Home NBA NBA Star Index: LeBron James chasing first assist title, Giannis in driver's seat for another MVP – CBS Sports
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NBA Star Index: LeBron James chasing first assist title, Giannis in driver's seat for another MVP – CBS Sports

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Welcome back to the NBA Star Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. Also, this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column will run every week through the end of the regular season.

LeBron James has the Lakers at 9-2 with the best point differential and best defense in the league. Personally, he’s back to defending at an elite level while racking up assists like never before in his career — leading the league at 11.1 per game to go with 23.9 points and eight rebounds a night. 

LeBron has tallied double-digit assists in eight of 11 games this season, including six of the last seven. In his last three games he has 38 helpers. He’s arguably the greatest passer in history, which is just nuts when you consider he might also be the greatest scorer in history. He makes this three-quarter court dime, hitting Kyle Kuzma in stride for what is effectively an alley-oop, look ridiculously easy. 

Frank Vogel is not just calling LeBron a point guard for the sake of semantics, he’s actually playing him in a traditional point guard role — which is to say there is a concerted effort to get the ball in his hands on outlets and allow him to push the ball and make decisions, whereas most teams in the league these days are moving toward letting whoever gets the rebound or steal just take off with the ball and become the initiator. 

Not with the Lakers, who are making it clear the command is to get the ball to LeBron and let him make the decisions — which is, you know, a pretty good decision. 

Harden went for 47 points on Wednesday night as the Rockets, now 8-3, picked up an impressive win over the Clippers (yes, Kawhi Leonard was playing). That’s the third time in the last five games that Harden has cracked the 40-point mark, and the other two he has 39 and 36. Harden leads the league in scoring at 38.2 a night, which is, rather absurdly, almost eight points a game better than the next-highest scorer — Damian Lillard at 30.5. 

After Wednesday’s victory, Russell Westbrook mocked Patrick Beverley’s defense for having given up 47 to Harden, saying that Beverley’s defense amounts to a lot of yapping and “running around doing nothing.” 

“As you seen what happened,” Westbrook chuckled. “Forty-seven. All that commotion to get 47.”

Westbrook is wrong about this from the standpoint of Beverley, who was only guarding Harden on one of his 12 buckets and was actually the cause of two of Harden’s six turnovers. Harden spent way more time cooking Moe Harkless, Montrezl Harrell and even Leonard. 

Check the highlights below. Keep an eye out for Beverley (No. 21), who isn’t anywhere near Harden on most of these buckets, but more importantly, just watch Harden do his thing. He really is beautiful to watch when he’s not flopping all over the court.

Russell, who’s top 15 in scoring at 25.7 points a game, is averaging 34 points over his last four games on 51 percent shooting, including 42 percent from 3. That includes a monster 52-point effort against the Timberwolves in which Russell also posted nine rebound, five assists, three steals and two blocks. 

That’s an across-the-board stat line that not even Stephen Curry has ever matched in Warriors history.

Russell continues to be one of the more interesting potential trade pieces in the league. The Warriors have maintained they have no intention of trading him, and if he keeps playing like this, perhaps he’ll be too valuable to give up. But there’s another way to look at that — perhaps he’ll be too valuable to keep. 

Assuming the Warriors end up with a top-10 pick this summer, they could feasibly package that with Russell and go hunting for a big-time package in return. Or even just Russell alone, playing like this and locked up long term at 23 years old, would definitely interest a lot of teams. Whether they keep him or trade him, the longer Russell plays the way he has of late, the smarter Golden State is going to look for making the sign-and-trade happen with Brooklyn. 

Stop what you’re doing and this about this: Giannis is 8 for his last 15 from 3-point range. Do we really understand how terrifying this is about to become? I know he’s only shooting 30.8 percent from deep, but you don’t have to watch him shoot for long to realize he’s a lot more comfortable than that percentage would suggest. 

At 35 percent from 3, Giannis becomes virtually impossible to stop. You tell me if this doesn’t look like a guy who can get to 35 percent.

Giannis was 4 for 7 from 3 in a win over the Clippers, and here’s a look at his last five games overall:

I said in last week’s Star Index that LeBron and Luka Doncic were the early MVPs. That has to be amended. I think if the season were to end today, Giannis, who is the runaway box-plus-minus leader entering play on Thursday, would have to be a back-to-back winner. 

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