National Basketball Association

Chris Broussard analyzes Sixers' rebirth and grades Steph Curry's hot streak

February 15

The NFL season is over, and sports fans' attention is now being occupied by college hoops, NASCAR, tennis and, of course, the NBA.

As the conference races start to come into focus, let's dive into Chris Broussard's thoughts on a few topics at the front of NBA fans' minds.

1. LeBron James has played an average of almost 40 minutes per game in the month of February. Why do you think he’s playing so much? Could this hurt the Lakers down the line?

First off, I think LeBron is a tremendous competitor who wholeheartedly wants to make the most of his remaining years in the NBA. So I think he’s willing to do, within reason, whatever it takes to win every game. Second, LeBron is human, so in addition to winning championships, he wants to reach individual goals and accolades, in part to be viewed as the greatest basketball player of all time. I believe he wants to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record for points scored, and he knows that winning an MVP award in his 18th season would be unprecedented.

Will his extended minutes hurt the Lakers down the line? I don’t think so because overall, LeBron is averaging less than 35 minutes a game – the same as last season. That’s well below his career average of more than 38 minutes. He also paces himself during games, is playing more off the ball and is shooting more 3-pointers than ever. Plus, virtually every offensive action isn’t running through him, so in my opinion, his minutes are not as taxing as in previous years. Ultimately, I think LeBron knows his body and will not risk being worn out in the playoffs just for regular-season shine. I trust he’ll be fine come postseason.

2. Philadelphia is atop the Eastern Conference and looking like a championship contender. Who deserves the most credit for the 76ers' turnaround: Joel Embiid, Doc Rivers or Daryl Morey?

Doc Rivers has done a great job with the Sixers, and Daryl Morey did a wonderful job of adding shooting around Embiid, with Seth Curry and Danny Green, without sacrificing the team’s great defense. However, the lion's share of the credit just about always goes to the player, so let’s save the most praise for Embiid. He has been terrific. He’s playing on the block more, though perhaps still not as much as he should, and the accuracy of his midrange jumper has become positively ridiculous. If he keeps this up, he will undoubtedly surpass Patrick Ewing as the game’s greatest jump-shooting "true center.’’ Embiid is neck-and-neck with LeBron James right now for league MVP.

3. Zion Williamson is leading New Orleans in scoring (24.4), he's shooting 60.7% from the field, and he’s seventh in the league in PER (25.85). However, New Orleans is 4-10 when he scores 24 (his average) or more. Is Zion a Batman or a Robin? 

For now at least, Zion is a Robin because all he does is score. His rebounding (6.8 RPG) is adequate but well below what you’d expect from such a strong and burly leaper, and his defense is poor. Plus, he attempts fewer than one 3-pointer per game. He might indeed grow into a Batman on a winning team, but he’ll have to add other things to his game to do so.  

4. Through the first seven games of February, Steph Curry is averaging 36.3 points on 57% shooting from the field and 47.8% shooting from 3. Could this be the best version of Steph Curry we’ve ever seen?

Steph has been phenomenal, but let's slow down. He averaged 30.1 points and 6.7 assists and shot better than 45% from 3 – all better numbers than this season – across 82 games in his second MVP season. Oh, and he did it all while leading the Warriors to a record 73 wins. So no, this is not the best Steph we’ve seen. I can’t elevate him past 2015-16 Steph based on a tremendous stretch of fewer than 10 games. If he averages 36 points on, say, 51% shooting from 3 for the remainder of the season, then we can talk.

5. The Russell Westbrook-Washington Wizards experiment is struggling, and they are 0-5 in games this season in which he notches a triple-double. Is Westbrook officially finished as an effective point guard in the NBA?

Sadly, it looks that way. The Wizards are 3-14 with Westbrook and 4-3 without him. Although he still brings energy and an ability to fill up the box score, his weak 3-point shooting is nearly a death knell in today’s game. As a big fan of Westbrook and his historic achievements, I don’t want to write him off just yet, so I’ll wait until more games are played to make a final judgment. I will say, however, that Russ might never play in a significant game (meaning in a competitive playoff series) for the rest of his career.

6. What’s your take on the NBA trying to have an All-Star Game?

Ultimately, I’d like to side with the players on this. If LeBron and other superstars don’t want to play, I’d say go with their sentiment. However, I think the NBA has shown the players' association the financial pluses of playing and the big financial negatives of not playing; thus, they’ve made a prudent decision to play. Overall, the weekend won’t be nearly as taxing as it typically is, without all the parties and endorsement/marketing and community service responsibilities. That being the case, we could get a better, more competitive game than usual because the game will be the main focus and not just an afterthought (as it has too often become). If the players take that attitude, it could be great for fans because the NBA will have center stage in the American sports landscape on Sunday, March 7. 

BONUS: If you had to predict the NBA Finals matchup today, who you got?

My pick today? Lakers vs. Nets.


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