May 9, 2018, 9:02 pm
WELCOME BACK Hoop-Ballers!
It’s been exactly 27 days since the last Stock Watch was posted, not that anyone was counting or anything (I was).
The fantasy season is long gone and now you’re all probably just enjoying the NBA Playoffs. If you’re a Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers or Celtics/76ers fan, you’re probably on cloud nine. If you’re a fan of one of the other 26 teams that have been eliminated, then you’re probably just watching, imagining that you were actually watching YOUR favorite team in the conference finals and not someone else’s.
In case you were wondering, I’m one of those people doing the latter of the two. I’m a Lakers fan, you know how that goes.
So this Stock Watch is of course going to go a little differently than what you’re accustomed to. We’ve all been watching the playoffs, and with the playoffs comes some incredible performances and some incredible disappointments. You see where I’m going with this one?
I’m going to be going over who’s stock has gone up because of their postseason performances and who’s has gone down, whether they have been eliminated or are on one of the four teams in the conference finals.
Before I start though, I do want to ask: Have you been impressed by this year’s playoffs?
Well, let me rephrase. Not impressed, more like surprised.
To be frankly honest, I haven’t. From the beginning of the season I’ve called a Cavaliers-Rockets finals. Call me crazy, I know. How could I bet against the Warriors? Well, about 75 percent of it comes from the pure fact that I just want to see something different this June and not “Warriors vs. Cavs: Round 4”. The other 25 percent is just me wanting to be difficult and bet with the underdog Rockets, which is insane that a 65-win team is being called an underdog, but hey that’s what happens when you’ve got four All-Stars on one team I guess.
We all figured out about mid-way through the season that the Warriors and Rockets would probably be meeting in the Western Conference Finals, with a lot of people saying that the matchup would be the “real” NBA Finals.
Well, guess what happened.
We’re at the Western Conference Finals and the Warriors and Rockets are getting ready to battle it out for who likely gets to face LeBron in his eighth straight Finals appearance. In no way am I trying to say that the NBA has bored me, I’m just saying that we need some more competition. How long is LeBron bullying his way through the Eastern Conference to face the god-like Warriors going to be entertaining?
I don’t know about you guys, but I need something new. So with all of that said, GO ROCKETS.
(Lakers fans please don’t kill me. I promise I’m one of you. #LonzoIsBetterThanKawhi)
LeBron James, SF/PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
I’m not going to spend much time on this one at all. We all know he’s an absolute monster, anyone with the nickname “The King” probably is. He’s averaging the most points out of any player that has played in the postseason with 34.3 and is actually the only player to average 30 or more points. This is either the worst, or second worst team, he’s ever been a part of. In 2007, a 22-year old LeBron was averaging 25.1 points, 8.0 assists and 8.1 rebounds in 44.7 minutes throughout the playoffs. The second highest scorer on that team was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who averaged 12.6 points and 9.7 rebounds and only two other players on the team (Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden) averaged more than 10 points.
In 2018, a 33-year old LeBron James is averaging 34.3 points, 9.0 assists and 9.4 rebounds in 41.4 minutes throughout the playoffs and the second highest scorer on the team has been Kevin Love, who’s averaged 14.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. Once again, only two other players on the team average at least 10 points (Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith). He just swept the No.1 seeded Raptors with ease and is literally carrying this team on his back every single night. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which team was worse, but one thing is for certain, we’re watching one of the top-2 players to ever play the game of basketball.
(Dang, I definitely spent way to much time on LeBron after literally saying, “I’m not going to spend much time on this one at all”. Oh Well.)
Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans
The Brow came out and proved that he truly does belong in the NBA’s elite tier of players, sweeping Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers in the process. In his first playoff appearance back in 2014, Davis was just 21 years old and the Warriors swept him clean out of the postseason. Well now he’s back and he’s the one doing the sweeping four years later. Granted, his team was still eliminated by the Warriors in five games but it’s the Warriors, what did you expect? He averaged 29.6 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks this postseason and was the heart and soul of the Pelicans all season, leading them to 48 wins even after everyone thought all hope was lost when DeMarcus Cousins went down. Say what you want about Davis being made of glass, but the man was nothing short of incredible this postseason and he’ll only continue getting better.
