NBA Star Power Index: Chris Paul does Point God things; Donovan Mitchell became a bankable playoff star

Welcome to the NBA Star Power Index – a weekly gauge of the players who control the most buzz around the league. Reminder: registration on this list is not necessarily a good thing. It just means that you capture the attention of the NBA world. Moreover, it is not a ranking. The listed players are not ranked in any particular order when it comes to the buzz they generate.

When Chris Paul suffered what was considered a contusion to his right shoulder during the first game of the Phoenix Suns‘first round series vs. James lebron and the Los Angeles Lakers, pretty much everyone thought it was the end of the Suns, as the worst injury bug had stung the point god again.

Think again.

The Suns reclaimed their leader by staying alive long enough for Paul to return to what appears to be healthy, or something close enough, beating the Lakers in six games before taking a 2-0 lead over the Denver Nuggets with a convincing win in Game 2 on Wednesday night in which Paul was absolutely brilliant with 17 points and 15 assists.

Paul, who is now the only player in NBA history to record a 15-assists, zero-turnover playoff game with three different franchises, has now tallied 38 assists against two turnovers in his last three playoff games. One of the clearest signs that Paul has returned to his normal state is that he is taking and doing 3-pointers effortlessly. He couldn’t do it a few weeks ago:

Through seven playoff games, Kevin Durant has an average of 32 points on 55 percent of shots, which is the second highest goal scoring percentage among all playoff players (at least 100 attempts) behind only Kawhi Leonard.

Brooklyn slipped Milwaukee in Game 2 to take command of this series. Durant had 32 points and six assists. He shot 12 of 18 from the field and 4 of 6 of 3. There’s literally no defense for this guy. For StatMuseDuring those playoffs, 90 percent of Durant’s 3 points were contested (highest score among all players), and he still shoots 50 percent on more than five attempts per game.

The skill and the release point are just too high:

But it’s not just the offense. Everyone wanted to know how the Nets were going to hold up defensively in the playoffs, and they look better every game. Giannis Antetokounmpo Again hits its proverbial wall, and Durant is a big part of it. He’s averaging two blocks per game – a career high in the playoffs – and he’s on point with his rotations.

I love this piece below. The Nets overlook Giannis for a fraction of a second and it looks like he has a lead for a cut to the basket. He catches the ball in motion and Durant, who was initially following Brook lopez towards the baseline, jump quickly to cut Giannis, then hold on on Giannis’ second penetration attempt before forcing him to a one foot drop:

We know the Nets can score millions of points. But defense like that is how they’re going to win a championship. For his play on both sides, Durant is back to having a legitimate case as the world’s best player.

Mitchell scored 45 points (32 in the second half) in Utah’s game opener against the Lawn mowers. Our Sam Quinn explained how Mitchell mercilessly hunted the clips, while waiting for the match to be desired before stepping on the pedal. This is something the Clippers could bear to do a lot more on their own. Too often, the Clippers just settle for whatever confrontation they find themselves in and engage in random pull-ups.

Let’s go back to Mitchell, who is quickly becoming one of the league’s highest-grossing playoff players. He’s been doing it since he was a beginner. He was averaging 36 per game in the bubble. He’s at 31.8 PPG so far this playoffs, and look at the company his name now resides in:

Utah, in case you haven’t noticed, is real.

Damien lillard is no longer in the playoffs, but his name still makes the headlines as the Trail Blazers looking for a new coach. Lillard said he wanted Jason Kidd, who quickly removed his name from consideration. It’s not entirely clear why Kidd did this, but I would say he knows there’s a chance Lillard won’t be long for Portland.

That’s the other part of Lillard’s headline. Is it going to be traded? Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has even declined to answer whether Portland might consider hitting the reset button and dealing with Lillard, but Lillard hasn’t asked for anything yet. If he does, everything changes despite being under contract with the Blazers until 2024.

Remember, James harden was locked up for two more seasons (with a player option on a third) in Houston, and when he wanted to leave a franchise that seemed to have hit its cap, he walked out. Nobody says Lillard is going to do this; he is as committed to the local cause as any sports superstar.

But Portland’s options to improve significantly are minimal. They have no space for the caps. They don’t have young players who will be of particular interest to anyone. CJ McCollum is probably the only immediate route, and even his $ 100 million contract is would have a negative value around the league. If the Blazers are indeed stuck where they stand, how long will Lillard be patient?

Nikola Jokic was officially named the league’s MVP on Tuesday night, becoming the third European-born player to win the award (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dirk Nowitzki were the other two). Jokic has been spectacular this season, and he just led the Nuggets past the Blazers despite his winger, Jamal Murray, being absent for the season.

Jokic already has a case as the best draft pick in history. He was ranked 41st overall in 2014 – by far the lowest spot for a future MVP (Steve Nash and Antetokounmpo, both No.15 overall, previously held this distinction).

From our Sam Quinn, who also wrote an interesting article arguing for Jokic as Most unlikely MVP in history:

Jokic became the first player in NBA history this season to average at least 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists with more than 52% shots. He achieved 56.6% of his field goals, eclipsing those who came close to his raw numbers. His 8.3 assists per game narrowly missed Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 8.6 for most by a cross in one season, and he was only three 3-pointers and 13 free throws to become the first center to join the 50-40-90 club. He did it all without missing a single regular season game.

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