VIDEO: Paul Millsap powers Atlanta past Portland
By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com
While the East Coast has been preparing for a crippling snowstorm this weekend, some of the Eastern Conference’s standout shooters are heating up nets around the NBA.
All three of this week’s hottest shooters (guard, wing, forward/center), brought to you by interactive data visualization site PointAfter, play in the suddenly formidable Eastern Conference.
We’ll start with this week’s in-form guard, who was toiling on the bench for a team that was on pace to be historically bad just 10 days ago.
Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 15-21.
Best Guard: Isaiah Canaan, Philadelphia 76ers
On Jan. 11, Canaan was slapped with a DNP-CD for the first time this season. Warming the bench for the league’s worst team must feel like a low point, especially for someone who lost two starting jobs in the last month on a team that won four of its first 41 games.
First, Ish Smith took Philly by storm and stole the starting point guard spot from Canaan. Then, the 24-year-old Canaan was replaced by Nik Stauskas at shooting guard after he endured a brutal cold stretch to begin 2016, making just 5-of-26 shots in his first four games of the New Year.
Canaan received another chance when Stauskas injured his shoulder in the very next game after the DNP-CD, however, and has responded with aplomb.
Over the last seven days, Canaan has sunk 14-of-26 attempts (53.8 percent), including 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range. He averaged 15 points per game in Philly’s three contests, which included two resounding wins over Portland and Orlando and a respectable double-overtime loss to the Knicks.
That’s right — the Sixers actually have a winning record for the trailing week.
Smith has justifiably received most of the plaudits for the squad’s recent turnaround, but Canaan merits some praise for adjusting to a different role on offense – even if it took a little while, and ultimately seems unsustainable.
His recent marks are also far better than his seasonal statistics (35.8 percent overall, 36.3 percent from 3-point range), so Stauskas probably shouldn’t lose any sleep over Canaan potentially becoming a permanent fixture in Philly’s starting backcourt.
Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Canaan’s percentages compared to the league average.
Best Wing: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
After returning last week from a month-long layoff caused by a leg injury, Beal has shown why he’s so valuable to the Wizards. Washington has won three of the four games he’s played in — including double-digit victories over Miami and Indiana — thanks in part to Beal’s lights-out shooting.
Dating back to last Friday’s 118-104 road triumph over the Pacers, Beal has converted 20-of-36 attempts (55.6 percent) to average 18.7 points in less than 24 minutes per contest.
The former No. 3 overall pick also cashed 8-of-15 3-pointers over that span. Beal has incorporated long-range shooting into his game more than ever before this year, and deservedly so, after incrementally bettering his touch from beyond the arc in each of his four NBA seasons.
If Beal can keep up his red-hot shooting in extended time (he’s been eased back onto the court, and sat out the second part of a back-to-back over the weekend), he could boost the Wizards back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture by week’s end.
VIDEO: Bradley Beal talks after a big game against the Pacers
Best Forward/Center: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks had a jam-packed week, playing five games (three on the road) since last Friday. But their rock-steady stretch-four remained efficient through the tiresome stretch.
Millsap knocked down at least half of his shots in every matchup, and ended the week averaging a double-double (18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds) on 58.7 percent shooting and 50 percent from 3-point range.
He has quietly surpassed Al Horford and Jeff Teague to become Atlanta’s best player this season. NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker contended earlier this month that Atlanta’s leader in points (18.4), rebounds (8.8) and steals (1.9) deserved a starting nod in the All-Star Game, and that’s not a far-fetched take by any means.
The 30-year-old’s career-high 23.7 PER ranks second among power forwards, behind only Anthony Davis.
Alas, Millsap finished a distant 15th in fan voting among Eastern Conference frontcourt players, accumulating a mere 7.3 percent of the votes that Carmelo Anthony secured to clinch the East’s final starting spot.
Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.