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A Guide to NBA Lone Stars

It’s the age of the superteam and parity is dead, but the NBA remains wildly entertaining. The reason? These one-man-bands who bring it every night. Here is a look at the lone stars of the NBA, and their historical precedents.

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The NBA is in the midst of a scoring boom as necessary as it is glorious. That’s because pro basketball, already the most predictable of the major American sports, has only gotten easier to forecast in the superteam era.

From 2006 to 2016, seven different teams lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, a period of title tumult surpassed only by the wild and wacky 1970s. Yet it doesn’t feel like a period of near-historic egalitarianism. That’s because, despite the general churn, LeBron James has been involved in every Finals since 2011.

For years, David Stern preached parity as an achievable goal for the NBA. “[I]n all deference to the departed [former NFL commissioner] Pete Rozelle — we’re getting there — on any given day you look at the box scores and you’re surprised to see that the team that is supposed to win has lost,” Stern said at his last state of the league press conference. Three years later, current commissioner Adam Silver admitted “I think we’re never going to have NFL-style parity in this league.” No shit.

But if we can’t have parity, at least we can be entertained.

Barring injury or acts of god, the Cavaliers will likely meet the Warriors in the Finals this June. So, why watch when we’re pretty sure of the ultimate outcome? Because the social contract between the NBA and its fans has never been healthier.

The contract is this: predictability of outcome in exchange for entertainment value. And what’s better than a lone player taking on the burden of a franchise? I mean, obviously having two, three, or even four star scorers and being a conference-finals-level team is preferable. But, barring that, what’s better? Nothing.

In 2012–13, 11 players finished the season with a 20-point-per-game average or better, down from 16 players the previous year. That season boasted only three 50-point games, and 36 games in which players went for 40 or more. League watchers wondered if we were witnessing the end of the gunner. How quickly things change.

This season, the Warriors and the Cavaliers boast six players — Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson in Golden State, and LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love in Cleveland — averaging more than 20 points per game. That list includes two former MVPs (Durant and James) and the reigning MVP (Curry), and does not include Draymond Green, a cornerstone-level star in his own right. Through Monday’s games, there were 32 players averaging 20 or more points per game, with several players just below the mark. If that holds, that will be the highest amount of 20-plus-point scorers in league history. Eight teams — the Warriors, Cavs, Bucks, Timberwolves, Suns, Trail Blazers, Raptors, and Wizards — have multiple players averaging at least 20 a game. And more than a dozen teams pin their hopes, night to night, on a single net-shredding scorer.

These are the Lone Stars. In the era of the superteam, they are going at it alone. Below is a guide to the eight different kinds of Lone Stars in the NBA, along with their historical patron saints.

Some caveats:

  • 20 points per game is an arbitrary number. But it’s one that has traditionally been understood to mean that a particular player is The Guy. You don’t really average 20 points a game by accident. That said, there are many players on the bubble here, some by mere decimal points. Kristaps Porzingis is averaging 19.4. We’re sticking with 20. I hope that leaving out my Large Adult Son will show you how serious I am about this.
  • Points per game is a shallow, ancient metric that doesn’t account for variations in minutes, possessions, or pace. I understand that. But I’m interested in the entertainment value provided by certain players on a game-in, game-out basis.
  • Obviously, there are players who we rightly consider stars but whose on-court contributions don’t always come in the form of baskets. The aforementioned Draymond Green, for instance. Chris Paul is clearly a star. That’s fine. I’m still talking about scoring only.
(Header images via Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Header images via Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The Force of Nature is a player who was already a widely acknowledged MVP-level talent when a systemic shift in team philosophy (essentially amounting to “give this guy the ball and let him do everything”) pushes him to a surreal level of performance and lifts his team to a surprising level of relevance.

Patron Saint: Point God Michael Jordan, March-May 1989 (32.1 points, 9.2 assists, and 8.3 rebounds)

The second half of Michael Jordan’s 1988–89 season is one of the great road-not-taken stretches in NBA history. MJ’s airwalking, high-scoring exploits had already made him a pop culture sensation. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, each in their second seasons, were showing promise but were not yet ready to shoulder their share of the load on a consistent basis. In March, Jordan — wearing down under the demands of dragging the Bulls across 82 games of trench warfare, and unhappy with the way he was being deployed — had an impromptu meeting with coach Doug Collins at the team’s training facility. The solution they came up with was to move MJ to point guard.

