NBA Stock Watch: Joel Embiid’s MVP case rising, Ben Simmons again falling
All-Star starters have been announced. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away. It’s time for our weekly dive into who around the NBA is rising and who’s falling.
Rising: Joel Embiid’s MVP case
No, he didn’t receive enough votes to be named a starter for the All-Star Game. He probably should have gotten the nod over Giannis Antetokounmpo, but mostly it’s that there were only three frontcourt spots for the foursome of Embiid, Giannis, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum, meaning someone deserving was going to be left off. Still, Embiid is making those results look silly. He’s an absolute force, and playing the best basketball of his career.
Take, for example, what he did to MVP front-runner — and the only man to finish ahead of Embiid in MVP voting in each of the past two seasons — Nikola Jokic. Embiid torched his Nuggets rival, racking up an NBA 2K-like statline (47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks) in a tight win on Saturday. Though to be honest, the highlight of his week might have come a few days earlier against the Brooklyn Nets when he celebrated mid-game with this:
Do you realize the Sixers, despite a bad loss Monday night against the Orlando Magic, have now won 20 of their last 25 games? They’re just two games behind the East-leading Boston Celtics in the loss column for the top spot in the conference. They are a legitimate championship contender, and Embiid is the reason.
Falling: Ben Simmons
Speaking of Embiid, things for his former teammate aren’t going so great these days. Once again, Simmons appears to be afraid to attack the hoop. He played 11 games in January. He attempted just 14 free-throws in those games (hitting seven) and averaged a meager 5.7 points, 7.7 assists and 6.3 assists. The Nets were actually better with him off the floor.
With Kevin Durant sidelined with an injury, the Nets needed Simmons to step up. Instead, he seems to have lost the confidence of his head coach.
That was Jacque Vaughn talking after the Nets fell at home to the lowly Detroit Pistons on Thursday, a game in which Simmons did not play and which came one night after Simmons was benched down the stretch.
And if you were wondering if this we’re reading too much into Vaughn’s words, here’s what the coach had to say when asked about this quote:
There was a point earlier this season where it seemed like Simmons was on the cusp of rediscovering his verve. Instead, he now seems to be as lost as ever.
Rising: Sacramento Kings
One of the few teams in the West that has been consistent — and consistently good — all season. The Kings are currently in third place in the conference and own the league’s top offensive ratings. This is an offensive juggernaut, led by the tag-team of Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, both of whom should be named All-Stars.
Last week, general manager Monte McNair was rewarded for this success and received a multi-year contract extension. That’s right — there is now stability in Sacramento! Who would have thought that day would ever arrive? This team is both good and fun. Light that beam!
Falling: New Orleans Pelicans
It wasn’t that long ago that the Pelicans seemed to have a stronghold on one of the top-four spots in the West. Now? Well now, having lost eight straight, they’re just one game over .500 and just one game ahead of the 11th-place Oklahoma City Thunder.
The issue has been injuries. Brandon Ingram finally returned to the floor last week, but that was after a two-month absence. Health is this team’s biggest issue. Zion Williamson has also missed a ton of time; he hasn’t played since Jan. 2, and there aren’t many teams that can sustain these sorts of blows to their two best players.
The Pelicans are great when fully healthy — they’ve mashed opponents in those rare minutes where Zion and Ingram have shared the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass — but they’re now at risk at falling into the play-in tournament, if not out of the playoffs.
The Pelicans said last week that Zion is healing well and will be re-evaluated next week. If he doesn’t return to the court soon, New Orleans could be in big trouble.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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