We’re past halfway through the season. The trading deadline is just around the corner. Such is the All-Star Game. What better time to take stock of the rising and rising stars in the NBA?
Rising: The probability of an MVP three orf
It’s hard to overstate how incredible Nikola Jokić has been this season. Basically, he’s averaging a triple-double (24.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 9.8 assists per game). He shoots 62% (no, that’s not a typo) from the field. His Nuggets, after winning six in a row and 16 of the last 19, now sit first in the Western Conference, basically all because of Jokić’s outstanding play (according to statistical website Cleaning the Glass, the Nuggets play at the level of a 67-win team with Jokić on the floor and a 16-win team when he sits).
By now you know all the dazzling dishes, but did you know that Jokić has also become one of the league’s top clutch bucket getters? According to NBA.com, Jokić has had 24-48 shots at the equalizer or lead in the last minute of fourth quarters or overtime over the past five seasons, level on points with Marcus Morris (10-20). Top score among players with at least 20 attempts. This jump to victory over the Magic was his most recent crowning glory.
Jokić is both the best guard and probably the toughest guard in the league. If the season ended today, he would be the clear MVP, which would be his third straight, an honor bestowed only on Bill Russell (1960-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68) and Larry Bird (1983-86). would.
At the moment, Jokić seems ready to add himself to this list.
traps: Kyrie Irvings star claim
We know Kyrie is a great shooter, a player who can do wonders with a basketball. But with Kevin Durant expected to be out for about a month with a knee injury, the Brooklyn Nets need Irving to be more than a compilation of highlights. They need him as someone who can carry the offense in Durant’s absence.
So far he has failed. Yes, it’s a small sample size and all, but in two games without Durant — against the Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder — Irving has only hit 36% of his shots and the Nets were outscored by seven points in his 76 minutes from ground. The Nets dropped those two games.
They’re going to need a lot more of him if they want to hold a top four spot in the conference.
Get up: The Boston Celtics‘Opportunities set for No. 1
After a small bump, the Celtics rediscovered their triumphal march. They have seven straight wins, 4.5 games between them and the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, who currently share second place in the Eastern Conference. That’s a nice cushion that could prove insurmountable and could prove to be a big dividend come playoff time, especially considering how strong the top teams in the east are.
Also, this Jayson Tatum guy is pretty good.
Traps: The Clippers
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: One of the Clippers’ two stars has missed five straight games and the team is struggling as a result. This time it’s Paul George who is struggling with an injury and while Kawhi Leonard is looking better and better, this is a group that just can’t find rhythm.
Is it time to worry? The Clippers are just one game over .500 and just 1.5 games ahead of the Phoenix Suns in 11th place. Their offense still stinks (the Clippers have the third-worst offensive rating in the league). Time is running out for this group of babble.
rising: Jalen Brunson
Don’t laugh, but Brunson could be the best free-agent signing ever for the Knicks. He played like an All-Star (22.3 points and 6.4 assists per game, 39.6% shots from deep) and was a stabilizing force and leader for a team that went five games over .500 and in sixth place is to the east.
I still think the Knicks made a mistake not going all in for Donovan Mitchell. But you have to give them credit for recognizing that Brunson was a player who could thrive with more responsibility.
It seems like the days of the Point God have come to an end. Not only is Paul shooting a career-low 42.5% from the field, but you can see his influence has waned.
This is a guy who has influenced victory in countless ways. Now? The Suns were outperformed by a point per 100 possessions with Paul on court and were actually better without him. This is a team that depends on Devin Booker.
That doesn’t mean Paul can’t be more helpful. But at 37, his incredible, surefire Hall of Fame career seems to be coming to an end.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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