Buy, Hold, or Sell: NBA Edition
Whose stock is rising, and whose is falling?
Hello, everyone! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season. Let’s take a quick peek around the league at some teams and players whose stock is rising or falling. As a general rule, I’m buying if I think the general public is undervaluing a stock, holding if I believe in a statement, and selling if I think something is about to fall.
Buy: The Miami Heat are the lurking contenders
It’s not that people don’t believe in Miami, exactly, it’s more that nobody ever mentions them in any kind of contender conversation. It’s always Golden State, Phoenix, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee, and then someone will be like, “Oh yeah, and I guess Miami, too,” in a dismissive sort of way. It’s understandable, given the fact that their team hasn’t stayed healthy long enough to really shine.
But bedeviled by injuries and COVID protocols, Miami just keeps trucking along. Missing a Bam Adebayo? No problem, here’s Dewayne Dedmon. Oh wait, he’s out, too? Tag in Omer Yurtseven. Hold on, now [Kyle Lowry/Jimmy Butler/Duncan Robinson] is missing? Good thing they’ve got Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, and Marcus Strus. Wait, Strus and Vincent are out? Ok, time for Kyle Guy and Nik “Sauce Castillo” Stauskas, I guess.
Somehow, the Heat make it work, and they’re the sleeping giants in the East.
I had my doubts before the season began about their ability to score in the half-court, but they absolutely can manufacture enough points to win a championship. Even with everything going on, they have a top-ten offense and a top-ten defense.
Nothing feels unsustainable, either; in fact, if anything I’d expect several of Miami’s players to be better. Kyle Lowry, in particular, has not looked good defensively or shooting the ball. Duncan Robinson has been wildly streaky and is losing some minutes to the surprisingly bouncy, fearless Max Strus. But the bottom of the rotation (and, when available, Jimmy Butler) has played so well that it hasn’t mattered.
A Chicago-Miami second-round battle, echoing duels from a decade ago, would be epic.
Miami is still a slight tier below Milwaukee and Brooklyn, but they would relish a chance to play either, and it shouldn’t be a huge shock if they come out on top of the East when all’s said and done. A bubble-like run to the Finals is very possible.
Sell: Steph Curry will be MVP
This is tough one. The MVP race is wide-open this year, with as many as five names forcing their way into the conversation depending on how sustainable you think LeBron’s recent run has been.
The MVP is a narrative-driven award. The way people talk about players in the first half of the season frames the conversation for the rest of the year, and Steph has a lot going for him in that department. People understandably love the way Golden State has bounced back this year, and Steph is at the front and center of it all.
But numbers wise, he’s not quite what he’s been in the past. He’s actually having the worst overall shooting year of his career since 2012-2013, the year before Stephen Curry became Steph, and he is shooting the lowest 3P% of his career (albeit on a diet of more difficult shots than he took in his early years).
Curry’s “only” averaging 27.2 points per game (compared to 32.0 last year), and though his defense has been solid, he can’t compare on that end to Giannis or even Durant. A large part of Curry’s case rests on Golden State’s team dominance. If Golden State hit a little bit of a rough patch that brings them down to second or third in the standings, his case becomes more difficult to make.
The reintegration of Klay Thompson is actually a cause for concern in the wins department. He’s coming off two massive injuries, hasn’t played basketball since pre-COVID times, and quietly has a long history of very slow starts to the year even when he was healthy. The timing is perfect for the Warriors to let him shake off the rust before the playoffs, but I daresay that Klay’s presence is more likely to hurt the Warriors in the first few weeks than help.
Durant, Giannis, and Jokic are all putting up similar or better individual numbers, and Durant and Giannis are on teams that could both end up having a similar record to the Warriors. Curry is the frontrunner for MVP if the season ended right now, but I’m selling because his MVP stock is more likely to go down than up in the future.
Hold: The Los Angeles Lakers are a dangerous team
Since we last talked, Anthony Davis has fallen to an MCL sprain expected to keep him out several more weeks, and the Lakers are 4-6 in their last ten games. However, they have won two straight, beating a competitive Timberwolves team and a spiraling Blazers squad.
LeBron, sensing the urgency of the situation, has responded accordingly. Since the Davis injury, the Lakers have played eight games. In those games, LeBron has averaged 35 points, ten rebounds, and six assists on freakishly efficient 57/41/79 shooting splits (FG%/3P%/FT%) while playing point guard on offense and center on defense. He’s adding 1.9 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, to boot.
