• What’s up HoopBallers!

    I would like to take a second to talk about the collapse of basketball’s two most acclaimed franchises: The Lakers and the Celtics. With me being a Lakers fan, I’ve taken a lot of our losses and the overall disappointment of our season to heart so I’ll save them for last. I know in being a Lakers fan that I’m supposed to hate the Celtics, but that’s not exactly the case for me. Do I love the Celtics? Of course not, and I’m obviously aware of the history and rivalry behind the two franchises. However, there just hasn’t been anything in my lifetime to make me really despise them.

    I’ll start with the Celtics and I think the first thing I have to talk about is Kyrie Irving. I won’t be diving into analytics or anything like that because there’s tons of articles you can find on exactly why the Celtics have been bad. Instead, I’m just going to be giving my opinion on their struggles. So, like I said, I feel like we have to start with Kyrie Irving and how he just doesn’t seem to care anymore. Everyone has brought up the fact that the Celtics are 9-2 without Kyrie and they’ve tried to say that without him they’re just simply a better team.

    Do I believe that? Absolutely not. There is no way that they’d be better with Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart as the starting point guard for an entire season. Maybe for a certain stretch of games sure, but over an entire season I’m almost 100 percent positive the Celtics would be a worse team without Kyrie. No one on the Celtics roster can do what Kyrie Irving can do and there’s been times throughout the season that he’s legitimately put them on his back.

    I feel like Celtics fans get too enamored with their young core and Jayson Tatum in particular. I’ll often hear, “If Kyrie wasn’t on the team Tatum would be way better.” Maybe that’s true, he would definitely have a larger role in the offense but let’s not forget that Jayson Tatum is still only 21 years old and has a ton of growing to do. Also, a ton of the Celtics’ wins without Kyrie came against teams that aren’t very good anyway. In Kyrie’s absence, the Celtics managed to beat the Pelicans, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Cavaliers, Nets, Hornets, 76ers and Pistons. Four of those teams aren’t in the playoffs and the other four, outside of the 76ers, are the 6th seed or lower in the Eastern Conference.

    Now, does Kyrie’s clear emotional disconnect from the team help anything? Not at all. I don’t believe he wants to be there anymore and if I had to make my prediction on where he ends up next season, I’d honestly say it’s the Knicks, as cliche as that is. Once Kyrie leaves I do believe the Celtics will realize what they had and they’ll miss him, as much as they’ll hate to admit it.

    Okay, now onto my Lakers and boy do I have some things to get off of my chest. I could literally write an entire article about what went wrong for the Lakers this season (*cough, cough Panda.*) but I’ll try and condense my thoughts. First, I want to start by defending my Lakers really quickly. Everyone has been quick to point out that the Lakers are the first franchise to have LeBron and not make the playoffs since he was 20 years old in the 2004-2005 season.  Okay, I acknowledge that, but let’s also remember that this is the first time LeBron has ever been in the Western Conference. The Western Conference that has 12 teams with at least 30 wins compared to the Eastern Conference, which only has eight. I do agree that the Lakers made some big, big mistakes but I also feel like it’s just naturally harder to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

    With that being said, there’s no way they shouldn’t have made the playoffs this season. Everything started to go wrong back in the offseason when the Lakers — Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka in particular — decided that it would be a good idea to sign Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and Michael Beasley. Instead of signing shooters such as Trevor Ariza or Wayne Ellington, both of which used to be Lakers by the way, they figured they should surround LeBron with “playmakers.” Also, why didn’t the Lakers reach out to DeMarcus Cousins or match Julius Randle’s two-year, $17.7 million contract? That’s some stupidity I won’t address right now but certainly added to the mess of this offseason.

    So, Magic and Pelinka thought it would be great to surround LeBron with all of these washed up “playmakers” in the hopes that he wouldn’t need to handle the ball as much and could play some center because the Lakers don’t really have one. I doubt they saw JaVale as their main guy for the entire season and definitely envisioned running lineups of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James. However, the signing of those guys was a mistake to begin with. Why did the Lakers feel like they needed to re-invent the wheel and change the way that LeBron has been playing for years? Is it arrogance by Magic Johnson, probably but it’s also stupidity on the organization’s part as a whole.

