After more than three months of no meaningful NBA action, training camps begin for some teams Saturday and for others next Tuesday. Preseason action begins October 4 and the regular season opens October
Are you pumped? I sure am.
You probably have teams and players you’re especially excited to see, as the league is not short on star talent. Many of those stars have elite skills and will be competing with their peers for the crowns in basic statistical categories such as points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
Let’s look at each of those categories and come up with the five players most likely to pace the lead in them, followed by some honorable mentions.
Points Per Game:
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder- 27.0
2. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks- 26.6
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans- 26.3
4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers- 25.9
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets- 25.7
Honorable mentions: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler
Durant, even coming off his foot injury, should have enough daggers in those lanky arms of his to pull off a fifth scoring title. The concern with KD is obviously his teammates, as Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter are all players who need to get theirs on the offensive end.
However, Durant hasn’t averaged 27.0 points per game would be the lowest average since his sophomore season (not including his injury-riddled 2014-15 campaign), so I don’t think that number is too unrealistic.
‘Melo will be counted on to score a bunch of points for a Knicks team without much offensive talent, but all that defensive attention he attracts will prevent him from putting up insane scoring numbers.
Davis is the best young superstar in today’s game, and his scoring numbers have increased significantly in his first three years despite a playing in a slow-paced offense. Now, Alvin Gentry is coaching the team. In Gentry’s four seasons at the head of the Phoenix Suns early in the decade, his team’s pace factor was never below ninth in the NBA. Considering New Orleans was 27th in possessions per game, Davis’ numbers are in for a jump.
Lillard, who averaged 21 points per game last year, is the only Trail Blazer starter from last year remaining on the roster. The players replacing them could be Gerald Henderson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee. ‘Nuff said.
Harden, last year’s second-ranked scorer, will get some offensive help from new point guard Ty Lawson. Lawson will ease some of the Beard’s scoring burden whether he starts or comes off the bench.
Rebounds Per Game:
1. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons- 15.4
2. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers- 13.5
3. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings- 13.0
4. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 12.4
5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans- 11.7
Honorable mentions: Tyson Chandler, Hassan Whiteside, Pau Gasol, Nikola Vucevic, Jonas Valanciunas, Zach Randolph
Yes, you read Drummond’s projected average correctly. The athletic 22-year-old center was a monster on the boards last season, grabbing 13.5 rebounds in just 30.5 minutes of playing time. Now that Greg Monroe has left for the Milwaukee, Drummond will get more minutes. And since stretch 4 Ersan Ilyasova is probably going to be the center’s chief frontcourt mate, the paint will be free for Drummond to snag all the caroms he can reach.
Jordan will still be an athletic board-eater, but the combination of Josh Smith and Cole Aldrich backing him up (instead of Spencer Hawes and Glen Davis last year) probably means slightly fewer minutes and a lower rebounds per game number than last season (15.0).
Gobert and Davis represent two prototypes for the future of the big-man position in the NBA. Gobert is a freakishly long rim protector who knows his limitations on offense and sticks to finishing efficiently while Davis is an athletic, do-it-all power forward with a guard-like handle and shooting stroke.
Rudy will thrive in the rebounding department because he’ll get starter’s minutes the entire year for the first time in his career. Davis is bulking up and, as mentioned before, will play a faster pace and have more opportunities to grab boards.
Assists Per Game:
1. John Wall, Washington Wizards- 10.6
2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers- 9.9
3. Rajon Rondo, Sacramento Kings- 8.7
4. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves- 8.7
5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder- 8.1
Honorable mentions: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Deron Williams, Jeff Teague
Wall was a close second in assists per game to Paul last year, but I see them flip-flopping this season. Wall’s assists should take a slight climb next to rising scorer Bradley Beal at shooting guard while Paul may see his minutes and responsibilities decline ever-so-slightly as the Clippers try to save him for their postseason run.
Rondo and Rubio are in somewhat similar situations, as both are point guards with subpar shooting strokes and great court vision surrounded by solid young scorers. Chemistry issues could plague Rondo and injuries could do the same to Rubio, but assists averages just under nine seem pretty reasonable.
Westbrook had a career-high 8.6 assists per game last season since he had the ball in his hands for excessive amounts of time. With Durant back and creating his own looks, the Thunder point guard won’t be needing to set the table as much.
Steals Per Game:
1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs- 2.4
2. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves- 2.2
3. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies- 2.1
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- 1.9
5. Russell Westbrook, Utah Jazz- 1.9
Honorable mentions: Chris Paul, Marcus Smart, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Nerlens Noel
Kawhi Leonard led the NBA in steals per game last season with 2.3. After the All-Star break, he averaged 2.6 despite his minutes decreasing. He has been improving on defense every year and just 24 years old.
So obviously, he’s the odds-on favorite to take the steals crown again.
Rubio has flaws as a one-on-one defender, but he makes for a nice team defender with excellent instincts. He’s been above two steals per game every season of his career except 2014-15, an injury-riddle campaign in which he appeared in 22 contests.
Allen takes pride in playing irritating defense, which can be partially seen in his steal numbers. Curry is a sneaky-good thief while Westbrook frustrates opposing ball-handlers when he elects to do so using his otherworldly explosiveness.
Blocks Per Game:
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans- 3.1
2. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz- 3.1
3. Hassan Whiteside, Memphis Grizzlies- 3.0
4. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder- 2.6
5. John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks- 2.2
Honorable mentions: Nerlens Noel, Andre Drummond, Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard
A trio of rising star big men highlights the top of the block list. It’s essentially splitting hairs between Davis, Gobert and Whiteside, but I’ll continue to side with Davis in per-game stats due to the Pelicans’ faster pace and his bulking up.
Gobert and Whiteside averaged 3.2 and 3.9 blocks per 36 minutes last year, but Gobert is more likely to approach that amount of playing time because he doesn’t struggle with foul trouble as Whiteside sometimes does.
Ibaka’s blocks per game took a slight step back last season to 2.4, but I assume they’ll creep back up to where they were in 2013-14 (2.7) as he assumes more of a defensive role with Durant and Westbrook both healthy.
Henson averaged an amazing 2.0 blocks in just 18.3 minutes per game last season. He may or may not start for the Bucks, but the lanky 24-year-old has shown enough to get a slightly increased role for next year.