
All in all, good news for Kevin Durant and Warriors, team says: Sprained MCL, bone bruise. He will be re-evaluated in a month.
That’s better than what could have transpired, but it will still keep Durant out for a long enough stretch to warrant being dropped from the in-season Top 20.
Lowry was ranked No. 11 in the most recent edition of the Player Power Rankings and has been a Top 10 mainstay for most of 2016-17. He’s an elite two-way player and a three-time All-Star who may still deserve a second career All-NBA nod.
Unfortunately, Lowry suffered an injury that required surgery to remove loose bodies from his right wrist.
Kyle Lowry to undergo surgery Tuesday morning to remove loose bodies from right wrist. Aim to return for playoffs. #WeTheNorth
With Lowry aiming to return for the playoffs, it stands to reason that he could be out for the remainder of the regular season.
With Durant and Lowry out, two new players have entered the mix. Both Durant and Lowry will likely be ranked in the Top 20 of the end-of-the-season Player Power Rankings, but they’ll be excluded in-season for as long as they’re sidelined.
The question is: who are the Top 20 players in the NBA with the likes of Durant and Lowry sidelined by severe injuries?
Feb 24, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) defends Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) in the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
20. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Position: Center Age: 21 (11/15/1995) Experience: 2nd Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .525/.348/.828 2016-17 Season Averages: 36.5 MPG, 24.0 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 3.6 ORPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 3PM
The Minnesota Timberwolves have failed to meet somewhat unfairly high expectations, but Karl-Anthony Towns has been unbelievable. Over the past five games, Towns has taken a strong season and turned it into a year to remember.
Towns has recorded at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in five consecutive games—a streak that puts him in rare territory.
Karl-Anthony Towns has 5 straight 20/15 games. Only players w/ a longer such streak since ’84-85 are Charles Barkley & Kevin Love (6 games).
Towns began the streak by recording 24 points and 19 rebounds in a 112-99 victory over the Denver Nuggets. He followed with 26 points and 18 rebounds in a 97-84 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, and posted 37 points and 22 rebounds against the Houston Rockets.
Towns then tallied 29 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks in a 102-88 win over the Sacramento Kings, and had 21 points and 15 rebounds in a 107-80 win over the Utah Jazz.
Towns is producing at an elite level and the Timberwolves have won four of their past five games. At 21 years of age, Towns is already establishing himself as one of the best young players and leaders in the NBA.
For what it’s worth, only two players in NBA history have averaged at least 24.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game at age 21 or younger: Towns and Shaquille O’Neal.
Feb 28, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) during the second half at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Phoenix Suns 130-112. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
19. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Position: Point Guard Age: 29 (10/11/1987) Experience: 10th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .447/.411/.839 2016-17 Season Averages: 32.8 MPG, 19.6 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.4 3PM
When the Memphis Grizzlies signed Mike Conley to a record-setting contract, few expected him to live up to the hype. He still hasn’t made an All-Star Game appearance, but it would be naive to downplay how well he’s performed in 2016-17.
The Memphis Grizzlies are on pace to make the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, and Conley is as important as any player to the team’s success.
There are other players who deserve credit, but Conley has been invaluable to the Grizzlies’ success. Memphis has net ratings of +4.1 when Conley is on the court and a team-worst -1.3 when he isn’t in 2016-17.
Considering Memphis is 11 games above .500, Conley’s value is easy to define and identify as a true two-way player who can take over in the clutch.
This past week, Conley torched the Denver Nuggets for 31 points and five assists in a 105-98 victory. He followed with 29 points and eight assists on 10-of-19 shooting during a 130-112 shootout win over the Phoenix Suns.
Conley may be labeled by some as a free agency bust, but he’s performed at a Top 20 level in the first year of his new contract.
Feb 24, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) handles the ball defended by San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
18. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Position: Point Guard Age: 31 (5/6/1985) Experience: 12th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .458/.399/.874 2016-17 Season Averages: 31.3 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 9.8 APG, 5.3 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 2.0 3PM
It may seem unfair to include Chris Paul considering he’s missed 21 games during the 2016-17 NBA regular season. He was one of the Top 5 players on the Player Power Rankings when he was active, however, and has returned to playing at an elite level.
