Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
James Harden, Houston Rockets
There are powerlifters who couldn’t shoulder the burden the Beard must carry for the injury-riddled Rockets. While he’s three-point bombing and free-throw shooting his way through a historic scoring stretch, he’s doing everything he can to mask the absences of Chris Paul (hamstring), Clint Capela (thumb) and, until Wednesday night, Eric Gordon (knee).
Take that trio out of the mix, and Houston’s top non-Harden scorers are Austin Rivers, Danuel House and Gerald Green. If that was the best Harden ever had around him, he’d run away with the No. 1 spot.
But as soon the injury bug allows Houston to get back to its normal hierarchy, Harden will have no place in this discussion.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Who’s still buying the idea of Love as an NBA star? Push past the megamoney he’s collecting and the five All-Star trips he’s previously booked, and it feels faulty to assume the 30-year-old remains a card-carrying member of the Association’s elite.
He spent the past four seasons as a second or third option in Cleveland. He’s spent all but four games of this one on the sideline rehabbing from November foot surgery that still has him “weeks away” from a return.
One of the better indicators for a subjective status like “star” is a player’s value around the league. Between Love’s contract and defensive limitations, his trade market might be nonexistent. As one Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger, “you’re not getting an asset for him under any circumstances.”
Had Love qualified as a star, though, his supporting cast would be right there among the worst of the worst. Cleveland’s next-best scorer is Jordan Clarkson, a 26-year-old with a middling 15.2 career player efficiency rating.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Since Porzingis hasn’t played all season while recovering from a torn ACL, it’s tough to throw the star label at him. Not to mention, it’s impossible to know what kind of impact his gravitational pull on defenders might have on his new teammates.
That said, it seems to safe to wager the 23-year-old’s skill set of three-point shooting and shot-blocking will keep him on the superstar trajectory whenever his body cooperates. It’s also probably fair to assume a supporting cast led by Tim Hardaway Jr., Emmanuel Mudiay and Kevin Knox would let Porzingis down more often than not.