Jrue Holiday, PG/SG, New Orleans Pelicans
There’s no question as to who the best player on the Pelicans is, it’s Jrue Holiday. Psych, I’m just playing. It’s Anthony Davis, the man I just sang the praises of a couple of seconds ago, but Jrue Holiday silenced a ton of critics this postseason. Going into the series against the Blazers, no one was really talking about Holiday’s ability to be an amazing two-way player. However, he came out and did a more than admirable job on Damian Lillard. According to NBA.com, Dame Dolla missed 23 of his 31 shots attempts when Holiday was guarding him, including going 1-of-11 in the first game. He made his presence known on not only the defensive end, but the offensive end as well.
Holiday averaged 27.8 points, 6.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals on .568 percent from the field in his matchup vs. the Blazers and was a key ingredient to winning that series. He wasn’t just effective against the Blazers though, as although it was in a losing effort Holiday still produced in the Warriors series. He averaged 20.4 points, 6.2 assists and 7.0 rebounds and even managed to put up a 27-10-11 triple-double in Game 5. Going into the series, no one thought Holiday would be this good. Safe to say he certainly changed minds.
Khris Middleton, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton basically served as the Jrue Holiday to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Anthony Davis. Going into the postseason, Middleton was known for coming up short when it really mattered. In 2015, Middleton averaged 15.8 points on .380 shooting while putting up 15.3 shots per game. In 2017, he didn’t change the narrative very much, averaging 14.5 points on .397 shooting while putting up 13.0 shots per game. Well, in 2018 he finally became the player everyone knew he could be, averaging 24.7 points on .598 shooting on 16.0 shots per game.
To go along with all of that, he hit one of the most incredible shots of the post-season, drilling a half-court shot with .5 seconds left to force OT in Game 1 vs. the Celtics. He averaged the 10th-most points of any player this post-season and made the most 3-pointers out of any player throughout the entire first round, knocking them down at an unreal clip of .610. Unfortunately, his heroics couldn’t save the Bucks from losing in the first round, but as a player he certainly proved himself. People have been waiting on Middleton to really break out for years now, and he finally might’ve done so.
Basically The Entire Celtics Roster (Including Brad Stevens)
This one is going to be a little longer. The four main guys I want to focus on here are Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brad Stevens.
I’ll start with Stevens, the man is an absolute genius. We knew he was a savant at dialing up inbounds plays, but he’s proven he can do some much more this postseason. Being able to take a team whose morale should’ve been broken after losing their big offseason acquisition not even five minutes into the first game of the year and their star player halfway through the season and turn them into an Eastern Conference Finals team is amazing in its own right. Not to mention some of his matchup decisions working out extremely well. Who would’ve thought that Al Horford of all people would be Ben Simmons’ kryptonite? According to NBA.com, Simmons shot 41.1 percent when Horford was guarding him, which is a major drop from the 54.5 percent Simmons shot throughout the regular season. Bottom line, Stevens was able to bring a bunch of young, hungry guys together and accomplish something special. Their biggest challenge lies ahead of them as they (likely) face LeBron in the next round but even if they lose, the Celtics proved a lot of doubters wrong this year.
Now on to Rozier, Tatum and Brown.
At different points in the postseason each one of these guys has looked like a future All-Star, with Rozier being the most surprising of the bunch. “Scary Terry” was able to completely rattle and outplay the veteran Drew…..I mean Eric Bledsoe. Had it not been for Khris Middleton’s Game 1 heroics, the shot that would’ve been remembered was Rozier’s 3-pointer to take the lead after crossing Bledsoe. He never backs down from a challenge, including a Joel Embiid-sized one, and that’s exactly what keeps him going. He’s averaging 18.3 points and 6.1 assists throughout these playoffs and if you didn’t know who he was before, you certainly do now.
Although Jaylen Brown has only been on the Celtics for two years, he seems like a seasoned vet. Never losing his cool, always staying calm under pressure and becoming a true two-way tool for Brad Stevens, Brown is beginning to put it all together. Averaging 16.2 points points this postseason, Brown looks like he’s the Celtics’ most polished scorer at times, which is stunning because scoring wasn’t a huge part of his game coming out of college. However, he’s proven that he’s willing to put in the work and as sad as Gordon Hayward’s injury was, it gave Brown a chance to show what he’s really made of.
Perhaps the smoothest of the three, Jayson Tatum never ceases to amaze. He was compared to Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony coming out of college because of his impeccable isolation scoring ability, and so far he hasn’t disappointed. From silky smooth finger rolls, to dribble-pull ups to post-spin jumpers, Tatum has it all. He’s still raw, which might be the best part. A rookie averaging 18.3 points in the playoffs isn’t something you normally see, but Tatum’s doing it. Just like he’s been doing things you wouldn’t usually see a rookie do all year long.