Though that may be the general rule of thumb, Paul has played at a significantly higher level than a vast majority of the players on this list.
The 21-game absence causes him to drop a bit, but Paul was one of the Top 5-to-7 players on this list before his injury. He’s come back strong, including the 17-assist and zero-turnover performance that he put forth in a 124-121 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Paul now has two games with 15-plus assists and zero turnovers in 2016-17, which is the ultimate testament to his incomparable brilliance as a facilitator.
Paul ranks No. 1 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus—by a massive margin. He ranks No. 10 in Offensive RPM and No. 7 in Defensive RPM. Of the players in the Top 10 in ORPM, he’s the only player in the Top 50 of DRPM.
Paul was a legitimate MVP candidate before his injury, and while a 21-game absence may be tough to overlook, there simply aren’t 20 players who have been better than CP3.
Feb 28, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) handles the ball in front of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Andre Roberson (21) during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
17. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Position: Small Forward Age: 26 (3/26/1990) Experience: 7th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .468/.390/.862 2016-17 Season Averages: 34.5 MPG, 22.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.0 3PM
Gordon Hayward is finally receiving the respect he deserves as the offensive star of the Utah Jazz. He received his first All-Star Game appearance in 2017 and returned from All-Star Weekend with a string of sensational performances.
Hayward is one of the most efficient and well-rounded players in the NBA, and it’s half past time he receives the respect he deserves.
Hayward returned from his first career All-Star Game appearance by recording 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting during a 109-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. He followed that showing by posting 30 points and nine rebounds during a 102-92 win against the Washington Wizards.
Though he was somewhat underwhelming the rest of the week, Hayward is having a truly outstanding season in Utah.
For what it’s worth, there are just three players averaging at least 22 points per game on a slash line of .450/.390/.850 or better. The other two players are two-time MVP Stephen Curry and 2015-16 Most Improved Player C.J. McCollum.
Hayward has a nuanced game, and in 2016-17, he’s finally beginning to receive the recognition he deserves as a legitimate star.
Feb 27, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova (8) during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 102-95. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
16. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Position: Point Guard Age: 24 (3/23/1992) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .467/.382/.906 2016-17 Season Averages: 35.1 MPG, 24.7 PPG, 5.9 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.4 3PM
Kyrie Irving continued to shine amongst the league’s elite by recording 22 points and 12 assists in the 2017 All-Star Game. In the four regular season games that have since transpired, he’s further solidified his place as one of the league’s elite.
Irving is still somewhat erratic as a facilitator and underwhelming on defense, but he’s also one of the best scorers in the NBA.
Irving returned from All-Star Weekend with 23 points and six assists in just three quarters during a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks. He followed with 34 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and one block against the Chicago Bulls.
Irving continued his tremendous play with 25 points and nine assists in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks, and posted 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting against the Boston Celtics.
Irving is one of six players who are currently averaging at least 24 points, 5.0 assists, and 2.0 3-point field goals made per game in 2016-17. He has the highest field goal percentage of any of those six players.
Irving earned his star status by sinking the title-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and has followed with the best season of his career.
Feb 28, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green smiles on the court during warm-ups prior to the Warriors’ game against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Draymond Green perfectly blends analytical brilliance and immeasurable value as a leader. He’s one of the league’s elite as far as the analytics are concerned, and is the alpha male who has bridged the gap between Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
For as much talent as there may be on that incomparable roster, the Golden State Warriors wouldn’t be the powerhouse that they are without Green.
Green’s basic statistics rarely jump off the page, but he steps up when he’s needed. For instance, he posted 14 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and five steals against the Philadelphia 76ers, and had 14 points, 14 assists, and eight rebounds against the Washington Wizards.
Coupled with Green’s championship pedigree, it would be difficult to overstate how important he is as the leader and defensive ace for the most dominant team in the NBA.
Golden State ranks No. 2 in the Association in points allowed per 100 possessions at 101.4. For perspective, the Warriors are allowing 99.8 points per 100 possessions when Green is on the court and a team-worst 104.4 when he isn’t.
