With Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs nearly in the books, it’s time to check in on the NBA Stock Market … whose stock is on the rise, and whose stock is dropping?
UP: Paul George … Just happy to see him back on the floor after what was one of the most traumatic sports injuries I’ve ever seen live on television. And better yet, he’s been the best player in the series by a comfortable margin. You guys been paying attention to this Pacers team? They have absolutely no business being in a series against a 2-seed, even one as flawed as Toronto.
DOWN: Blake Griffin … It’s a small sample size, but he doesn’t look like the same guy physically as he did before he beat the hell out of a Clippers trainer he suffered a quad injury. It doesn’t take an extended glance to tell he doesn’t have the same kind of bounce. And to quote Doc Rivers, he is now “50-50” to play in the next contest after aggravating that very same quad. On the bright side, at least Blake got an opportunity to film a cool new Kia commercial while he was rehabbing his injuries. Keep taking out those pawns, Blake!
DOWN: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan … Through four games the Raptors’ backcourt had missed 90 of their 130 field goal attempts in Round 1. If we expand that sample size to the Raptors last 15 postseason games (seven in 2014, four in 2015, four in 2016), Lowry and DeRozan have missed 314 of their 493 shots, scorching the nets at a 36 percent clip. At a certain point you just have to cut your losses and realize you can’t go any further with the group you’ve got. Even though nobody in the organization would admit it right now, the Raptors are most likely there already.
UP: Jonas Valanciunas … A total monster on the glass, a terrific screen setter and a legit bad-ass who has kept Toronto afloat while DeRozan and Lowry have been tossing up enough bricks to build a home that would make Northern European architects proud. There’s a 130 percent chance Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside will both get kicked out of a game if the Raptors and Heat play in Round 2. It will be amazing.
UP: Charlotte Hornets … For having the best uniforms in the NBA. If they really wanted to they could be the Oregon Ducks of the NBA with all of the different uniform possibilities. Somebody is going to need to take my debit card away once those black “Buzz City” uniforms are on NBA Store.
DOWN: Jeff Teague … For that horrendous final possession of regulation in Game 4. If that’s what Coach Budenholzer designed then it’s on him too, but regardless, you’ve got to at least get a shot off, even if it’s a shitty one (which is exactly what it would have been if Teague managed to get a shot up).
DOWN: Mike Budenholzer … Gets his own individual mention because it’s reprehensible if the point of emphasis before that last possession wasn’t “Get the God damn ball to Paul Millsap!” It’s really simple. If you feel compelled to iso anyone, maybe you let the guy who had 45 points take a shot with it.
UP: Stanley Johnson … He was completely fearless when coming in and giving the Pistons good minutes off the bench … and he gave the media plenty of good quotes. He called the Cavaliers vocal bench players “little cheerleaders,” and he doesn’t even mind getting on LeBron James for only talking when the Cavs are up and then going as far as saying of James, “I’m definitely in his head.” It’s the same reason why I always enjoyed watching guys like Lance Stephenson play against LeBron. A little irrational confidence never hurt anybody.
UP: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope … The KCP/Stanley Johnson/Andre Drummond trio is probably the most underrated young core in the league right now. Nobody is talking about it and it’s amazing. How many teams right now have two wings that are younger than I am that are hyper-competitive gamers who play defense and will definitely make huge leaps offensively over the next five years?
UP: Minnesota Timberwolves … Hey speaking of the best young cores in the league, one of the best ones in the NBA just got a really good coach. Bet the over on Minnesota’s win total next year. Trust me.
UP: Kawhi Leonard … Loved what I saw from him in Round 1. It was a very business-like approach; come in, kick some ass, lock some dudes down, lead the Spurs in scoring, get out in four games. The Durant/Kawhi head-to-head in Round 2 is going to be something to watch.
UP: Richard Jefferson … I don’t know which of these three statements is most surprising: Richard Jefferson is still in the league. Richard Jefferson is getting 4th quarter minutes in the postseason on a title contender. Richard Jefferson is actually a semi-effective bench player. Incredible on all accounts.
