NBA Stock Watch: Jayson Tatum strengthens MVP case, Aaron Gordon All-Star leap?
It has been a happy holiday season for some NBA teams and a disappointing one for others.
In this week’s edition of NBA Stock Watch, we evaluate which players and teams are feeling joyous after a big Christmas slate and which ones are down in the dumps – from a dunk of the year candidate to some declawed Grizzlies.
RISING: Aaron Gordon
With 24 seconds remaining in overtime and the Denver Nuggets clinging to a paper-thin 124-123 lead over the Phoenix Suns in their Christmas showcase, Gordon made what’s being hailed as the dunk of the season.
He caught a rebound, dribbled the ball across halfcourt, took off from outside the key and elevated over Landry Shamet to throw down a powerful right-handed jam that sent both men tumbling onto the floor.
It was a huge play in a huge moment in front of a huge national audience, just the kind of thing that can garner some real All-Star chatter for the 27-year-old forward.
Gordon finished with 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting and 13 rebounds. He had the highest plus-minus rating of anyone on the court (18), even surpassing two-time MVP teammate Nikola Jokic on a night when he had the first 40-plus triple-double in NBA Christmas history with 41 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists.
Gordon is having quite a season, averaging 17.5 points and 6.7 rebounds for a Nuggets team that is in first place in the Western Conference with a record of 21-11. And after having the most notable highlight among all 10 teams who played on Christmas, don’t be surprised if you start hearing Gordon’s name as the All-Star voting heats up.
FALLING: Memphis Grizzlies
When Ja Morant was asked in a recent interview on ESPN which team he looks at around the league and says, “We’re going to have to go through them,” he didn’t hesitate in his response: The Boston Celtics.
“No one in the West?” he was asked. “I’m fine in the West,” Morant quipped, flashing a smile.
The defending champion Golden State Warriors clearly see things a bit differently, and they made sure the Grizzlies deeply understood that when the teams played on Christmas.
The Warriors, who were without stars Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins, put on a dazzling display of teamwork, finishing with six players in double-figures in their 123-109 win over the Grizzlies.
Jordan Poole had 32 points in 29 minutes. Klay Thompson had 24 points and nine rebounds. And Draymond Green did just about everything but score, finishing with 13 rebounds, 13 assists and an incredible defensive performance.
While these teams aren’t quite rivals, they definitely don’t like each other and that spilled out onto the court. At one point, after Thompson made a 3-pointer, he stood over Dillon Brooks after he slipped and stared him down, drawing a technical foul for taunting on the play.
In Thompson’s walk-off interview with ABC, it became clear that something Brooks had said back in March had irked him. At the time, Brooks referred to the Grizzlies as a dynasty, a title that has been reserved for the Warriors, who have won four championships in the last eight years.
“You can’t talk dynasty when you haven’t won before,” Thompson said.
Make no mistake, if the Warriors weren’t on the Grizzlies’ radar before Christmas, they are now.
[Just catching up on the NBA? Here’s what you need to know this season: Parity rules]
RISING: Jayson Tatum
One of the most anticipated matchups on Christmas was between the Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks, which have the two best records in the league. This game pitted two superstars against each other in Tatum and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Tatum stood out, finishing with 41 points, including scoring 20 in the third quarter to turn a one-point halftime lead into an eventual 139-118 blowout.
The Celtics’ small forward has been on a mission this season after leading his team to its first NBA Finals since 2010, but falling short of winning a title, losing to the Warriors in six games last summer.
Tatum is hungry to get back to the championship round and have a different outcome this time around. He’s having an MVP-caliber season, averaging career-highs in points (30.9), field-goal percentage (47.7%) and rebounds (8.1).
And on Christmas, in a game that featured two of the top MVP contenders, he unequivocally shined brightest, something that could be meaningful when it’s time to cast award ballots.
FALLING: LeBron James‘ patience
LeBron James did what LeBron James does in big games. He led all scorers with 38 points on 13-for-23 shooting against the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas – but it still wasn’t enough.
The Lakers lost their fourth straight game without Anthony Davis after being outscored 51-21 in the third quarter, falling 124-115. They’re now 13th in the Western Conference with a record of 13-20.
It’s exasperating for James, who turns 38 on Friday. He’s playing MVP-caliber basketball at an age when most players have retired or have become ornamental. But his team stinks, meaning that his unprecedented greatness in the twilight of his career is being squandered.
There’s a lot of pressure on Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka as the trade deadline approaches to improve the roster. As they’re constructed now, it’s clear that the Lakers aren’t good enough to compete in the Western Conference. Pelinka needs to weigh whether he’s willing to sacrifice first round picks to improve the team immediately and give James a fighting chance to compete for another championship.
In the meantime, it’s no secret that the frustration is mounting for one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
“…How many times are you going to try to dig yourselves out until it’s too much dirt on you?” James asked Sunday.
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Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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Source: FOX Sports