The result was a string of consecutive triple-doubles unmatched until this season.

Current Practitioners: Russell Westbrook (30.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10.3 assists); James Harden: 28.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 11.7 assists

So much has already been written about the absurd seasons that these two are having and their intertwined career histories. I don’t want to dwell on how they used to play together. We all know that the Thunder once had three stratospheric stars, including Russ and Harden. What good does it do to revisit how OKC used to contrast Russ’s relentless “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” attack with the Beard’s loping, off-kilter cerebralism. None. So, let’s move on from the Thunder squandering the luxury of having Russ and Harden together on the same team, which is a thing that happened, and talk about other things.

Both are unbound from the need to share the spotlight following the exits of star teammates. They’ve been empowered to run their teams as, essentially, coaches on the floor. And, as a result, each player is putting up numbers that look like deranged hallucinations beamed in from an alternate reality that operates by video game rules.

In comic book lore, Dick Grayson, a.k.a Robin, the Boy Wonder, was the first-round draft pick of the psychotic and ultracompetitive businessman Bruce Wayne. Over the years, Grayson quietly became a hero in his own right, capable of carrying a short story arc whenever the Batman needed a rest. Eventually, Grayson grew weary of the sidekick routine. He took the name Nightwing, struck out on his own, and kicked a respectable amount of ass. Still, as impressive as Nightwing is, he will never rise to the stature of Batman. You can step on the necks of every bad guy in Gotham City, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you get your own shoe line.

Patron Saint: Scottie Pippen, 1993–94 (22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.9 steals)

In October 1993, Batman retired to play baseball (which had absolutely nothing to do with his alleged gambling problem), leaving Scottie Pippen to pick up the cape and cowl. Pip’s all-around game, two-way impact, and 6-foot-8 frame presaged the switchable, multitalented wings so prized in the modern NBA. Whether the Bulls could still be an elite team with him as the focal point was a question that Pippen was eager to answer. “Michael, I love you,” crowed a gleeful Pippen as he took over Jordan’s vacated locker “but, I’m glad to see you go.”

The Bulls’ start to the season was shakier than usual — an OT loss to the totally-without-hap Philadelphia 76ers in early December dropped them to 8–8 — and Pippen missed 10 games with an ankle injury. But the Bulls found their rhythm; Pippen finished with career-high per-game averages in points, rebounds, and usage; and the team chugged to a meaty 55-win season. They lost (finally) to the Knicks in the second round, but all anyone remembers is Pippen ripping Patrick Ewing’s life force out then straddling his corpse like the Titan of Braavos.

Current Practitioners: Kawhi Leonard (24.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 steals); Gordon Hayward (22 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists)

Standing at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, 10-foot-6 long hands, and a hyperathletic chassis, Kawhi has been the most fearsome one-on-one defender in the league since his emergence in 2012–13. What was missing was a varied offensive game beyond a sound jumper. This season, we’re seeing his growth on that end of the floor. And not a moment too soon. Tim Duncan retired. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are nearing the end of the line. Someone is going to need to become The Guy.

He tightened his handle and is driving more — 6.3 drives per game compared to 5.1 in 2015–16. In addition to that more potent off-the-dribble game, Kawhi has simply cranked up the volume of shots within the Spurs’ offense. Compared to last season’s numbers, Kawhi is taking nearly two more shots, including one more 3-pointer, per game. His 29.9 percent usage rate is a career high, as are his averages of 24.6 points and 3.1 assists per game. There’s been a natural drop-off in efficiency as the number of attempts have ticked up, but, all in all, we’re seeing a facet of Kawhi’s game that, just a few years ago, no one was sure he would develop.

Hayward is a twist on the Grayson. He didn’t grow up in the shadow of a superstar — he’s basically a self-trained Robin playing in a singular market that, over time, has become predisposed to prefer sidekicks.