Green is also No. 6 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and No. 2 in Defensive RPM. In the advanced metrics and the leadership divisions, Green is deserving of a Top 20 ranking.
Feb 15, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) high fives Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) in the second quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
14. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Position: Center Age: 24 (6/26/1992) Experience: 4th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .640/.000/.668 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.3 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.8 ORPG, 1.0 APG, 2.5 BPG, 0.7 SPG
The Utah Jazz are 37-24, which is good for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and the seventh-best record in the NBA. The key to Utah’s success has been the elite play on the defensive end of the floor.
Utah ranks No. 3 in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions and the key to that defensive success is starting center Rudy Gobert.
Gobert’s first game back from All-Star Weekend was a 15-point, 16-rebound, and three-block performance in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks. He followed with 15 points, 19 rebounds, three assists, four blocks, and one steal against the Washington Wizards.
It was an accurate display of the brilliance of Gobert as a dominant rebounder, intimidating shot-blocker, and efficient scorer at the rim.
Gobert ranks in the Top 5 in blocks and rebounds per game, as well as field goal percentage. He’s No. 12 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and No. 1 in Defensive RPM, which is a fair indication of his status as the most imposing rim protector in the Association.
Feb 24, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) is defended by Miami Heat forward Luke Babbitt (5) in the third quarter at Philips Arena. The Heat won 108-90. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Hawks are 34-26, on pace to make the playoffs, and consistently overcoming the odds that have been stacked against them. Despite experiencing massive roster turnover, Atlanta has survived and thrived with Paul Millsap leading the charge.
There are other players who have played a defining role in Atlanta’s success, but Millsap is the source of everything positive on both ends of the floor.
Millsap and the Hawks struggled in the return from All-Star Weekend, losing each of their first two games. Millsap posted 17 points and 10 rebounds in an impressive win over the Boston Celtics, however, and flirted with a triple-double the next time out.
Matched up against a resurgent Dallas Mavericks team, Millsap posted 18 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, and one steal in a 100-95 victory.
Millsap ranks No. 15 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and No. 4 in Defensive RPM amongst players averaging at least 30 minutes per game. He’s an elite defensive player who can defend multiple positions and fill every possible role on offense.
Millsap will be a free agent this coming summer and he projects to be one of the most coveted players available on the open market.
Feb 27, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) drives against New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee (5) during the third quarter at Madison Square Garden. Toronto won 92-91. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
As previously alluded to, the Toronto Raptors have been forced to play the past four games without Kyle Lowry. During that time, Toronto won three of its four games on the strength of DeMar DeRozan’s exceptional play.
DeRozan has been a Top 20 player throughout the 2016-17 NBA regular season, but he’s rising up the ranks by proving his value with Lowry out.
DeRozan came back from All-Star Weekend by recording 43 points, five rebounds, and five assists in a signature 107-97 win over the Boston Celtics. He followed with 33 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field in a 112-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
DeRozan closed out the week with 37 points and eight rebounds on 13-of-25 shooting during a 92-91 victory over the New York Knicks.
In addition to posting gaudy scoring numbers, DeRozan stepped up in the clutch during Toronto’s victories. He hit the game-winner against New York and took over in critical moments against Boston and Portland.
DeRzoan may not be the most popular player in the eyes of the analytics community, but he’s been an elite contributor in 2016-17.
Feb 26, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins (0) shoots the ball over Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
DeMarcus Cousins has finally escaped the grasp of the Sacramento Kings. In one of the most shocking trades in NBA history, the Kings shipped Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans for what’s been regarded as an underwhelming trade package.
Though the Pelicans are still attempting to make progress and experience success on a team level, Cousins has made an immediate splash in New Orleans.
Cousins was statistically dominant against the Houston Rockets. He went off for 27 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, five steals, and four blocks in one of the most well-rounded displays by any player during the 2016-17 NBA regular season.
For perspective, the only other player who has recorded at least 27 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, five steals, and four blocks in a game this season was Cousins’ teammate: Anthony Davis.
