NBA Championship Watch: Week 8

With the dominant play of LBJ and Paul George, has KD become underrated this year?

At the beginning of the season, I analyzed past NBA champions (since the 1999-2000 season) and looked at how their best player performed during their championship 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":

Kevin DurantOklahoma City Thunder24.528.9
LeBron JamesMiami Heat20.529.9
Chris PaulLos Angeles Clippers20.328.2
Kevin LoveMinnesota Timberwolves16.927.3
Paul GeorgeIndiana Pacers15.723.2
Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors12.724.6

Of note, young guys like Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis have fallen off the list in recent weeks. Both are developing tremendously and are the future of the NBA, but Davis just got back from an injury and Drummond is still figuring out how to play defense at an elite level.

Rip City has gotten all sorts of (justifiable) buzz in the last couple weeks due to amazing win streaks and incredible buzzer-beaters. However, we don't have a single Blazer having the kind of season it takes to win a championship.

But don't fear, Blazer fans, your cold-blooded assassin of a point guard, Damian Lillard, is right on the edge of our criteria with a 11.8 nERD and 20.5 PER. Keep on doing this and you'll get there in due time.

Players To Watch

Kevin Durant

It's gotten to the point with KD that we see lines like last night's win versus the Bulls - where he goes for 32 points on 13-20 shooting, perfect from the line, 4 three-pointers, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, a block and a turnover, all in 33 minutes no less - and yawn. He's just that good.

Where we get into trouble is when we hype the up-and-coming young guys like Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Michael Carter-Williams, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, yet ignore the brilliance of Durant in his prime. The Thunder are 13-0 at home, despite Russell Westbrook missing the first couple of games of the season. Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge are getting more MVP buzz than KD this year simply because they haven't been at this level before. I doubt he minds as he's only focused on May and June and making the Finals, but fans, pay attention to Durant. He deserves it.

Dwight Howard

The Dwight Howard signing can only be judged when the playoffs roll around. The Rockets were a good regular season team last year with James Harden, but they needed a dominant big man to take the leap into the Finals. It's clear that Dwight isn't the force of he was during his prime - he had a four-year stretch from 2007-2011 where he hit our nERD mark (12.0), but hasn't gotten close since then. Take a look:


He's definitely playing better in Houston than he did in L.A., but he's not Defensive Player of the Year dominant like he once was. Regardless, we'll see throughout the next coming months if 28-year-old Dwight is good enough to swing the balance of power in the West.

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard came into this season with incredible preseason buzz, as people thought he could take a Paul George-type leap into superstardom. However, his stats haven't increased any this year.

Through all of this, Kawhi has an 8.7 nERD, which would be the highest of his young career. In fact, he leads all Spurs in the nERD department. Let's be honest though - he's not going to get the publicity until he becomes great on both ends of the floor. Don't get me wrong, he's no slouch on either side of the ball, but offense is sexier to the masses. Paul George has vaulted into the "top-five player in the NBA" conversation this year because of his elite offensive game, although he has been an elite defensive player for several years.

Kawhi is in the same boat that PG was a couple years ago. His stats surely don't do him justice, as defensive stats are much harder to quantify than offensive stats. Even still, he is flirting with a double-digit nERD and has the Spurs sitting in the third spot in the West.