Welcome back to the NBA Star Power 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.
At 36 years old in his 16th season, Chris Paul is finally headed to the NBA Finals.
Paul was spectacular in Phoenix's clinching Game 6 win over the Clippers on Wednesday, putting up 41 points and eight assists. He hit 16 of his 24 shots, including 7-of-8 from deep, while committing zero turnovers. It's a good omen.
Chris Paul had 41 points & 0 turnovers in Game 6.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 1, 2021
He is the 4th player to have 40 & no TOs in a Conference Finals game since TOs became official (1977-78), joining Jordan, Shaq, and Hakeem.
The other 3 all went on to the NBA Finals, won the NBA title and won Finals MVP. pic.twitter.com/EcqHAu1ZUM
After missing the first two games of the series in COVID protocol, Paul struggled mightily with his shot in Games 3, 4 and 5. He was just 2-for-16 from 3 heading into Wednesday. What a time to break out. Paul was aggressive early, and when he got his first couple of 3s to go, he never let up. By the end he had the Clippers' defense spinning circles as he got wherever he wanted in and out of the paint, scoring 31 of his 41 in the second half.
Given Paul's awful injury luck over the years, the few times he got this close but couldn't quite get over the hump, this is overdue in every way imaginable. This is one of the greatest players of his era. But he's not done. A title shot is great, but an actual title is the end game here. And Phoenix has a great shot to win it all. They're either going to play the Hawks, who might be the worst team to ever make an NBA Finals, or a Bucks team that is, as of now, without Giannis Antetokounmpo. Congrats, CP3. One more to go.
Portland GM Neil Olshey, whether he wants to admit it or not, has put Lillard in a very tough spot with the hiring of Chauncey Billups, whose 1997 rape allegations will now hover -- likely for the duration of his Portland tenure -- over the entire Blazers organization and their franchise player. Lillard was forced to defend himself when critics came at him for supporting the hiring of Billups. His loyalty to Portland is, potentially, already wavering for strictly basketball reasons. Now you're going to put his reputation and connection to the fans, even if only a little bit, in to the middle of a storm he didn't create?
That's fine. Do whatever you want if you're Olshey, who obviously believes Billups is worth all the trouble. He better be. But even that might be beside the point. If Lillard gets sick of the storm and starts angling for another port, Billups could find himself coaching his way into a rebuild and Olshey could be gone. Maybe that's part of his motivation. If this doesn't work on short order, he's probably out anyway.
Lillard said he wasn't aware of the Billups allegations, which is believable to a point. I actually wasn't aware of these allegations until Billups' name starting popping up in coaching rumors a few weeks ago and Twitter went to work. But it didn't take long for me, or for anyone else, to become aware. The news was everywhere. Lillard eventually did know about the allegations, and that he didn't speak out against Billups at that time, for some people, is akin to shrugging off the situation.
Whether that's true, or fair, isn't the point. It's reality. Lillard is now in the middle of a PR mess that he didn't create. And this feel-good loyal superstar sticking with the small-market team in the super-team era just lost a lot of its romantic appeal. It was easy to root for Lillard and the Blazers. Lillard has never received the criticism other stars have faced for not consistently winning in the postseason. He always gets the benefit of the doubt. Now he might not be getting that anymore, and it could make him pretty defensive and turn him against the organization to which he has, to this point, remained uniquely committed.
Thank the basketball gods that Giannis didn't suffer any structural damage to his hyperextended left knee, but he will be out for the Bucks' pivotal Game 5 against the Hawks on Thursday night. Historically, the winner of Game 5 in a 2-2 series goes on to win the series over 82 percent of the time.
Giannis has been fantastic this postseason, and the Bucks have positioned themselves to cover for his holes as a perimeter creator with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, though Holiday hasn't been great by any means.
The Bucks will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo for tonight's Game 5. He is the first player with 400 points, 175 rebounds and 75 assists through his first 15 games of a postseason and it only took him 14 games to reach those marks. pic.twitter.com/N32DcAUz1e— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 1, 2021
Milwaukee still has more than enough to take Game 5 at home. The Hawks managed to take Game 4 without Trae Young, and that's not because Giannis was hurt. Atlanta owned that game from the start. By the time Giannis went down, Atlanta was in total control. Our James Herbert wrote on how Milwaukee can take a page out of Atlanta's book without its superstar in Game 5.