SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt break down the trade that sent Isaiah Thomas from the Cavaliers to the Lakers and what it means for both teams and LeBron James’ future.
USA TODAY Sports
As part of our weekly rankings, USA TODAY Sports spotlights one player who’s in the NBA MVP conversation.
Take a bow, DeMar DeRozan.
You’re the best player on the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and are headed for the fourth All-Star Game of your career — and the second consecutive as a starter.
You’re one of just five players in the league with per-game averages of at least 23 points, five assists and four rebounds while shooting 45% or higher from the field.
You’ve been named Player of the Week three times — something no other East player has done this season.
You’ve also added new elements to your game, shooting a career-best 33.9% from beyond the arc on a career-high 3.5 attempts per game, but still boast top-10 per-game averages in drives (16.8), free-throw attempts (7.2) and points scored off pick and rolls (9.4).
“I wanted to simplify the game and make it easier on me to be a complete player,” DeRozan told USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt recently. “Seeing the way the league was shifting, seeing what I was good at and seeing what I could be better at. I was just trying to put all that together and master a new craft.”
And yet the national spotlight continues to shine elsewhere while DeRozan strengthens his case as one of the league’s most underappreciated stars.
USA TODAY Sports’ weekly NBA MVP rankings, as voted on by Sam Amick, Jeff Zillgitt, Michael Singer and AJ Neuharth-Keusch, are below. DeRozan, for what it’s worth, finished this week’s voting tied for seventh.
5. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Most recent ranking (Jan. 31): No. 3
Season stats: 25.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 blocks, 51.9% shooting
As is often the case with this team, Durant hasn’t had to carry much of the offensive load in each of the Warriors’ last two games. He totaled a season-low 10 points (on 3-for-9 shooting) in Saturday’s blowout win over San Antonio and 17 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) in Monday’s rout of Phoenix.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Most recent ranking: No. 4
Season stats: 26.8 points, 6.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 49.3% shooting
The same that’s said for Durant can be said for Curry, who made seven of his 13 shots on Saturday and finished with 17 points. Aside from the fact that both have missed a significant amount of time (15 games missed for Curry, eight for Durant), the two former MVPs are each other’s largest obstacle as far as bringing home regular season hardware is concerned.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Most recent ranking: No. 5 (tie)
Season stats: 27.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 53.9% shooting
The Bucks, who have won eight of their last 10 and are now just ½ game behind Washington for fourth place in the East, have been rolling since Joe Prunty took over the head-coaching duties last month. As has Antetokounmpo, averaging 26.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists in his last nine games.
Oh, and he did this:
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Most recent ranking: No. 2
Season stats: 26.3 points, 8.9 assists, 8.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 54.3% shooting
James may be the prime beneficiary of the trade-deadline roster overhaul which brought Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood and George Hill to Cleveland, as he now has four new role players — who bring a combination of youth and experience — to work with.
“We just got to do our job, be the best role players we can possibly be,” Hill said. “He’s the Batman, and we got to be all Robins.”
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Most recent ranking: No. 1
Season stats: 31.3 points, 8.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 44.8% shooting
The Rockets, riding an eight-game winning streak, are now just one game behind Golden State for first place in the West and are 26-1 in games Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela have played.