Donovan Mitchell, PG/SG, Utah Jazz
Did anyone really think he wouldn’t be on this list? If the Rookie of The Year Award was based on the playoffs, Mitchell would definitely be the winner. He scored 55 points in the first two playoff games of his career, which is the most by a guard in NBA history. Do you know who held the record before Mitchell? Just a little someone named Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time. Am I saying he’ll be Jordan? No, but it’s still impressive. He wasn’t done destroying Hall of Famer’s records though. In Game 4 of the OKC series Mitchell tallied 33 points, which was good enough to set the Jazz record for most points by a rookie in a single playoff game which had been held by Karl Malone. He also broke John Stockton’s record for most assists by a rookie in a playoff game, but who’s counting.
The kid is putting his name in the record books already and he’s only 21 years old. He’s the heart and soul of a Jazz team that surpassed so many expectations this season, including knocking off Russell Westbrook’s Thunder in the first round. He averaged 24.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists this postseason and although he got knocked off by James Harden and the Rockets, he showed that his regular season was no fluke. Have fun while you can Harden, because Donovan Mitchell’s time is coming.
Victor Oladipo, PG/SG, Indiana Pacers
The NBA’s likely Most Improved Player continued to prove exactly why he’s the frontrunner. LeBron James had never lost a first round series in his entire career and Oladipo was very, very close to changing that. If the refs were perfect and a certain chasedown block would’ve been called a goaltend, then it’s very possible that James would be sitting at home right now contemplating his free agency decisions and Oladipo would be the one in the Eastern Conference Finals. It has to be hard not to be discouraged going up against LeBron James in the playoffs, but Oladipo never once looked intimidated. He went toe to toe with the King and lost, but gained so much respect along the way.
Oladipo averaged 22.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists in his Indiana postseason debut and gave the Pacers the type of hope they hadn’t felt in years. He’s already texted his trainer that he wants to get back in the gym and work, so something tells me we haven’t even seen the best of Victor Oladipo yet.
Clint Capela, PF/C, Houston Rockets
If it weren’t for Oladipo, it’s very possible that Capela would be this year’s favorite for Most Improved Player. He proved that he is in fact a force to be reckoned with in Round 1 against the Timberwolves, holding All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns to to a total of 13 points in the first two games. Capela fits in so well with Chris Paul and James Harden, setting bone-crushing screens and rolling to the basket, sometimes serving as a decoy and allowing Paul or Harden to work and other times rising high to throw down a lob from one of the guards. He’s gone up against Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs and has won both of the matchups, which is incredible considering KAT and Gobert are considered top tier centers.
Capela is an intimidating defensive presence, averaging 2.8 blocks per game in the postseason, the most of any player. To go along with the blocks he’s putting up 14.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals on .634 shooting. With the Rockets’ next challenge being their toughest, the Golden State Warriors, they will need Capela to take advantage of their lackluster interior presence. Let’s see if he can truly dominate against the defending NBA Champions.
Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets
“Chris Paul has never made it to the Western Conference Finals”. That can no longer be said.
Nikola Mirotic (New Orleans Pelicans), Ricky Rubio (Utah Jazz), Bojan Bogdanovic (Indiana Pacers), Delon Wright (Toronto Raptors), Josh Richardson & Justise Winslow (Miami Heat), Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz), Derrick Rose (Minnesota Timberwolves), Marcus Morris (Boston Celtics)
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
One of the most asked questions coming out of the first round was “What happened to Damian Lillard?” The player that was known for his fourth quarter heroics suddenly disappeared. Lillard had fought so hard for the rest of the league, and the world, to respect him and right when he was given the platform to once again show why, he didn’t show up. “Dame Time” flew right out of the window alongside the Blazers’ championship hopes and while it’s possible that the Pelicans were just the better team, Lillard should’ve been able to win at least one game. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. Lillard first really stepped onto the scene when he hit a game-winning buzzer beater against the Rockets in 2014 and now, four years later, his clutch gene is being called into question.
He allowed Jrue Holiday to really disrupt his shots and while Holiday is no slouch, not a single person would’ve believed that Holiday would be the best point guard on the court for most of this series. Dame Dolla averaged 18.5 on 35.2 percent shooting, which is the 132nd-best field goal percentage out of all eligible playoff performers. There’s really no explanation for it, he just didn’t have it in this series. However, something tells me we won’t be bad-mouthing Lillard for long, as he’s made a career out of proving doubters wrong and making them eat their words.
