NBA Star Index: Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons putting on defensive clinics; Carmelo Anthony getting last laugh
Also, Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to add to his game
Welcome back to the NBA Star 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.
The one possible knock on the Lakers so far was that they haven't played the greatest competition. Their 10-game win streak didn't include a single victory over a team with a current winning record. But now they've beat the Nuggets and Jazz, both on the road, on back-to-back nights, and Anthony Davis is under the weather.
Davis has been particularly brilliant. As mentioned, he was sick during the Lakers' win in Denver Tuesday night. He had to take an IV at halftime. He still put up 25 points and 10 boards and was a one-man demolition crew defensively.
After the game, Davis' teammates-- not just in that game, but all season.
From Bill Oram of The Athletic:
"He's guarding their two best players," coach Frank Vogel said. "Jokic, single coverage, everybody's staying home. And Jamal Murray taking him to the basket and he's making defensive play after defensive play. He was outstanding. For him to play through illness and have that kind of performance was something special."
Then LeBron James chimed in:
"He's been doing it all year," LeBron said. "Playing through injuries, playing through illness like he did tonight. Defensive player of the year and he showed tonight once again playing one on one vs. Joker in the post. When there were switches going on with Jamal Murray, playing one-on-one versus a small. Got stop after stop after stop. Just a monster game for him."
And Rajon Rondo:
He's a super-elite player, if not the best player in the game right now as we speak. So I'm not surprised that he played well tonight."
Wait. Did Rondo just call Davis the best player in the game? Did he mean just defensively or …?
"I'd say overall," he said. "He demands a double team every night. He's shooting the 3 now. He makes plays for his teammates. A great leader, on and off the floor. I mean, I got him as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year."
On Wednesday, Davis was back at it again, posting 26 points, six rebounds and three blocks. He only had to play 26 minutes as the Lakers blew Utah out. Personally, I think putting Davis in the upper-tier of the MVP discussion is too much. LeBron has been better this season, for starters, and it's hard to win MVP if you're arguably not even the MVP of your own team. Ask Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry about that.
But the DPOY trophy is definitely in Davis' range. He's tied with Orlando's Jonathan Isaac for the league lead in blocks at 2.7 per night. He can guard on the perimeter. He contests with his length as effectively as anyone. He's one of the few players in the NBA who can legitimately guard 1-5. Davis is cementing his status as one of the seven or eight best players in the world, at least, and the Lakers -- news flash -- are for real.
Simmons' DPOY case is gaining steam of late, and for good reason. He absolutely smothered the Pacers last Saturday, collecting three steals in the final 14 seconds -- yes, you heard that right -- to turn a one-point Philadelphia deficit into a win for the 76ers.
Here's the first one, which Simmons also takes the length of the floor for the go-ahead assist:
Then the second, which effectively sealed the game as Indiana was trying to inbound the ball for a shot at its own game-winner:
The third steal was a stat-stuffer -- a full-court pass that landed in his lap, but he deserved it. Simmons has been tremendous on the defensive end this season. I'm actually putting together a big film study on what makes him so great, so I don't want to get too much into the film here. But I will say if you're not watching this guy defend on a consistent basis, or if you're letting your focus on his still non-existent jump shot cloud your appreciation for all the other parts of his game, you're missing out.
What makes Simmons great? For starters, he reads the floor on defense the way a great point guard does on offense -- the way Simmons does on offense, actually. He is almost always one step ahead. He makes multiple efforts; when he hits one screen he doesn't stop playing.
He's always pursuing, digging down to help on drivers then recovering back out to shooters. He stops penetration. He is strong in the post to hold his ground and plays with high hands. He leads the league in steals. His hands are always active. He is second in the league in both deflections per game and loose balls recovered per game, which tells you about his motor.
But he's not a typical rabbit-footed high-motor guy that looks like he's flying around everywhere. He doesn't have to do that, because he's so long and so smart about his positioning. One step this way, one step that way, and he's long enough and athletic enough from there to contest almost anything the offensive player does. He denies passing lanes -- which isn't even really part of the game anymore. Entry passes to wings are generally conceded these days. Not with Simmons. He'll deny, jump the passing lane, then if he gets beat he'll recover back and contest shots from behind.
OK, I said I wasn't going to say too much. So I'll stop here. But believe me when I say that Ben Simmons is one of the best defenders in the league right now.
Carmelo Anthony, who has been nothing short of shockingly good since joining the Blazers, was named Western Conference Player of the Week. . James Harden and Luka Doncic were better. But recognizing Melo for how truly great he's been is a worthy gesture.
After those three stat lines -- all in Portland wins -- Anthony again balled out on Wednesday, posting 20 points and five rebounds on 8-of-16 shooting, including 2 of 4 from 3. For the season, Anthony is shooting just under 45 percent from the field and just under 39 percent from 3. If he keeps that up, regardless of anything else, he will continue to be a major asset for a Portland team that has won four of five and is hopefully starting to gain some positive momentum.
Giannis was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and unlike Melo's award, there was nothing sentimental about it. The guy is just so great, and he keeps adding things to his game. We know he's virtually unstoppable going to the rim. We know he's a monster rebounder and defender. But now he's an appreciably better playmaker, and a developing shooter.
Is he really going to start hitting 3s from 27 feet?
Is he really going to start hitting Kobe Bryant turnaround fades from the post?
Giannis went for 35 points in a win over Detroit on Wednesday. He shot 12 of 21 from the field. He shot 4 of 8 from 3, which is just crazy that he's becoming a legit threat from downtown. He added nine rebounds for good measure. The Bucks have now won 13 straight. They are tied with the Lakers for the best record in the league at 19-3, and they have the NBA's only double-digit net rating. Giannis continues to be the early favorite to take home his second straight MVP.
James Harden was involved in one of the wackiest plays, and rulings, I've seen in a while on Tuesday. With just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Rockets leading the Spurs by 13, Harden picked off a pass at midcourt and sailed in for a breakaway dunk -- only the ball, somehow, went through the net with such force that it swung back up over the front of the rim. It was enough to dupe the officials into thinking the ball never fully went through the net, and they ruled the basket no good.
Have a look:
Again, you can see the ball clearly goes through the net. What happens is the ball stays stuck in the net, and as the net swings up, it effectively slingshots the ball back up over the front of the rim. This is clearly a good basket, and crew chief James Capers admitted as much after the game.
So here's where this gets interesting. Being that an extra two points clearly would've impacted a game that wound up tied at the end of regulation, the Rockets, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon, are. According to MacMahon, the Rockets are hoping to either be awarded a victory, as the extra two points would have prevented overtime in the first place, or have the final 7:50 of the game replayed.
Such an outcome would not be unprecedented in NBA history. The Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks were forced to replay the final 51.9 seconds of a 2006 game because it was found after the fact that the referees had miscalculated the number of fouls on Shaquille O'Neal. In the original game, Shaq fouled out, but when the league found that he had actually committed only five fouls, the two sides replayed those last 51.9 seconds four months later, when the two teams were next scheduled to play.
Oh by the way, Harden scored 50 points in this game.
No big deal.
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