NBA Star Power Index: LeBron James makes old-man history; Stephen Curry rounding back into form

Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players getting the most buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing — it simply means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order. This column will run every week throughout the regular season. 

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LeBron JamesLAL • SF • #6PPG29.7RPG8.4BPG.53View Profile

Do you want a crazy stat? The Lakers scored 113 points with LeBron on the floor in their win over the Rockets on Monday, and during that time they didn’t commit a single turnover. That was 36 minutes of game action. Per OptaSTATS, that’s the first time in 20 years that a team has gone without a single turnover while scoring over 100 points with a particular player on the court. 

Personally, James put 48 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on the ledger. That’s just the 35th time in history that a player has scored at least 48 points without recording a turnover, per StatHead, and the first time a certified old-timer has done so.

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Nikola JokicDEN • C • #15PPG25RPG11BPG.6View Profile

Heading into Wednesday’s tilt with Minnesota, when he put up a ho-hum 31 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, Jokic hadn’t missed a shot inside the 3-point arc over his two full previous games: 19-for-19. 

On Tuesday, Jokic put up 36-12-10 on 13-of-14 shooting, his lone miss a 3. That marks the third time in history that a player has recorded a triple-double on at least a 95 percent true-shooting clip and 10 field-goal attempts. The other two times? Jokic in October of 2018, and Jokic in March of 2018. 

Jokic is literally on pace to have the most efficient scoring season in league history. Among all players who’ve ever attempted at least 15 shots per game, his .698 true-shooting percentage ranks No. 1. Better than Curry’s .675 in 2018 and .669 in his unanimous-MVP season. Better than Kevin Durant’s .673 this season. Better than everyone. Ever. Denver is No. 1 in the West. Just give the man his third straight MVP already. 

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Stephen CurryGS • PG • #30PPG29.3APG6.3SPG.933P/G4.9View Profile

Curry started rounding back into form with 16 fourth-quarter points in his return last Tuesday after missing 11 games. Now he’s fully back after scoring 41 points in a win over the Wizards on Monday. It required 28 shots, but if there’s one thing in the NBA we never need to worry about, it is Curry’s efficiency. 

Curry has now tied Kobe Bryant for the second-most 40-point games by a player 30 years or older, and Michael Jordan’s record is very likely to eventually fall to Curry. It could very well happen by the end of next season.

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Joel EmbiidPHI • C • #21PPG33.6RPG9.8BPG1.67View Profile

I’m not sure anyone makes a 40-point game look more casual than Embiid. He does so much damage at the free-throw line you lose track of the fact that he hasn’t scored under 30 this month. He went for 42 to start January against New Orleans, and 41 — on 15-of-18 from the charity stripe — in a Sixers win over the Clippers on Wednesday. 

Embiid and Jokic have long been the cream of the crop when it comes to centers. For a while, most people, myself included, gave a slight edge to Embiid as the better player. That sentiment has probably completely flipped, at least outside Philadelphia. Even the great Hakeem Olajuwon resides within the Jokic-is-better camp. 

“He’s the one,” Olajuwon recently said of Jokic in a terrific story written by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard, which details the death, or, perhaps better put, the evolution of the traditional, mismatch-killing, post-up center, a position that once ruled the NBA earth. Big guys want to be Kevin Durant now, Ballard writes, but Olajuwon sees in Jokic the torchbearer for a post-up era gone by. 

From Ballard:

“He doesn’t look strong, but I see he gets such deep post position,” Olajuwon said of Jokic. “I think maybe it’s the mismatch, but then he does the same thing against bigger guys. His shot, his fakes, they are very difficult to time. You don’t know when he’s faking and when it’s real. He has tricks!”

Olajuwon nods. “He’s the one.”

Now, what did Olajuwon have to say about Embiid?

Olajuwon likes [Embiid] and has given him advice, but he has questions. “He’s got all the moves, but leveraging the moves is different. Why would he be shooting threes?” Olajuwon asks. “He has the advantage every night, and if I have the advantage, I’m going to wear you out.”

But threes? “That’s settling! When I’m tired, I settle. You don’t settle when you’re trying to win. You don’t start the game settling!”

So here’s where we have to bring the Dream back to reality. For starters. Embiid isn’t some bricklayer who has no business behind the arc; since the start of December, he’s made 43 percent of his 3s. Furthermore, he took fewer 3s last season than Jokic, both in total and on a per-game basis, yet made them at a four-percent higher clip. 

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