The 2018-19 NBA season continues to be one of the most unexpected campaigns in recent history.
The prohibitive favorites in their conferences (the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics) haven’t found a groove. Teams with mediocre expectations (LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks) are near the top of their conferences, and young rebuilding teams (Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings) are somehow in playoff spots at the moment.
All of the chaos and unexpected results on a nightly basis make it tough to know how good teams really are. But we’ve continued to track the trends of teams around the league. Here are three big risers and three big fallers from the past week.
NBA Week 5 Risers
Toronto Raptors (16-4, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0
This is already the Raptors’ third appearance as a riser or faller this year. They were risers first after an amazing start to the season. They hit a rough patch to make the fallers list last week, but four straight wins (the longest streak in the league right now) has them back as risers.
The Raptors have gotten spectacular balance from their roster in the past week. Superstar Kawhi Leonard has led them with 22.5 points per contest in the last four games, but Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Fred VanVleet and Danny Green are all averaging at least 11.3 points per game in that same stretch. It is a luxury to have so many players putting up efficient offensive numbers. The team’s defense has gotten back to its stout ways from the early part of the season.
Keep in mind that, in the Raptors’ four-game win streak, Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby and CJ Miles combined to miss eight games. Toronto has been thrashing teams even with depleted wing depth.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-7, No. 7 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-1)
This inclusion may actually be a bit delayed for the Lakers. They were actually 3-0 last week and have won seven of their last eight games as a whole. Things have come together in Tinseltown after that difficult 2-5 start.
It would be nice for Lakers fans if this good stretch were due to development from the team’s young prospects, like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. While they have been part of the defensive surge for LA (along with recently acquired big man Tyson Chandler), they have struggled on offense.
Really, it is LeBron James doing best-player-in-the-universe stuff to get the Lakers where they are. In Los Angeles’ seven most recent wins, James has put up 32 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 55.5 percent from the field and 49 percent from behind the three-point arc.
New York Knicks (6-14, No. 12 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 2-2)
The Knicks’ 2-2 record from last week isn’t anything amazing, but those two wins came in the most recent games the team has played. New York beat the Boston Celtics on the road on Wednesday before beating the New Orleans Pelicans at home on Friday. Those are two consecutive quality wins for a team focusing on developing its youth right now.
In the last four games, there have been some very unexpected positive contributions from Knicks players. The Knicks have several guys on their rosters who could be considered recent draft busts. Three of those guys (Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke and Noah Vonleh) are all putting up at least 12.8 points on better than 50 percent shooting from the field in their last four games.
On the other end of the spectrum, undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier looks like the real deal. Trier has not been limited by the low expectations for him entering the season. In his last three games, the former Arizona standout has averaged 14 points per game on a sizzling shooting slash of 71.4/83.3/70.
NBA Week 5 Fallers
Boston Celtics (10-9, No. 6 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
Most people expected the Celtics to win around 60 games this season and take the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Well, they’ll need to go 50-13 the rest of the way to reach that win total, and the Raptors have already gapped them by 5.5 games.
Boston limped its way to a 1-3 record last week, only defeating the Atlanta Hawks, who are probably the worst team in the NBA. Overall this season, the team has had plenty of stretches where it looks dominant and plenty others where it looks lost, especially on offense.
The biggest area for improvement for the Celtics continues to be wing play. Youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have not improved their impact from last season, and Gordon Hayward is still finding his form after returning from his serious leg injury. The potential with those three is tremendous, but they just aren’t coming close to it right now.
Golden State Warriors (13-7, No. 4 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
The Warriors beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-97 on Friday. It was a much-needed victory for the defending champs, who were in the midst of their first four-game losing streak in six seasons. In those four games, the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder disposed of the Warriors by a combined 64 points.
We are seeing just how much Stephen Curry and Draymond Green matter to the team’s identity. Curry is an ace shooter, dribbler, finisher and passer who makes everything flow so much easier on offense, and Green anchors the defense. The 28-year-old forward also moves the ball well to get easy shots for his fellow All-Star teammates.
However, established studs like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala are all still healthy. There’s no reason that the stacked Warriors should be quite this affected by their absent star teammates. We’ll see if Friday’s blowout win can help them regain their momentum.
Utah Jazz (8-11, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
The Jazz get the dubious distinction of being the first team to make the fallers list two weeks in a row. Things have gone from disappointing to downright troubling in Utah, as the team is now on a three-game losing streak and has lost five of its last six games.
Even worse, Donovan Mitchell bruised his rib in the team’s Friday loss to the Lakers. The Jazz already struggle with having enough players who can generate their own offense, so it won’t be good if Mitchell misses time.
If Utah’s jumpers start to fall, things will look a lot better. The Jazz have hit a paltry 26.6 percent on three-pointers in their last seven games. But even still, Utah needs to find some consistency from the free-throw line and in its defensive effort.