Tiers are beginning to form. As they do, rookies are emerging in main rotations, stars are getting a better idea of the rosters they have to work with, and All-Star voting is taking on it’s final form.

1.) Stephen Curry

Steph is playing unbelievably efficient and effective basketball.

This doesn’t serve as news under typical circumstances. However, given the new adversities he’s being challenged with, most of which he has not encountered since the beginning of his career, a lot of questions were posed regarding how effective he would be and how well the Warriors as a franchise could be this season.

In turn, he’s responded with a his two career-high scoring eruptions for a single game performance. Most notably, a 62-point barrage vs Portland in January. Then, on Saturday, he detonated for 57 at Dallas 🤯.

A special thanks in large part to the Dallas Mavericks in deploying drop coverage on Steph, the last player who should be defended against tactically this way 😂.

Though it did come in a losing effort, the game served as a reminder that he is operating at a career-high frequency.

His peak form was in 2015-2016 (age 27 season) where he averaged 30.1 PPG on 50.5/45.4/90.8 shooting (TS% of 66.9) while dishing out 6.7 assists and grabbing 5.4 rebounds. His unanimous MVP season 🏆.

Here we are, five seasons later, and in his age 32 season he is nearly replicating those same statistical feats.

He’s currently averaging 30 PPG on 49/43.5/93 shooting (TS% of 66) with 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds.

To have done so then, with the weapons he had in the aforementioned season, is impressive as hell. Doing so with the pressures that this season presents him with, however, makes this all the more remarkable. We’re witness greatness from the guard position. Greatness of an all-time level.

Even more, his usage percentages are near mirrors of each other. That MVP season he was at 32.6% there, this season he’s at 32.5.

The onus he has on his shoulders is almost serving as an opportunity for him to audition for all of his doubters and haters. All of which have been silenced completely on a near game-by-game basis.

He’s playing the typical Step game, coming off a variety of staggered screens, pindown screens, and his value can’t be accurately measured as nearly every possession his presence alone is generating offense.

For example, there could be a possess where Steph initiates and passes the ball to Draymond at an elbow, in a traditional horns set, then cuts last Draymonds outside hip towards the baseline, and to the opposite corner. From here, strong side action with the baseline help defender, Steph’s man, having his head on a swivel will be structured to take advantage of Steph’s gravity as a shooter.

Steph could have an off-ball single screen set for him to attract attention and open up something underneath, or attract the attention of multiple guys in miscommunication, leaving a body open cross court for a healthy look at a three or even a drive to the basket.

Seems too simple to work so well or frequently at the highest level of basketball in the world, but sit down and watch a Warriors game. Whether Steph has 10 made from deep or it’s the very first possession of the game, his mere presence is an offense in itself.

He’s had his praises echoed across the national media circuits and is set to start in this year’s All-Star Game, while garnering MVP attention (though he most certainly won’t be winning it this season.)

Be sure to appreciate the greatness and generational talent that is Steph Curry, as this new chapter of his career is off to an electric start.

This new presented opportunity has set stage for Steph to further-cement his name amongst the all-time greats while testing himself, this time with a more complete game and experience to help navigate.

2.) ROY candidates showing out

Two of the most pleasant surprises of the season thus far has been the play of these two guards.

Both, with their own style and approach, have helped their teams enjoy success that neither of which enjoyed in seasons that preceded their arrivals.

Winners of 4 of their last 5 and 7 of their last 9, the Kings have placed themselves in solid position to garner a play-in seeding rank. Currently residing in sole possession of 10th with a 2-game cushion.

Haliburton

In 31 minutes played per game during this stretch, he’s is averaging essentially 13-5-5 on 50/40/100 in shooting. They’re a +3.1 with him and though he has not started, he’s been crucial for them in closing games.

The Hornets on the other hand reside in 7th place and, since inserting Ball into the starting lineup, are 3-3.

Ball

He is averaging 21.7 PPG (48.8% from 3) with 6 AST and 5 RPG.

Both asserting themselves while gaining their coaches trusts so early, in a shortened season with an abbreviated training camp, has to be commended.

It will be exciting to continue to watch their games grow, hopefully as games grow more meaningful for the respective situations.

3.) Instances I Hope To Come About With ASG Rosters

Damian Lillard

Frankly put, I need to see Damian Lillard starting in this year’s All-Star Game, over the likes of Luka Doncic. That is not a knock on one of the leagues brightest young talents, it’s said to serve as an acknowledgement of what Lillard has done this season.