Vogel has indicated that the success of LeBron in the middle means he and Davis are likely to be the Lakers two primary centers going forward, which will unlock some fast, shooting-heavy lineups for LA when everyone returns to health.
And, just like I noted in the past, the LeBron/AD/Russ Westbrook trio is still pounding fools without a traditional center on the court. So even though the short term looks bleak, with a tough schedule and no AD, I still believe in the Lakers. I don’t know if they can win a championship, but I do know they won’t be afraid of anyone in the playoffs.
Sell: The Chicago Bulls are the best team in the East
I love watching the Bulls. They have been one of the pleasant surprises of the season, and the cohesion they’ve displayed on offense has only been matched by the unerring discipline they’ve shown in coach Billy Donovan’s defense (Billy D never gets enough credit for being one of the best defensive coaches of the last decade).
Chicago has a wealth of playmakers on both sides of the ball. DeMar DeRozan has turned into the new King of the Fourth, becoming the first player in NBA history to hit buzzer-beating game-winning three-pointers on back-to-back nights:
I don’t know what the heck DeRozan was thinking with that first one-footed three, but it’s a good shot if it goes in, I guess! It’s worth noting that if he misses these two shots, the Bulls then lose to a mediocre Washington team and a bad Indiana team, which would completely change the conversation around them.
Chicago is very good, but I just can’t shake the feeling that the Bulls are in the second tier of Eastern Conference teams, below Milwaukee and Brooklyn. They do have an interesting trade piece in second-year forward Patrick Williams, who injured his wrist at the start of the season and is likely to miss the remainder of the season.
Regardless of where you place them in the East’s pecking order, it’s clear that their championship window is now. I’d love to see them move Williams for another large wing or mobile big with defensive chops. Otherwise it’s tough to see them getting past the East’s big dogs.
Buy: Ben Simmons will be traded this year
There’s been a ton of posturing by Daryl Morey, the 76ers president of basketball operations, that he will not sell low on Simmons no matter what.
I don’t believe him for a second. The 76ers, riding a four-game winning streak, seem likely to stay above the play-in fray even without Simmons. Joel Embiid can be the best player in a seven-game series no matter the opponent, and the supporting cast has been shooting well and playing hard (except ostensible second-banana Tobias Harris, who has forgotten how to hit a three-pointer).
The turmoil of this NBA season has given Morey more leverage. There are a lot of teams, particularly in the West, that think they should be better than they are. That opens up opportunities for trades.
Simmons is not coming back to Philly, that much is clear. The bridges are burned. Simmons is also represented by Klutch Sports, the same agency repping Tyrese Maxey, who’s having a breakout year in Simmons’s absence. Klutch won’t be pushing for a Philly reconciliation.
I am unclear on what the eventual trade return for Simmons will be, but I do know that this team with a Simmons-caliber player would be right up there with Miami and Chicago in the East. They present a matchup problem that even the Bucks don’t particularly want to face.
Hold: The Hawks will miss the playoffs
It’s inexplicable that this team was in the Eastern Conference Finals just last year but this year finds itself 12th (!!) in the East. They’ve returned practically the same team but have not been able to find a groove all season.
Talent-wise, Atlanta is clearly a step above many of the teams ahead of them in the playoff race. Trae Young is having a career year and is a premier offensive conductor. He’s so good at probing defenses and bending them in unique ways to get the exact shot or pass that he wants. John Collins has gotten better every year, and remains a soaring, sharpshooting stretch-four with improved defensive chops.
But that’s it for the good news. This team’s depth is supposed to be its biggest advantage, but someone forgot to tell the role players.
Big Clint Capela, after a monster ‘20-’21 season, has fallen off badly on both sides of the ball. He’s still solid, but nowhere near the beast he was last year. Bogdan Bogdanovic has lost his touch as the bombs-away wing. DeAndre Hunter is hurt again, and Kevin Huerter has lost his confidence and a consistent role in the offense. Danilo Galinari can’t do anything anymore except stand int the corner and shoot threes.
This team needs a shake up. Looking at young wing Cam Reddish’s advanced metrics briefly made me go blind, but he’s hitting 40% from deep and has shown flashes of being a two-way stud. He needs to find an environment with less competition for minutes so he can explore his game without the fear of being yanked, and there is a lot of trade interest in him around the league.
For all the talk about the Knicks and Celtics, and how badly they’re playing, this Hawks team was better than both last season and is worse than both this season. Something is broken, and a trade is likely the only thing that can revitalize them enough to get back into the playoff mix.
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