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.
LeBron has been getting the itch to launch some extremely deep 3s of late, and he's making them. First, Zion Williamson threw down a monstrous dunk and LeBron responded on the ensuing possession with this:
Then against the 76ers, LeBron did this:
I want you to notice the time on the clock in the bottom right corner of the above video. You'll note that there are just under 11 minutes to play in the third quarter and 19 seconds on the shot clock. So let's be clear: That is a terrible shot. In the first clip, LeBron might've been playing to the crowd a bit after Zion's dunk, but it was also a 2-for-1 situation; he shot the 3 with a little over 30 seconds remaining in the quarter. Guys do that all the time.
Hisagainst the Sixers is just a 40-foot bomb for no reason. The shot clock wasn't winding down. It wasn't a 2-for-1 situation. Defenders weren't ready to pick him up until close to the 3-point line. He could've strolled 10 feet closer and still pulled up for the same shot. LeBron said after the game: "I don't take any shot that I don't work on," but I'm quite sure he works on 30 footers, too.
This is me being an unconscionable hater, of course. Deep down, I love guys pulling from ridiculous ranges as much as anyone. It wasn't a particularly close game. The Lakers pretty much have the 1-seed wrapped up. And in the end, the NBA is entertainment. The fans loved it. Heck, I loved it.
But it was a bad shot.
Tatum was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February, during which he averaged 30.7 points on 49 percent shooting, including 48 percent from 3. He's scored at least 32 points in six of his last seven games. During Kemba Walker's absence there was a natural shift to Tatum as the go-to player, to whatever degree that distinction exists in a Boston offense that remains a relatively equal-opportunity enterprise.
Tatum has been as good as any of them, and probably better of late. If it continues through March, it'll be hard to deny Boston's third-year star a spot.
Williamson has now scored at least 20 points in 13 consecutive games, extending his NBA record for a teenager. He scored a career-high 35 against the Lakers on Sunday, a game in which he went 12 for 16 from the field and, even more notably, 11 for 13 from the free-throw line. He went back and forth with LeBron James all night.
Just 15 games into his NBA career, there are already so many ways Zion can beat you. His feel for the game is way beyond his years. He's an active and instinctual cutter. He runs the floor and establishes low, early post position. He feels defenders on his back and spins off them for seals and over-the-top lobs, for which Lonzo Ball is constantly on the lookout.
The Pelicans' playoff hopes for this season are fading; they've lost four of their last five and, entering play on Thursday, trail No. 8 Memphis by five games in the loss column with three teams between them. But the future is clearly bright in New Orleans.
Did someone say something about a bright future in New Orleans? That's not just about Zion and All-Star Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball is when they drafted him No. 2 overall in 2017. On Monday night, Ball tied his career high with seven 3-pointers against the Wolves. Then he hit did it again with seven more on Wednesday night against the Mavericks. He went 14 for 21 from deep in those two games.
Since the start of February, Ball is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. Since the All-Star break, that number has climbed to over 46 percent. For the season, he's at 38 percent from deep.
Already a relentless pace-pusher with elite open-court speed, natural floor-general instincts and a versatile defensive toolbox, the development of Ball's shot is quietly one of the most important storylines of this NBA season, and if it continues, it will have a major impact on the growth of this Pelicans team heading into next season.
For years James Harden has been criticized for baiting officials into giving him calls that ultimately send him to the charity stripe for historic amounts of free throws. It never gets talked about that being able to do that is a skill that requires you to consistently put defenders in compromising positions.
So Harden, of all people, knows what skill is, and now he's playing the same card by saying that what Giannis Antetokounmpo does -- which Harden is wrongly boiling down to standing there and dunking because he's taller than everyone else -- . This is nonsense.
Harden's beef started because Giannis, an All-Star captain, made a little joke that he wasn't picking Harden for his team because he dribbles too much and doesn't pass. Giannis and LeBron had to have fun with that live-television draft. Little jokes were to be expected. Harden took offense to it, I suppose understandably considering how much heat he's taken for the way he plays the game, but now he's going to the level of his own detractors. Kind of a bad look.