Cousins followed with 12 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, and three steals against the Dallas Mavericks. He then posted 31 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists against the Oklahoma City Thunder in one of his best performances to date.
New Orleans’ only victory during the Cousins era was when he didn’t play, but it’s far too soon to write this off as anything other than a great trade.
Feb 28, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots over Phoenix Suns guard Leandro Barbosa (19) and center Alex Len (21) during the second half at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Phoenix Suns 130-112. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
10. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Position: Center Age: 32 (1/29/1985) Experience: 9th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .468/.397/.847 2016-17 Season Averages: 34.3 MPG, 20.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.4 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.5 3PM
Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies’ return from the 2016-17 NBA All-Star Break was far from ideal. Following the 102-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers, however, Memphis has looked the part of the perennial 50-win team it’s become.
One of the primary keys to the Grizzlies rebounding from the loss to Indiana was the superstar-caliber play of Marc Gasol.
Gasol stepped up with 23 points, six assists, five rebounds, and one block during a 105-98 victory over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. It was a statement game from Gasol, who reminded the masses of who the best European big man in the NBA truly is.
One game later, Gasol was dominant with marks of 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists, one block, and one steal on 10-of-16 shooting in a 130-112 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Memphis is on pace for 48 wins and Gasol should receive an All-NBA nod. He has a powerful case to make for a First Team selection as, arguably, the best center in the Association—and, if not, the best center on a postseason-bound team.
Gasol gets it done on both ends of the floor and is well on his way to improving his resume with a third career All-NBA selection.
Feb 28, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) is defended by Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) during the first quarter of the game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
9. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Position: Small Forward Age: 27 (9/14/1989) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .445/.340/.870 2016-17 Season Averages: 36.7 MPG, 23.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.7 ORPG, 1.9 SPG, 1.2 3PM
The Chicago Bulls are struggling to stay above .500, but Jimmy Butler is having the best season of his career. He’s reemerged as a premier defensive player and is playing at a star-caliber level on offense, as well.
With a strong stretch of games behind him, Butler has further solidified his place as one of the Top 20 players in the NBA.
Butler returned from the All-Star Break in impressive form, tallying 22 points, nine assists, and four steals in a 128-121 win over the Phoenix Suns. Butler followed with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 117-99 blowout of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If that weren’t enough, Butler tallied 22 points, six assists, five rebounds, four steals, and a block in a stunning 94-87 win over the Golden State Warriors.
For what it’s worth, Butler is No. 2 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and No. 8 in Win Shares. He’s No. 8 in the Association in Offensive RPM and has the second-highest Defensive RPM of any player in the Top 10 on offense.
Chicago needs to make the playoffs for this season to be considered any type of success, but he’s earning his place as one of the Top 10 players in the NBA.
Feb 26, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) moves to the basket between Oklahoma City Thunder forward Taj Gibson (22) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Semaj Christon (6) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
8. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Position: Power Forward Age: 23 (3/11/1993) Experience: 5th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .504/.302/.802 2016-17 Season Averages: 36.3 MPG, 28.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 2.3 ORPG, 2.2 APG, 2.4 BPG, 1.2 SPG
Anthony Davis has received the ultimate form of help in the arrival of fellow Kentucky Wildcats product DeMarcus Cousins. With or without Cousins, Davis has been putting forth a season for the ages in 2016-17.
Surprisingly enough, it was the one game played without Cousins that the New Orleans Pelicans won after the 2017 All-Star Break.
Davis, who scored 52 points in the All-Star Game, tallied 29 points and nine rebounds in his first game back. He then posted 39 points and 14 rebounds against the Dallas Mavericks, and tallied 38 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After suffering three consecutive losses, Davis took over with 33 points and 14 rebounds in a 109-86 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Davis and the Pelicans are 4.0 games back of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. That’s an uncomfortable place to be, but with 21 games remaining, New Orleans still has enough time to turn the season around.
No matter what else transpires, Davis is on pace to be the first player to average at least 28.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.0 steal per game since Bob McAdoo in 1975-76.
