NBA Stock Watch: Rudy Gobert, Wolves spiraling; Luka Dončić in MVP hunt
It’s officially a new year, so what better time for our weekly Stock Watch, where we check in with the NBA and take a look at who’s rising and who’s falling.
Rising: Luka Dončić’s MVP case
The Dallas Mavericks‘ roster is, well … not great. The team’s second-best player is Christian Wood. Its third best is … Spencer Dinwiddie? It’s an embarrassment, and the Mavericks would be leading the Brick for Vic sweepstakes if not for the Luka Dončić not just playing great, but playing some of the best basketball in the history of the league.
Luka has racked up three (!) 50-point games over the past 10 days. He’s the sole reason they’ve been able to reel off seven straight wins to climb into the top five in the Western Conference standings.
For the season, Dončić is averaging a league-best 34.2 points per game — on 51.1% shooting! — to go with 8.9 assists and 8.7 rebounds. He’s become (even more) impossible to defend. He might be the league’s best finisher in the paint (he’s shooting a ridiculous 75% at the rim and 55% in the paint but outside three feet). He’s too big for guards, and enjoys bullying them with his burly frame. Big men can’t hang with his bobs and weaves and burst. He’s a brilliant passer, meaning double teams don’t work and help is often punished.
When he’s been on the court, the Mavs have outscored their opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions; when he sits, they’ve been outscored by 4.4.
Somebody get this man a beer!
I don’t know if Luka can keep this up. He’s playing nearly 37 minutes per game, and the nearly 10 minutes per game he has the ball in his hands is not only tops in the league, but would also be the highest mark in 10 years, which is as far back as the publicly available data goes.
It would be nice if the Mavericks could get him some help. In the meantime, let’s sit back and appreciate a maestro at the top of his craft.
Falling: Everything and everyone associated with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Even if you believe — like most did outside of Timberwolves’ HQ — that Tim Connelly, the team’s new president of basketball operations, overpaid for Rudy Gobert, I don’t think anyone thought the addition of Gobert would hurt Minnesota this year. The issues with the deal were more with how much the Wolves parted with. Not whether a three-time Defensive Player of the Year would make a 46-win team worse.
And yet, here we are in the first week of January and the Wolves, after dropping six straight before a Monday night win over the Denver Nuggets, are now in 12th place in the Western Conference.
In other words, if the playoffs started today they’d be in the lottery.
The Gobert deal has been a disaster. He’s averaging just 1.9 blocks per 100 possessions, a career-low. He’s no longer deterring opposing drivers the way he once did. Opponents have hit 60% of their shots at the rim with Gobert in the vicinity, according to NBA advanced Stats. In the three seasons prior, that mark was 50%. Minnesota head coach Chris Finch even benched Gobert last week during the fourth quarter of a game against Miami — after watching Heat guard Gabe Vincent (yes, Gabe Vincent) toy with Gobert in the pick-and-roll — in favor of fourth-year forward Naz Reid.
And speaking of Naz Reid, here’s what he had to say recently about his team’s struggles.
Throughout his time in Utah, Gobert seemed to have a knack for grating on his teammates. He’s seemingly brought that skill with him to Minnesota. I don’t know for sure, but calling for a lob on every possession and then fumbling half the passes thrown to you is probably not a great way to endear yourself to new teammates.
Making matters worse, the Wolves don’t own their draft pick this year, thanks to the Gobert trade.
We could very well look back at this swap as one of the worst in NBA history.
Rising: The Warriors’ already-ridiculous home-road splits
So you know how the Warriors were winning basically every game at home and basically losing every game on the road? Well, it turns out that’s not dependent on the presence of Steph Curry.
Golden State has reeled off four in a row at the Chase Center, despite Curry being sidelined. That’s pushed their home record to 16-2 on the season. On the road, they’re (*checks notes*) 3-16.
There’s no explanation for any of this. It’s helped that Jordan Poole has found his footing, but there’s no reason that shouldn’t be translating into road wins as well.
In the meantime, the rest of the West better hope the Warriors don’t, upon Curry’s return, climb up to the top half of the West’s playoff bracket and earn home-court advantage.
Falling: The Houston Rockets
Forget “The Process,” or even what the Oklahoma City Thunder have done in recent years. No team has been more egregious with their tanking than this current iteration of the Rockets.
It’s not just that they stink — though they do stink (10-27, worst in the NBA; 29th in offense, 28th in defense) — or that it’s now Year 3 of them stinking. It’s the way they stink.
A great example: They’re surrendering a league-worst 26.1 transition points per game, which, if it holds, will surpass the record mark they set last year.
What’s remarkable about is that the Rockets don’t even play fast — they’re last in percentage of offensive possessions in transition — meaning this is just a result of poor and lazy play.
Or, to better summarize it, here’s Rockets veteran Eric Gordon after a recent loss:
Rising: Domantas Sabonis’ All-Star case
I still don’t agree with the Kings‘ decision to give up Tyrese Haliburton, but Domantas Sabonis has been great this season. He’s averaging 18.6 points, a league-best 12.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He and De’Aaron Fox have formed a dynamic pairing that has Sacramento — owner of the longest postseason drought in the major American sports leagues — 19-16, and looking like a playoff squad and impressing opponents.
Also worth noting: Sabonis is playing with a fractured thumb, which he’s decided to do instead of getting midseason surgery. That should be worth some votes, too!
Falling: Trae Young’s star credentials
How are things going in Atlanta, you ask?
Remember, McMillan is the guy who replaced the other guy (Lloyd Pierce) that Young grew tired of. Oh, and speaking of Young, guess what he’s shooting from the field this season? The answer is 41.5%. From deep? A ghastly 31%.
He’s obviously an incredibly talented and impactful offensive weapon (27.4 points and 9.9 assists per game are no joke), but he’s also one of the worst defensive players in the league, an inefficient shooter and someone who clearly has issues with coaches.
At some point, it’s fair to ask whether the on-court value is matching his stature.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and 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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