The end of the NBA season is a time where players look forward to contending for the league’s annual awards. Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, along with the other individual awards and the All-NBA, All-Rookie and All-Defensive Teams are undoubtedly goals for many of the league’s players.
But there are other categories that players can also aim to win, most notably leading the league in basic statistical categories or coming close.
Let’s examine the five common box score statistical categories and predict which players have the best chance at taking the crown in each of them.
POINTS PER GAME
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets- 27.8
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder- 26.9
3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings- 25.6
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 24.9
5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers- 24.5
Honorable mentions: Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers)
Harden and Westbrook are both the undisputed No. 1 scoring options on their teams and have the requisite talent to rack up regular 30-point outings. The Rockets added some offensive help for Harden, however, in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, so I see The Beard looking for his teammates a little bit more often than last season (29.0 points per game). Hopefully, that also means better defensive effort, too.
We got a glimpse of what Westbrook might look like full-time without Durant next to him at the end of the 2014-15 season. Russ averaged 31.2, 30.9 and 32.5 points per game in February, March and April, respectively, getting to the free-throw line at will and jacking up shots from nearly every area of the floor. In 2016-17, he’ll have a legitimate No. 2 scorer (Victor Oladipo) and guys like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Cameron Payne contributing, so I don’t think he’ll go quite as bananas.
Cousins will score a bunch, as the skilled center always does, but how much could depend somewhat on how well Ty Lawson can set him up. Lawson will be starting at point guard for at least the early portion of the season, with Darren Collison likely facing a suspension for his domestic violence issues. Say what you will about Rajon Rondo, but he and Cousins were a strong offensive combo last season, and the big fella benefitted from his presence.
Curry averaged more than 30 points per game last season, and the only way he does it again is if one or more of his high-profile teammates get injured for a significant amount of time. With Kevin Durant’s arrival, offensive sacrifices will have to be made all the way down the roster. Steph is also probably due for some regression after his otherworldly offensive campaign in 2015-16.
I’m predicting the lowest scoring number for James since his rookie year because of one main factor: the emergence of Kyrie Irving. Uncle Drew had an amazing playoff run in terms of scoring (25.2 points per game on 57.4 percent true shooting), and he’ll be able to ease LeBron’s workload significantly by staying close to that productive–if he can stay healthier than he did last year.
REBOUNDS PER GAME
1. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons- 14.9
2. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers- 14.2
3. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat- 12.4
4. Dwight Howard, Atlanta Hawks- 12.1
5. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 11.2
Honorable mentions: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), Steven Adams (Oklahoma City Thunder), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves), Clint Capela (Houston Rockets), Pau Gasol (San Antonio Spurs)
The rule change for intentional fouling wasn’t monumental, but it’ll make a difference. That’s why I believe Drummond and Jordan will get slight minutes bumps, and thus, rebound bumps. Drummond’s squad got deeper at center, though, adding Boban Marjanovic, and Jordan’s got shallower, losing Cole Aldrich, which means the difference between their totals should be smaller than last season.
Whiteside is in line for more minutes and a bigger role with the Heat this year. A bigger offensive load could cause his rebound rates to decline slightly, but his raw totals will improve, and he’ll establish himself as one of the league’s top glass men.
Howard will be hot on the Heat center’s tail, giving the Hawks’ 28th-ranked rebounding attack much-needed muscle inside. He’s not at a point in his career where can viably play more than 33 minutes or so, but he’ll get all he can eat with few other glass cleaners on the team.
Gobert is so active on defense that it sometimes compromises his rebounding position, but that’s alright. His 7’8.5″ wingspan and good hands ensure that he grabs most of the ones he goes for. And really, isn’t it more important to challenge a shot and worry about the rebound later than just let the attempt go up without a contest?
ASSISTS PER GAME
1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers- 10.5
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder- 10.3
3. John Wall, Washington Wizards- 9.8
4. Rajon Rondo, Chicago Bulls- 8.7
5. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves- 8.0
Honorable mentions: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Paul is the point God. If you’re trying to teach a child, sibling, nephew, niece, whoever, how to be a floor general, show them a full game of CP3. The veteran has all the tricks in the book, and that includes smart and crafty distributing. With J.J. Redick firing away from behind the arc and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan always ready to finish on the outside, CP3 is in an ideal position to win his fifth assist title.
