Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply 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 will run every week throughout the regular season.
There was a time when playing Davis at center was a nearly unstoppable lineup for the Lakers, but things may have changed. For much of the season, the Lakers have had a negative point differential with Davis at center, per Cleaning the Glass.
That number has recently ticked into positive territory, but keep in mind that Davis-at-center lineups outscored opponents by just under 17 points per 100 possessions last season. They have counted on that lineup to blow teams out by such a margin that other deficiencies throughout the game are rendered moot.
Early returns suggested the Lakers no longer have the shooting/perimeter defense combination that once made the LeBron-Davis “small” duo such an impossible matchup. Instead of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and/or Kyle Kuzma, it’s Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley and Austin Reaves from which Frank Vogel is choosing. Carmelo Anthony is shooting the lights out and naturally slots as the stretch four, but the defense isn’t the same, and the defense has been the main issue with the Davis-at-center lineups.
Point is: There are holes somewhere in every Davis-at-center lineup. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be a dominant unit on the strength of LeBron and A.D. alone, especially if Westbrook really settles into a good niche.
Those relatively sluggish lineup numbers were mostly the product of spot stretches of play; not a ton of possessions from which to draw for any one five-man unit. But the Lakers have been starting Davis at center of late, and optimism could be peeking through.
These numbers are from the Lakers’ 119-117 win over the Rockets on Tuesday. Now, what does it mean that they had to get these kinds of nights from all three of their stars to beat the Rockets by two points? Well, that’s another story. For now, let’s just keep an eye on the Lakers in the Davis center minutes, which should be becoming more of a staple with every game.
Butler was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for averaging 28 points, eight rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 steals over a four-game win streak for the Heat, who own the league’s best point differential and are tied with the Chicago Bulls atop the East with a 6-1 record.
Butler is averaging career highs in points (25.0), rebounds (6.9) and steals (2.9) per game, as well as free-throw (.889) and field-goal percentage (.513). The addition of Kyle Lowry has unleashed Butler to pursue his own scoring with more aggression than we’ve ever seen; or certainly more than we’ve seen from him in Miami.
Tatum is averaging 25 points, but it’s taking him 24 shots a game — by far a career high — to get there; his 97.3 points per 100 shot attempts registers in the 29th percentile. He’s shooting 39 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3, by far career lows. Tatum’s numbers in the clutch (when a game is within five points with five or fewer minutes remaining) have been particularly bad.
He’ll need to get that corrected to help Boston snap out of its slump.
Through seven games, Lillard is shooting 23 percent from 3, and even that number is deceiving. Eliminate one 5-for-7 game, and he would be shooting 20 percent. He has an 0-for-9 and 0-for-8 night on his 3-point ledger. He shot 2 for 14 against Charlotte and has missed 19 of his last 23 from deep.
You have to rub your eyes and look at these numbers twice to make sure you’re not seeing things. Shooting slumps are one thing, but a shooter of Lillard’s caliber piling up bricks at this rate is unbelievable. It doesn’t help that the Blazers are 3-4 with the 25th-ranked defense entering play on Tuesday, per Cleaning the Glass.
The Blazers are treading water already, but while Lillard is usually the one to rescue them, so far this season he’s actually the one dragging them down.