In this week’s NBA Power Rankings we’re looking at all the records Steph Curry has broken, the enormous offensive load of Luka Doncic and the icon status of Trae Young.
Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.
Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?
Miles Bridges has always been a human highlight reel and he’s had more than his share of epic dunks this season. But don’t let that distract you from the fact that he’s been remarkably improved in a number of areas this season. He’s far more than just a lob-catcher and transition lane-filler.
Bridges is averaging 12.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, shooting 59.4 percent on 2-pointers, 40.8 percent on 3-pointers and 85.1 percent from the free-throw line — all career-highs by decent margins. His effective field goal percentage has gone from under 50 (48.9 percent last year) to over 60 (60.3 percent this season). He’s been effective as a complementary creator, attacking closeouts and handling the ball against mismatches, ranking in the 86th percentile in scoring efficiency in the pick-and-roll and the 52nd in isolation. And he’s almost completely excised the mid-range jumper from his game — 85 percent of his shot attempts this season have come from beyond the arc or at the rim.
Bridges has become a solid defender and an ideal offensive complement who can affect the defense by spotting up or cutting to the rim, while providing enough on-ball creation to not be a liability when primary actions are snuffed out. He’s just 23 years old and he’s already a net positive 3-and-D-plus wing for a Hornets team that is looking increasingly deep.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is still working his way back into basketball shape after missing the first 56 games of the season with a torn meniscus. But he’s shown impressive flashes and most of them have come in conjunction with the explosive creativity of Ja Morant.
They’ve played 52 minutes together since Jackson returned and in those minutes, the Grizzlies have averaged 129 points and a plus-7.3 differential per 100 possessions. And the best part is that Morant has already racked up nine assists to Jackson in those 52 minutes, a pace of 6.2 per 36 minutes. At the very least the Grizzlies seem likely to earn a spot in the play-in tournament and we should get a few extra chances to see this blossoming partnership wreck opposing defenses.
In case you missed it, Steph Curry has been on a mild hot streak in the month of April. He’s been averaging 37.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, shooting 52.7 percent from the field, 47.6 percent on 3-pointers and 90.1 percent from the free-throw line. Along the way, he set a slew of records including most 3-pointers ever made in a single month, most games with double-digit 3-pointers in a single season, most 3-pointers made while shouting “So Fetch!”, most 3-pointers made while making a special wish to turn James Wiseman into LaMelo Ball, most 3-pointers made while thinking to yourself, “let’s see Dame make that one”, most 3-pointers made where the official Tweet with the highlight clip received a snarky comment from a Kevin Durant burner account, most 3-pointers made on a full stomach, most 3-pointers made on an empty stomach, most 3-pointers made on a stomach where you’re really not hungry but you could still eat, most 3-pointers made by a Davidson graduate, most 3-pointers made where you completely zoned and out forgot you even shot the ball and the most 3-pointers made while smiling about that 30 Rock episode where Kenneth says, “at least he died doing what he loved … blogging at the Huffington Post.”
The Mavericks have been on a hot streak — 4-1 with a plus-11.1 point differential over their last five games — and as usual, Luka Doncic is in the middle of everything. Everyone knows what a special offensive talent Doncic is but it’s hard to overstate just how enormous the load is he carries for the Mavericks.
Between their own scoring and points generated by assists, Doncic is the only player in the league this season creating more than 50.0 points per game (a threshold that in the past has pretty much only been cleared by James Harden and Russell Westbrook). On average, he’s either scoring or assists on 47 percent of the Mavericks’ points per game.
And, as you would expect he’s doing all this while commanding essentially all of the defense’s primary attention. Only 10 percent of his field-goal attempts this season have been classified as wide-open, with no defender within six feet of him. A whopping 86.1 percent of his made field goals have been unassisted this season and Jalen Brunson (at 62.7 percent) is his only teammate with an unassisted percentage over 50. He’s leading the league in time of possession at 9.1 minutes per game, which means the ball in his hands 43 percent of the time it’s in the Mavs’ possession.
Imagine what he could accomplish if the Mavericks ever add another significant creation threat to distract the defense.
A midseason coaching change is often followed by a bump in the standings but I don’t think anyone expected this from the Hawks. Since hiring Nate McMillan to replace Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks have gone 20-8, outscoring opponents by an average of 4.9 points per 100 possessions. But no one is standing in line at Chipotle talking about how incredible Nate McMillan is, the whole city of Atlanta is buzzing about Trae Young.
He may not be having the highest-scoring season in franchise history, or the season with the most assists, or the most 3-pointers. He may not have the team on pace for its best win percentage in franchise history, or its best offensive efficiency mark (relative to the league average). He may not have represented the franchise by winning the dunk contest like Josh Smith did in 2005, or Dominique Wilkins did in 1985 and 1990, or Spud Webb did in 1985. He may not have been the MVP of the All-Star game like Bob Petit was for the then St. Louis Hawks four times in seven years. He may not win NBA MVP like Bob Petit did in 1956 and 1959 or even get any MVP votes like Wilkins did seven times, or Joe Johnson and Steve Smith did twice with the Hawks. Sure, his defense may be so catastrophically bad that he’s not even leading his team this season in overall metrics like ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus or 538’s RAPTOR — Clint Capela and John Collins have had more positive impacts by the estimates of both metrics. Heck, even Young thinks some people might be getting a little wild with the praise.
But no one else has ever lit up the city of Atlanta or the Hawks’ franchise like Trae Young.