Feb 28, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry shoots the ball on the court during warm-ups prior to the Warriors’ game against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
7. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Position: Point Guard Age: 28 (3/14/1988) Experience: 8th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .464/.400/.916 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.5 MPG, 24.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 3.9 3PM
As previously alluded to, the Golden State Warriors have lost small forward Kevin Durant to a knee injury that could keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. If that proves to be the case, then Stephen Curry will have a chance to make a last-minute push for MVP.
The two-time defending award-winner has already carved out a Hall of Fame resume, but this is his chance to prove something more.
Curry has been one of the most dominant forces in the NBA over the course of the past three seasons. He’s regressed statistically in 2016-17, but that’s more the product of the sacrifices he’s made for his team.
With Durant now sidelined for the foreseeable future, Curry will need to play like an MVP again—and he’ll need to do so on both ends of the floor.
The loss of Andrew Bogut was made up for by Durant’s arrival, but Golden State is now without a true rim protector. That means every one of the Warriors’ perimeter defenders will need to be able to stick to their man and fight over the screens they may have been able to cheat on before.
Golden State may be the best defensive team in the NBA, but losing Durant means Curry will need to be the MVP that he’s clearly capable of being.
Feb 28, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) dribbles the ball past Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) in the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
6. John Wall, Washington Wizards
Position: Point Guard Age: 26 (9/6/1990) Experience: 7th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .447/.307/.816 2016-17 Season Averages: 36.7 MPG, 22.5 PPG, 10.9 APG, 4.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 1.0 3PM
The Washington Wizards have been legitimately dominant since Jan. 1 and close to the same since Dec. 1. Washington is 20-7 since Jan. 1—the second-best record in the NBA—and 30-12 since Dec. 1—the fourth-best record in the Association.
Though the Wizards have received a balanced attack from a rising perimeter trio, it’s John Wall who’s most responsible for the team’s success.
Wall came back from the break with 29 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds, and two blocks against the Philadelphia 76ers. He added 23 points, 11 assists, and four steals against the Utah Jazz, but Washington fell short of victory.
Wall then dished out 19 assists during a stunning 112-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors and picked up 13 assists during a win over the Toronto Raptors.
Wall has emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NBA. He’s in line to average at least 10.0 assists per game for a third consecutive season and ranks No. 2 in the NBA with 25.9 points created via assists per game.
Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. have been tremendous, but Wall has been pushing Washington to this level of play for years on end.
Mar 1, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
5. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Position: Point Guard Age: 28 (2/7/1989) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .460/.382/.907 2016-17 Season Averages: 34.5 MPG, 29.6 PPG, 6.2 APG, 2.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 3.2 3PG
The Boston Celtics stunned the masses on Wednesday, Mar. 1 with a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though Cleveland may have been without Kevin Love, it’s added a considerable amount of depth and still has both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.
The catalyst to Boston’s victory was the player who simply cannot be held in check: starting point guard and two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas wasn’t quite himself in two of Boston’s four games since returning from the All-Star Break. He also scored 33 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, during a 104-98 road victory over the Detroit Pistons.
More importantly, Thomas scored 31 points overall and five points in the final 49 seconds, during a 103-99 victory over the Cavaliers.
Thomas is the best fourth quarter player in the NBA and the best player on one of the best teams in the Association. Boston is now 39-22, which is the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and No. 5 in the NBA.
When one considers how consistently the Celtics have been winning, it’s hard to call Thomas anything but an MVP candidate and All-NBA lock.
Mar 1, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) makes the game winning basket over Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (13) during the second half at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 100-99. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Position: Small Forward Age: 25 (6/29/1991) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .487/.384/.894 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.4 MPG, 25.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 2.0 3PM
If you’re still under the impression that Kawhi Leonard is a system player, you haven’t been watching the San Antonio Spurs. He’s both transcended the system and become the central focus of it during the 2016-17 season.
Leonard’s work ethic is close to unmatched and the results have proven just how rewarding that commitment can be.
Leonard began the return from All-Star Weekend with 21 points and six assists against the Los Angeles Clippers. He followed with 25 points in 26 minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers, and had 31 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals against the Indiana Pacers.
