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Stock Watch: What's trending in the NBA


Welcome to the fourth installment of Stock Watch for the 2023-24 season, a look at what's been trending up and down in the NBA.

⬆️ Luka's MVP bid

Tim Heitman / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Luka Doncic's march to the MVP trophy might be unstoppable. The Slovenian has made the All-NBA first team four times but has never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Doncic is averaging career highs in points (34.3), assists (9.5), field-goal attempts (23.5), steals (1.5), 3-point attempts (10.2), and 3-point percentage (38%).

Doncic has mastered the two main staples of the modern NBA offense: isolation scoring and the pick-and-roll. His 1.08 points per possession in isolation is the second-best mark of anyone in the league with at least five attempts per game. As the pick-and-roll ball-handler, Doncic scores on 48.1% of his possessions, by far the best percentage of any player with at least 10 pick-and-roll opportunities per contest.

The Dallas Mavericks' record was the only thing holding Doncic's candidacy back. Fortunately for Doncic, the Mavericks made a big splash at the trade deadline, acquiring P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford. The club is 5-1 since the deadline and is tied for the second-best winning percentage in February. If Dallas continues to climb the Western Conference standings, Doncic will be one of the favorites to capture his first MVP.

⬇️ Jazz's playoff hopes

Melissa Majchrzak / National Basketball Association / Getty

Let's go back to mid-January: The Utah Jazz are in the midst of a six-game winning streak and only two contests behind the Mavericks for the sixth seed in the West. The plucky underdogs have battled back from their atrocious start to the season and look like legitimate playoff contenders in a stacked conference. Fast-forward a month later, and that same team is in free fall. The Jazz have lost eight of 11 contests and are tumbling down the standings.

Utah has been a disaster defensively lately. The Jazz have the worst defensive rating (123.8) in the league since Jan. 17, four points worse than the 29th-ranked Atlanta Hawks. Utah's effort isn't helping the situation: Over that same stretch, it ranks 29th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.3), 28th in opponents' second-chance points (16.3), and 30th in opponents' fast-break points (22.3). Head coach Will Hardy and his squad are running out of time to fix this defense.

⬆️ Celtics' continued dominance

Brian Babineau / National Basketball Association / Getty

It can be boring to talk about the Boston Celtics these days. After all, they've owned the NBA's best record for nearly the entire campaign, just another dominant year for what's become the league's most well-oiled machine. However, this Celtics squad isn't just the best in the Association; it's arguably one of the best in years. Sitting first in offensive rating and third in defensive rating, Boston's on pace to be the fourth club in the last decade to finish in the top three of both statistics, joining two iterations of the mid-2010s Golden State Warriors dynasty and the 2022-23 Celtics.

The only narrative that truly matters in Beantown is whether the team can finally get over the hump and win a championship. With a 7.5-game lead over No. 2 in the East, that's likely where the Celtics' heads are at, too. And yet, Boston has still found a way to win eight straight with a fully healthy roster firing on all cylinders at a time in the season when it's easy to lose focus. A big stretch awaits for the Celtics, with each of their next six opponents sitting above .500. However, not much should seem like a challenge for this squad at this point.

⬇️ Nets' nosedive

Kostas Lymperopoulos / National Basketball Association / Getty

On Dec. 13, the Brooklyn Nets won on the road in Mikal Bridges' homecoming against the Phoenix Suns and their Big Three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal. That moved Brooklyn to 13-10 and firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Slowly but surely, everything fell apart from there. The Nets are 8-25 since that victory, with six different losing streaks of at least three games over the stretch.

The team dumped starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie at the trade deadline and fired head coach Jacque Vaughn following a 50-point loss to the shorthanded Celtics. Things have only gotten worse from there, with back-to-back blowout losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and lowly Toronto Raptors with interim bench boss Kevin Ollie at the helm. Brooklyn has produced the NBA's worst net rating over its last eight games.

It gets worse because the now-tanking Nets don't have their first-round pick this summer. And the Houston Rockets can swap their selection with Brooklyn in 2025 if the Nets continue to struggle. Considering the franchise's apparent flaw is a lack of superstar scorers, the arrow may remain pointed downward for a long time.

⬆️ Point Zion and the Pels

Adam Pantozzi / National Basketball Association / Getty

The New Orleans Pelicans have toyed with "positionless" basketball all season, but Zion Williamson's growing ability to create for his teammates has helped them become one of the West's best squads, winning eight of their last 11. Williamson's assists have noticeably ticked up a notch amid the team's hot stretch, going from averaging 4.7 dimes per game to 7.0. It appears to be a distinct shift, as the former Duke phenom has accounted for 33.4% of the Pelicans' assists while on the floor since Jan. 31 after sitting at 27% prior.

Even in Sunday's loss to the Chicago Bulls, it didn't take Williamson long to emphasize getting his teammates involved. An open Brandon Ingram three marked the Pelicans' first bucket of the contest and was made possible by Williamson backing down Alex Caruso and getting Coby White to overcommit on help. By the end of the first half, Williamson already had eight assists, tying his personal best set just a month ago. New Orleans' run up the West may not be done just yet if it can successfully develop a consistent half-court offense centered around its 6-foot-6 star capitalizing on the attention he deserves.

⬇️ Doc Rivers' approach

David Dow / National Basketball Association / Getty

Doc Rivers' stint with the Milwaukee Bucks has been anything but smooth sailing. Sunday's lopsided win over the Philadelphia 76ers, his former employers, was a small step in the right direction and probably felt great for Rivers personally. However, Philly entered Sunday's matchup with just four wins in the 10 games since Joel Embiid last played on Dec. 30. Rivers and the Bucks haven't been much better. Milwaukee has gone just 5-7 since its controversial midseason hiring, providing Rivers' strongest critics with enough fuel to put his appointment under intense scrutiny.

JJ Redick, a former player under Rivers for four seasons on the Los Angeles Clippers, issued the loudest rebuke Tuesday. The retired sharpshooter turned ESPN analyst tore into his ex-coach for a lack of accountability. Redick also took Rivers to task for making excuses in response to the bench boss saying that "we had some guys in Cabo" when discussing Milwaukee's shocking loss to a depleted Memphis Grizzlies squad in its final game before the All-Star break. Redick's takes drew plenty of reaction, including defenses of Rivers by his son Austin and Bucks guard Patrick Beverley. However, some also agreed with Redick, including Golden State Warriors vet Draymond Green.

Whether or not you agree, Redick's rant brought a lot of attention to Rivers' style - on and off the court. If the coach can't manufacture a drastic Bucks turnaround down the stretch, it's increasingly difficult to imagine the front office considering him part of the solution in the offseason.

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