Man, I Love Me Some Buckets & Boards!

When it comes to tracking NBA stats there are a lot of different kinds that people cling to nowadays when arguing for or against the greatness of a player. Some like Player Efficiency Rating, others prefer Offensive and Defensive Plus-Minus, and there are even a few who have fallen in love with this thing called Per-36 Minute projection.

But for me, I am old school so I will always be a proponent of the good old counting stats that we all know and love: Points, Rebounds, and Assists. If you can score, facilitate, or rebound at a high level then you always have a chance to be in the mix for consideration as an All-Star caliber player. So, this week’s awards are going to one of the best bucket getters in the league and one of the best rebounding bigs in the business. This week’s Hoopers of the Week are James Harden in the Eastern Conference and Rudy Gobert in the Western Conference!

James Harden aka Buckets

Despite all the criticisms and questions surrounding the chemistry and roster construction of the Brooklyn Nets, so far, the acquisition of James Harden has actually gone as well as one could possibly expect.

Since the six-time All-NBA guard was acquired via trade on January 14th, the Nets are 6-2 with the most notable loss coming in Harden’s debut game against Collin Sexton and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Other than those two hiccups, Harden’s transition has actually been seamless whether he is on the court with just Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, or both of them at the same time.

This week we saw the full extent of what Harden can be for this team and he is a big reason why the Nets look even more like an offensive juggernaut. To kick off the week it was a light night for Harden as he posted a stat line of 20 points, eight assists, and four rebounds against the Miami Heat in a game that the Big Three combined for 56 of Brooklyn’s 98 points. Both teams struggled shooting the three-ball (11-of-43 for the Nets and 11-of-38 for the Heat).

But then he turned up in a big way these last two games in which he put up a combined 56 points, 26 assists, and 18 rebounds while shooting 50% or better from three in both games. Now, granted these last two games were against the Atlanta Hawks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, so take that for what it is worth but, nonetheless, it was the mere fact that he is slowly figuring out how to play alongside KD and Kyrie while still being able to get in his bag should make the rest of the league weary of what Brooklyn could look like down the road with a couple more moves to flesh out the rest of the roster.

The Nets currently have the top scoring offense in the NBA (121 PPG), the second-best offensive rating, and are top ten in pace of play. With Harden at the helm and these three superstars firing on all cylinders, this team has the chance to become the most potent offense in NBA history. All in due time.

Rudy Gobert aka Boards

Under the radar, the Utah Jazz have played the best basketball in the league so far this season, yet nobody is really talking about them. Currently sitting atop the Western Conference with a record of 15-4, the Jazz are the hottest team in the NBA riding a ten-game winning streak with big wins over the LA Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Denver Nuggets.

Of course, when you think of Utah, you typically go to Donovan Mitchell who is having a solid All-Star caliber season thus far, or Jordan Clarkson who is at the top of everybody’s list to win the 6th Man of the Year Award. But somehow the big fella down low, a former two-time Defensive Player of the Year, gets lost in the fray with how loaded this team is when you include guys like Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdonavic into the equation.

The Stifle Tower is averaging 13.6 points (lowest since 2017), but he is making up for it with career-highs in rebounding (14.7 per game) and blocks (2.7 per game). With Donovan Mitchell out the last two games due to being in concussion protocol, Gobert and the Jazz stepped up in a big way to keep their streak alive. In the back-to-back matchups against the Dallas Mavericks, Gobert had 29 points with 20 rebounds in the first game and 17 points with 12 rebounds in the second game as the Jazz went on to win both games by double digits.

If you include the game against the New York Knicks, Gobert grabbed a combined 51 boards in the midst of recording his eighth straight double-double. Also, throughout this stretch, he did not stray away from his defensive roots as he had a combined nine blocks this week and has had ten games with three or more blocks this season (had a season-high six blocks against Sacramento earlier in the season). Gobert is clearly looking to reclaim his former glory after coming third in the Defensive Player of the Year race last season behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is anchoring the third-best scoring defense (105.5 PPG) with the fourth best defensive rating in the league while being second in blocks per game only behind Indiana Pacers’ center Myles Turner.

I know most people are not big fans of rebounding and defense nowadays with how offense-centric the league has become, but it is that league-wide stylistic change that only further emphasizes how incredible Gobert is playing.