Thanksgiving has come and gone. Christmas is around the corner. In other words: The NBA season is heating up.
With that in mind, it’s time for our weekly look around The Association at who’s hot and who’s not.
Rising: Jose Alvarado
Remember when Jose Alvarado was basically just a nice story, another player who, mostly thanks to his dogged and persistent defense — and his penchant for sly backcourt steals — had found a role in the NBA despite going undrafted?
Well, this season Alvarado is proving that he’s more than just a spark plug off the bench. Last week, he dropped 38 points — yes, you read that right — on the Denver Nuggets thanks to a scorching 8-for-11 performance from deep. On the season, Alvarado is averaging 10 points, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals in just over 21 minutes, all while shooting an impressive 40.4% from behind the arc.
Basically, he’s become one of the league’s best backup point guards. This isn’t subjective, either. The Pelicans have outscored opponents by a blistering 14.4 points per 100 non-garbage time possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Alvarado is a key cog of a Pelicans squad that has established itself as one of the best in the West. New Orleans’ 15-8 record is the conference’s second-best, and the squad boasts the league’s sixth-best offensive rating, third-best defensive rating and third-best net rating.
The Pelicans are absolutely stacked. Alvarado isn’t the driver of their success, but he’s certainly a major part. Just ask the team’s fans:
Falling: The Chicago Bulls Being a Team of Interest
Remember last year, when the Bulls, for a moment, had the best record in the Eastern Conference? Remember DeMar DeRozan was dominating in the clutch and being tossed into MVP conversations? And Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were wreaking havoc on the perimeter?
Things have gone south FAST in Chicago. Ball has yet to play a game this season and it sort of seems like maybe his career might be in jeopardy?
Patrick Williams, the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft, hasn’t lived up to expectations. Nikola Vučević, who the Bulls surrendered two first-round picks and Wendell Carter Jr. for in February 2021, is a stretch-five who struggles from deep (34.6 3P%) and doesn’t protect the rim (0.5 blocks per game). DeRozan is still great, but he’s got nothing around him. The Bulls are 9-14 and have the league’s fifth-worst offensive attack. If not for punching above their weight on D (12th in the NBA), they might be at the forefront of the “Brick for Vic” sweepstakes.
If the Bulls were smart, they’d be pivoting that way. This current core has no future. They should trade Vučević, shop DeRozan and hit the reset.
Rising: Devin Booker’s MVP Odds
How have the Phoenix Suns jumped out to the best record in the Western Conference (16-7) despite Chris Paul having missed 13 games? The answer is that Booker has made another leap and put the offense on his back. He’s being asked to create more than ever and is thriving in that role. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd:
Booker has upped his scoring (29.1 points per game) and 3-point shooting (38.9%) to career-high bests. He’s also dishing out a career-best six assists per game and has just put up some monster numbers recently.
The Suns, obviously, aren’t going anywhere without Chris Paul. But Booker growing even more as a creator will certainly help come playoff time.
Falling: Trae Young
First off, Young is putting up some awful shooting numbers. He’s hit just 30.3% of his deep attempts and is shooting a gross 41.1% from the field. Yes, the overall stats are what you’d expect (27.8 points and 9.6 assists per game), and the offense for the Hawks — who are a solid 13-10 — once again looks helpless whenever Young sits.
But Young is still awful on defense. And he’s still hard to play with on offense. And now we have the report, courtesy of The Athletic, that he no-showed Friday night’s game against the Nuggets after getting into an argument with head coach Nate McMillan during the team’s morning shootaround over whether Young, while nursing a shoulder injury, would participate in that session.
Young said, “It’s hard for people who don’t know the full situation to understand it … Inside here, we’re all good.”
McMillan added his own clarifications, which you can watch here. Either way, things don’t exactly appear to be great in Atlanta. And Young, remember, was the impetus for the firing of former head coach Lloyd Pierce. That’s not to say that he’s completely in the wrong here. Maybe there is more to this story. But the Hawks have given Young more power and agency than almost any player has in the league. It’s time for him to start living up to that responsibility.
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Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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