Welcome back to the NBA Star 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 NBA Playoffs.
Anthony Davis hit what is, to this point, the signature shot of his career with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Lakers the win in Game 2. Mason Plumlee switched off Davis for no apparent reason, and Davis came free around the top with plenty of time to release off the catch:
Davis finished with 31 points and nine rebounds in Game 2, but Game 3 was a different story — most notably on the glass. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Davis pulled down his first rebound on Tuesday, and he only finished with two boards to go with his 27 points. Yes, Davis plays a lot on the perimeter, particularly when the Lakers play two-big lineups with Dwight Howard alongside him, but not grabbing a single board through three quarters of a game in which the bigger Lakers were out-rebounded 35-21 is not going to get it done.
If you’re looking for a tiny crack in the seemingly indestructible, ageless athletic wonder that is LeBron James, you could perhaps look at the discrepancy between his first-half and second-half production in these playoffs.
In first halves, LeBron is averaging 16.9 points on 65 percent shooting, including 48 percent from 3 and 75 percent from the foul line, and the Lakers are plus-6.1 in his minutes. In second halves, he’s averaging nine points on 42 percent shooting, 24 percent from 3 and 67 percent from the free throw line, and the Lakers are just plus-2.3 in his minutes.
It’s a small crack to try to expose for a guy still playing at an MVP level while putting the Lakers within two wins of the NBA Finals, and, of course, the second people started talking about this LeBron went for 20 points in the second half of Game 3, in which he finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and two blocks. Yeah, he can still play a little bit.
Other than Magic Johnson, who scored 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, no NBA player under 21 years old has ever scored more points in a playoff game than the 37 that Herro put up in the Miami Heat’s Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics Wednesday. Herro also became the first rookie to score at least 25 points off the bench in back-to-back playoff games since Andrew Toney did it for the 76ers in 1981. He has now scored in double figures in each of Miami’s 13 playoff games.
If you were watching Herro play throughout the season, this isn’t a huge shock that he’s playing like this. It was evident very early on that he was pretty special, as evidenced by Erik Spoelstra running late-game offense through him despite having Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic on the court. But 37 points in the conference finals? Against a defense like Boston?
We knew Herro was a sharpshooter with almost illogical confidence for a player his age coming out of Kentucky. His ability to make plays off the dribble, creating his own shot and opportunities for others, is what might be surprising a lot of people. Herro is a legit lead guard from a skill standpoint. The Heat getting him at No. 13 overall is pure theft. If we were to re-do the 2019 NBA Draft, I don’t see how anyone could argue Herro would go any lower than No. 3 overall. That’s Donovan Mitchell-type value when you talk about a late lottery pick proving to be a top-three level player inside his first year in the league.
Over an 84-second span, Murray hit a pair of deep 3-pointers and found Paul Millsap under the basket for a dunk to put the Lakers away in the closing minutes of Game 3. This 30-foot dagger officially put the Lakers to sleep:
Murray — and by extension the Nuggets — is at his best with his back against the wall, and like Stephen Curry in the 2013 playoffs, he is making the star transformation right in front of our eyes.
Murray scored 50, 42 and 50 points again over a three-game stretch against the Jazz, and the Nuggets overcame a 3-1 deficit to win the series. Murray then scored 40 points in Game 7 against the Clippers, and the Nuggets overcame a 3-1 deficit to win that series. It is becoming routine for the Nuggets to stave off death before actually turning the knife on their opponent, and here they are again at 2-1 against the Lakers after dropping the opening two games of the series.
Murray finished with 28 points, a career-high 12 assists and eight rebounds in Denver’s Game 3 victory. Game 4 is must-see TV Thursday night.
Jokic was a monster in Game 2, posting 30 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals, and for a minute he appeared to have hit the game-winning baby hook over Anthony Davis, until Davis ruthlessly answered on the other end with the aforementioned actual game-winner. That loss would’ve buried most teams. But not the Nuggets.
Jokic came back with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on 9-of-14 shooting in Game 3, and he’s starting to figure out what the Lakers are doing to him from a defensive standpoint. Even in a series featuring Anthony Davis and LeBron James, Jokic can be the best player on the floor in any given game. If he does it in Game 4 and Denver evens this thing up, watch out.