Buy, Hold, Sell: Part 2
Examining Zion, the Nuggets, and the Nets
Hello, everyone! We’re back with another round of buy, hold, and sell. As a general rule, I’m buying if I think the general public is undervaluing a stock, holding if I believe in something, and selling if the public overrates a player or team.
Buy: The Nuggets will win the West
Jokic is playing the best basketball of his life, which is saying something for a current MVP. He amazes every night with absurd stat lines and clutch plays.
TNT’s Candace Parker pointed out that players are more willing to cut hard when they know Jokic will find them. This elevates the surrounding cast far beyond what those same players might do on another team. You’ll never see a player on Denver half-heartedly jog through a lazy cut.
Coach Mike Malone also deserves credit for instilling an offensive system that maximizes the off-ball chaos while maintaining pristine spacing. There’s almost always one guy cutting baseline or flashing to the middle with three other players ready to shoot on the perimeter. If teams double Jokic, that spacing makes it very difficult to help-and-recover in time to prevent an open shot.
Watch below as Jokic sets the pick then drives towards the right corner. Focus on the two non-Jokic Nuggets in that space:
It’s subtle, but this is a perfect play to show what I’m talking about. Will Barton (#6, with the headband), stationed on the corner, realizes his man is watching Jokic and cuts baseline. You’ll see his defender hilariously realize he has no idea where Barton went, and he’ll double-team Jokic in a panic. Jeff Green sees the space developing and begins to moonwalk towards the corner. Green’s defender, caught between the cutting Barton and the backpedaling Green, wisely chooses to guard Barton, but that lets the double-teamed Jokic hit the wide-open Green for an easy step-back jumper.
Denver has the ninth-ranked offense in the league. Now is when I remind you that their second- and third-best players are coming back.
Jamal Murray is the perfect complement to Jokic, a sweet-shooting guard with boundless confidence and a proven playoff track record. He’s equally comfortable running off handoffs, spotting up from deep, or creating his own shot off the dribble.
Michael Porter Jr. is what the kids call a walking bucket. He’s a giant praying mantis with an insanely high release point who doesn’t bother trying to get open because he can shoot over the top of any defender at any time. He’s one of the best difficult shot makers in the league, and he excels as a tertiary option who can fire away without having to worry about minor concerns like passing.
Both players coming back soon will instantly turbocharge an offense that might be among the top three in the league at full strength. It may take time for Porter and Murray to shake off some rust, but the Nuggets have been so good even without them that I would pick Denver to beat any of their likely playoff opponents in the first round.
To be clear, I don’t think Denver is likely to win the West. Phoenix has earned the right to be overwhelming favorites, and Golden State will have something to say, too. But the Nuggets have a better chance than people acknowledge, and they could easily shock the world (but not you, dear reader!) this spring.
Sell: The Nets are the most dangerous team in the East
Listen: I understand the appeal. As I and many others have pointed out, gargantuan point-non-shooter Ben Simmons is a great on-paper fit for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Durant might well be the best pure basketball player in the world, and Kyrie seems increasingly likely to play in home playoff games.
But I want to see something from them. The Nets are 3-17 in their last 20 games. That’s last in the league! LAST. I know Durant missed a lot of those games, and Irving missed a lot of those games, and Harden missed a lot of those games, and Simmons missed all of them. But other teams have weathered absences far better than that, and I’m tired of making excuses for Brooklyn.
This team is entirely theoretical still, and it’s hard for me to imagine both Durant and Kyrie remaining healthy for an entire playoff run, given their numerous previous injury issues. The Nets, to this point, are paper tigers.
The availability of their stars is the greatest concern, but the roster has other weaknesses, most notably at center. Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nic Claxton all have different strengths and weaknesses, but none are a plus starter at this point.
Wing Joe Harris’s absence, as maybe the only two-way role player on the entire roster, looms large; he was a poor man’s Klay Thompson for this team in the past despite some playoff inconsistency.
The most likely playoff seeding right now has Philadelphia and Brooklyn playing each other in the first round (assuming, which I shouldn’t, that the Nets even make it out of the play-in tournament). It will be incredibly entertaining theater, and we’ll learn a whole lot more about both teams if that comes to pass.
Hold: Zion’s return makes the Pelicans a dangerous team
The Pelicans have been on an absolute roll of late, steamrolling four teams (including the Lakers) before losing in OT to a scorching hot Nuggets team. Newly-acquired guard CJ McCollum has been a revelation in New Orleans, pouring in buckets from everywhere on the court and fitting in seamlessly with Brandon Ingram, who continues his strong all-around play.
With Herb Jones locking people down on the perimeter and elephantine center Jonas Valanciunas playing well on both sides, the Pellies have enough juice to win any given game, no matter the opponent.
Now, reports are coming out that Zion has been cleared for basketball activities, and it looks increasingly likely that he’ll come back before the end of the season.
This could be yet another tease. At this point, nobody would be surprised if David Griffin came out tomorrow and said that Zion was shut down for the season. But as a reminder, Zion does things like this on a regular basis:
Last year, Zion was an efficiency machine, bulldozing opponents into so much dust. He might not be quite at that level this season, but with a stronger supporting cast, Williamson is still going to put one hell of a scare into any opponent… or at least leave them black-and-blue.