Portland is 14-10, currently placed in 5th. They’ve dealt with injuries a plenty, most notably going without CJ McCollum (last game January 16th) and Jusuf Nurkic (last game January 14th). They’ve also been without the services of deemed starting PF Zach Collins all season thus far. That’s three starters unavailable to accompany Dame for nearly half of this season.

In this stretch of games sans McCollum and Nurkic, they’ve gone 6-5. 6 of these games have come on the road, and 7 have been against currently place playoff teams.

Averaging 29.4 points and 7.1 assists, Dame is doing some Herculean lifting, and should be rewarded for keeping his team afloat amidst some adverse times.

Zach LaVine

Averaging 28.2 PPG including 40 over the last 3 games 60.7% from 3, Zach LaVine has made yet another loud statement.

The Bulls are currently 11th in the East, but individually LaVine has not disappointed one bit. He missed the big game last season, though he deserved to make it. So he’s re-up’d this season on better efficiency and a stronger scoring total. Only players averaging more are Beal (who should start), Steph, Dame, and Embiid.

Dame’s instance would need a boost from the fans as from the most recent return, Luka is still ahead of him for backcourt votes.

For LaVine, I expect him to be voted in by the coaches.

Either way, both guards are deserving of their aforementioned positionings in the All-Star game, and I expect for them both to be there.

Voting ends Tuesday, February 16th.

4.) Raptors Reasserting Themselves

Would just like to take a quick second to applaud the collective efforts of the Toronto Raptors.

A long way from Toronto, they have been calling Tampa, Florida “home” in respect to the Covid-19 public safety measures Canada has mandated. This in turn has made an already weird season even more weird.

They have 6 players in double digits scoring on the season.

After an ugly start and stint at the bottom of the East, they’ve began to right the ship and have placed themselves 6th in the West entering play Friday.

Salute to them in quite simply just figuring it out collectively as this seasons progressed. They’ve done so sporting a roster with 7 undrafted players (VanVleet, Boucher, Baynes, Davis, Watanbe, Thomas, and Watson).

They even had a game on February 8th, a win in Memphis, where five of the aforementioned players scored!

Speaks to the character of President, Masai Ujiri and the coaching ability of Nick Nurse.

5.) Utah Jazz Keep Rolling

Having RECENTLY written about the Jazz, I just wanted to acknowledge the run they’ve enjoyed.

Winners of 16 of their last 17 games, the Jazz have taken over as the Wests top ranked team. They also sport the best record in the league at 20-5 and have enjoyed great success through continuity.

They attained Derrick Favors, a franchise and fan favorite, through free agency and have years of continuity on their side under the coaching of Quin Snyder, who is running away with coach of the year at this moment.

Will they be able to sustain even a percentage of production they have enjoyed? Even more, will they be able to replicate these efforts come the playoffs?

Those things remain to be see, only guarantee is that they are unquestionably the hottest team in the NBA right now, having tied their best startin franchise history through 25 games.

Miscellaneous Occurrences

  • Derrick Rose was traded to the Knicks for Dennis Smith Jr. and a 2021 2nd Round Pick. Interesting from both sides, and this allows for both players and teams to move forward with no baggage.
  • Shoutout Mark Cuban for siding with the viewpoints of his players and employees as a collective. It’s a contrast to typical behavior of an owner, but who else to play the role of “outlier” amongst that hunch than Mark Cuban? It remains to be seen if not acting the national anthem before games at American Airlines will continue, but this will be a great topic of conversation as the league acts in response.
  • Masai Ujiris atonement, after a physical exchange with a sheriff in Oakland following their championship garnering win over the Warriors, was well overdue. It was great to see the inevitable finally come to fruition, over an avoidable altercation that put a slight damper on what should have a moment of pure joy, having won the first championship in Raptors franchise history in 2019.
  • A dunk contest seems imminent at halftime of the ASG as the NBA looks to incorporate as much action into a condensed, and abbreviated (and seemingly last minute) establishing of the celebratory game. The Skills and 3-point contests are likely to take add that Saturday, March 6th.

Recommended Read

Penned by Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill, a deep dive into Mark Cuban’s aforementioned decision to remove the national anthem at American Airlines Arena, and the deeper meaning behind the NBA’s handling of this situation. That is the recommended read of the week.

Thanks for your time, and I’ll be back next week with plenty more to discuss. Til then, ✌🏾🏀

All stats come directly from basketball-reference.com unless stated otherwise.

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