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.
Damian Lillard made some major Portland Trail Blazers history on Monday night. With a made free throw midway through the third quarter of their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Lillard passed Clyde Drexler to become Portland’s all-time leading scorer. Drexler scored 18,040 points in a Blazers uniform. Lillard has now scored 18,048 points and counting.
Lillard has become synonymous with Blazers basketball since they drafted him out of Weber State in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. Lillard has remained fiercely loyal to the Blazers in a way that isn’t too common in the league today, so it was cool to see him get rewarded with the achievement of such a major team milestone.
Joel Embiid posted 28 points and 11 rebounds in Philadelphia’s 104-101 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday. A solid stat line for most, but the game was the first time in the month of December that the big man failed to score at least 30 points, as he did in the six previous contests for Philly. Embiid is the league’s leading scorer on the season, and his play is a huge part of the reason that the Sixers are riding a five-game winning streak.
It’s not just Embiid’s scoring, either. He’s improved as a passer over the years. He’s averaging a career-high 4.6 assists per game this season, and he’s been dropping some tasty dimes, like this perfect tip pass he had to De’Anthony Melton in the fourth quarter against Toronto.
Devin Booker has missed four of Phoenix’s past six games, but he deserves inclusion in this week’s Star Index for the performance he turned in against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday alone. In that contest, Booker tallied six rebounds and five assists to go along with a whopping 58 points on 21-of-35 shooting from the field. He was the catalyst for Phoenix’s second half comeback in the contest, and the main reason they were able to pull out a 118-114 victory.
The performance was the third-highest-scoring game of Booker’s career, and it was the second-highest-scoring game of the season league-wide. Only Joel Embiid had more with a 59-point performance. Booker and Embiid are now also the only two players who have had multiple 50-point games this season. Booker is averaging a career-high 28 points per game on the season, and the Suns will need him to continue to put up big numbers in order to remain competitive in a tough Western Conference.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 35 points in each of the last two games that he played. He had 35 points, seven rebounds and five assists against the Timberwolves on Friday night, and he posted 35 points, six rebounds and two assists against the Trail Blazers on Monday night. That performance also featured a clutch game-winner from the burgeoning guard.
Gilgeous-Alexander is having the best campaign of his young career. He’s third in the league with an average of 31.3 points per performance, and he could be in line for his first All-Star appearance this season. The Thunder are 13th in the West and are still a couple years away from true contention, but Gilgeous-Alexander has made them a fun and exciting team to watch nonetheless.
The Denver Nuggets have won two straight games, including their impressive 105-91 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night, and Nikola Jokiic had a triple-double in both games. Jokic is now tied with Luka Doncic for the most triple-doubles in the league on the season (five). Against the Grizzlies, Jokic became just the third player to record exactly 13 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in the last 40 years. The other two players to do so were Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
After winning the MVP award in each of the last two seasons, Jokic is having another MVP-worthy campaign for the Nuggets. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to win the award for a third consecutive season, as there are several other worthy candidates, but he will certainly be in the final conversation as long as he remains healthy. He currently has the highest individual plus/minus in the entire NBA on the season, and the Nuggets took over the top spot in the Western Conference standings with their win over Memphis.