VIDEO: Zach LaVine finishes with authority vs. the Cavs
By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com
The announcement of 2016 NBA All-Star reserves stole most headlines Thursday, but participants for this year’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge were named a day before that. Two players in particular showcased their offensive skill in the week leading up to the release of those rosters.
Interactive data visualization site PointAfter will help illustrate the most efficient shooting performances of the last seven days from each position group (guard, wing, forward/center), which have a youthful flavor to them this week.
Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 22-28.
Best Guard: Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
LaVine’s shooting stroke was icier than Winter Storm Jonas for most of January, as he reached double-digit scoring in just three of his first 12 games. After setting a Timberwolves record with 35 bench points on 14-of-17 shooting against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, it’s fair to assume the cold spell is over.
LaVine made all nine two-point attempts against the Thunder and sunk 5-of-8 shots from 3-point range to keep Minnesota close in an eventual 126-123 defeat. LaVine’s 82 percent shooting that night was the best by a Timberwolf since Kevin Garnett in 2006.
That followed a solid showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, when LaVine scored 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting and had six assists.
Two impressive performances against top-tier teams, getting mentioned in the same breath as a franchise icon, and making the cut for Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge? That’s a solid week for a 20-year-old backup guard.
Best Wing: Evan Turner, Boston Celtics
Miami Heat rookie Justise Winslow technically owns the second-best field goal percentage (63.2 percent) among wing players over the past seven days. But it would be a stretch to label Winslow the best shooter at his position with just one double-digit scoring performance to his name this month.
Instead, we’ll bestow that title upon Evan Turner, who isn’t exactly a slam-dunk choice himself. Even though he clanked his only two 3-point attempts of the week, Turner’s efficiency inside the arc was too much to ignore.
Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Turner’s percentages compared to the league average.
Turner averaged 13.3 points in Boston’s four games this week, all victories, and performed like a maestro from mid-range. The 27-year-old converted 22 of 38 shots overall (57.9 percent).
If you take issue with a guy who hasn’t even made 15 percent of his 3-pointers being classified as “shooter of the week,” realize Turner was agonizingly close to registering a ridiculous buzzer-beater as his first successful trey since Jan. 12.
If Turner had just moved that foot back a couple inches, the monkey would have been off his back. At least he’s a good sport about it.
Best Forward/Center: Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have won three of their last six games and produced one of the league’s hottest shooters for the second straight week. After point guard Isaiah Canaan carried the torch for Philadelphia last week, this time it’s Noel, who has matured into an efficient scorer this season.
Noel ended November with a dreadful 40.8 percent shooting percentage. He’s now in the top 10 of the field goal percentage leaderboard (52.7 percent) and is shooting 62.6 percent in January. That’d be good for second in the NBA if he maintained throughout the season.
The 21-year-old had to leave Philly’s Jan. 20 clash against Orlando with migraine symptoms, but he recovered shoot 20-for-27 in three games this week. That includes one savage posterization of newly crowned All-Star Andre Drummond on Wednesday night.
The absence of rookie Jahlil Okafor, who sat out two games this week with the flu, probably contributed to Noel’s improved play this week since he had more room to operate in the post. But he’s proven over the last couple months that he can be a valuable piece for the 76ers with or without Okafor on the floor.
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.