NBA Star Power Index: LeBron not defending Lakers teammates, or his opponents; Kyrie's shift from 'we' to 'me'
Also, Hawks rookie Trae Young gets the ultimate Chris Paul endorsement
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.
Coming out of the All-Star break, LeBron James announced his intentions to " " his playoff mode a bit earlier than usual with the Lakers fighting for their postseason lives. Maybe I'm wrong, but this doesn't look terribly activated:
LeBron, like Kyrie Irving -- who we'll get to shortly -- has spent much of the season separating himself from his teammates, which is fine in the sense that LeBron is different than his teammates, same as he's different than just about any basketball player who's ever walked the earth. That doesn't mean it's the best way to unite a team. One league source told CBS Sports that, increasingly, the word through the league is this Lakers locker room remains compromised and is still being influenced by outside sources.
Whatever the case, it comes back to LeBron. He's the best player. His example goes a long way, and his defensive effort is about on par with his defeated body language. His numbers still suggest he's smack dab in the middle of his prime, but he's either no longer capable of expending top-flight defensive effort for extended stretches or he isn't willing. Neither is good. The Lakers built their very weird roster this offseason in a way that called for LeBron to continue to be, in his 16th season, not only the best player in the league but one of the most durable. He hasn't been either this season. And the Lakers are in trouble.
The Celtics on Tuesday, falling 118-95 to the Raptors. Suffice it to say, Kyrie Irving is not a happy camper. Danny Ainge was reportedly sitting at Kyrie's locker talking with his superstar as the doors opened to the media after the Toronto beating. Quite the shift, somebody other than Kyrie talking.
All season long, Kyrie has turned every little Celtics bump into a borderline catastrophe. And now all those little things have become something big for an increasingly disjointed team. Think about how Kyrie has addressed any and all adversity this season: Lose a few games, these guys don't know how to win. Look bad even in a win, these guys don't understand what it takes. To go public with the fact that Kyrie had to call LeBron James to apologize for his immature behavior and lack of understanding on what it takes to win during their time together in Cleveland was yet another direct shot at his current teammates.
The same teammates who are 9-2 without Kyrie this season.
The same teammates that made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Kyrie last season.
Remember when Kyrie first showed up in Boston and it was praise for the organization and his teammates and Brad Stevens' "genius" coaching at every turn? It was all about the "we" for Kyrie. Why would he want to be anywhere else, Kyrie would ask rhetorically. Gradually, and now officially on the record, Kyrie's stance has changed from "we" to "me," recently saying he doesn't believe the Celtics' struggles will carry over to the playoffs because, quote, "."
We'll see about that.
George is going +700 to win the MVP, via Westgate Superbook, and with the way he's coming down the stretch, that is the Thunder, back in action on Thursday against the 76ers (8 p.m. ET -- watch on fuboTV), have lost two straight and George is a combined 5 for 23 from 3-point range over those games -- further evidence that as George goes, so go the Thunder, who remain the Western Conference's No. 3 seed entering Wednesday.. The
George's highlight of the last week was perhaps the play of the year, or at least one of them, when he finished off a 45-point effort by dropping this touch-the-sky floater over Rudy Gobert to beat the Jazz in double overtime last Friday:
These moments matter in gaining MVP momentum -- same as college football players having a late-season "Heisman moment" -- and George has more momentum than Giannis Antetokounmpo or James Harden right now, even if they remain the two favorites in Vegas. Again, this is reflected in George's dramatic change in odds -- down from +1800 just a week ago to his current +700.
This season, George is one of only two players in the entire league averaging at least eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. This is before you even factor in his 28.6 points per game -- second in the league. He has just been outrageously awesome.
As Trae Young's 3-point shot continues to come around, the hype that surrounded him coming out of Oklahoma continues to look more and more justified. Kid is going to be a star. We've long since known he's already one of the best passers in the NBA, and a special ball-handler capable of making plays for himself and others with either hand. Offensively, I don't think it's a stretch to say he has something close to a Steve Nash ceiling, though I doubt he'll ever be that efficient a shooter.
But he will be a deadly shooter, perhaps sooner than later. Young, who is just under 42 percent from 3 over his past 15 games, went for a career-high 36 points and eight assists against the Rockets on Monday. Afterward, here's what Chris Paul told The Athletic:
"He's fun to watch because he's so skilled. I think that's what people may miss when watching him. His handles, man. He can come off a ball screen, and he can stop and whip it to the other side of the court with his left hand.
"It ain't maybe four or five guys in the entire NBA that can do that, and he does it efficiently. He's only going to get better and better."
Here's what Paul is talking about:
Paul is absolutely correct in saying there aren't more than a handful of players in the league who can make that pass on a dime with their off-hand. It is a gift -- one of many that Young has in spades.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
CBS Sports confirms Hanks' physician was sent an experimental drug for possible 'compassionate...
The 2020 class, officially announced on Saturday, is one of the best we've ever seen, but where...
The players involved would compete remotely, but other details are scarce at this time
Trump on the sports leagues around the country: 'We have to get back. We want to get back soon.'
The eight inductees of the 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame were officially unveiled...
The NBA 2K tournament continues Sunday after four players, including top-seeded Kevin Durant,...