Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players creating the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn't necessarily a good thing. It just means you're capturing the NBA world's attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they're generating. This column runs every Wednesday throughout the regular season.
Stephen Curry is now just 10 made 3-pointers away from breaking Ray Allen's career NBA record. When it happens, Curry will have hit the 2,974 mark in more than 500 fewer games, 500 fewer attempts and almost 20,000 fewer minutes that Allen required.
The Warriors star finished with six more 3s Wednesday night in a 104-94 win over the Blazers, putting him within nine of tying Allen's all-time mark.
Curry didn't rule out the possibility of breaking the record against Portland, which owns the worst defense in the league and is particularly soulless defending the 3-point line. He needed 16 3s to do so, which meant Curry would have needed to break teammate Klay Thompson's single-game record of 14 3-pointers. The most 3s Curry has ever made in a game is 13.
"If you've seen the way I've played, especially recently, I'm not shy about shooting the ball," Curry told reporters following Golden State's victory over Orlando on Monday. "I'm not coming out with [the record] as the true goal of how I play, but crazier things have happened."
Curry's right: He's never shot this many 3-pointers. In fact, per 100 possessions, nobody in history has matched the 18.2 3-pointers Curry is jacking up this season. His 13.3 attempts per game would be tied for the most in history, matched only by James Harden in 2018-19.
Per Cleaning the Glass, 63 percent of Curry's shots this season have come from behind the arc, which would by far rank as the highest 3-point frequency of his career.
Curry has been streaky of late. Before connecting on 7 of his 13 triples against Orlando, he was 5 for 17 and 3 for 14 in two of his three previous games, one of which was the worst shooting night of his career when taking at least 20 shots.
Damian Lillard hasn't played in more than a week, but his name is still all over headlines. The Blazers are a mess, and the speculation as to whether Lillard will remain in Portland long term is back in full force. If he does stay with the only franchise for which he's played, it would be, if he has it his way, for a boatload of cash.
On Tuesday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Lillard is looking for a two-year, $107 million extension -- to tack onto the $176 million he's owed over the next four years -- that would pay him $55 million in 2026-27, when he'll be 36 years old. Yet one major wrench in that idea is that a number of potential candidates for the open GM job would, according to Wojnarowski, be more interested in the gig if Portland not only denied Lillard the extension, but actually traded him to start a rebuild.
What's really interesting is that Lillard -- again, according to Wojnarowski -- would also be open to a rebuild, but one he would stick around for rather than serve as the primary outgoing asset. Something tells me he doesn't have any interest in this option unless he secures that extension. He's not sticking around to go in the tank without some massive financial incentive.
Sans the extension or a relocation, Lillard, per Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, has expressed interest in playing with a handful of defensive-minded wings, including Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown and Aaron Gordon.
Portland looked into Gordon before he was traded from Orlando to Denver. No chance Portland is getting Brown for anything it has to offer Boston. Simmons is the one in legitimate play, and for that to happen, McCollum would be shipped out to Philadelphia. It is widely believed that Lillard has come around to the idea of McCollum, his backcourt mate for nearly a decade, being dealt.
The Blazers basically have four options:
- Blow it up, which is to say trade Lillard and McCollum and Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic and Larry Nance Jr. and maybe even Norman Powell and start back over with Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and the bevy of assets they get in return. To me, this is a legitimate option.
- Keep Lillard but trade everyone else to kick off a pseudo rebuild around a built-in star, which, again, is probably only a palatable option for Lillard if he gets the extension, which prospective GMs don't seem to want to give him. I wouldn't bet on this one.
- Keep Lillard while trading McCollum (and perhaps others) to enhance their contending prospects on a win-now timeline. This, to me, is the safest play. If it doesn't work, you can trade Lillard this summer.
- Trade nobody of consequence and stay the current course, which seems highly unlikely.
There's a lot going on here. And to add to everything, Lillard has reacted quizzically on social media to these reports, as though he has no idea where they're coming from, intimating they are nothing more than the media trying to stir up drama.
We'll see about that. Probably sooner than later.
Joel Embiid put up 43 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, on 15-of-20 shooting, in an overtime win over the Hornets on Monday, after which he told reporters that he's "not even close" to 100 percent as he continues to recover from his bout with COVID. When Embiid is fully healthy -- or perhaps even when he's not, so long as he's on the floor -- the Sixers have proven to be a very good team even without Ben Simmons.
Statistically speaking, the Sixers were the best offense in the league through their first 10 games. They fell off a cliff over the almost three weeks Embiid was forced to miss, but now they're getting back on track with wins in three of their last five with Embiid back.
All told, the Sixers are 12-4 this season when Embiid plays.
Donovan Mitchell was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for averaging 33 points and 5.7 assists over his last three games, all Jazz victories. Per CTG, Utah is outscoring opponents by 13.2 points per 100 possessions with Mitchell on the floor this season, and his plus-12.5 net rating, according to NBA.com, registers as the league's third-highest mark among players who've started at least 20 games, trailing only Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Mitchell has adopted a more analytically friendly approach this season. For the first time in his career, fewer than 10 percent of his shots are coming from the long mid-range, per Cleaning the Glass, while a career-high 44 percent of his shots have been 3-pointers. He's only hitting those triples at a 34 percent clip, but he's heating up of late at 16 for 37 (43 percent) over his last four games. His 63 percent at-rim conversion rate, per CTG, is also a career best.