Katelyn E. Clooney
As the calendar turned to November and temperatures, here in New England are starting to fall, the NBA season is now in full-swing.
As I discussed last week, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant are both making much-anticipated comebacks. While Rose has suffered a minor setback and is currently dealing with a pair of sprained ankles, the injury bug has hit the Oklahoma City Thunder hard this year. Their two leading scorers and, unarguably, two best players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, are both out for an extended amount of time. Durant, who had foot surgery on Oct. 16, anticipates a mid-December return. Westbrook, who had his hand surgically repaired on Nov. 1, will be reevaluated in about three weeks.
With the absence of Durant, Westbrook, who has never seen a shot he didn’t like, was expected to carry more of the load offensively for the Thunder. Instead, the pair of injuries, will not only hinder the Thunder’s title hopes in an every-game-counts Western Conference, but also leads us to ask another question:
Who will win the NBA’s scoring title?
While the Thunder have been recently successful as a team, reaching the Western Conference Finals in three of the last four years, and reaching the NBA finals in 2012, that success was largely fueled by Durant’s individual play.
Durant, last year’s league MVP, has won the scoring title, claimed by the player with the highest points per game, average in four of the last five years.
With league rules requiring a minimum of 70 games or 1,400 points to be eligible for the title, Durant is most likely, out of the running this year.
However, don’t be so quick to give it to Carmelo Anthony, either. Anthony, who won the accolade in 2013, is the only leading scorer in the past five years not named Kevin Durant (he bested Durant by 0.6 points that year).
However, with first-year coach Derek Fisher leading the Knicks under new President, Phil Jackson, the triangle offense will be in full-swing in New York. Jackson famously used the triple-post to win six championships with Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1990s and later won five championships in Los Angeles. Fisher was a guard on all five Lakers’ teams.
Though the triangle has proved to be highly effective, if run properly, being part of a pass-heavy scheme, will most likely lead Anthony, who celebrated his 20,000th career point last week, to see a dip in scoring.
Additionally, Fisher has stated that he will limit Anthony’s minutes. Through the Knicks’ first four games of the season, Anthony is averaging 33.8 minutes per game, compared with 38.7 last year. Similarly, he has seen his time of possession drop from 3.7 minutes per game to just 2.5 and has touched the ball just 61 times per game this year, down from 70.3 last year.
The result: Anthony, who averaged 27.4 PPG last year and 28.7 PPG the year prior, is averaging just 21.3 points through his first four games of the year.
As he and the Knicks continue to get adjusted to Jackson’s, err, “Fisher’s” offense, it is likely that we will see a new scoring champ for the first time since Dwyane Wade took home bragging rights for the 2008-09 season.
Even with LeBron’s talents no longer in South Beach, Dwyane Wade and his knees are not averaging 30 points any time soon (or ever again).
Enter James Harden.
After trading Omer Asik and losing Chandler Parsons in free agency, the Houston Rockets will look to Harden more on the offensive end. Also never one to pass up a shot, Harden has embraced his role on the Rockets the past two seasons, after being a highly effective sixth-man in Oklahoma City.
Harden has averaged over 25 points per in each of the last two seasons and, through his first five starts this year, is currently averaging 27.2 points.
Although the Rockets have acquired swingman Trevor Ariza and will continue to look to Dwight Howard in the paint, expect Harden to claim the scoring title this year. This is largely due to his ability to get to the line.
Harden trailed only Durant last year in free throw attempts, averaging 9.1 per game. This year, both his attempts and efficiency have risen. Harden is averaging 12.8 attempts this year and is, by far, leading the league with 12.2 made per game. That’s good for a stellar .953 FT %.
A case could be made for Klay Thompson, who is currently the league leader in scoring, as well as his fellow Golden State Warrior, Steph Curry.
In his 19th season, Kobe Bryant, currently ranks second with 27.6 PPG, after exploding for 39 points on Tuesday night. Although he is likely to pass Michael Jordan for 3rd all-time in points scored, do not expect Bryant to put up 30-plus every night. He showed fatigue late in Tuesday’s action against the Suns and, on an 0-5 lakers squad, his stamina will be thoroughly tested this season.
Come May, expect the now 5-0 Rockets to compete for the West, led by the NBA’s newest scoring champion, James Harden. I am predicting Harden to finish with a 29.7 average.
Just don’t expect him to be named Defensive Player of the Year, or “a” defensive player, anytime soon.
At least they have Patrick Beverley.