Since their rise in the second half of the 2014–15 season, the Jazz have been the consensus “next team” pick of the basketball intelligentsia. Utah went 19–10 after the All-Star break that season, with Derrick Favors and the emergent Rudy Gobert surrounding the rim in concentric circles of arms. The roster was a homegrown core of young guys who projected as top-tier accomplices, solid role players, and specialists — Favors, Gobert, Rodney Hood. But, as the Mike Budenholzer–era Atlanta Hawks can attest, the question looming over all truly egalitarian teams is who, out of all these Robins, will step up and be Batman? In Utah, all eyes turned to Gordon Hayward.

And, OK, it took another season for Hayward to be the hero Salt Lake City needed. And it took the people around him — friends, trainers, teammates — pumping up his confidence to give him the requisite swag to escape the sidekick mind-set. During the summer of 2016, Hayward sought out Kobe Bryant’s input to help sharpen his midrange game and killer instinct. “One of my best weeks ever,” Hayward would later say. As part of his training, Kobe allegedly sent Gordon a set of GPS coordinates in the high desert. Arriving at sunset, Hayward found Kobe standing over a kneeling man with a bag over his head and his hands tied behind back. Bryant handed Gordon a nickel-plated pistol and said, “This is your final test.” He pulled the sack off the man’s head. It was Jason Todd, the second of Batman’s Robins.

(DC Comics)
(DC Comics)

No one knows what happened, but Gordon’s career-high statistical season and the Jazz’s 27–16 record speak for themselves.

The Rebel is sort of like a potentially toxic Force of Nature. He puts up top-5-player-esque raw numbers, but, due to a variety of reasons, it’s unclear whether you would actually want him on your team. Maybe the player’s statistics curdle under a more rigorous analysis. Maybe the player takes an, at best, part-time interest in defense. Perhaps the player’s personality or off-the-court predilections are a distraction, or his team loses a lot. It could be all of the above.

Patron Saint: Allen Iverson, 1999–2004 (28.7 points, 4.1 assists, 5.2 assists, 2.5 steals)

The two emblematic plays of Iverson’s career — rookie A.I. crossing up Michael Jeffrey Jordan during a regular-season game, and MVP-season A.I. stepping over the crumpled body of Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals — tell you everything you need to know about his particular place in NBA history. Jordan was then a four-going-on-five-time champion, the consensus greatest player who ever lived, and the embodiment of successful corporate brand synergy. The Lakers were (and are) one of the pillars upon which the modern NBA was built. They were, in other words, the establishment. Iverson didn’t simply want to compete against Jordan and the Lakers, he wanted to embarrass both of them. He was a figure of rebellion, a countercultural force. To be an Iverson fan was to state yourself in opposition to traditions and all who espoused them.

Unfortunately, in the long run, those traditionalists are usually right.

Current Practitioner: DeMarcus Cousins (28.1 points, 10 rebounds, 4.2 assists)

Which brings us to Boogie. When focused, he is one of the 10 best players in the NBA. He can post, face-up, and take dudes off the dribble. The other night, in a loss to the Thunder, Boogie went for 31 points,11 rebounds, and seven assists, and almost destroyed Domantas Sabonis when he rumbled in on a one-man fastbreak for an attempted dunk. DMC is the closest thing we have in the NBA to the Incredible Hulk, for better or for worse.

Off the court, rebelliousness is a destructive force. Despite the gaudy numbers, the emblematic moment of Boogie’s 2016–17 season happened in the locker room. On December 20, Cousins was fined $50,000 for menacing a Sacramento Bee reporter in an incident caught on tape. Later that night, Boogie buried the Blazers with 55 points and 13 rebounds. After scoring his 54th point — a rumbling concrete-mixer of a spin move and layup over Mason Plumlee — while drawing a foul, Cousins strode past the Portland bench while barking and spit his mouthpiece in the general direction of a shocked Meyers Leonard. This earned Boogie his second tech and an ejection, which was then mysteriously rescinded, allowing him stay in the game.

It was the most-Boogie 12 hours in history, and will be until the next most-Boogie thing happens.

The Martyr is the traditional “good player on a bad team” formulation.

