NBA Star Power Index: Russell Westbrook is not the second-best PG ever; Anthony Edwards makes strong ROY case

Welcome back to the NBA Star Power 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. 

Edwards dropped 42 points, seven assists and six rebounds in Minnesota’s loss to Memphis on Wednesday. He shot 17 for 22 from the field, including 8 of 9 from 3-point range, joining LeBron James as the only teenagers in history to post multiple 40-point games. He is also the only teenager to ever put up at least 40 points while hitting at least five 3-pointers in a single game. 

Edwards is the third-youngest player in history to post even one 40-point game, sandwiched between Kevin Durant at No. 2 and Carmelo Anthony at No. 4. 

For most of the season, it appeared as though LaMelo Ball was going to be the runaway Rookie of the Year winner. Even when Ball went down, multiple scouts told CBS Sports they believed Ball had already done enough to seal the award without playing another game. But Edwards is making this very interesting. 

Since the All-Star break, Edwards is averaging 23.7 points and 5.4 rebounds on 44-percent shooting, including 35 percent from 3 (32 points on 55 true shooting per 100 possessions). 

Over his last 15 games, Edwards is at 37 percent from 3-point range. He has the makings of a future 40-percent shooter from deep. His step-back 3 is already a signature shot and it’s virtually unguardable in combination with his downhill explosiveness. Edwards is already the clear heartbeat of the Wolves, who react to his energy and scoring in a way they never really have with Karl-Anthony Towns. If this isn’t already Edwards’ team, it will be soon. 

LeBron isn’t a fan of NBA’s new play-in tournament, into which his Lakers, currently seeded No. 6 in the West, are dangerously close to falling. “Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” LeBron recently said

I wrote about how wrong LeBron is, and why his gripes reek of bias after years of the postseason scale being decidedly tipped in his favor as he navigated the inferior Eastern Conference. Here is a bit of that piece:

LeBron’s gripe echoes that of Luka Doncic and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, both of whom have been recently critical of the new play-in format. Not coincidentally, the Mavericks and Lakers are both in danger of having to play their way into the playoffs through the play-in tournament. Obviously they’re not going to think it’s fair that a team that played all season to earn a playoff spot would then have to get through an additional potential three-game series. 

But here’s the deal: Things change. And this change, like Major League Baseball’s wild-card postseason expansion, is in the best interest of the NBA and its players. Keeping more teams in the hunt for a play-in spot discourages tanking, and the play-in series themselves are an additional revenue stream that will ultimately flow into the players’ and teams’ pockets. When these guys start accepting less money, then they can moan about how that money is generated. 

Also, is LeBron really going to play the equity card just because the new postseason system might not work in his favor this year? The guy played in the Eastern Conference for 15 years. Did he really travel the most equitable path to his eight straight Finals berths? Go talk to Chris Paul or Damian Lillard about how fair the traditional two-conference setup is. Those guys have been killed for years for not being able to get to a Finals despite having to navigate far more competitive fields. 

LeBron has had the advantage of basically not even having to show up until the second round of the playoffs, if then, for the majority of his postseason career. Now we’re supposed to cry for the man because he suddenly has to lead his team to a top-six seed? If anything, he should direct his frustrations at his teammates, who’ve allowed the Lakers to slip into this precarious position in LeBron’s extended absence. 

For years the NBA playoffs have rewarded relative mediocrity. Basically every team with a functional heartbeat gets in. Now that’s not true. The Mavericks, Lakers and Blazers are all good teams, and they’re fighting to win every game. In the past, it would be nothing but a bunch of seed shuffling and rest. The difference between a 6 and 7 seed wasn’t punitive enough to highly prioritize seeding. Now it is. 

Each seed you fall down to 10 has legitimate consequences. This lends what has become a largely irrelevant regular season a jolt of intrigue down the stretch. At the end of the day, this is about entertainment. This is about engaging as many fans as possible. That’s why these guys make hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s not about equity. It’s about the product. The play-in tournament should be adopted permanently. 

Whether LeBron likes it or not, the play-in tournament is probably here to stay and it’s courting the Lakers, who have a half-game lead over the No. 7 Blazers with one matchup remaining on Friday night. LeBron is already out for the Lakers’ Thursday matchup with the Clippers as he rests his still-injured ankle, and there’s no word on whether he’ll play against Portland. 

If he doesn’t play against the Blazers, the Lakers are really playing with fire. Is one more day of rest really going to get LeBron healthy? He’s already said he likely won’t ever be 100 percent again with all the wear and tear he’s put on his body over the years. If the Lakers mess around and lose that game to Portland, they might well find themselves in a potential do-or-die play-in game just to make the playoffs with a less-than-100-percent LeBron and a still-not-back-in-rhythm Anthony Davis

Antetokounmpo took a combined 66 shots, 14 of which were 3s, in Milwaukee’s two consecutive victories over Brooklyn, which have put the Bucks in position to jump the Nets for the No. 2 seed — just one loss back with the tiebreaker in hand. GIannis scored 87 points in those two games. This is imperative aggression and production if the Bucks are going to beat Brooklyn in a likely second-round matchup.

