The Weitzman boy
We’re over halfway through the season. The trade deadline is right around the corner. So is the All-Star Game. What better time to take stock of the NBA’s ups and downs?
INCREASE: The probability of a three-peat MVP
It’s hard to overstate how incredible Nikola Jokic has been this season. He’s basically averaging a triple-double (24.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 9.8 assists per game). He’s shooting 62 percent (no, that’s not a typo) from the field. His Nuggets, who have won six straight and 16 of their last 19, are now in first place in the Western Conference, largely thanks to Jokic’s stellar play (according to stats website Cleaning the Glass , the Nuggets are performing at the level of a 67-win team with Jokic on the floor and a 16-win team when he sits).
By now, you’re familiar with all the dazzling dishes, but did you know that Jokic has also become one of the league’s top clutch hitters? According to NBA.com, Jokic is 24-of-48 on shots to tie or go ahead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime over the past five seasons, tied with Marcus Morris (10-of-20) for the best among players . with at least 20 attempts. That jumper to seal a win over the Magic was his last hit.
Jokic is both the league’s best clock and arguably its toughest guard. If the season ended today he would be the clear MVP, which would be his third consecutive, an honor only achieved by Bill Russell (1960-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68) and Larry Bird (1983-86).
Right now, Jokic seems poised to add himself to that list.
FALL: Kyrie Irving’s star claim
We know Kyrie is a great shooter, a player who can do miraculous things with a basketball. But with Kevin Durant expected to miss about a month with a knee injury, the Brooklyn Nets need Irving to be more than a collection of highlights. They need him to be someone who can carry the offense in Durant’s absence.
So far, it has failed. Yes, it’s a small sample and all, but in two games without Durant, against the Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Irving has hit just 36 percent of his shots and the Nets have been outscored by seven points in the his 76 minutes in the match. floor The Nets have lost both of those games.
They’ll need a lot more of him if they want to stay in the top four of the conference.
HEIGHT: The Boston Celtics‘ chances at the No. 1 seed
After a little bump in the road, the Celtics have rediscovered their winning ways. They’ve won seven in a row and are 4.5 games between them and the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently tied for second in the Eastern Conference. It’s a nice cushion that could prove insurmountable and could pay big dividends come playoff time, especially with the way the top teams in the East are stacked.
Also, this Jayson Tatum guy is pretty good.
FALLING: 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 dealing with an injury, and while Kawhi Leonard is looking better and better, this is a group that just can’t find a rhythm.
Is it time to worry? The Clippers are just one game over .500, and just 1.5 games ahead of the 11th place Phoenix Suns. Their offense still stinks (the Clippers have the third-worst offensive rating in the league). Time is running out for this group to sell out.
HEIGHT: Jalen Brunson
Don’t laugh, but Brunson might be the Knicks’ best free agent signing ever. He has played like an All-Star (22.3 points and 6.4 assists per game, 39.6 percent shooting from deep) and has been a stabilizing force and leader for a team that is over .500 five days and in sixth position in 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 even when given more responsibility.
FALL: Chris Paul
It seems that the days of God Punt have come to an end. Not only is Paul shooting a career-low 42.5% from the field, but you can just tell his impact has diminished.
This is a guy who used to influence the win in many ways. now? The Suns have been outscored by a point per 100 possessions with Paul on the court and have actually been better with him off. This is a team that depends on Devin Booker.
That doesn’t mean Paul can’t be useful anymore. But at 37 years old, his incredible and safe Hall of Fame career appears to be coming to an end.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the top: the Philadelphia 76ers and the boldest process in the history of professional sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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