Westbrook will do anything and everything for the Thunder this season, especially getting to the rim for buckets and setting teammates up for easy shots. He’s not the best passer in the league, but he’s a very good one and will have the ball in his hands a whole bunch, leading to assists galore.
I’m predicting slightly lower assist numbers for Wall this season, mainly because Bradley Beal could take on a bigger offensive role and he’s a guy who’s more of a shot creator than an assist beneficiary.
Rondo won’t get the luxury of being the undisputed ball-handler for the Chicago Bulls this year, hence the significantly lower assist number than his lone Sacramento Kings tenure. Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler each averaged at least 4.6 assists per game last season, and also prefer to create their own shots. Rondo’s biggest targets for assists will have to be guys like Nikola Mirotic, Robin Lopez, Doug McDermott and Bobby Portis.
STEALS PER GAME
1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers- 2.0
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 2.0
3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder- 2.0
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 1.9
5. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors- 1.9
Honorable mentions: Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Brooklyn Nets), Tony Allen (Memphis Grizzlies), Trevor Ariza (Houston Rockets), Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers), Rajon Rondo (Chicago Bulls) John Wall (Washington Wizards), Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
We’ve already talked about Paul. Combining his lightning-quick hands with the fact that opponents are often eager to attack his 6’0″ stature, he consistently comes up with thefts and should crack two steals per game for the 10th time in his career.
Curry and Westbrook aren’t great defenders, but they aren’t terrible, either. Both have good enough instincts to make a couple of correct gambles per game (Westbrook is incorrect more than Curry) and keep their man at bay for long stretches, but not necessarily lock him down.
Leonard has a bit of a “Revis Island” effect to his defensive game. His off-ball work is pretty relentless, which means he usually isn’t challenged enough to generate gaudy steal numbers. When opponents do test him, his monstrous mitts have a knack for ending up with loose balls.
Lowry continues to be one of the more underrated point guards in the league. Not many players of his offensive skill (21.2 points and 6.4 assists per game, 57.8 true shooting percentage) get after it like he does on defense. He’s bulkier than most floor generals but lost enough weight last summer that he has the endurance to stay engaged for the full 48 minutes.
BLOCKS PER GAME
1. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat- 3.3
2. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 2.5
3. John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks- 2.4
4. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers- 2.2
5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks- 2.0
Honorable mention: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), Andrew Bogut (Dallas Mavericks), Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers), Pau Gasol (San Antonio Spurs), Clint Capela (Houston Rockets), Serge Ibaka (Orlando Magic)
If you want blocks in high volume, Whiteside is your man. He swatted away 3.7 shots per game in a mere 29.1 minutes per game in 2015-16. But I’m going out on a limb and saying that he’ll block fewer shots in more minutes this season, but actually become a more impactful defender. He’s the type to cares about what others think, and he’ll pay attention to the criticism he’s a block-chaser. A larger offensive role could play a part, too.
Gobert is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year this season. He finds the perfect balance between challenging shots without over-helping or fouling too much, which means his block totals aren’t quite as high as they could be. Helping his cause is that he probably won’t be playing on a bum knee most of his 2016-17 campaign.
Henson is stuck behind Greg Monroe in the Bucks frontcourt, and I’d love for the team to make a trade so the 25-year-old big can get some more burn. His per-minute block numbers were second only to Whiteside last season, and I think he has a mini breakout if given the minutes.
Jordan is learning that high block totals aren’t always the best form of defense. He’s getting smarter and becoming more valuable to the Clipper defense because of it. That said, as a bouncy 6’11”, 265-pound physical specimen, he’s going to come away with his share of rejections.
Porzingis is 7’3″ and showed a lot of rim-protecting potential as a rookie. On a shallow Knicks roster, he’s a safe bet to increase his 28.4 minutes per game from last season. New York’s perimeter defense being mostly bad with Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Jennings and Sasha Vujacic means he’ll get plenty of opportunities at the rim, as well.