We made it – a week without a big NBA scandal!
Good job, good effort.
With that in mind, it’s time for our weekly NBA stock watch.
RISING: Joel Embid
“Rising” is perhaps a bit of an understatement here. After a rocky start to the season — one that included some lifeless performances against inferior teams, the revelation of an offseason foot injury, the flu and more losses than anyone in Sixers country expected in the first month of the season — Embiid exploded for best performance the regular season consecutive of the year.
It started with a 42-point, 10-rebound, 6-assist feat on Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks, which Embiid then followed up with quite literally one of the greatest boxing results in NBA history:
Most of those points came from the midrange, where Embiid has now rediscovered his touch. But what should excite Sixers fans the most is the fact that Embiid once again looked vivacious and engaged.
He rushed down the floor and fought for post position. His brilliant pick and roll defense was back. When the effort is there, no one is better than Embiid at navigating the cat-and-mouse battles that come with occupying the back row of a screen-and-dive, or slipping over from the weak side.
The two wins put the Sixers back to .500, 7-7. Not what they expected, but at least respectable and a record that put them just a hot distance from the top third of the conference. Defense has stabilized somewhat after a slow start – largely due to a historically poor transitional defense. The Sixers now have the fifth-best defensive rating in the league.
Offensively, however, remains sluggish (28th in points per game) and with James Harden picking up a foot injury himself, he’s too reliant on Embiid’s dominance. The Sixers clearly need Harden back for any chance of living up to their preseason expectations. The question is if Embiid can continue to play with that kind of panache when playing alongside his co-star and for an offense where not every game is designed for him.
FALLING: Tom Thibodeau’s chances to end the season
To be clear, I’m not convinced that New York Knicks basketball president Leon Rose wants to change head coaches. For one thing, Thibodeau and Rose are friends — or at least they were. Nothing puts a GM in the spotlight like firing a head coach.
As the team keeps fighting, it’s obvious who’ll land on the chopping block next.
But fair or not, Thibodeau’s seat was already warm at the start of the season. There are many people in the ear of Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, who has blamed Thibodeau for the Knicks’ struggles since last season. Rest assured you lost by 27 points to the Brooklyn Nets last week and then dropped 145 points (!) to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday – at home! – didn’t help Thibodeau’s case.
Sure, the Knicks are 6-7, which should have been expected. But they’re also close to a five-game swing on the West Coast that looks like they’ll be lucky enough to walk away with a single win.
It’s important to note that the Knicks have no issues because by Thibodeau. This list is a definition of blah. It’s not bad but lacks shooting and capable full-backs. Julius Randle is also still there. But some of Thibodeau’s backup patterns and plans – leaving Quentin Grimes on the bench, giving Randle more minutes than Obi Toppin – aren’t exactly helping.
RISING: The Houston missiles‘ Chances of landing Victor Wembanyama
Everyone is focused on the Thunder’s tank job, but what the Houston Rockets are doing is even more outrageous.
The Rockets are currently 2-12, the worst record in the NBA. That, after hitting a league low last season with 20 wins and 17 the season before, is also good for an NBA underdog. Even the “Process Sixers” never reached this loss level.
The Rockets are 23rd on offense and 28th on defense. They have some nice young players (Hello, Jalen Green) but none who are really ready to contribute to the win. Bricks for Vic are fully effective!
FALL: Kyrie Irvings (basketball) case for a return
Let’s skip Irving’s extrajudicial actions and comments for now. Instead, let’s just look at the state and how the Nets have fared since suspending Irving:
In fact, the Nets are 17-25 (.405) with Irving and 34-25 (.576) without him over the last two seasons (including play-ins and playoffs).
I’m not saying the nets are better without Kyrie. You’ve played against a few bad teams, and certain opponents require more shotmaking. But it’s also clear that without Irving — and also without Ben Simmons on the bench — the Nets have found a little more energy and cohesion. However, it is also becoming clear that Nets owner Joe Tsai wants Irving to return to the team.
RISING: The Celts‘ Offense
I don’t think Ime Udoka was the key to the Celtics’ offense.
How good was Boston’s offense? How about “best ever” good.
The Celtics have scored 3.4 more points per 100 possessions than any other team, a mark that would represent the largest difference between first- and second-placed offenses in history.
The button’s? One is the Celtics shooting 38.2% from deep, the fourth best mark in the NBA. What makes this most impressive, however, is that almost 47% of their shots come from the deep tops of the league. The other is that they’ve lowered their turnover rate and are sharing the ball more (their team assist rate is also up).
The Celtics seem to be the class of the East with 11-3 and seven straight wins.
FALL: The wolves“Big experiment
Minnesota is down 6-8 after that gigantic trade with Rudy Gobert. Things aren’t going well. We could break it all down, but instead we’ll just present this metaphor for the Timberwolves’ season:
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and author of Fueling up to the top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the boldest trial in professional sports history. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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