    Okay, I’m going to try to sum up these next two problems pretty quickly because I’m almost at 900 words and haven’t even written the words “Stock Watch” yet. So, injuries and Luke Walton are probably the two things that in some way held the Lakers back this season. It’s sad that Walton is likely getting canned after this season because in some ways, he was a good coach. I feel like he was a better friend to the players than he was a coach, and in that’s something that’s valuable. However, for a young team that needs guidance, Walton just can’t really provide that. His lineups are very, very bad at times and he really messes up the rhythm of the players themselves so he’s likely going to take the fall this season. Remember though, the Lakers were the fourth seed when everyone was healthy and then that’s when the injuries hit. LeBron went down, then Lonzo Ball went down, then Josh Hart, then Rondo twice, McGee got pneumonia and everything fell apart.

    In some way, this season should serve as a lesson and cautionary tale to future Lakers teams and Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Lakers fans, including myself, have huge hopes for this offseason and now we’ve found ourselves wanting to #tankforZion, which I definitely didn’t think I’d be saying this year, but here we are. Let’s finish out the season and see what can get done this summer. Also, the Lakers are definitely getting the number one pick and drafting Zion Williamson. So, Lakers fans, hang your hats on that. Zion Williamson and LeBron will be playing in the Staples Center next year, mark my words.

    Now, let’s finally get into Stock Watch.

    Here are the “Stock Up” guys from last week with a little update on how their stocks have changed, with “Stock Up” meaning they’re still on the rise, “Neutral” meaning their stock hasn’t changed and “Stock Down” meaning they’re on the decline:

    Joakim Noah, PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies: Neutral

    Tyler Johnson, PG/SG, Phoenix Suns: Neutral

    Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards: Neutral

    Damyean Dotson, SG, New York Knicks: Stock Down

    This Week

    Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks: I remember putting Young in the Stock Down section a couple of weeks ago and he’s definitely making me eat my words. The Hawks might still suck, but Young no longer does. Over the past two weeks he’s averaging 29.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 3.7 triples on 47.4 percent shooting in 36.8 minutes. I would just like to point out that this man is also a monster in NBA 2K19 because I’ve made two franchises in the game and he’s won Rookie of the Year averaging 28 ppg both times. In his past seven games he’s the 20th ranked player and he was actually being dropped in a ton of leagues earlier in the year. Actually I managed to pick him up in the Hoop-Ball league after someone dropped him so I got lucky, but he was also extremely easy to trade for earlier in the season and if you managed to do that you’re a genius.

    He’s the first rookie ever to tally 45 points and 15 assists and he just seems to be more comfortable in the offense. He’s attempting 19.3 shots per game which is the most on the Hawks and he has the green light to take whatever shot he wants with no consequences. His turnovers are still pretty high, sitting at 4.6 in that time span, but he’s also shooting an insane 91.2 percent from the charity stripe while attempting 8.1 per game. He’s playing a ton of minutes for a Hawks team that isn’t going anywhere this season and he’s got free reign to do whatever he wants for the next 17 games. The only areas he hurts you are rebounds and turnovers but other than that he’s putting up solid production and should help his owners a ton heading into the playoffs.

    Dwight Powell, PF/C, Dallas Mavericks: Powell has been amazing as of late as has also been inserted into the starting lineup. Over his past two games he’s the 30th-ranked player in fantasy and averaging 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.0 triples on 71.4 percent shooting in 32.2 minutes. He’s also shooting 70.0 percent from the line in that time span and only committing 1.5 turnovers. However, he’s been eating for much longer than just two games. Over the past month he’s a top-55 player and playing the second most minutes on the Mavs behind Luka Doncic. He’s the Mavericks’ starting center right now and should be for the foreseeable future, especially with the Mavs not vying for a playoff spot this season. Somehow he’s only owned in 32 percent of leagues and he’s been a top-60 player since the beginning of February so go get him if he’s available in your league.

    Patrick Beverley, PG, Los Angeles Clippers: While one LA team in going down in flames, the other is thriving. The Clippers are 7-3 in their last 10 games and Beverley is a huge reason for that. He’s the 37th-ranked player over the past month with averages of 8.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.6 triples on 50.0 percent shooting in a team-high 30.2 minutes. He’s also only committing 1.3 turnovers per game which is amazing for a point guard who’s playing as much as Beverley is. Although he’s playing a ton, his usage rate is only 12.4 percent but that doesn’t stop him from contributing in basically every category.

