NBA News: Risers & Fallers for Week 6 of the 2018-19 Season

Juancho HernangomezWe are close to the one-quarter mark of the NBA season. Many early-season trends have normalized by now, but there are still plenty of surprises every week on the individual and team level.

Let’s discuss some of the teams that have both boosted and dropped their stock in the past week.

NBA Week 6 Risers

Denver Nuggets (14-7, No. 2 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)

The Nuggets have been one of the streakiest teams in the NBA. They began the year 9-1, then lost six out of seven games. Now, they’re on a four-game winning streak again, with a combined winning margin of 66 points against four teams playing solid basketball right now.

Denver’s defense continues to impress thanks to a cohesive team effort, and the offense has been very good, too. This is mostly without the services of key players Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas.

A lot of credit should go to the Nuggets’ bench for holding things together. Juancho Hernangomez, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley have all stepped their games way up, and Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee have both continued performing as solid subs.

Los Angeles Clippers (15-6, No. 1 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)

This stretch of great Clippers basketball is lasting way longer than I thought. Los Angeles has now gone 9-1 since November 9, scoring at least 104 points in each one of those contests.

There are several players on this roster who need to get more respect. Tobias Harris is averaging 21.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on a ridiculous 52.8/44/82.6 shooting slash. He belongs on every All-Star ballot if voting were to start today. Danilo Gallinari is averaging 18.9 points per game on the best efficiency of his career. Montrezl Harrell has gone from “good reserve big man” to “having one of the best seasons by a bench player in recent memory.”

Los Angeles is finishing off games really well right now. In games that are decided by six points or fewer, the Clippers are 6-0. I’m still not totally sold on their defense, either. But for now, the Clippers are an awesome early-season success story.

Detroit Pistons (11-7, No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)

The Pistons have gone under the radar, but they continue to march forward in the Eastern Conference. A three-game winning streak has lifted them into the top half of the East playoff bracket.

Detroit has been solid on both ends of the floor this season. Blake Griffin has cooled off since the first several games of the season, but he is still a solid first option for the offense. Andre Drummond is averaging 18.7 points and 16 rebounds per game, both career highs.

Outside of those two, no one else has really been that great overall. But the role players are doing a good job staggering their good and bad performances to keep the Pistons competitive. When one or two of the role players are off, others usually step up to compensate for it. The Pistons’ consistent dominance on the glass is always a huge factor in their winning efforts.

NBA Week 6 Fallers

Houston Rockets (9-11, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)

Are the Rockets over their issues? Based on the past week, absolutely not. Houston started the week with an embarrassing loss to the league-worst Cleveland Cavaliers. Then it lost in overtime to the Washington Wizards and got waxed by the Dallas Mavericks at home on Wednesday.

The Rockets are definitely missing the departed Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Both guys could soak up huge minutes at either forward spot and play great defense while not hurting the offense. Houston didn’t adequately replace them, and with some injury issues to Chris Paul and Gerald Green, the Rockets’ poor depth is now getting exposed.

Right now, Houston is giving rotation minutes to Danuel House, Gary Clark, Michael Carter-Williams and Isaiah Hartenstein. Nothing against any of those guys, but they aren’t players that should be getting significant playing time on a team with championship aspirations.

The trio of James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela means the Rockets should eventually figure things out and work their way into a playoff spot. But they really need to fix their depth and issues on defense.

Memphis Grizzlies (12-8, No. 6 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-3)

No one expected the Grizzlies to stay as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for very long. But it is a little bit disappointing how quickly Memphis lost that spot. The Grizzlies have lost three games in a row now, including a bad home loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

One problem for this team in these past three losses has been maintaining leads. The Grizzlies had leads of 12 and 17 points against the Knicks and Toronto Raptors in the second half, respectively, but still lost both games. They were up eight points on the Los Angeles Clippers with two minutes left, but ended up losing in overtime.

The biggest reason for those issues is that Memphis can go through long dry spells on offense. The Grizzlies are 21st in offensive efficiency and just don’t have great personnel on that end. We’ll see if the team can figure out some way to fix its ability to score more consistently and keep leads as a result.

Brooklyn Nets (8-14, No. 10 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)

The Nets continue to miss Caris LeVert, who suffered an ankle injury a couple weeks ago. Brooklyn was 6-8 with a point differential of minus-0.9 before his injury. Since then, the team is just 2-6 with a point differential of minus-3.8. The point differential isn’t that much worse, but the scoring punch LeVert brought was key at winning close games for the Nets.

Replacing LeVert is difficult. D’Angelo Russell is talented but extremely inconsistent. He had a 38-point masterpiece against the Sixers on Sunday, but he sandwiched that performance with two games totaling just 19 points on 8-of-35 shooting. Other players like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris are more steady contributors who don’t necessarily explode for star performances as much.

Defense may be the bigger problem, though. Brooklyn is not a particularly long or athletic team, and it really struggles to secure defensive rebounds and protect the interior without fouling.