A couple weeks ago, I analyzed past NBA champions (since the 1999-2000 season) and how their best player performed that specific season. The data was very interesting - every champion, other than the odd Pistons year, had their best player post both at least a 12.0 nERD and a 22.0 PER. This gives us a floor in which we can gauge current players and how they're leading their team this year.
Here is the updated table of guys who are having a "championship caliber season", which continues to dwindle week by week.
Since last week, Stephen Curry has dropped off our list with an updated nERD of 8.4, while his backcourt teammate Klay Thompson continues to hit the nERD requirement (12.1) but only has a 19.2 PER. We have one addition to the list this week in Spurs big man Tiago Splitter who, despite only playing 21.4 minutes a game, has been very efficient and after last night boasts the NBA's best DRtg at 86.6, of all players who play at least 20 minutes a game.
Players To Watch
I know, how daring of me to pick LBJ in a championship watch column. Well, I'd like to use this time instead to talk about how crazy good LBJ is and how much we should appreciate what we're watching from him this season. CBS Sports writer Zach Harper was discussing on Twitter last night how he saw LeBron's line (35 points on 78% shooting), shrugged and moved on. Admittedly, this is how we all treat LBJ now - people are almost becoming bored at how dominant he is.
Seriously. LeBron is shooting 60.9% from the field on 15 shots a game, 48.8% from the three-point line on 3 triples a game, and is at 80.4% from the line this year. No one in the history of the NBA has ever put up these numbers, especially at the minute and usage rate he is at. So I know, duh, LBJ is having a "championship-caliber season", but we're all witnessing history. This is one of the best two or three players in the history of the game playing in his prime. Take time and enjoy it, we may never see anything like him again.
With Marc Gasol now out indefinitely for the Memphis Grizzlies, the oft unheralded Mike Conley will need to take over as leader of this team if they want to stay in the Western mix until Gasol can hopefully make it back for a playoff run. Conley has posted an impressive 9.6 nERD and 23.2 PER so far this year.
The Grizzlies offense has relied on Gasol being the facilitator in the middle since he's been in Memphis. No player in the NBA this year has gotten as many touches at the elbow, which is where Gasol likes to sit, catch, and distribute. Zach Randolph isn't that type of player, and fill-ins Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos are solid rebounders and post up guys, but can't pass like Gasol. Thus, all roads lead to point guard Conley having an increased role in facilitating the offense and it will be up to him whether the Grizzlies can stay in hunt while Gasol rehabs his MCL injury.
Damian Lillard / Wesley Matthews
Last week I gave a 2-for-1 special, so I'll come back at it again during this Thanksgiving week. Both Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews have put up career high nERD's so far at 9.3 and 15.5 respectively. The Blazers have now won 11 games in a row and are sitting at 12-2, good for second in the brutal Western Conference.
Though the Blazers are still not world-beaters on the defensive end, they are playing very efficiently on the offensive side, posting an 107.3 ORtg, up from their 102.7 mark last year. Their has been no sign of a sophomore slump from the Blazers' reigning Rookie of the Year; in fact, Lillard has been putting up stats this year (20 ppg, 6.1 apg, 4.2 rpg) that should put him in the conversation for the NBA's best non-Chris Paul point guard. The Blazers had some injury issues last season, but if Lillard and company can keep rolling, they should be competing for a top-four playoff spot.