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Award races are heating up, statistical achievements are falling left and right and the playoff picture is coming into focus. To break down some of the biggest questions in the NBA this week, I tapped in some of the best minds from The Step Back and FanSided’s NBA network.
1. More impressive old-guy feat — LeBron leading the league in scoring or Chris Paul leading the league in assists?
Candice Evans, Pippen Ain’t Easy: The most impressive old guy feat is LeBron leading the league in scoring by far. Considering he is never in the conversation for most “skilled” scorers in the league, let alone league history, him being able to consistently get buckets is a testament to his versatility. Not to mention he is doing it with one of the worst teams in the NBA in terms of floor spacing.
Mike Luciano, Raptors Rapture: LeBron leading the league in scoring. Not only is LeBron averaging 30 per game in his 19th season, but he’s breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for points per game in a player’s nineteenth season. Kareem had…14.6 points per game that year. James can get his shots up by virtue of playing on a terrible Lakers team, but that doesn’t negate the fact that his efficiency numbers are right around what he was doing in Cleveland during his second stint.
Aaron Kellerstrass, Piston Powered and Pelican Debrief: Both are impressive, but what LeBron is doing is completely unprecedented. We’ve seen older point guards lead the league in assists (Stockton, Nash), but no one this old has ever led the league in scoring, though Jordan was close at age 35. Kareem averaged 22 a game at age 37, Karl Malone 23.2, Kobe Bryant 17.6 and Michael Jordan 22 when he came back for Washington (age 38). LeBron is a one-off and by the time he retires (if he ever does) will be the undisputed GOAT in my opinion.
2. What possible play-in tournament matchup are you most excited about?
Candice Evans, Pippen Ain’t Easy: The most exciting play-in matchup is going to be the Nets-Raptors (if Toronto finishes in the seventh). As it stands, Kyrie wouldn’t be able to play in Toronto, making the Nets less scary. KD didn’t get to make the impact he would’ve liked on the 2019 Finals against the Raptors and now he’ll have a chance at revenge.
Mike Luciano, Raptors Rapture: Minnesota-Clippers. I have a soft spot in my cold obsidian heart for franchises that haven’t made the postseason in a while. Minnesota has drafted and developed plenty of homegrown talent while nailing the Chris Finch hire. I want to see them get rewarded with a postseason series. This team needed Kevin Garnett to have an MVP season to win their only playoff series in franchise history. They’re due for a lucky break. Watching Ty Lue scheme the Clippers to wins without his start has been just as impressive.
Aaron Kellerstrass, Piston Powered and Pelican Debrief: Easy, the Pelicans vs. the Lakers. The Pelicans not only get a chance to knock the Lakers out of the playoffs but could then get the Lakers’ draft pick on top of it. The two teams will always be connected because of the Anthony Davis trade, and I can tell you that Pels’ fans would love nothing more than to knock them out then get that pick.
3. Rank these rookies — Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner
Candice Evans, Pippen Ain’t Easy: First, Evan Mobley — producing in games that matter should matter. Of this rookie class, Mobley is the only one playing with something to lose. He is rising to the occasion and is a big part of Cleveland’s success through their injuries. Second, Scottie Barnes — his size and versatility make him a hard matchup for opposing teams. He is the most gifted rookie on the fast break and has shown flashes of being a good perimeter defender. Third, Cade Cunningham — the point guard slot is the hardest position and Cade has excelled in his role, particularly in the second half of the season. The Pistons’ play has elevated with him, showing he is their x-factor. Fourth, Franz Wagner — his shooting and creativity on the perimeter accompanied by his height made him the second most ready player in this group. He established himself in Orlando’s core quickly but hasn’t elevated their play overall.
Mike Luciano, Raptors Rapture: Call me biased, but it’s Scottie Barnes. Cunningham and Wagner are stat-padding on tanking teams, so we can eliminate them from the discussion here. I think to really appreciate what Barnes has done, you have to remember what the pre-draft expectations were. We all knew Mobley would be great as a rookie, but Barnes was so raw at Florida State that everyone expected him to be a Sixth Man in his first season. Since then, he’s started every game he’s played in while emerging as a quality on-ball defender and finisher. In terms of highlight-reel plays, he’s good for about 1-2 a game. The future of basketball is going to look a lot like Barnes, and Masai Ujiri is giving Barnes a ton of leeway to flex his muscles with the Raptors.
Aaron Kellerstrass, Piston Powered and Pelican Debrief: Cade’s my guy, so I have him No.1 with no offense to Mobley (2), Barnes (3) or Wagner (4) who are all having amazing seasons. It’s a tough call as Cade has a larger role on a bad team while Mobley and Barnes are both complementary players on good-ish teams. The difference for me is that Cade gets double-teamed constantly, is the guy the other team game plans for and has the ball for all the crucial possessions. He’s the Pistons’ go-to player already and has the best all-around stats even though he doesn’t play with any All-Stars. It doesn’t really matter, as this is the best draft class in recent memory and all of these guys are going to be All-Stars. You can probably add Josh Giddey and Jalen Green to this list as well.
Other NBA stories:
This week on The Long Two — an improved offense and malleable defense suggest the Milwaukee Bucks’ best play is yet to come, and that the defending champs might still be the best team in basketball.
De’Aaron Fox has already survived some massive roster changes and become the face of stability for the Sacramento Kings. But is that enough?
James Harden and Joel Embiid have raised the floor for the Philadelphia 76ers. Tyrese Maxey may be what sets their ceiling.
Jason Williams thrilled NBA fans with his dazzling passes but the highlight of his career was winning a championship playing in Miami’s winning culture.
The Spurs have multiple first-round picks in this draft and Mark Williams could be an excellent late-round selection, a rim-running big man who adds a new level to their pick-and-roll game.
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