It's the end of the week, and it's time to take another look around the NBA and take inventory. Who's rising? Who's falling? Stock watch. Let's do it.
Up: Sixers. It's not just that the Sixers are suddenly good, but the Sixers are good in a way that's impossible to root against. They have a superstar who wasn't supposed to be healthy, a second rookie who wasn't supposed to be in America this year, a coach who was on the hot seat as recently as a month ago, two undrafted starters, a stretch four who was supposed to be washed up two years ago... And it's all working.
They're having more fun than any team in basketball. Look at the way the team goes nuts for Dario Saric at the end of this video, and listen to the stadium lose its mind in the background. That's been the past two weeks, pretty much. Philly has won seven of nine games, and there are no expectations, so every breakthrough feels like its own excuse for euphoria. Saric exploded Wednesday night, and a week ago it was T.J. McConnell and Embiid. Actually, it's always Embiid. What Embiid's doing continues to be absolutely ridiculous.
There are limits to this. McConnell as a starter isn't viable long-term. The team still needs shooting, and Embiid needs to stay healthy, and they probably can't keep beating playoff teams. All of it will come back to earth over the next few months. Ben Simmons could help, but he'll present some interesting challenges, too. But even when they lose, the Sixers have insurance policies. They have at least one lottery pick in June, maybe two—if the Lakers slide out of the top 3—and the rights to swap picks with the Kings (plus Sacramento's unprotected first in '19). As someone who doubted The Process as it happened, it's hard to argue now. If Embiid continues on this trajectory, everything was worth it.
For now, the Sixers beat the Hornets, Bucks, and Raptors in the past week. The future will inevitably get more complicated, but that's what makes this year fun. After losses, the Sixers can look at Embiid and dream about draft picks. After wins, they can dream about TJ McConnell statues. This is the sweetspot.
Up: Warriors. I went a little long on the Sixers, so let's go shorter on the Warriors. They demolished the Cavaliers on MLK Day, they beat OKC by 20 points without ever really paying attention, and they also announced plans for a new stadium in the most Silicon Valley way imaginable:
That video—cool, inexplicable, infuriating—covers all the bases as far as the 2017 Warriors are concerned.
Down: Russell Westbrook. He got blown out by Kevin Durant and Golden State again on Wednesday, but he has vowed revenge on Zaza Pachulia. That is a depressing sentence.
Russ is still having an amazing year, but his numbers and his season never feel more empty than when he plays Durant. As my colleague Rohan Nadkarni writes, it's not even competitive enough to be a rivalry. And considering one side of this non-rivalry has spent the year taking subliminal (and less-subliminal) shots at Durant and the Warriors, that's gotta be a tough reality to swallow. Couple that with losing a spot in the All-Star starting lineup to Steph Curry, and yeah, it's been a rough stretch for Westbrook stock.
Speaking of rivalry semantics ...
Up: LeBron James. It's strange to say his stock is up after getting destroyed on national TV, nearly flopping himself to death in the middle of that game, and weirdly refusing to acknowledge the Warriors as rivals ...
... but LeBron did all those things, and all of them were lame, and nobody can even pretend to care. After last year's Finals, nobody can say a word to LeBron. That's power.
Down: Clippers. Even as it happened, that 10-day period where every basketball writer marveled at the Clippers felt like a cruel joke. I finished this back-and-forth with Rohan and had a sinking feeling that all the November Clippers optimism would look extremely depressing by May. Now: Blake Griffin is still sidelined, Chris Paul is out for 6-8 weeks, and it's beginning to look dire. Also: Paul and Griffin are free agents at the end of the year, and so is J.J. Redick, a secretly-crucial piece who's due to get paid.
That said: CP3 is one of the three best point guards ever, and he's also a stone cold psychopath. He'll make it back in six weeks or less. In the meantime, if Blake can get healthy, he's still terrific and capable of carrying the offense in CP3's absence. DeAndre Jordan is in the middle of his best season ever, and the supporting cast is legitimately decent. The Clips can survive through the playoffs, and come summer, it seems unlikely that Paul or Griffin will have a more attractive option than running it back in LA. We'll see. But we have had too many premmature Lob City eulogies over the past few years to make that mistake again. The Clippers are never as good you hope, but they're always too good to disappear.
Up: The Wizards. The Wizards have won four straight and six of seven, including 13 in a row at home. With that in mind, here are six Wizards contributors who deserve credit for what's happened.
