So far the 2016-17 NBA season has been incredibly entertaining. The storylines have been better than anyone could have guessed: Golden State “struggling” with their new big four, Julius Randle becoming a poor man’s Draymond Green, Joel Embiid literally becoming “The Process” personified, Al Horford being too cerebral for the Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade becoming a legitimate three-point threat, the Cavs dominating teams while playing on chill mode, and many more.
Yet, the biggest storyline has been individual players single-handedly winning their team games, more specifically: Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Dion Waiters.
Okay… That last one was a joke, but I wanted to work this video into the post, and that was the perfect opportunity.
Seriously, I count ten low-lights during the course of one game for Dion. If he can find a way to stop being a headcase on the court, he actually would turn into a serviceable player, but until then we should enjoy his inability to play basketball.
Anyways, back on subject. Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins have been outstanding this year, all of whom single-handedly winning games for their respective teams. Let’s begin by discussing:
Russell Westbrook’s Appetite For Revenge Tour:
Over three games it is clear the Russell Westbrook Appetite For Revenge Tour has begun. He is the first player to score fifty points in a triple-double in fifty years, the first player to score 100 points, 30 assists, and 30 rebounds in their first three games ever, and the eighth player in NBA history to have at least two triple-doubles in his first three games.
But these numbers do not do his triple-double average justice. Westbrook is averaging 38.7 points per game, 11.7 assists per game, and 12.3 rebounds per game with a 56.7% true shooting percentage, a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, and a 16.8% rebound percentage. Basically, what that means is Westbrook is averaging a box-score stat-line superior to anything Oscar Robertson ever did, in a tougher association, with above-average efficiency for every category. If these numbers continue, which is possible but not probable, Russ will have created one of the best overall seasons in NBA history.
Yet, it is important to see video to understand just how unbelievable Westbrook’s importance has been.
The first way is because Westbrook has developed into a truly good passer. On the above play he threads a perfect needle to Andre Roberson. Additionally, Westbrook has the ability to deliver perfect passes in the pick-and-roll.
Finally, as you can see below, Westbrook can use his pinpoint passing as a diversion that frees either himself or others for an open shot.
Yet, as we know, Russ is just as good – if not better – as a scorer as he is a passer. Below is an example of him with a dominant score in transition.
Westbrook’s speed and rebounding ability makes him a dominant transition scorer. In the above video Enes Kanter makes a good defensive play, Russ pushes the ball quickly past halfcourt, and the possession is over before the Sixers ever have a chance to adjust. Moreover, in the video below, Westbrook gets the rebound and attacks the Lakers’ defense so quickly that poor Timofey Mozgov never has a chance.
Additionally, however, Westbrook is perhaps the best pick-and-roll scorer in basketball. This is because his speed and craftiness allows him to use screens as a mechanism for getting past opposing guards and bigs all in a few quick actions. This results in Russ becoming nearly impossible to defend when he is on.
Thus one would assume that, due to Russell Westbrook’s insane combination of speed, strength, scoring ability, and passing ability, the Thunder would be impossible to defend. However, this is not true, simply because they have too many players who are below average shooters. This results in teams having no fear of triple-teaming Westbrook, because frankly, opponents know his teammates will very likely miss the shot. Let’s look at this clip from the Thunder-Sixers match below:
Consequently, while Westbrook has unarguably been the best player in the NBA this season, the Thunder are far from unbeatable. Although, if Russell Westbrook stays healthy most of the year, Oklahoma City will indeed make the playoffs.
Damian “Mr. Clutch” Lillard:
Yet, there are other ways to dominate the game outside of pure athletic ability, just ask Damian Lillard, who has made five clutch plays over the course of four games, resulting in two wins and two losses for Portland.
Lillard’s ability to get baskets whenever his team truly needs them is uncanny. Consider this, through three games – all of which had crunch time minutes, Lillard is shooting an uncanny 81% true shooting percentage on shots when the game is within five points and there is less than five minutes to go until its end. Obviously it is a small sample size, but given the amount of shots during that period, it is unarguable that Lillard has been the most clutch player so far this season.
Finally, the third guard who has single-handedly led his team to victories this season:
James “Seven Seconds Or Less” Harden:
Harden is averaging 32.3 points per game, 11.8 assists per game, and 7.3 rebounds per game with a 64.1% true shooting percentage, 2.35 assist-to-turnover ratio, and a 11.5% rebound percentage. Thus, Harden is the only player whose numbers so far in the 2016-17 season match Russell Westbrook’s.
For people who read my column this summer about Harden’s fit in D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” offense, this should come as no surprise, as it really is a match made in Heaven. Let’s examine why.
First thing is first, can Harden really be a point guard who does a good job passing the ball? The answer is unequivocally yes. Below are two clips of Harden using the pick-and-roll – a staple in D’Antoni’s offense – to make easy, effective passes to teammates that set them up for a score.
Additionally, given its name, D’Antoni’s offense also emphasizes transition passing, another area where Harden succeeds.
The first clip in the above video shows Harden making a great defensive play followed by a great alley-oop pass in transition to Clint Capela; whereas, on the other hand, in the second video Harden pushes the pace and gets Sam Dekker an open three-point shot. Both instances show that, when the opponent does not have the chance to set their defense, Hardan can be an excellent passer. Nevertheless, Harden’s main cli mot fame is scoring, and he has done that in planty this season. He’s done this through both smart shooting:
as well as playing the pick-and-roll perfectly:
Harden consequently has thrived in D’Antoni’s offense. The quick reads, simple offensive system, and transition opportunities allow James to thrive as a passer and scorer. Because of this, expect Harden to complete this trio of point guards who are the dominant player on their respective teams.
Yet, two big men are also dominating the NBA this season: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. First, Anthony Davis is perhaps the only player on his team who can take control of a game, and it has shown this season. The Unibrow is averaging 37.7 points per game, 12.7 rebounds per game, and 2.7 assists per game with a 58.2% true shooting percentage, 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio, and 16.8% rebound percentage. Similar to Harden, while these numbers are not as good as Russell Westbrook’s, Anthony Davis is willing his team to close games (the Pelicans are winless). This was never clearer than in New Orleans’ ESPN game against Golden State when Davis kept his team alive with a nearly flawless last four minutes. Let’s examine some of those highlights below:
Nonetheless, AD’s performance was not enough to defeat the Warriors, but it was dominant. Furthermore, we should expect this from Anthony Davis all season, as outside of Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans really have no other offensive talent.
The second big man to dominate this season is DeMarcus Cousins. Boogie is not as individually dominant as the other four players mentioned, but his early season is worth mentioning, because he has been outstanding. Cousins is averaging 26 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game, and 2.3 assists per game with a 60.8% true shooting percentage, .69 assist-to-turnover ratio, and a 20.6% rebound percentage. In some ways, Boogie has been the traditionally dominant big that has led his team to two wins in four games. Let’s look at some of his highlights in the Kings’ loss to the Spurs:
Now, go back to the Anthony Davis highlights and then the Boogie highlights and see what makes these two bigs unique. Not only are they dominant post players, but moreover, both players can spread the floor and be the primary ball-handler. This is what has made these two players so offensively dominant this year. Frankly, they are unguardable because of their versatility.
Consequently, during the first week of the NBA season three guards and two bigs have been willing their teams to success: Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins. While none of the last four players have been as statistically nor visibly dominant as Westbrook, all four have been a joy to watch, and every one of them should continue to lead their teams throughout the season.