The Rich List, a look at the NBA’s top performers the past month

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Mar 2, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) falls to the floor as OKC Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) looks to drive to the basket during the second half of the game at Moda Center. The Blazers won 114-109. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

After a brief hiatus, the return of the The Rich List is finally here. Spoiler alert, Russ is still at the top of the List.

Wow, it’s been a while. I hope you didn’t miss me that much. Finally, after a month off, the much anticipated return of the Rich List. For one time only (hopefully): a Super Max Edition. What does that mean? Glad you asked. It’s simple really; since I’ve been a bit behind, I’ll be covering the last month before returning to the regular weekly format.

Before getting into the best of the last month, let’s catch up on some of the happenings around the league since we’ve last convened.

  1. A month ago the NBA was a very different place. Back then, it was all but assured we were on a one-way trip to the rubber match between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. On paper, at the very least, it’s not as set in stone as it once was. Former Thunder Buddy Kevin Durant went down with a mysterious knee injury. The initial timetable suggested Durant would be out 4-6 weeks, but OKC Thunder fans have heard that before regarding a KD injury.

On the other side of the equation, LeBron has been doing LeBron things but the Cavaliers have been off their game since the injury to Kevin Love. They finally got their playmaker in Deron Williams via the buy-out market, though. Andrew Bogut lasted all of sixty seconds in his Cleveland tenure before he went down with a broken leg. He was released, and the Cavs signed Larry Sanders. Yes, Larry Sanders, the goggle-wearing former center of the Milwaukee Bucks who unceremoniously quit basketball two seasons ago.

In conclusion, the Warriors are currently the two seed in the Western Conference (gasp!), and the Cavaliers are holding a tenuous grasp on the one seed in the East, a mere 2.5 games ahead of the Boston Celtics. Both teams, at least in the regular season, have looked surprisingly beatable.

  1. Hot on the Celtics heels, just a half a game behind Boston, as a matter of fact, are the still hot Washington Wizards. It’s been a near miraculous turn-around from a 2-8 start to the season for the Wizards and former Thunder Buddy Coach Scott Brooks. Since then, Washington has gone 39-17.

    Jan 24, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards head coach Scott Brooks gestures against the Boston Celtics during the second half at Verizon Center. Wizards won 123 – 108. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

  2. Toronto is 2.5 games behind the Wizards and are patiently waiting the return of All-Star Kyle Lowry to lead their new look squad, which now has the versatility to matchup with almost any lineup on any team. That is if their two stars manage to completely vanquish their postseason shooting demons.
  3. The 6, 7, and 8 seeds in the East are a race between 5 teams. Indiana, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, and Miami are all within 2 games of each other. This should make the remainder of the regular season more compelling before one of those teams has the daunting task of facing the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will presumably be close to full health, in the first round.

    Mar 12, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (11) reacts after Miami scores a basket against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

  4. Speaking of Miami, the Dion Waiters show has been phenomenal. It seems like yesterday that this team was lottery bound. Keep in mind they’re winning without Justise Winslow, who’s been out with a shoulder injury. Hassan Whiteside is quietly averaging 15 points and 15 rebounds a game.
  5. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are one of two dynasties left in American professional sports. I don’t recall seeing a team lose a Hall of Fame player at the end of one season and arguably be better the next year. The 1999 Bulls won 13 games after Michael Jordan left. The Los Angeles Lakers won 39 after Magic was forced into retirement. The Houston Rockets won 28 games after Hakeem stepped away. We all remember how awful Cleveland was when LeBron took his talents to South Beach. Tim Duncan, a no-doubt first ballot Hall of Famer, retired after the Spurs were eliminated by the OKC Thunder in the playoffs last season. They’re currently in first place in the Western Conference with 52 wins.

    Feb 15, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich calls a play against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

That’s not supposed to happen. Sure, the argument is that those other teams were ill-prepared to deal with losing a player of that magnitude. However, at least a little drop-off would seem reasonable. It’s a testament to the culture Popovich has established in San Antonio over the last two decades, and to the team R.C. Buford has built.

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Not only that, but it’s a testament to Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has assumed the mantle of the leader of the Spurs and has run away with it. When he was drafted Leonard was viewed as a defensive anchor with a broken jumper. But this season he’s averaging 26.3 points a night (shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from deep). Not only that, but he’s covering the other team’s best player every night with ease. He won’t win, but Leonard belongs firmly in the MVP conversation.

The other dynasty in American sports, by the way? They just won the Super Bowl. At least the Spurs are slightly lovable.

  1. Somehow, both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves have not only survived, but have thrived since losing key members of their team. Both Jabari Parker and Zach Lavine were lost for the season due to torn ACLs. Thought to be devastating losses for both squads, neither have missed a beat. Since losing Lavine the TimberPups have one of the best defenses in the NBA. The Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, finishing the month at 9-3.

  2. Finally, shout out to Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk, the most underrated superstar of at least the last 20 years scored his 30,000th for his career a week ago. He’s only the sixth player of all-time to accomplish that feat. The other five: Kareem, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlain. Dirk’s off-foot turnaround fadeaway is one of the most lethal (and now most copied) moves in NBA history. If Dirk elects to play next season, there’s more than a great chance that he finishes his illustrious career 5th on the NBA all-time scoring list. Imagine if Dirk was ever part of a “Big Three”?

Finally, at long last, the Rich List for the month between February 12 and March 12.

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