It’s easy to get lost in story lines of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the two clear leaders for the MVP award based on their individual accolades this season. Their numbers are ridiculous and unheard of in today’s NBA, Harden (28.7 ppg, 11.7 ast, 8.3 reb) and Westbrook (30.7 ppg, 10.3 ast, 10.5 reb). However, there are some other NBA players putting up their own incredible stat lines and dominating the sport that need recognition too.
We start off our list with arguably the best big man in the league (just don’t tell that to Lebron James, Draymond Green and the man they fancy, DeMarcus Cousins). Anthony Davis has improved year after year but this season, through 39 games, he is averaging career best in points per game, rebounds per game and steals per game. Unfortunately, the Pelicans don’t provide much support for this super star and that is why he is flying under the radar this season despite putting up close to 30-12 every night with 2.5 blocks and 1.3 steals.
The Boston Celtics were highly touted coming in to this season with the acquisition of Al Horford. But what really makes this Boston Celtics team go is the 5’9” point guard, Isaiah Thomas. Since coming to Boston from Phoenix after Danny Ainge hoodwinked his old associate Ryan McDonough, he has been one of the best scorers in the league. He has improved each season and is shooting a career best 45.9% from the field and 90.7% from the charity stripe. He is averaging a career high 28.4 points per game and leads the league in fourth quarter scoring with over 10 points per game in the fourth. Without Isaiah, the Celtics would be fighting for a playoff spot, with him, they think about facing the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Although not a shock to most hoop heads, Kawhi Leonard already has a Finals MVP trophy to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year trophies. What is remarkable about Kawhi is now he is burdened with the task of leading the Spurs in scoring. This year he has more 30 point scoring games than the all other players in the league (besides Harden and Westbrook), including past MVPs such as Curry, Durant and Lebron. Kawhi and the Spurs have always done their business quietly so it’s no surprise that people aren’t paying attention to his increase scoring production without missing a beat on the defensive end.
Giannis has finally taken that next step into the NBA stardom. He is actually playing less minutes this season and it appears he has adapted well with the ball in his hands. His stats across the board increased while his minutes decreased. Literally, every single stat of his has improved from shooting percentages at all three phases as well as his per game numbers of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Giannis is well on his way for his first all-star appearance.
The Bucks rebuild is finally showing dividends with both Giannis and Jabari Parker improving. Last year was really Jabari’s first season as he ended his rookie campaign short due to injury. Last year, Jabari struggled a bit, especially with three point shooting. This season he is shooting 41.4% while taking 3.5 attempts. The first two seasons of his career he didn’t average one attempt a game. What’s more telling is how his shooting has improved at the charity stripe, three point line and everything in between. Jabari is also a better facilitator with the basketball averaging close to 3 assists per game. His offensive rating is at a career best (114) and his defensive rating improved from last season.
There are two other stars on the Timberwolves that have been getting praise this season but overall their improvements haven’t been to the level of Zach LaVine’s has this season. Zach has improved his three point shooting (over 40%), his scoring (over 20 points per game), free throw shooting (86%), and overall shooting (47%). What’s most impressive with Zach this season is his offensive rating jumping from 104 to 114. The Timberwolves have a long way to go before they start contending in the postseason but the improvements made by Zach along with KAT and Wiggins is something to keep note of.
It’s hard to exclude the vibrant center who seems to get the media’s attention for off court related stories opposed to his dominance on the court. Despite the off court non-sense, DeMarcus has continued to improve on the court, with his seventh season being his best in points per game, three point percentage (somehow taking almost 5 a game!), assists per game and free throw percentage. DeMarcus, like Anthony Davis, doesn’t have much help around him. It doesn’t help that he playing for his 6th coach in seven years; Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Tyrone Corbin, George Karl and now Dave Joerger.