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.
Curry heard the chatter that the Warriors were dreadful and he wasn't capable of lifting them in the way other superstars have lifted their subpar teams in the past ... and promptly went for a career-high 62 points against the Blazers. He followed that with 30 points against the Kings, and suddenly you look up and the Warriors are 4-4 after playing the full-strength Clippers to the wire on Wednesday. Draymond Green has ramped up the defense and settled the offense, and Curry is second in the league in scoring. It could be a lot worse after the way things started for Golden State.
"Pedestrian" start for James, who is averaging 23.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists on 47 percent shooting. The telling stat is the Lakers are plus-17 points per 100 possessions during LeBron's minutes, per Cleaning the Glass, and they're minus-7.8 when he's off the floor. The Lakers have basically jogged through the start of this season and are 6-2 and tied with Phoenix atop the West, and LeBron, at 36 years old in his 18th season, is somehow still very clearly the best player in the world.
In Harden's first two games, he went for 33 and 34 points, respectively. In his third game, he went for 44 points and 17 assists. He's third in the league in scoring at 29.4 a night, and the Rockets look like a different offensive team with some actual off-ball movement for Harden and John Wall (and Christian Wood -- one of the league's most pleasant surprises). The Harden trade chatter has died down, but it almost feels like the calm before a storm. I still can't see him staying in Houston the entire season, and I won't be surprised at all if a trade happens soon.
Jokic is averaging a triple-double out of the gate at 24.1 points, 11.9 assists and 11.7 rebounds per game. He's also second in the league in turnovers with 5.1 per night, which is way too high even considering how much offense the Nuggets run through him and the rightful risks he takes as a brilliant passer.
Denver has gotten off to a slow start at 3-4. The defense has been sad, quite frankly, and it opens up a dialogue about whether Michael Porter Jr. can continue to start when he returns because he is a big-time negative on the defensive end.
It was Tobias Harris who won Eastern Conference Player of the Week, but Embiid is the one looking like an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The 76ers are yet to lose when he's in the lineup, 7-0, and they're plus-15 in his 32.6 minutes per night, which is the second-best plus-minus in the league to Danilo Gallinari, who has only played two games.
Embiid was everywhere on Wednesday, saving the Sixers from a meltdown against the Wizards in finishing with 38 points, on 11-of-20 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3, to go with eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks. The Sixers are atop the Eastern Conference at 7-1, but let's keep in mind they have played an extremely easy schedule thus far.
Chris Paul is getting a lot of the talk for Phoenix's hot start, and deservedly so -- he's been very good and he's the new guy in town. But Booker has been the best player on a Suns team that is out to a 6-2 start and tied with the Lakers atop the Western Conference.
Booker, who's not having to do quite as much offensively with Paul around, is averaging 21.5 points a night, and though he hasn't really gotten it going from 3-point range yet, his growth as a playmaker is evident. Monty Williams is running a large chunk of Phoenix's offense through him, even when Paul is on the floor, because he's not just a scorer. He's finding shooters, and had developed a particular nose for Mikal Bridges in the corner.
Beal went for a career-high 60 points against the Sixers, and the Wizards still lost. Beal is leading the league in scoring, yet the Wizards are 2-6. If he was going to ask for a trade, you'd think it would've happened by now, but either way he's a free agent in 2022, and in a walk year next season, and the Wizards -- who aren't putting together a very compelling case to keep him -- might be forced to deal him to kickstart what probably should've been a rebuild that began some time ago.
Brown is taking the proverbial leap in his fifth season, averaging over 26 points a night on 57 percent shooting, including 42 percent from 3. Brown is second to only Bradley Beal with 10.4 field goals made per game (he could stand to get to the free-throw line a bit more), and he's really getting out on the break with force.
The Celtics are thinner on offense than they've been in years past with the departure of Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker yet to suit up, and Brown -- along with Jayson Tatum -- is carrying a heavy load. In this way, Brown has had to do more than score, and his more effective ball-handling and playmaking has shown.
Coming into Wednesday night, George was averaging over 25 points, five assists and five rebounds on better than 50 percent shooting, including a scorching 49 percent from 3. He put up 21 points and 12 boards in the Clippers' win over the Warriors on Wednesday, and though he was just 5 of 15 from the field, he hit some ridiculously difficult shots on crucial possessions. He is clearly relishing the level of freedom Ty Lue is giving him to create in different ways. George is also playing excellent defense to start the season.
Irving is off to a sensational start for Brooklyn, averaging 27 points on over 50 percent shooting, including 42.6 percent from deep. He's 22 for 22 from the free throw line. But the Nets are only 4-4, and those four losses have come to the Grizzlies, Hornets, Hawks and Wizards. Not exactly a murderer's row.
Both Irving and Kevin Durant missed clean potential game-winning shots against the Wizards, which you have to find kind of funny given Irving's comments that Durant is the first guy he's played with in his career that he feels he can trust as much as he trusts himself with clutch shots. Seriously, he said that. A guy who played with LeBron James.
If there were any questions as to whether Durant can be the same player after tearing his Achilles, they've been answered. He can. And is. He's averaging over 28 points a night, good enough for fourth in the league, on better than 51 percent shooting, including 45 percent from 3. He looks as capable as ever getting to the rim and into his jumper, which looks familiarly automatic. Unfortunately, Durant had to miss Brooklyn's recent win over Utah and could miss the next three games after being exposed to COVID-19.