This week’s Risers and Fallers list was difficult to choose. Seven different NBA teams won all of their games this week and six teams lost all of their games. Teams are settling into very clear habits, it seems.
However, three teams stood out as improving their stock the most and three other teams dropped their stock the most. Let’s talk about them.
NBA Week 4 Risers
Dallas Mavericks (10-5, No. 5 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
Luka Doncic has officially thrust himself in the MVP conversation. In fact, he probably deserves the No. 1 spot at this point. Dallas’ 20-year-old point forward is somehow just 0.1 points and 0.3 assists away from averaging a 30-point triple-double (29.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 9.7 assists). He is doing it while averaging just 33.9 minutes per game and accumulating an excellent 63.2 true-shooting percentage.
Heading into his second season, I expected Doncic to take a clear step forward in his development. I didn’t expect him to transform into a full-fledged superstar who can change a supporting cast of mostly role players into an upper-tier Western Conference squad.
Aside from Doncic’s all-around exploits, the Mavs are thriving on excellent shooting from three-point range, a defense that doesn’t foul and contributions of a host of role players with varying skill sets. In particular, Delon Wright, Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson have been very good on the perimeter in very different ways.
Milwaukee Bucks (12-3, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
The Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors have all had unexpectedly hot starts to the year. The Philadelphia 76ers have been extremely streaky. The storylines for those teams have almost made the Bucks an afterthought.
Alas, Milwaukee has the best record of them all after a 4-0 week and after six straight wins, four of which have come on the road. Luka Doncic also has himself quite the MVP competition coming from the Cream City. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 32.4 points, 14.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks in 11 November games despite playing only 33.3 minutes per contest.
I still have questions about Milwaukee’s uninspiring amount of offensive firepower after Antetokounmpo and their reliance on role players hitting threes in the postseason. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is once again pushing all the right buttons this regular season.
Los Angeles Clippers (11-5, No. 4 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
My preseason title favorite hasn’t had the most ideal circumstances to start the season. Superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed a combined 16 games already. Key role-playing guards Landry Shamet and Patrick Beverley have both missed time, as well.
Leonard and George are both healthy again and the Clippers had some really nice wins this week. They beat the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics, who entered games against Los Angeles with records of 11-4 and 11-2, respectively. They also beat the Atlanta Hawks by 49 points.
The Clippers still need time to reach their potential, as the squad has been somewhat inconsistent so far and Leonard and George are in the process of finding their offensive roles. They have had some great offensive and great defensive moments, but putting them together is the challenge.
What we saw from L.A. over the past week was definitely a step in the right direction.
NBA Week 4 Fallers
San Antonio Spurs (5-11, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
I’m aware that the Spurs were on the “fallers” list last week as they moved from a 5-3 record to a 5-7 record. You would think that four-game losing streak would have created some desperation, but that was not at all the case. San Antonio’s issues appear to be even more problematic than we originally thought. The squad lost four more games this week to bring its losing streak to eight games. If the Spurs lose against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, they will have the franchise’s longest losing streak since the 1988-89 season.
The team’s issues are somewhat simple. The Spurs just can’t defend, as they have allowed at least 111 points in nine straight games. Back in the Tim Duncan era, San Antonio hardly ever allowed that many points in consecutive games, much less nine games.
The Spurs continue to trot out veteran-laden lineups of poor and unmotivated defenders. They are at a youth and athleticism disadvantage every night and the opposition makes them pay for it. How long will it be until Gregg Popovich and company make significant changes?
Atlanta Hawks (4-11, No. 15 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
While the Spurs are bad and old, at least the Hawks have a bit more excuse for their ineptitude. Atlanta is playing a bunch of very young players, as five of its top nine minute-getters this season are either first or second-year players. Many of them, especially rookie wings Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter, are still extremely rough around the edges. But boy, were the Hawks bad last week.
Atlanta lost games by 49, 21, 8 and 25 points, putting its overall season point differential (minus-10.2) in close competition with the Golden State Warriors’ (minus-10.3) for the worst differential in the NBA.
Even rising star point guard Trae Young fell down to earth this week after a hot start. Young averaged 21.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.5 turnovers per game on a 49.4 true-shooting percentage, which is not great efficiency from a clear No. 1 option.
Atlanta is still missing power forward John Collins, who is serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. When Collins gets back, I imagine the Hawks will return to respectability.
Cleveland Cavaliers (4-11, No. 13 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
The Cavs gave the Hawks a good run for their money in terms of who had the worst week in the NBA this week. Cleveland also lost all four of its games, falling by margins of 19, 18, 24 and 42 points.
It is hard to pull the plug on a young duo when both guys have yet to turn 22 years old, but the guard combo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland has not been surprising. Both guys are ball-dominant, shoot-first guards who aren’t big enough to defend shooting guards. They are both clearly below the league average in true-shooting percentage. Their combined assist-to-turnover ratio is about 1.38-to-1. You usually look for a ratio of more like 2 or 3-to-1 from guards.
Cleveland just lacks size and physicality at so many positions and many of its players are more finesse than power. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the Cavs jump into the playoff hunt this season.