Patron saint: Zach Randolph, 2003–04 (20.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists)

Before he was the rumbling, gritty heart and the scowling, beloved face of the Memphis Grizzlies, Zach Randolph was a pariah. He emerged, pudgy and baby-faced, with the Portland Trailblazers as a nimble-footed low-post throwback. This was the beginning of the team’s infamous (and problematically labeled) “Jail Blazers” period, the result of then-GM Bob Whitsitt’s strategy of acquiring talent without regard for chemistry or culture. Squabbles, feuds, towels thrown in teammates faces, various off-court shenanigans, and Ruben Patterson’s crushed eye socket followed. The Blazers were 41–41 that season, which isn’t “bad” bad. But it was certainly beneath Z-Bo and the talent level of the roster.

Current Practitioner: Jimmy Butler (24.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists)

On June 28, Bulls GM Gar Forman stated the Bulls would be “going younger, more athletic and building it back up moving into the future.” Less than two weeks later, Chicago signed 30-year-old Rajon “I haven’t played defense in a couple of years” Rondo for two years, $28 million, and a then-34-year-old Dwyane Wade for two years, $47 million. How the Bulls got from “we have to get younger and more athletic” to “let’s sign two old guys” will remain one of those eternal mysteries of life, like what happened to the Mary Celeste.

In a shocking turn of events, a team assembled from players who can’t shoot 3s … cannot shoot 3s. The Bulls shoot a league-worst 31.5 percent from deep. The team at least has the self-awareness to recognize this, however, which is why the Bulls take the fewest 3s per game. Thank god they have Jimmy Butler, who is in his athletic prime and currently balling (stretch of flu games excepted) out of his mind:

  • December 28 vs. Brooklyn: Butler overcomes an ankle injury to score 40 points, including the game-winner.
  • December 30 vs. Indiana: Scores 25 in a loss.
  • New Year’s Eve vs. Milwaukee: Scores 26 in a loss.
  • January 2 vs. Charlotte: Has one of the best individual games of the past 30 years: 52 points (including 17 in the final four minutes), 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block.
  • January 4 vs. Cleveland: 20 burly points in a huge win against the best team in the East (who were playing minus Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love).
  • January 7 vs. Toronto: Scores 42 points and 10 rebounds, icing the Raptors with a turnaround dagger 3 in overtime.
  • January 8: Gets sick with the flu.

Butler is currently third in the league in real plus-minus and his performances have been worth just over nine wins to the Bulls.

The only reason Butler isn’t a Grayson is the rest of his team sucks.

When a storied but fading star’s legacy-cementing or victory-lap season (or seasons) threatens to stunt a team’s rebuilding process. And there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.

Patron Saint: Kobe Bryant, 2014–15 (22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists)

Bryant played only 35 games this season before succumbing to a rotator cuff injury. But, even in street clothes, his shadow loomed over the Staples Center. And rightly so. Kobe scored 81 points in a game, dunked on Yao, dunked on Dwight Howard, dunked on Steve Nash, named himself the “Black Mamba,” made a commercial that unironically ripped off the Frank T.J. Mackey “Respect the Cock” seminar from Magnolia, dunked on Josh Smith, brought joy to Jack Nicholson’s life, and, most importantly, helped the Lakers put five more trophies in their already bulging hardware case. When a player is that important to a franchise, when his legacy tints every move, it can be difficult to move on.

Current Practitioner: Carmelo Anthony (22.2 points, six rebounds, 3.1 assists)

At 32, Melo is, naturally, showing some signs of slowing down. He’s posting his worst shooting percentage (43) since his rookie season. His defense, which was solidly not terrible last season, has regressed. Recently, the Sixers’ T.J. McConnell hit Melo with a Dream Shake, baked him at 425 degrees, and hit a fallaway game winner over him. Anthony never got his hand up.

Yet, I can’t pin too much of the Knicks current swoon (18–24, losers of 11 of their last 13) on him.

While Melo’s hold-dribble-and-jab iso game can be unsightly, and his lack of defensive desire can be maddening, he’s still a potent enough scorer. Anthony is a slightly more ragged version of the inveterate gunner who powered the Nuggets to the playoffs every season in a fiercely competitive Western Conference. The Knicks hadn’t made the postseason in the six years prior to Anthony’s arrival in February 2011, and hadn’t won a playoff game since 2001. Make no mistake, I’m no great fan of Melo’s style. Watching him jab step for 15 minutes like a horse pawing out his age in the dirt makes my eyelids twitch. But the common denominator linking the current shitty season with the past 15 years of shitty Knicks seasons is the corrosive effect of New York’s institutional dysfunction. Not Carmelo Anthony.

