The 2017-18 NBA campaign is drawing to a close, and one player from every franchise has been instrumental in his level of team’s success during the regular season.
While the best player on the best team deserves more acclaim, the primary contributor on bad rosters still helped his squad avoid further embarrassment. After all, everything is relative.
The former category is preferable and the most noteworthy, but the latter remains useful and merits an electronic golf clap.
Houston Rockets: James Harden
What a shocking idea, that the likely league MVP is also the most impactful player for his team. Still, James Harden has assembled a magnificent year for the Rockets, who will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference during the playoffs. The two-time MVP runner-up has averaged an NBA-best 30.6 points with 8.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game, shooting 36.6 percent beyond the arc and 45.0 overall. Harden leads the league in several categories, including free throws made (609), Win Shares (15.1) and Box Plus/Minus (11.0).
Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant
The injury bug has affected Golden State throughout the 2017-18 campaign, twice putting Stephen Curry on the shelf, among other absences. Sure is nice to have another MVP on the roster! Kevin Durant has missed a handful of games too, yet he’s steadied the Warriors during an adventurous season. He’s scored 26.5 points per game while providing 6.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.8 blocks. Durant has knocked down 42.0 percent of his trifectas and posted an overall clip of 51.4. He even notched a pair of triple-doubles this season.
Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan
After years of disappointing finishes in the playoffs, Toronto committed to a reworked offensive style. The result is more passing, better offense and the No. 1 record in the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan’s adjustment to playing a more team-oriented game has been a huge positive factor. In addition to netting 23.3 points per appearance, DeRozan has dished a career-best 5.2 assists. He’d previously never finished above 4.0 in a season. Throw in his 31.5 percent clip from three — which is above his career average — and DeRozan is producing at the same level in a better way.
Boston Celtics: Kyrie Irving
Despite a problematic knee injury, Kyrie Irving’s contributions put Boston in position to secure a top-two seed. During his first season out of LeBron James’ gravity, Irving collected 24.4 points and 5.1 assists while shooting a career-best 49.1 percent from the floor. He also connected on 40.8 percent of his three-point attempts. The point guard accomplished all this after seeing All-Star teammate Gordon Hayward go down with a season-ending injury in the regular-season opener. Unfortunately for Boston, neither player will be available in the playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard
While it’s unfair to call 2017-18 a breakout season for the Trail Blazers, the current campaign is absolutely the franchise’s best year of the post-LaMarcus Aldridge era. Damian Lillard has once again spearheaded the Portland attack, amassing 26.7 points per contest. That ranks fifth in the league. He’s also recorded averages of 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals while shooting a career-high 92.1 percent at the free-throw line. Thanks to Lillard, along with C.J. McCollum, Portland is set to host a first-round matchup in the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
Oh, this Cleveland season would be a disaster without LeBron James. While logging a league-leading 37.2 minutes per night and playing in every game, “The King” has gathered 27.5 points, 9.2 assists and 8.7 rebounds and shot 54.3 percent from the field. He’s also 36.4 percent beyond the arc, which is above his career average. Those are MVP-caliber numbers, and James isn’t wrong in saying he deserves the award. It’s simply that others — such as Harden, the favorite — are, too. James’ seven-year streak of NBA Finals appearances has a chance to continue.
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid
“The Process” is moving forward. Even though Markelle Fultz was largely a non-factor to this point, the 76ers have climbed safely into the postseason picture thanks to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid, though he’s recovering from a fractured orbital bone, has ascended to superstar status. He’s racked up 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game — averages only Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan surpassed on a regular basis in NBA history. That’s a remarkable club for the 24-year-old.
Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo
The hype train has cooled, but that doesn’t change the tremendous season Victor Oladipo has put together. In his first year with the Pacers, the Indiana product has tallied personal-best marks of 23.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals. He leads the NBA in the final category. Additionally, he’s buried 36.8 percent of his threes and 47.5 overall, both of which are career highs. Few expected this level of production, yet he’s sustained it for an entire campaign. If this is the new normal for Oladipo, the Pacers replaced one star with another.
Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell
When the Jazz acquired Donovan Mitchell on draft night, it seemed they’d added a valuable complement for the beginning of the post-Gordon Hayward era. Well, it turns out Utah grabbed a potential franchise cornerstone. The standout guard has accumulated 20.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He would be the seventh rookie in NBA history to record those averages, per Basketball-Reference.com. And without his scoring production, the Jazz wouldn’t even be mentioned in the 2017-18 playoff race.