DeMar DeRozan, SG/SF, Toronto Raptors
How is it possible for LeBron James to almost score more than your two All-Star players combined? I personally have no clue, but you might want to ask the Raptors. Against the Cavs in the second round, James totaled 136 points, 33 rebounds, 45 assists and seven steals while Lowry and DeRozan combined finished with 138 points, 30 rebounds, 46 assists and six steals. That just can’t happen if Toronto really wants to finally overcome LeBron. To go along with that, DeRozan got ejected in Game 4 and benched in the crunch time of Game 3. What happens to the Raptors in the postseason? A team that’s known for choking didn’t do much to change up the narrative in this postseason. The Raptors were just sloppy, turning the ball over at a rate of 13.8 per game and allowing the Cavaliers to turn those turnovers into 17.8 points per game. The Pelicans were the only team that gave up more points off of turnovers this postseason. It’s like whenever LeBron comes to town in the playoffs, the Raptors forget how to play the game of basketball.
All season DeMar DeRozan had been showing that he improved his 3-point shot, knocking down 89 shots from behind the arc in the regular season and shattering his previous record of 64 in 2014. Well he must’ve forgotten that fact in the series against the Cavs, as he attempted only nine 3-pointers and made none of them. The Raptors finished as the number one seed in the East and won 59 games, but what was it all for? They ended up in the same exact place they were last year, at home after being swept by a LeBron-led Cavaliers team in the semifinals.
Eric Bledsoe, PG/SG, Milwaukee Bucks
Bledsoe made it clear that he no longer wanted to be in Phoenix this season as he was tired of losing. You’d think that someone who had been on a losing team for so long would really step up when given the opportunity to advance to the second round of the playoffs, right? Wrong. Bledsoe was a disaster this postseason, getting outplayed by Terry Rozier and honestly looking more like a liability than a helping hand. He hadn’t made the playoffs since 2013 when he was Chris Paul’s backup on the Clippers and he honestly looked like he should’ve been Terry Rozier’s backup in this series. He averaged 13.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists on .440 shooting throughout the seven-game series and only managed to score above 12 points three times. The 28-year old veteran has some explaining to do because he looked like the third-year player in this series, not Rozier.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Once again Russell Westbrook finds himself eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs and once again the other star player on his team is contemplating leaving. This season should’ve been all about assuring Paul George that they legitimately had a shot at winning an NBA championship and instead they were bounced from the playoffs by a team whose best player is a rookie. It’s not about the numbers with Westbrook, and it hasn’t been for the last couple of years. If you just looked at the numbers, you’d think Westbrook is obviously the best player in the league and that’s not the case. Westbrook averaged 29.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists on .398 shooting in the series against the Jazz, while also attempting 26.8 shots per game. In last year’s playoffs he attempted 30.4 shots per game, so he only took about four less this year. The difference is, last year the second-best player on his team was Steven Adams and this year he had both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Say what you want about Melo, but you can’t deny that you’d still rather have him taking a shot than Alex Abrines, Norris Cole or Doug McDermott, all of which the Thunder had last year.
In fact, he led the playoffs in assists last year with those players but this postseason he couldn’t even average 8.0 assists with Steven Adams, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on his team. The talent is there with Westbrook, it’s not about that. It’s the fact that he still hasn’t managed to master how to play with others like so many other point guards in the league have. Chris Paul is meshing perfectly with James Harden and so are Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, both of whose teams are in the Western Conference Finals right now. Until Westbrook learns how to do what those point guards do, he’ll keep finding himself being a spectator in June rather than the main attraction.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
I’ll keep this one short. With Simmons it’s about the offense and with Embiid it’s about the defense. There is absolutely no reason as to why Simmons should be getting locked up by Al Horford or scoring one point in NBA Playoff games, even if Horford is excellent. It’s unacceptable. Likewise, Embiid should not be getting beat off of the dribble by Horford, who is shooting an incredible .597 from the field throughout the playoffs.
So I guess it all comes down to Al Horford. Wow. He’s locking up Ben Simmons and lighting up Joel Embiid, who would’ve thought.
Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves), Jabari Parker (Milwaukee Bucks), Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat), Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers), Serge Ibaka (Toronto Raptors), Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers), Carmelo Anthony (Oklahoma City Thunder)