Giannis has taken 20 3-pointers in three games against the Nets this season, or almost seven per game. Brooklyn is going to dare Giannis to take take 3s, as all teams do, and how he balances actually taking those shots and using the space given to him as a runway to the rim will be of paramount importance in the postseason.

It can’t be all one or the other. Watch the first two clips below. The first, Giannis pulls up as Blake Griffin lays off. The second, Griffin is still laid off but this time Giannis gets a head of steam and overpowers Griffin. 

If it weren’t the voter fatigue on the back end of his winning two straight MVPs, you’d be hearing a lot more about Giannis as a top MVP candidate this season. He is spectacular on both ends. With the height on Durant’s release and the separation he gets, you wouldn’t think a player on earth could block his jump shot. Except Giannis …

Low key, that is maybe the most amazing photo I’ve seen this season. 

Westbrook posted yet another triple-double on Wednesday night: 29 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds in Washington’s loss to Milwaukee. That makes 179 triple-doubles for Westbrook’s career, two shy of Oscar Robertson’s all-time record. Westbrook has notched a triple-double in nine of his last 11 games, and has already sealed a fourth season of averaging a triple-double. Robertson did it once. Nobody else in history has ever done it. 

On Monday night, Westbrook put 14 points, 21 rebounds and 24 assists on the Pacers. Yes, you’re reading those stats correctly. It is just the third time in NBA history that anyone has recorded a 10-20-20 game, and Westbrook is responsible for two of them. Wilt Chamberlain notched the other one with 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists against Detroit in February 1968. 

Westbrook’s triple-doubles have, sadly, been increasingly dismissed as empty stats. Oscar Robertson, who, as mentioned, is about to have his record passed by Westbrook, criticized the critics who point to Westbrook’s lack of a championship as the foundation of their empty-stats argument. 

“I think it’s ridiculous that some sportswriters criticize him because he has not won a championship,” Robertson said. “Players don’t win championships by themselves. You’ve got to have good management. You need to get with the right group of players.”

This is absolutely true. When Russ was in his prime and had great players around him, he lived in the conference finals and made one NBA Finals. The notion that he’s never been a winning player is false. That said, he hasn’t been for some time. 

Since Durant left his side, Westbrook. who has posted 50 assists in his last three games and double-digit assists in 17 of his last 20, hasn’t won a playoff series even with the likes of Paul George and James Harden as teammates. We’ll see what he can do with Bradley Beal this time around — if the Wizards get into the play-in tournament, that is. Entering play on Thursday, they are the No. 10 seed at 30-36 with a three-game lead over the No. 11 Raptors

One thing I will say for sure: Westbrook is not the second-best point guard in history, as Wizards coach Scott Brooks recently claimed. I don’t know what, exactly, constitutes a point guard these days. It’s best to just call them lead guards. And Brooks’ point about what Westbrook does across the whole stat sheet is fair. 

But come on. If Magic Johnson is No. 1, don’t even try to put Westbrook above Stephen Curry. That’s just silly. The same can be said for Isiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Steve Nash and John Stockton I would assume most people would ague Jason Kidd and James Harden over Westbrook, who I would personally put in the Gary Payton category. At the end of of it all, it’s going to be a tough call between Westbrook and Damian Lillard and/or Kyrie Irving

Now these are great players. Hall of Famers. This is no knock on Westbrook, who’s definitely the most athletic and powerful of the great point guards. He’s a smaller LeBron James in that way; a pretty realized embodiment of what a healthy Derrick Rose might’ve become. But the second-best point guard ever? There’s not a chance in the world that’s true. 

Shout outs

  • Stephen Curry: Curry became the fastest player in history to reach 300 made 3-pointers in a season, registering the mark on Tuesday in just his 58th game of the season. 
  • Carmelo Anthony: On Monday night, Anthony moved past Elvin Hayes into 10th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He got a little emotional about the accomplishment, and good for him? To be one of the 10 greatest in history at anything in this world, scoring a basketball or otherwise, is almost impossible to fathom. That people thought this guy didn’t have a place in the NBA anymore is embarrassing. 
  • Nikola Jokic: After Denver’s win over the Clippers on Tuesday, Jokic, in essence, said he doesn’t care about the MVP, echoing previous comments he made about always feeling like an underdog. It’s a refreshing twist on so many other superstars always ringing their own bell. Jokic might not care about winning MVP, but he’s going to win. It’s a wrap. 
  • Jayson Tatum: Tatum went for a career-high 60 points in Boston’s 32-point comeback over San Antonio last Friday. Tatum put up 27 points, and was plus-28 for the game, in Boston’s win over Orlando on Wednesday, which moved them out of the play-in tournament and back into the No. 6 seed (tied in the loss column with No. 7 Miami) for the time being. 

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