Five Players Stepping Up, Post All-Star Weekend
With this year’s All-Star Weekend nearly a month past, a handful of players have taken their games to new heights since the festivities concluded. Whether it be the much-needed rest, a shot of motivation following a confounding snub, or the realization of a disappointing season needing a 180-degree turnaround, these five players have stepped up big time.
Although his Golden State Warriors team have taken a nasty dive since the break, Steph Curry has been playing out of his mind since All-Star Weekend. It’s impossible to accurately and definitely pinpoint why he or any player would use a random weekend in February as the switch for turning on dominance, but the best possible guess can be made. Curry was not chosen to take part in the All-Star game by the league’s coaches, despite the marvelous year he’s had. This could have very well translated into some extra motivation for Curry, who’s Warriors squad is already neck-deep in a Wild Wild West Playoffs race.
Whatever the case, the sharpshooting point guard has played 40 minutes a night in the 12 games since All-Star Weekend, upping his field goal, 3-point, and free throw attempts from his pre-break averages. His shooting percentages have also increased, despite the extra shots, with a 4.4% jump in his eFG% (from 52.5% to 56.9%) and a 5% jump in his TS%. (from 56.7% to 61.7%) His passing rate has shot up as well with a 4.9% boost in his AST%, dishing out 7.4 assists a night to his 6.6 average before the break.
Oh, and he also dropped 54 points at Madison Square Garden on 65% shooting from the field, 84% from downtown and collected 6 boards and 7 dimes. That was pretty good too.
Russell Westbrook’s efficiency as a scorer, the primary role he’s taken on since being drafted to the Oklahoma City Thunder, took a bit of a dip early on this year compared to last season’s efforts. Many guessed this was due to extra offensive burden placed on Russell with the departure of James Harden, an off-the-bench scoring specialist. Harden’s isolation/pick-and-roll style of scoring was replaced by Kevin Martin‘s spot-up shooting this season, (the majority of Martin’s attempts this year have been spot-up shots, per Synergy) thus giving Westbrook more opportunities to create a shot for himself when needed.
His initial response was a lowered eFG%, but he has since bounced back big time. Since the All-Star break, all 3 of Westbrook’s shooting percentage have increased, combining for a noticeable 5.1% increase in his TS% from a 52.2% clip to a 57.3% mark. He’s been able to do so in one less minute of game time a night, simply by shooting more and assisting less. Westbrook has taken 1.3 more shots a contest, but has taken nearly one less three-pointer a night, effectively upping his scoring output and efficiency. His AST% has taken a colossal dive since the break passed, from 39% to 28.4%.
This is of no cause for concern, with the Thunder owning an extremely similar winning percentage post All-Star compared to the previously played games, and as long as Westbrook’s making shots at this clip, it’s no harm to give Kevin Durant an offensive breather as the season winds down.
The Atlanta Hawks are in a meat grinder right now, fighting in the neck-and-neck race that is the 4th-to-7th Eastern Conference Playoffs seeds. Them being in the race is largely due to Al Horford’s ridiculous play since his All-Star game snub, with numbers resonating legend-status, if only for a handful of games.
Since All-Star Weekend passed, Horford has averaged 22.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per game on 61.1% shooting from the field. That stat line is out of this world, yet conceals nothing that would make Horford’s play look any less impressive since the break. Horford hasn’t played a game where he’s shot under 50% from the field, even with his USG% increasing by 4.7%. On top of this, his Ast% and Reb% have also improved, demonstrating his ability to not only do it all for his Atlanta Hawks team, but to do it all damn well and with ease.
The extra burden surprisingly hasn’t taken a toll on Horford despite the injury problems he’s suffered through in the past couple of seasons. If he keeps this level of play up the Hawks will be indebted to him come playoff time.
Dion Waiters was drafted just this past summer by the Cleveland Cavaliers in hopes of providing point guard and future star Kyrie Irving with some ball-handling and shot creating help in the backcourt. Early in the season Waiters played poorly enough to make many wonder if Cleveland made the right choice in drafting him, to the point where he lost his starting spot for small stretches of the season. The clear issue was his shot selection and lack of control. Hoisting up 30-footers out of nowhere and dribbling into a crowded paint to force up a shot is no way to say you’re ready to take away some of the offensive duties from an All-Star point guard.
Waiters’s ways have changed though, and he’s slowly evolving into a very solid two guard. His pre-All-Star Weekend shooting percentages of 39.6% from the field and 30.9% from downtown have skyrocketed to 48.6% and 38.1% respectively since the break, with the same amount of playing time and attempted field goals a night. This is, in all likelihood, due to his smarter shot selection. See the distribution of his shots compared between before and after the break:
You’ll see that Waiters is getting to the rim more often and settling for fewer threes. Waiters’s scoring is now at 17.9 points per game since All-Star Weekend, over the 14.2 average he put out on atrocious shooting beforehand. If all of this wasn’t good enough, Waiters’s turnovers per contest have dipped from 2.1 to 1.2 since the festivities in Houston. If this improvement is no fluke and Waiters is already making great strides to become an NBA-caliber starting shooting guard, the Cavaliers could become home to one of the most dangerous backcourts in the league.
The Los Angeles Lakers have missed expectations time and time again this season, leaving NBA fans hysterically laughing and the players and coaches frustrated, behind closed doors. None more so than Kobe Bryant, who’s had a reputation for being allergic to losing, and who’s never been on a team this awful, record-wise, in his entire career. Bryant’s first half of the season was actually impressive, posting up numbers that didn’t jump out of the stat sheet but showed a smarter, more efficient Kobe. Though since All-Star Weekend, Bryant has kicked his game up to a whole new level. This is a stretch that can solidify 2012-2013 as the best season of Kobe Bryant’s transcendent career.
Before the All-Star festivities came along, Bryant’s stat line consisted of 26.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists a night, on 46.4% shooting from the field and 32.6% shooting from long distance. Undoubtedly superstar numbers, but Bryant has exhibited even more outstanding play since the break passed. In the 11 games Bryant and his Lakers squad have played post All-Star weekend, the team has a 9-2 record, and Kobe has averaged 30.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists with a 51.6% clip from the field and 41.7% shooting from three-point land. These statistics translate to the advanced department as well, with Bryant’s eFG% of 50.5%, AST% of 26.9% and REB% of 7.6% increasing by 6.7, 7.6, and 2.0 respectively since the break.
This blazing hot streak of Kobe’s has been paramount to the Lakers recent run, which could very well lead them into the NBA Playoffs, a pre-season guarantee but a mid-season question mark. For the umpteenth time, Kobe Bryant is coming up larger than life for his Lakers team.