That said, I hope he waives his no-trade clause, because BANANA BOAAAAAAAAAAAT BROS UNIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITE.

Similar to the Grayson, but less elite, with a smaller window of relevance. The YTMND is like an indie band who never made it big but whose best album is beloved and consistently appears on top-100-of-the-decade lists. A You’re the Man Now, Dog season is an unexpected delight.

Patron Saint: Peja Stojakovic, 2003–04 (24.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists)

The Sacramento Kings of the early 2000s were a raggedy collection of cast-offs and weirdos built around the singular talents of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Vlade Divac. The 6-foot-9, stubble-faced Yugoslavian sniper Peja Stojakovic was just kind of one of the guys. Sure, he was good; he was a two-time All-Star who averaged more than 20 points per game and shot 40 percent from 3 back when people were just beginning to realize how useful outside shooting really was. But Peja did his damage as a tertiary scoring option, lurking around the 3-point line and making back-door cuts while Webber and Vlade pulled the strings in the post. No one imagined that he could carry a team.

Then Webber’s knee fell apart when he tried catch a Bibby lob in Game 2 of the Kings’ 2003 playoff matchup against the Mavericks. The 2003–04 season presented a daunting obstacle for Sacramento — could they stay in the playoff mix in a stacked Western Conference without their signature star?

Yes, because Peja put in one of the great forgotten single-season performances in recent NBA history. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and true shooting, came in fourth in MVP voting, carried the Kings to 55 wins, and had Larry Bird — the great cornfield Jesus — calling him the “best shooter in the league, by far. … It looks like it’s going in every time.”

Current Practitioner: Isaiah Thomas (28.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists)

Savor this, Celtics fans. I’m not saying Thomas isn’t very good and that he won’t continue to be. He’s among the most entertaining and intelligent little-guy scorers ever. I’m just saying, assuming this continues for an entire season, it’s likely we’ll never see Thomas average 28 points per game again. I mean, that’s a lot of points. The list of players who averaged 28 or more is not long, and only 29 players in history have more than one such season — the shortest being Allen Iverson (listed at 6-feet, but, you know, lies) with five seasons of 28-plus points per game.

Being a successful sub-6-foot player in the NBA requires a holistic nexus of skills, talents, and instincts — great footwork, but also speed, a steady jumper, and a particular fearlessness about taking contact and having your shot blocked. And when any one of those things falls off just a bit, small-player history tells us that the rest of the career will soon follow. There’s simply a higher degree of difficulty in squeezing layups through the slivers between tree branches and lofting jumpers over looming giants, and a smaller margin of error. And smaller players will always be easier to exploit on defense. I would not be surprised if this season represents his statistical peak.

When an MVP-level player puts up ludicrous statistics in service of a losing team stricken by bad luck and mismanagement. With the Large Adult Ticket, a star’s prime years take on a tragic, wasted feel — like screaming poetry into a void.

Patron Saint: Kevin Garnett, 1999–2007 (22.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 5 assists)

In October 1997, Kevin Garnett, then only 21 years old, signed a six-year, $126 million contract extension with the Timberwolves. It was the richest deal in league history. And, like anything historic, it had unforeseen consequences.

  • It caused the 1998–99 lockout. NBA owners are a reactionary bunch. Among the last things they wanted to do was hand $100 million contracts to players who were three years out of high school, whether they were worth that or not.
  • Point guard Stephon Marbury, the Robin to KG’s Batman, forced his way out of Minneapolis, dissolving the league’s most dynamic young core. “He said the kind of money that KG makes is really bothersome for him and that the town was not big enough for both of them,” said Kevin McHale, then the Timberwolves’ vice president for basketball operations, in 2007. “He unequivocally said he would not come back.”
  • KG’s cap hit, in collusion with the icy, small-market climes of Minneapolis and owner Glen Taylor’s parochial conservatism, would make it hard for the Wolves to surround Garnett with quality costars.