That includes the game-winner that Leonard converted from the post over fellow All-Star small forward Paul George.
Leonard is already a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a Finals MVP. He’s since added the distinction of being one of the best scorers in the NBA, with an expanding arsenal of moves that enable him to score in isolation.
Leonard may be the best two-way player in the NBA, and at 25 years of age, he hasn’t even entered the prime of his playing career.
Feb 27, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Position: Small Forward Age: 32 (12/30/1984) Experience: 14th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .540/.389/.689 2016-17 Season Averages: 37.6 MPG, 25.7 PPG, 8.9 APG, 7.9 RPG, 1.2 ORPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.7 3PM
When LeBron James is playing an aggressive style of basketball, there’s no one in the NBA who can stop him. When James is playing a methodical style of basketball, there’s no one in the NBA who can outthink him—and those who can generally don’t have the physically tools to contain him.
The Cleveland Cavaliers now have what may be the deepest roster in the NBA, which means James will have more time to rest and more options to defer to.
James is on pace to average at least 25.0 points per game for a 13th consecutive season. He’s doing so on an obscenely efficient mark of 54.0 percent from the field, as well as 38.9 percent shooting from 3-point range.
If James weren’t shooting at such a poor rate from the free throw line, one could realistically call this his best scoring season to date.
In the three games he’s played since the 2017 All-Star Break, James has two triple-doubles and another intriguing showing. He posted 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists on 8-of-12 shooting from the field in a tremendously efficient performance.
If the Cavaliers are going to maximize their potential as a championship contender, then James must continue to play at this all-time level.
Mar 1, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) controls the ball against the LA Clippers during the first half of a NBA basketball game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Position: Point Guard Age: 27 (8/26/1989) Experience: 8th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .437/.351/.853 2016-17 Season Averages: 36.5 MPG, 28.8 PPG, 11.3 APG, 8.0 RPG, 1.1 ORPG, 1.5 SPG, 3.2 3PM
The Houston Rockets are 43-19, which is the third-best record in the Western Conference and the fourth-best record in the NBA. James Harden is the only All-Star on the Rockets, which creates undeniable MVP appeal.
Harden has been dreadfully inefficient in recent weeks, but that doesn’t change how well he’s played throughout the 2016-17 season.
For as inefficient as he’s been, Harden has done an outstanding job of facilitating the offense. He leads the league in assists per game and has maintained his production as one of the best scorers in the Association.
Harden proved as much when he posted 24 points and 10 assists during a victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and tallied 26 points and nine dimes in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Harden has a legitimate case for league MVP and there are many who believe he’s the frontrunner for the award. His competition is stiff, but there’s reason to believe that he’ll be the player who walks away with the prestigious award.
After being snubbed for the MVP award he deserved in 2014-15, Harden has a powerful case to make for the honor in 2016-17.
Feb 26, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) is fouled by New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins (0) on a dunk during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Position: Point Guard Age: 28 (11/12/1988) Experience: 9th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .420/.343/.836 2016-17 Season Averages: 34.8 MPG, 31.4 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 10.1 APG, 1.8 ORPG, 1.6 SPG, 2.3 3PM
Russell Westbrook is 21 games away from making history in one of the most incredible ways imaginable. He’s already become the first player to record at least 30 triple-doubles in a single season since Wilt Chamberlain in 1973-74.
Assuming his current averages hold, Westbrook would do the unthinkable and become the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62.
Westbrook returned from the All-Star Break by posting 17 points, 18 rebounds, 17 assists, and three steals in a 110-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He followed that absurd showing with another one, posting 41 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
For good measure, Westbrook posted a second consecutive 40-point triple-double with 43 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in an impressive win over the Utah Jazz.
In addition to doing something that hasn’t been done in over 50 years, Westbrook has been leading Oklahoma City to overachieving success. It suffered a net loss of a superstar in Kevin Durant and failed to replace him with even an average player in free agency or the draft.
Nevertheless, Oklahoma City is on pace to make the playoffs—a truth that hinges directly upon Westbrook’s presence.