6. Kelly Oubre. He was one of the most overmatched rookies in the league, and a year or so later... hey, he's not bad! He's been indispensable as the Wizards only useful bench player, and out of everyone past the lottery in that vaunted 2015 Draft, Oubre might have the brightest future.
5. Marcin Gortat. Media Day MVP, and holding up surprisingly well (11.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1 block per game) despite a thin bench forcing him into 35 minutes per game. (Among players older than 30, that's second only to LeBron). When the next best options are Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson, this type of consistency is important.
4. Otto Porter. It's not just that he's earning himself a $100 million deal this summer, but he's playing so well, that $100 million deal actually seems like a good idea.
3. Bradley Beal. Explained here. Without his scoring alongside Wall, the season probably never turns around.
2. Scott Brooks. He was dealt an overmatched roster, and things were not looking great after 1-9 start. But week by week, he's honed his rotations, made smart adjustments, and every single contributor has improved. I refuse to jinx anything with too much optimism, but Brooks has done a fantastic job thus far.
1. John Wall. He's so good that he deserves more than a throwaway line in this section. For now: He should be starting in the All-Star Game, he had 29 and 13 assists to beat the Knicks on Thursday, and all of this how you get respect.
Down: The Bucks. Giannis Antetokuonmpo is still incredible, and Jabari Parker is a borderline All-Star, so the hype from the first two months was very much justified. But the team itself has come back to earth over the past week or two. The defense has struggled, and there are holes on the perimeter that even Malcolm Brogdon, Future President can't solve. They've lost three straight and five of seven games, looking more like an eight-seed than the five-seed we imagined a few weeks ago.
That said: Games against the Heat and Magic this weekend will give them an opportunity to rebound short-term, and long-term, Khris Middleton's recovery is reportedly ahead of schedule. Don't sell Bucks stock just yet.
Down: Carmelo's Options. Some variation of this sequence happens at least once a year with Carmelo in New York.
This has been said elsewhere, but the problem with any Carmelo trade is that not many teams would want him. He makes too much money, his game has declined, and most of the contenders who could use him won't be able to afford him. Likewise, would he really be happier in Boston? Or LA? Or a return to Denver? The Knicks are a nightmare, but the organizational dysfunction also gives Carmelo a built-in excuse when things don't work. All things considered, that might be the best option.
Up: Randy Moss. He was on Inside The NBA last night, discussing his playing days with Jason Williams, among other things. He ended the night running a route in the studio, matched up with Shaq, catching passes from Ernie Johnson. Please put Randy Moss on every TV show.
Down: The 8th Seed in the West. The Blazers, Kings, Pelicans, and Lakers have all had claims to the 8th seed at various points this year, and they've all fallen apart. The Nuggets currently have it, but they play some of the worst defense in the league. The Blazers had a team meeting this week, and lost by 20 in Charlotte the following night. The Kings blew a 20-point lead at home to the Pacers on Wednesday, and Rudy Gay tore his Achilles in the fourth quarter. The Lakers continue to struggle, and D'Angelo Russell has looked really shaky over the past few weeks.
Whatever happens at the bottom of the West and whoever steals the final playoff spot—the Pelicans, maybe? the Wolves?—it will be a mess getting there.
Up: Brandon Ingram. Despite Russell's struggles, there is good news. Brandon Ingram, the second-youngest rookie in the league, is growing up. Over the past two weeks, he's averaging 12/4/3 in 30 minutes per game. That's nothing crazy, but he's just scratching the surface. The progress is something to watch over the next month or two. In other Lakers news: this is the best nickname development of 2017.
Up: Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets remain inconsistent, but Jokic is doing amazing things every night at this point. His game is as strange and great as Boris Diaw's most delightful moments, but Jokic makes those plays on every other possession. Watch highlights from his 35-point night in San Antonio on Thursday, and take five minutes to watch this passing:
Up: The Spurs. They have the second-best record in the NBA with a net-rating of +9. Of their last 10 wins, six were by 20 points or more. Kawhi Leonard has scored 30+ in each of the past five games. Pau Gasol got hurt, and now watch, they'll find a way to make this work with David Lee. Tony Parker looks good, and his future replacement, Dejounte Murray, had 24 points in a start Thursday. It's all happening quietly, but don't worry, the Spurs are still the Spurs.