All these factors, combined with the bad luck of being in a cutthroat Western Conference laden with generational big men (Webber, Shaq, Nowitzki, Duncan, Amar’e for a hot second), resulted in Garnett and the Wolves’ infamous stretch of seven consecutive first-round exits.

Current Practitioner: Anthony Davis (29 points, 12 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 blocks, 1.3 steals)

I recently watched Davis roll over the rudderless New York Knicks like a tidal wave over a rowboat to the tune of 40 points and 18 rebounds in only three quarters of play. He would’ve had 50 and 20 — I mean, he might’ve had 60 — but Davis had to leave the game with banged-up hip after Knicks backup Kyle O’Quinn delivered a hard foul. For the good of mankind, the Pelicans must keep Anthony Davis healthy. [Extremely Hobie Doyle voice] Would that it were so simple.

Last season, Pelicans players missed 351 games due to injury, per In Street Clothes. It was the highest mark in the association and more than twice the league average. Naturally, the basic competence of the team’s medical and training staff has been fairly called into question.

New Orleans is a small-market team, which has recently been convulsed by litigation questioning its ownership, that has a history of making bad personnel moves, and that maybeeeeeee doesn’t have the resources to outfit a modern NBA training staff. Davis is signed through 2021 (with an opt-out after 2020).

Is the Rorschach:

  1. A good player on a bad team?
  2. A mediocre player on an awful team?
  3. A bad player taking advantage of the chaos of a bad team to put up numbers?
  4. A bad player given the green light by his bad team’s coach in the hope of pumping up his trade value?
  5. A bad player on a bad team who could be a good player under the right circumstances?

When the player who is putting up numbers is impossible to pin down and very possibly bad, that’s a Rorschach.

Patron Saint: Ricky Davis, 2002–03 (20.6 points on .485 true shooting, 4.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists)

I believe that Ricky Davis, at 6-foot-6, had the raw tools to be a fringe All-Star-level player in the NBA had he started out with Miami Heat, under the sway of capo di tutti capi Pat Riley, or with the Boston Celtics, learning from Doc Rivers. I think he could’ve been a real player. Instead, he met them midway into a journeyman career. The damage was done. Yes, I am admitting to living on the rarely visited Ricky Davis Island.

“Pat Riley probably is the reason I kind of stuck in the game,’’ Davis told the Quad-City Times last April. “He taught you everything from off the court to on the court, how to eat the right way, how to train, how to handle yourself. He and Doc Rivers were the best coaches I had. They were hard on you but in a good way.’’

Ricky never figured it out, though. He lives forever in our memories as a cautionary tale for the time he shot at his own basket so he could rebound the miss in a vainglorious pursuit of a triple-double.

Current Practitioners: Brook Lopez (20.1 points on .583 true shooting, 5 rebounds, 2.7 assists); Harrison Barnes (20.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists)

Welcome to the age of stretch-Lopez! Brook, formerly known for his plodding, ground-bound, velvet mid-to-close-range style, is currently taking five 3-pointers a game and making them at a 35 percent clip! FIVE!!! REGGIE MILLER AVERAGED 4.7 3s A GAME FOR HIS CAREER. WELCOME TO THE SCORING BOOM.

That’s crazy. And also, a transparent attempt by Nets GM Sean Marks to beef up Lopez’s trade stock. It’s not as if Lopez is pulling down rebounds, so he may as well have him bomb away from the perimeter. He’s on the books for $22 million next season, after which he’ll be a unrestricted free agent. Anyone interested in a $20+ million stretch five who moves like a cruise ship coming into port and has a history of troubling foot injuries?

Barnes slumped his way through the Warriors’ 3–1 Finals collapse, then went through most of the Olympic Games without taking off his warmups. After Mark Cuban signed Barnes to a four-year, $94 million “it’s 3 a.m. / I must be lonely” contract, I was readying my quill for the inevitable “Barnes is a bust” jokes. I still have them in my drafts folder, awaiting the right time — which isn’t now, because Barnes has been a bright spot for the Mavs and carried them offensively while Dirk Nowitzki was out with an Achilles injury. Dallas is a team with a dearth of players capable of creating their own offense; Barnes can do that in a variety of ways. He can post, he can drive, he can spot up. One full season of this, and I’m ready to call Harrison Barnes a YTMND.

All stats current through Monday.