NBA Star Power Index: As Anthony Davis chases Harden, LeBron has passed Jordan

Welcome back to our NBA Star Power Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. Also, this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column will run every week for the rest of the season. 

Not long ago, I thought it was a reasonable question to ask whether James Harden had a shot to become the second unanimous MVP in history. Suddenly, it’s a reasonable question to ask whether he’ll win the award at all, as Anthony Davis is currently burning the NBA to the ground. Please look at what he was doing in the month of February coming into Wednesday night:

Seriously, look at those numbers. Looney Toons. By comparison, Davis’ numbers on Wednesday night look like he played on one leg — 26 points and 15 boards as the Pelicans roared back to beat the Spurs for their seventh straight win. Don’t look now, but this New Orleans team that was all but written off when DeMarcus Cousins went down, and was clinging to the 8-seed not that long ago, is suddenly tied in the loss column for the No. 3 seed out West. If this keeps up, Davis is going to factor heavily into the MVP conversation. I don’t think he has a realistic chance of winning unless Harden and the Rockets fall off considerably, which is unlikely, but what he’s doing right now is hard to even believe. 

This is crazy when you step back and think about it: LeBron has won Player of the Month for February every year since 2012. That’s six straight years, and it’s about to be seven as James just finished averaging a triple-double this February — 27 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists. In addition, on Tuesday James became the first player in NBA history to post 30,000 career points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists. It is silly how much we take this guy for granted. 

On Wednesday I was asked the impossible question during my segment for our new 24-hour streaming network, CBS Sports HQ (you like that subtle plug?): Who is better, LeBron or Jordan. To me, this isn’t even a question anymore. It’s LeBron. He’s a better passer than Jordan, a better rebounder, a more versatile defender (the guy can guard every position on the floor), he’s more athletic, more powerful, more efficient, a better ball handler, and even when it comes to Jordan’s signature stat — scoring — LeBron is well within reach of becoming the leading scorer in NBA history despite playing the entirety of his career as a pass-first guy. If he’d spent the last 15 seasons with a single-minded focus on getting buckets like Jordan or Kobe did over their careers, the guy would be lapping the field right now. He could average between 30-35 points a game every single season if he wanted to. 

At this point, there are only two reasonable answers for why so many people still side with Jordan in this debate. The first is nostalgia, which isn’t a real thing. What is real are Jordan’s six titles. LeBron, of course, “only” has three titles and is 3-5 in the NBA Finals. Before you get on your “Jordan is the ultimate winner” high horse, let’s be clear: Jordan never, ever faced the level of competition in his six Finals appearances that LeBron has gone against. 

By the time Michael met up with the Lakers for his first championship, they weren’t the Showtime Lakers. They were the Magic-Johnson-at-the-end-of-his-career-and-Vlade-Divac Lakers. The Suns were a one-superstar team. The Jazz and Sonics were good, but are we really going to try to compare them to those two Spurs teams LeBron went against in Miami? And forget about this current Warriors team LeBron has had to play three straight years. Jordan never faced a team even close to this good. That 2016 title LeBron pulled off, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat a 73-win team, is more impressive than anything Jordan ever did in the Finals. 

To say Jordan is the second-greatest player of all-time isn’t exactly a knock, even though it will obviously be interpreted as such. But either way, it has to be said. LeBron James is the best basketball player that’s ever lived. 

Speaking of legacies, D-Wade added to his by hitting the game-winning shot vs. the Sixers on Tuesday night with 5.9 seconds to play. American Airlines Arena absolutely erupted, and as important as the shot and win was for the Heat, who are currently fighting for their playoff lives, there was a much deeper meaning attached to the night, the shot and the man who is a Miami hero. 

By now we all know about the Parkland school shooting in South Florida in which 17 people lost their lives on February 14. Seventeen-year-old Joaquin Oliver lost his life that day. Shortly thereafter, his parents buried him in a Dwyane Wade jersey. Joaquin, like just about everyone else in South Florida, adored Wade, who promptly dedicated his season to Joaquin’s memory one day before sinking the winning shot vs. the Sixers. 

About 10 minutes after I wrote my blurb about Anthony Davis and his creeping up on James Harden in the MVP race, Harden did this to poor, poor Wes Johnson: 

There are some that are going to call this disrespectful, and for those people: Get over yourselves. This is beautiful. This is basketball in its purest form. You deck a guy like that, you let him know. In Houston’s four games since the All-Star break, all wins, Harden is averaging just under 31 a game — pretty much his season average, which leads the league by a mile — and seven assists. The MVP is still clearly his to lose. 

Every team and every player was excused going into the All-Star break. The NBA season is a grind. But the Celtics were panting particularly hard, having played more games than anyone in the league through much of the season, thanks to a front-loaded schedule that accounted for their trip to London to play the Sixers. 

Whether it was because they were tired or because some of the flaws they’ve always had were finally being exposed a little, heading into the All-Star break they had lost three straight and nine of their last 15 games, which dropped them out of the No. 1 spot in the East. Since getting that rest, they have won four straight on the other side of the break. Kyrie has been terrific. 

Irving continues to dazzle with his ball-handling and shot creating, but what’s been really impressive to watch is the way he’s evolved as a leader on this Boston team, a role that he never had to worry much about filling while playing alongside LeBron in Cleveland. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both spoke about how much Irving has helped them this season, just with his experience, the tone he has set for the team. And now Boston looks to be back on track, with a big one coming up on Saturday vs. Houston and still two games left against Toronto, which it trails by a half game for the No. 1 seed in the East entering Thursday.

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