    He’s the starting point guard for the playoff-bound Clippers and owner Steve Ballmer has made it very clear that he doesn’t want the Clippers to tank. With that being said, Beverley is still one of the best defensive guards in the league and the Clippers will have to continue playing him in order to keep winning. Like Powell, Beverley is available in way too many leagues as he’s only 39 percent owned. If he’s out on the wire in your league go and grab him up now.

    Marc Gasol, PF/C, Toronto Raptors: Things started off shaky for Gasol in Toronto but he’s turned it around as of late. Over the past three games he’s the 40th-ranked player in fantasy with averages of 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks on 50.0 percent shooting in 29.3 minutes. His minutes are going to fluctuate because coach Nick Nurse rotates Gasol and Serge Ibaka in and out of the starting lineup based on the opposing center, but Gasol has the talent to be worth owning regardless. Over those past three games Ibaka is only playing 22.7 minutes compared to Gasol’s 29.3 and Ibaka is outside of the top-125. Including Nikola Vucevic and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Raptors play a ton of teams with traditional centers for the rest of the season so Gasol could see a ton of playing time in the upcoming weeks.

    Moe Harkless, SF, Portland Trail Blazers: Harkless has really come on lately and is by far the hottest pickup on the waiver wire right now. Over the past two weeks he’s the 32nd-ranked player in fantasy and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. In that time span he’s averaging 12.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.6 triples on 56.3 percent shooting in 27.9 minutes. The 27.9 minutes are the most of anybody not named Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum so that’s a good sign for Harkless and shows that coach Terry Stotts trusts him. He’s also only committing 0.7 turnovers per game and what is really hiking up his value are the 2.1 steals per game. He’s been averaging 1.6 for the past month so this might actually be sustainable for him and right now he’s a must-own guy who’s only owned in 26 percent of leagues, so go change that.

    Stock Down

    Here are the “Stock Down” guys from last week with a little update on how their stocks have changed, with “Stock Up” meaning they’re still on the rise, “Neutral” meaning their stock hasn’t changed and “Stock Down” meaning they’re on the decline:

    LeBron James, SF/PF, Los Angeles Lakers: Neutral

    Kris Dunn, PG, Chicago Bulls: Stock Down

    This Week

    Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Indiana Pacers: I was trying to hold off on putting Evans on this list because I believed in him but he’s let me down for too long now. I, along with a ton of other people, expected Evans to step up in the absence of Victor Oladipo but he’s done exactly the opposite. He’s squandered a very advantageous situation and is now only playing 17.4 minutes over the past month. The arrival of Wesley Matthews has put a major damper on Evans’ situation and he just can’t seem to break through.

    Over the past two weeks Evans is the 303rd-ranked player and averaging 6.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.8 steals on 32.4 percent shooting in 15.3 minutes. He’s also averaging 1.2 turnovers in only 15.2 minutes so that isn’t a good sign and he just can’t seem to get his shooting stroke on the right track. Matthews looks to have fully overtaken his spot in the starting lineup and there’s no way he breaks through down the stretch of the season unless he starts shooting the lights out. He’s only owned in 30 percent of leagues as of right now but even that seems too high for a guy that has been outside of the top-300 for the past two months.

    Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz: Over the past two weeks Gobert is the 88th-ranked player, which wouldn’t be bad if his name wasn’t Rudy Gobert. In that time span he’s averaging 16.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.8 blocks on 59.6 percent shooting in 32.5 minutes. What’s really dragging Gobert down is the 61.1 percent he’s shooting from the charity stripe because he’s attempting 9.0 per game. When you punt free throw percentage, Gobert is the 16th ranked player over the past two weeks but without punting, he’s really dragging his owners down. The good news is although Gobert is only a 63.4 percent free throw shooter, he’s also only attempting 6.8 free throws this season. Due to his inflated free throw attempts, the percentage is hurting his owners more than usual. I’d bank on Gobert’s free throw attempts going back down to about six per game and when that happens he should rise back up to the top-20 player he is this season.

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