If you put a basketball into a pot and boiled it down until all that was left was the singular, most essential aspect, all that remained would be putting the ball into the basket. This is what separates winners and losers, bottom-feeders and champions. As long as basketball has been a sport, names have been created to describe exceptional scoring: getting buckets, torching, putting the ol’ball-o in the hole-o.
Alright, maybe only I say that last one. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is scoring is important.
With the dominance of the Golden State Warriors team-oriented offense, the last few seasons fellow contenders have been trying to counter this with more isolation ball. Purposefully creating stagnant offenses, teams like the Rockets and Cavs rely on one or two stars to create on every possession both for themselves and for others. These players got buckets in isolation last season.
10. Kyrie Irving – 3.7 isolation points per game
The man with the smoothest handle the game has ever seen, Irving put those skills to good use. With his ability to beat anyone off the dribble and with unlimited range, Kyrie is a tough guy to guard to say the least. Now that he no longer had LeBron on his team, his isolation game got to flourish.
9. Austin Rivers – 3.7 isolation points per game
Probably the biggest surprise of the list, Rivers nevertheless averaged the same amount of isolation points as Kyrie Irving while playing in slightly more games (2) and having a slightly higher field goal percentage (0.5%).
8. Kevin Durant – 3.8 isolation points per game
Yes, Golden State has a very pass-happy offense. But when you’re possibly the best pure scorer of all time, it would be a shame if you never held the ball, waved away the screen, and took your man one-on-one. It’s almost sad that we will never get to see Durant become the dominant scorer he could have been carrying a bad team.
7. Harrison Barnes – 4.0 isolation points per game
Harrison Barnes may be better known as “that small forward on the Warriors before Kevin Durant”, but he has always been a very solid player. Still young and with his feet under him in Dallas, Barnes could be an all-star this upcoming season, showing an all-around game with a deft ability to score.
6. Russell Westbrook – 4.1 isolation points per game
Everybody in the NBA knows that Russ likes to pound the ball, take bad shots, and play an isolation game. But as of yet, nobody has really been able to stop him. The biggest knock against him is his inefficiency, and that carries over to this list with a field goal percentage of 36.4%.
5. Damian Lillard – 4.2 isolation points per game
Does anyone remember that Dame actually had a really good season in Portland? Just me? Is the memory of him melting down in that Pelicans series just too overwhelming? Well, Lillard actually did have a regular season worthy of mention in the MVP debate.
4. John Wall – 4.9 isolation points per game
Trying to describe John Wall’s speed is like trying to describe a Cheetah’s. You try and come up with something poetic, thinking of words like ‘super-sonic’ while images of the Road-Runner pop up in your head. But in the end, all you say is “John Wall is really, really fast.” Can you blame a defender for not being able to stay in front of him?
3. Chris Paul – 5.6 isolation points per game
Chris Paul was arguably the best player in the Golden State series before he got injured. He may not be the quickest or most explosive guard, but he has to be one of the greatest all-time at getting to his spots and hitting shots (hey, that rhymed!) no matter who is guarding him.
2. Lebron James – 6.1 isolation points per game
LeBron probably wishes he wasn’t on this list. He’s the second (arguably first) best player of all time, so of course, he CAN score in isolation with the best of them, but his game is more of a “get everyone involved” style of play. Next season - with the Lakers surrounding him with playmakers - look for this number to go down while his efficiency increases.
1. James Harden – 12.2 isolation points per game
Take another look at the players on the list thus far. It’s made up of a lot of the best players in the NBA, and James Harden averages over double any of them in isolation points. That’s insane. Being left on James Harden' Island is a defender’s worst nightmare, just as Wesley Johnson.