EVEN: James Harden … At this point, we know exactly what we’re getting from James Harden: Elite, albeit annoying and aesthetically displeasing individual offense, and truly dreadful defense that is a product of both horrible mechanics and an overall lack of giving-a-shit. Can you win the title if James Harden is the best guy on your team? The answer to that question is no. It’s a resounding no.
DOWN: Dwight Howard … It doesn’t help that Houston’s second best guy is a shell of the player he once was, and like Harden, he’s someone who might not give a shit on a nightly basis. Dwight was smiling after he picked up his 6th foul in Game 2. He was stone-faced after James Harden hit the go-ahead jumper in Game 3. That shit is all kinds of backwards. It truly saddens me that Dwight probably won’t be in Houston next year. He and James Harden deserve each other.
UP: Indiana/Toronto … For a few fantastic hairstyles. DeMarre Carroll, Myles Turner, and Lucas Nogueira are one hell of a trio, and just imagine if George Hill‘s hair was still dyed blonde. Those four could have made up a Mount Rushmore of great NBA hairdos.
UP: DirecTV’s The Settlers … I’ve chuckled every time Papa Settler offers “Fresh milk for the journey home.” With that said, it still hasn’t reached the Playoff Commercial Pantheon yet. Right now there are only two recent ad’s that deserve that distinction:
DOWN: Kevin Durant … What a baffling 1st Round it’s been for KD. In only a week and a half he submitted one of the worst shooting games in Playoff history, and he took a few cheap shots on Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri of all people, and dealt with the slew of “Is Kevin Durant a dirty player” stories as a result of it. On top of all of that, we could be only two weeks away from everyone touting Kawhi over Durant, and the the collective discussion about Kevin Durant suddenly turning into “Where is he going to play next season?”
UP: Marcus Smart … For stepping up and playing the biggest game of his life when the Celtics needed him most. A tremendous two-way fourth quarter performance by a dude who James Harden should be watching. He just gives a shit. It’s great to watch.
UP: Paul Millsap … A virtuoso performance in Game 4. Absolutely unstoppable until Brad Stevens switched Marcus Smart onto him later in the game. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this performance came only two days after I crowned him the winner of NBA Survivor.
UP: Kevin Love … Averaged 19 and 12 in Round 1, and never had his defensive inefficiencies totally exposed. That’s a win for Cleveland. Here’s the thing moving forward … if the Cavs can keep Love involved offensively and make it a priority to get him looks in the 4th quarter, you can at least stomach his below-average defense. If Love is nothing more than an afterthought down the stretch in close games then it doesn’t make sense to have him out there, and it also means the Cavs aren’t maximizing their own potential.
DOWN: Golden State’s Chance To Repeat As NBA Champions … You’ve heard the prognosis by now: in two weeks Stephen Curry will be re-evaluated after an MRI revealed he suffered a sprained MCL on Sunday afternoon. If the Warriors don’t blow their 3-1 lead over Houston, they would likely be at least mid-way through their 2nd Round series against either the Clippers or the Blazers by the time Stephen Curry could get back on the floor. In all likelihood though, Curry’s return to the court is closer to three weeks than it is two weeks.
With that said, it’s natural to ponder the following questions: Can Golden State beat the Blazers without Stephen Curry? Can Golden State beat the Clippers without Stephen Curry? Should the Warriors rush Stephen Curry back if they’re trailing in a hypothetical Round 2 series? Will Stephen Curry even be at 75 percent whenever it is the Warriors bring him back?
The (probable) answers to those questions: Yes, maybe, probably and probably not. Ugh, I feel the same way I did when G-Baby died in Hardball.
TBD: Draymond Green and Klay Thompson …The biggest unknown of the NBA Playoffs right now: How do Draymond Green and Klay Thompson respond over the next three weeks? Both are All Stars AND All-NBA caliber players, and I have no idea if they’re good enough without Curry to carry Golden State through Round 2. I’ve watched a whole lot of Warriors basketball over the last three years. I covered the Dubs all of last season. Outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers, I watched more of the Warriors this year than any other team. I don’t have a definitive answer to that question right now, nor do I even have a good feel for it either way.