NBA Power Rankings: De’Aaron Fox’s finishing and LeBron’s 3-point touch

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA

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In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Anthony Edwards is scoring, De’Aaron Fox is finishing and LeBron James can’t miss from beyond the arc.

Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.

Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?

5

Anthony Edwards’ ROY push

Taken as a whole, Anthony Edwards’ rookie season has been fairly ugly. He’s shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc and under 40 percent inside of it. He’s racked up nearly as many turnovers (34) as assists (37) and he’s playing the kind of defense you expect from a rookie whose best attributes have always come at the other end of the floor.

But over his past few games, something has started to click for Edwards. He’s scored in double-figures in six straight games and, most importantly, he’s done it by making more shots, not taking more. Over this stretch, he’s hitting 45.9 percent from beyond the arc and posted a true shooting percentage of 57.8 overall.

Edwards is still taking way too many pull-up jumpers, especially inside the arc, and buoyed currently by a likely unsustainable hot-streak on pull-up 3s. But he’s also been better on drives, finishing better, drawing more fouls and turning the ball over less often. It’s all marginal changes but the kind that could indicate a growing comfort in using his incredible athletic tools against the bigger and stronger athletes he’s facing in the NBA. LaMelo Ball is still the heavy favorite in the Rookie of the Year race but if Anthony Davis is headed for a run of 20-point games and flashy highlights, he could make a big dent.

4

Thad Young’s trade value

With a versatile, veteran game and a contract for 2020-21 that is only partially guaranteed, Thad Young is likely to be a sought-after piece at the NBA Trade Deadline. He’s been incredibly valuable for the Bulls this season but their playoff hopes are thin and the opportunity to get future value for Young might be too good to pass up. Luckily for the Bulls, Young is doing everything in his power to drive up the price for them.

He’s never been much of a 3-point shooter but Young is shooting a career-high 61.3 percent inside the arc which has carried his overall effective field goal percentage to a career-high as well. And he’s exploring the outer edges of his versatility at both ends of the floor — defending centers more often than he ever has and expanding his playmaking to make himself viable as a small-ball 5 even without the outside shot to stretch the floor.

Young’s assist percentage is more than double his previous career-high and he’s been fantastic facilitating from the elbow, finding cutters on the baseline…

… and on the short roll, hitting spot-up shooters in the corners.

Young would make a lot of sense for an outer-edge contender like the Denver Nuggets or Milwaukee Bucks looking to add some versatile depth.

3

DeMar DeRozan’s Big Love

Whatever animosity DeMar DeRozan might hold for the Toronto Raptors for essentially trading him for Kawhi Leonard and a championship, it certainly doesn’t extend to his former teammates. After Fred VanVleet dropped a career- and franchise-high 54 points against the Orlando Magic, DeRozan was quick to offer his congratulations (and get in a playful dig at his BFF Kyle Lowry).

DeRozan isn’t wasting too much time admiring his former teammates though. He’s busy putting up yet another year of meaningful improvement for the San Antonio Spurs. At the age of 31, he’s posting career-bests in 3-point percentage and assist percentage and playing some of the most engaged and impactful defense of his career.

2

De’Aaron Fox’s finishing

De’Aaron Fox is listed at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds. At times, his frame looks like it could be built with plastic straws and paper clips. But it’s all wrapped in a sleeve of quick-twitch muscle, springiness more than enough to compensate for any lack of strength.

If you saw Fox exploding in the fourth quarter Monday night against the Pelicans, single-handedly outscoring New Orleans 17-15, then you had an up-close look and what’s been a season-long trend. Fox was 5-of-6 at the rim in that clutch run, finishing over, through and around bigger, taller and stronger players.

Fox’s finishing has been on another level this year, a career-year in field goal percentage at the rim by seven full percentage points. He’s attempted more shots at the rim than Bam Adebayo, Anthony Davis, James Embiid or James Harden. He’s shooting a higher percentage (70.1) at the rim than LeBron James, Rudy Gobert, Zion Williamson or Mitchell Robinson (who led the entire league in field goal percentage last year). It’s touch, length, speed, quickness, creativity and audacity. It’s freaking special.

1

LeBron’s 3-point shooting

You may have heard that LeBron is shooting a career-best 40.9 percent on 3-pointers. You may also have heard that he’s doing it on 6.8 attempts per game, more than twice the number of attempts he averaged in 2012-13 with the Heat, the only other year in which he shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.

What you may not know — which makes it even more incredible — is that it’s mostly being driven by better shooting on pull-up 3-pointers. LeBron is currently making 43.6 percent of his pull-ups, the third-highest mark in the league among players averaging at least 3.0 attempts per game. And of course, shooting them at the highest rate of his career is having ramifications on volume.

Stephen Curry received a lot of attention a few weeks ago for passing Reggie Miller for No. 2 on the all-time 3-pointers list. LeBron is currently 13th on the list but he’s on pace to make another 140 3s before the end of the abbreviated regular season. Even if he misses a few games here or there that should be enough for him to pass Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd to move into the top-10 all time.

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