NBA Star Power Index: Trae Young quietly becoming mid-range maestro; Lakers back to life without LeBron James


Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players creating the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It just means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column runs every Wednesday throughout the regular season. 

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Trae Young has crested the 30-point mark in five straight outings and eight of his last 13, and the Atlanta Hawks, after a seven-game losing streak, have won eight of their last nine. Over his last 13 games, Young is averaging 29 points and nine assists on 51/45/88 shooting splits. He’s up to 41 percent from 3 for the season, per Cleaning The Glass, which by far would rank as a career high if sustained. 

Move to the midrange, and the numbers gets even more impressive, and this is a true development in Young’s game. Entering play on Wednesday, Young was cashing 55 percent of his almost five shots per game between 10 and 19 feet, per NBA.com. Counting Young’s 33-point box score in the Hawks’ win over Indiana on Wednesday, he’s up to 56.8 percent on all his midrange shots, which registers as the second-best mark in the league — just ahead of Kevin Durant and a three-percent uptick on Chris Paul — among all players logging at least four such attempts per game, trailing only LaMarcus Aldridge. 

Young’s midrange prowess has, through the early stage of his career, been largely a product of his elite floater; he’s never been a conventional 15-foot pull-up guy. But that’s changing more this season. 

Entering Wednesday, Young was taking a career-high 17 percent of his shots from the long midrange (between 14-plus feet and the 3-point line), per CTG, and making them at an elite 53 percent clip, (another career high by an appreciable margin) — settling into the soft spot as ball defenders chase over the top of screens and bigs retreat to protect against his floater. 

You’ll notice all those shots are off the dribble, where Young ranks in the 95th percentile, per Synergy. The league’s fifth-leading scorer and third-leading assist man, Young’s All-NBA level production has reached the realm of inevitability. Now if only the Hawks can find a consistent way to cover for him defensively. Clint Capela returning to his elite rim-protecting form is the easiest answer.

Stephen Curry found himself in headlines Wednesday morning for all the wrong reasons. His Warriors lost their showdown with the Suns Tuesday night, and Curry had the worst shooting night of his career when taking at least 20 shots — going 4 of 21 from the field, including 3 of 14 from 3-point range, for 12 points. 

On Sunday, Curry went wild in the second half against the Clippers after getting T’d up for getting about as angry with officials as you’ll see him. He was cold from the start against the Suns, and more specifically Mikal Bridges, who is probably the best perimeter defender in the league, 

The poor showing dropped Curry into second place, behind Kevin Durant, for the league’s scoring lead, but he’ll get another shot vs. Bridges and the Suns on Friday, this time in San Francisco. 

In one of the most high-profile games of the season, Bridges putting Curry in a basketball Nelson — forcing him into the worst volume shooting game of his career, as discussed above — was immediately reflected in his Defensive Player of the Year odds. 

Bridges still isn’t among the favorites (Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert lead the board at Caesars Sportsbook), but that’s only because wings are discriminated against with this award. That’s still really good value at +3500. Bridges’ case is only going to get stronger as the season progresses. 

Even when Curry was able to get Bridges switched off him, the reprieve didn’t last long. Here Curry sets a screen to force a switch, but as soon as he beats Deandre Ayton off the dribble, look who’s right back in the picture blocking his shot.

Curry’s not alone in having endured the nightmare that is being hounded by Bridges, who did the same thing to James Harden on Sunday, holding him — with some help, of course — to 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 0 for 6 from 3, with seven turnovers. 

Watch here as Bridges gets over the initial screen, stays attached to Harden, flies out to Paul Millsap and cuts off his drive, forcing Millsap to give up the ball before deflecting the pass back to Millsap to start the fast break that he then finishes. 

Did someone say something about Kevin Durant not being affected by defense?

For my money, Bridges is the best perimeter defender in the league, with Matisse Thybulle in that same conversation. If Ben Simmons were playing, obviously he’d be in that group, too.

LeBron James, who has already missed 12 games this season with ankle and ab-muscle ailments, is looking at another extended absence as he enters the league’s health and safety protocols. James, who missed the Lakers‘ win over Sacramento on Tuesday, will be out for at least 10 days or until he returns two negative tests within a 24-hour period, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania

This, rather obviously, is bad news for the Lakers, who have gone just 5-7 in games James has missed this season while being outscored by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when he’s not on the court, per CTG. And this is with the Lakers having the NBA’s softest schedule to date. From here on out, they have the toughest slate of games in the league. 

Devin Booker, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, left Phoenix’s victory over Golden State in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. Fortunately, it doesn’t sound too serious, though Booker will miss the rematch with the Warriors on Friday. 

Prior to Tuesday, when he scored 10 points in 15 minutes before exiting, Booker had scored 30-plus in three straight games on 56 percent shooting, and he’s been a bucket in the clutch all season. Over 27 clutch minutes so far, Booker has scored 30 points, the ninth-best total in the league, on 73 percent shooting. 

Speaking of injuries, Bam Adebayo is out, too, and this is much worse than Booker’s setback. 

If you look at the on-off numbers, you might think the Heat can at least tread water with increased Dewayne Dedmon minutes, which have been fruitful so far. But don’t be fooled. The Heat are in danger of falling precipitously over this Bam-less stretch. Entering play on Wednesday, just two losses stand between the No. 3 Heat and the No. 11 Celtics





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