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. This column will run every week through the end of the regular season.
Booker, for whatever reason, is a polarizing player among NBA twitter experts. There are actually people out there in the world who claim to know basketball who will tell you, still, that Booker is something of an empty-calorie player, a good-stats-bad-team kind of guy, and I'm here to tell you: Don't listen to a word of it. Devin Booker is a stud. Has been for some time.
Booker went for 59 points against the Jazz on Monday, on 55-percent shooting including 5 of 8 from three, and it's not even the highest scoring game of the guy's career. He went for 70, as you might recall, back in March of 2017 against the Celtics. Since the All-Star break, Booker is averaging 30.5 points and just under seven assists. For the year he's averaging 26.2 points, 6.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds with a better true-shooting percentage than Klay Thompson.
Booker has added to his game every year. He's a better playmaker than he's ever been, better in the pick and roll. People keep saying the Suns don't have a point guard, but for all intents and purposes, Booker is their point guard in a James Harden kind of way, which is to say he's the best player and the ball is in his hands a ton and he makes a ton of plays. He's an elite scorer already. Not a good scorer. An elite scorer. He has good size. Good offensive instincts. Great pace to his game.
The Suns could get the No. 1 pick, and with DeAndre Ayton and Booker in place, something is building in Phoenix. The better that team gets, the better Booker is going to be when at some point there will be someone else to alleviate some of the defensive attention he faces. Until then, don't listen to any stat head who starts talking to you about Booker through some new-age lens that flat out forgets that the most important thing in basketball is still getting/creating buckets. Other than a handful of super-elite players, there aren't many players who do that better than Booker. He's also 22 years old. Enjoy the 59 piece:
Young has a lot in common with Booker in that naysayers are always going to think they have a strong case against Young's value by focusing on what he can't do rather than what he can. People will be holding onto Young's negative defense for about as long as they've continued to try to hold onto Booker's volume-scorer tag. Again, don't listen to anyone who says either of these things. Last week, I wrote that Luka Doncic has the Rookie of the Year award sewn up, and I think I still believe that. But man, Young is out here dealing. His last three games:
- 33 points, 12 assists
- 32 points, 11 assists
- 23 points, 11 assists
At this point, the only thing keeping Young from the top of the Rookie of the Year list is his slow shooting start to the season. Had he had it going from the start like he has for the last few months, even Doncic would've had a hard time keeping up. This dude Young is sensational with the ball. Like, a couple-times-in-a-generation brilliant. Look at the company he's not just in, but surpassing:
There are issues for Young. His defense is terrible. His size will never be an advantage. But there is a Steve Nash ceiling in him. That is not an overstatement. Young might not ever shoot the same percentages as Nash, but he could still impact the game way more as a scorer given the volume and range of his shots and the threat they pose, and his playmaking can be every bit of what Nash's was. Also remember, the Hawks received Dallas' 2019 first round pick in addition to Young when they traded away Doncic. That's going to be a lottery pick. Atlanta also has its own pick. So that's two lottery picks coming up. John Collins is turning into a budding All-Star. The Hawks are doing some things.
Don't look now, but the Hornets, winners of four straight, are just one game back in the loss column of the No. 8 seed in the East entering Wednesday. Walker went for 38 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in a huge overtime win over San Antonio on Tuesday. He went for 36 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in a win over Boston last Saturday. In between, the Hornets also beat Toronto, so it's not like this winning streak is happening against cupcakes.
Walker deserves to be in the playoffs. The Hornets have struggled to win so many close games this year, but this is a capable team, and Walker is a star that needs to be on the big stage. Orlando is red-hot as well, but there are multiple paths into the postseason for Charlotte. Brooklyn could drop out. So could Detroit. Miami is already sinking. Walker will be a huge free agent this summer, and a lot of his decision whether to remain in, or leave, Charlotte could be impacted by whether they make the playoffs. This is a potentially franchise-altering stretch run for that organization.
The Bucks beat the Rockets in what was deemed something of an MVP showdown. James Harden was held in check with 23 points on 9-of-26 shooting, including 1 of 9 from three. Giannis had 19 points and 14 rebounds. The game shouldn't have swayed voters one way or the other. Giannis should be the MVP, and it really shouldn't be that difficult of a decision. He's been the best player on the best team all year long. Of the last 15 MVPs, only two of them have come from a team that wasn't a No. 1 seed.
Beyond that, if you want to make it about stats, for all the crazy scoring numbers Harden has put up (he posted a 61 spot on the Spurs on 9-of-13 from three on Friday), Giannis is also in his own air as the only player in NBA history, at present, to average at least 27 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, 1.5 blocks and one steal per game for an entire season. Give the man his hardware, even if it's not at the top of his list of priorities.
This is awful. Nurkic is in the news for just about the worst basketball reason possible: He suffered a gruesome fracture of his left tibia and fibula that conjured stomach-turning images of the Gordon Hayward and Paul George injuries. I'm not going to put the images here or show the video. There's a good chance you've seen it. If you haven't, it's as bad as you think.
The good news is Nurkic has already had successful surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. We'll have to wait and see what that looks like. George came back late in the next season and hasn't since shown any signs that he's not every bit the player -- if not a better one -- that he was before. Hayward, meanwhile, hasn't looked like himself all season after missing all of last year. Everyone responds differently.
For now, this is just a gut shot for the Blazers, who are within range of the No. 3 seed out West and appeared to have a reasonable path to at least the second round if not a conference finals berth. Nurkic was having the best season of his career. There's just no other way to say it: This sucks. The Blazers aren't nearly the threat now that they were before, but at the same time, take caution in counting out any team with Damian Lillard.