San Antonio Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge
Last offseason, there was trouble brewing in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge expressed dissatisfaction with his role. Good thing the Spurs figured it out, because relying on Kawhi Leonard this season would’ve been a problem. San Antonio has committed to post-up Aldridge — the version that was an All-Star in Portland — and he’s responded with 23.3 points per game. That’s within a tenth of his career-high mark. He’s also tied a personal best at 1.2 blocks while posting 8.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists, positioning the Spurs to keep their postseason streak alive.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook
After a summer during which OKC brought in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the reigning MVP has a little more help this season. Still, Russell Westbrook can’t get enough of those triple-doubles. He’s racked up 24 during the 2017-18 campaign, safely leading the NBA in the category once again. He’s provided 25.6 points and 9.9 rebounds with a league-high 10.1 assists per game. Westbrook claimed his seventh All-Star nod and is certain to make an All-NBA team for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler
Perhaps you prefer Karl-Anthony Towns, that’s fine. But in the 20-plus games without Jimmy Butler on the court, the shooting guard’s value has become readily apparent. From the beginning of the year until his injury, Minnesota had a top-four record in the West and a plus-2.6 rating, per NBA.com. Since then, the Timberwolves have played sub-.500 ball and mustered a minus-1.0 rating. Butler, who has averaged 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.9 steals, put Minnesota in a spot where it could handle a long absence and still make the playoffs.
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis
The future of the organization is in flux, since DeMarcus Cousins is heading for unrestricted free agency. And because of his Achilles injury, neither he nor the Pelicans saw what they could accomplish after a full season alongside Anthony Davis. Concerning though that situation is, New Orleans has a legendary player in Davis. The Kentucky product has collected 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game while leading the NBA with 2.5 blocks. And at just 25 years old, Davis is theoretically just now entering his prime. That should be terrifying.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic
Did you know Nikola Jokic is earning $1.47 million this season? That, my friends, is what we call a bargain. “The Joker” is involved all over the court for the Nuggets, and a simple glance at his stat line tells the whole story. He’s registered career highs of 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game, also burying 39.3 percent of his long-range attempts. Denver must be prepared to throw a massive contract at Jokic, who will be a restricted free agent. And the 23-year-old is worth every penny.
Miami Heat: Goran Dragic
Though 2017-18 hasn’t been a model season for the Heat, they’re back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. Goran Dragic has held together an inconsistent roster — one that has also overcome injuries to Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside. Dragic is pacing Miami with 17.5 points and 4.8 assists, shooting 37.2 percent from long distance and 45.1 overall. The 31-year-old also earned his first career All-Star nod during his 10th season. Even if the Heat don’t accomplish much in the postseason, Dragic is the primary reason they made it.
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal
John Wall has dealt with knee injuries throughout the 2017-18 campaign, but Bradley Beal has braced the Wizards during those pair of absences. In fact, Washington clinched a playoff spot with four games to spare thanks to Beal. For the first time in his career, the Florida product hasn’t missed any contests. That availability has translated to 22.7 points and a personal-high 4.6 assists per appearance. Beal secured his first-ever All-Star berth in February, and his performance combined with Wall’s return makes the Wizards a threat in the postseason.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo
It’s difficult to overstate the Giannis Antetokounmpo’s value to the Bucks. The 23-year-old can play every position and has shredded opponents for 27.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Per NBA.com, Milwaukee’s defensive rating drops 7.8 points without Antetokounmpo, who has offered 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks. Plus, for the fifth straight season, the “Greek Freak” has improved his field-goal percentage. It now sits at a career-high 53.1, and he’s also 30.9 percent beyond the arc. Antetokounmpo has the look of a longtime MVP contender.
Los Angeles Clippers: Lou Williams
The year of transition in Los Angeles reached a new level when the franchise shipped Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. Because of injuries to Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari, the trade effectively left the Clippers with DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams and not much else. Fortunately for L.A., Williams successfully absorbed the No. 1 scoring role. He’s notched career-best marks of 22.5 points and 5.3 assists while maintaining his normal shooting percentage in the largest role of his career. Williams could be the Sixth Man of the Year.
Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond
If Oladipo doesn’t win the Most Improved Player Award, the trophy better be in Andre Drummond’s hands. This season, the center has averaged 15.0 points and a league-best 16.0 rebounds and developed into an all-around force. He’s dished 3.0 assists — smashing a previous high of 1.1 — blocked 1.6 shots and nabbed 1.5 steals per game. Drummond is also shooting 61.5 percent at the free-throw line after connecting on a putrid 38.1 throughout his first five seasons. Drummond and Griffin give Detroit one of the league’s best frontcourts.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker is the preeminent reason the Hornets have avoided being a complete disaster, and they even flirted with that possibility by making him available for trade. According to NBA.com, Charlotte is 12.0 points worse per 100 possessions when Walker leaves the floor. The next-closest players — Marvin Williams, Dwight Howard and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — are still seven-plus points behind. And since they all share the court with Walker, his impact is carrying them, too. The two-time All-Star has registered 22.5 points and 5.6 assists per game.
Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle
Brandon Ingram’s progression is encouraging and Kyle Kuzma’s rookie breakout is enticing. Those are both important, but no Los Angeles player has been more impactful offensively than Julius Randle. Among Lakers who have at least 100 minutes this season, his plus-4.1 rating is leading the team, per NBA.com. The Kentucky product has averaged 16.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists, collecting 27 double-doubles and one triple-double. After spending last summer as trade bait, Randle is now likely a key part of the franchise’s future.
Chicago Bulls: Bobby Portis
It’s been a strange eight-month stretch for Bobby Portis. He’s nearly doubled his career-best scoring average and is providing 13.3 points per game, also posting highs in rebounds (6.8), assists (1.7) and three-point percentage (36.3). But who would’ve thought Portis would be such an important piece of the team in 2017-18? After all, his punch that sidelined Nikola Mirotic resulted in Chicago’s best offensive player demanding a trade. But during what was a lost season from the start, Portis showed he’s productive enough to keep around.
New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis
When looking at the Knicks’ schedule, the approximate time of Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending injury is painfully obvious. New York owned a 23-28 record on Jan. 30 before a slide of 17 losses in 18 games occurred. During that fourth game, Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee. Since then, the Knicks have mustered just four victories in 27 games. His third NBA season ended with 22.7 points per appearance and a 39.5 percent clip beyond the arc. Porzingis also swatted 2.4 shots. When healthy, he can practically carry New York to the brink of the postseason by himself.
Brooklyn Nets: Spencer Dinwiddie
One of the most improved players in the league, Spencer Dinwiddie has taken advantage of an unsuspected opportunity. Jeremy Lin’s ruptured patella tendon ended his year, and D’Angelo Russell’s knee troubles have sidelined him for about half of the season. Dinwiddie has responded with the best production of his career, providing 12.6 points, 6.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game. Although his scoring has slightly dipped since Russell’s return, Dinwiddie has proved he deserves a place in an NBA rotation.
Sacramento Kings: Buddy Hield
No, he’s not the next Steph Curry. Buddy Hield is a quality piece with which to build a franchise, though. During his first full season in Sacramento, the sharpshooter has tallied 13.4 points per game on a 42.9 percent mark from long distance. Hield has added 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Additionally, he’s bringing a little value as a defender. Though he’s still improving on that end, the Kings have a minus-5.8 rating when he leaves the floor and 9.0 overall, per NBA.com. Hield’s continued development is promising for the future.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
The brutal truth is there’s no convincing answer for the Mavericks, whose leading scorer is Harrison Barnes and top passer is J.J. Barea. While preparing for the future, they’ve unleashed Dennis Smith Jr. and allowed him to learn on the fly — but the rookie has been highly inefficient. Dirk Nowitzki, on the other hand, put together one of his best shooting years before an ankle injury officially ended his season. The 41-year-old registered a 54.7 effective field-goal percentage, his second-highest mark in 20 years. Nowitzki averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon
In a critical year for the franchise’s decision-makers, Aaron Gordon left little doubt about his future value. The springy stretch 4 is pacing the Magic with 17.9 points while contributing 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.8 combined blocks and steals. Gordon has continued extending his shooting range to the perimeter, knocking down 33.4 percent of his trifectas — which is above his career clip of 30.8. As a restricted free agency this summer, Gordon is sure to receive a high-dollar offer sheet. And the Magic must be prepared to match it.
Atlanta Hawks: Kent Bazemore
No realistic person expected the Hawks to compete in 2017-18, but the race for team MVP between Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore would at least be interesting. Schroder has put up decent numbers, collecting 19.4 points, 6.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game but managing a 29.0 three-point percentage and minus-1.5 rating, per NBA.com. Bazemore notched a plus-4.1 mark thanks to his value on defense, averaging 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks. The left-handed also connected on 39.4 of his triples while offering 12.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Memphis Grizzlies: Tyreke Evans
Marc Gasol’s efficiency has sharply declined during a season in which Mike Conley only made 12 appearances. Had the Grizzlies not signed Tyreke Evans, they might’ve already clinched the best odds for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. The swingman has amassed 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game and leads all rotation players with a plus-12.1 rating, according to NBA.com. Memphis’ offensive and defensive ratings are 98.2 and 109.9, respectively, without Evans. He’s destined for a considerable raise this offseason.
Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker
The Suns haven’t won much in 2017-18 anyway, but they’re even worse when Devin Booker is unavailable. Phoenix has gathered 16 of its 20 season victories with him in the lineup while losing 21 of the 25 games Booker did not play. The Kentucky product’s average of 24.9 points ranks 10th in the league, and he’s also dished 4.7 assists and secured 4.5 rebounds. Booker has posted career-high shooting marks of 38.3 percent from long distance and 43.2 overall, so his huge numbers aren’t simply a product of an unrestrained role. Booker is ascending toward superstardom.