Welcome to the weekly NBA stock report where we go around the league and examine whose stock is rising and falling.
In this week’s edition of the NBA Stock Report, a pair of Toronto Raptors head in opposite directions, a big-time point guard is proving he should have been an all-star, and a veteran steps up in the wake of some key injuries to his teammates.
Cory Joseph: A Toronto-area native, Joseph’s numbers aren’t going to jump out at you. For the year, he’s averaging a modest 9.1 points and 3.2 assists in over 25 minutes of action per game. But the numbers don’t do justice to how valuable the backup point guard is to the team.
When Dwane Casey opts to play his two point guards side by side in the backcourt, Joseph frequently serves as the primary ball handler, taking some of the pressure off workhorse Kyle Lowry. Additionally, when Joseph and Lowry share the floor with Bismack Biyombo, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross, they are the most effective lineup in the NBA in terms of net rating with a massive +31.7 point differential per 100 possessions (minimum 150 minutes played).
The individual statistics are also now starting to reflect just how instrumental the former San Antonio Spur is to his hometown club. Over the past 13 games, Joseph has reached double-digit scoring figures 11 times, punctuated by Wednesday night's 18-point, six-assist performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Oh, and he still plays the excellent defence he's hung his hat on throughout his career.
Damian Lillard: Despite his gaudy stat line, Lillard was left off the Western Conference all-star team. It seems as if he's taken the snub personally and is playing the best basketball of his career. His scoring output over his last six games? 33, 31, 51, 30, 34 and 23 points. Lillard wreaks havoc on opposing point guards with his combination of speed, athleticism and shooting. Maybe coaches will think twice about leaving 'Dame' off the all-star roster in the future.
Behind their leader's heroics, the youthful Trail Blazers are one of the best stories in the league. After losing 80 per cent of their starting lineup in the off-season, they occupy the sixth playoff spot out West thanks to wins in 11 of the past 13. A championship isn't realistic this year, but Portland is undoubtedly a team on the rise.
Luol Deng: With Chris Bosh's season (and possibly career) in jeopardy and Dwyane Wade missing the first two games after the all-star break, the Miami Heat have leaned on Deng heavily of late. The former first-round draft pick has responded in a big way with four consecutive double-doubles.
Miami may not be as big a threat as many made them out to be earlier in the year, but with Deng finding the fountain of youth and Hassan Whiteside's continued emergence as a marquee center, Erik Spoelstra's squad is making out just fine, currently holding the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Luis Scola: The Raptors are rolling right now, posting a 17-3 record in their past 20 games. However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows as Scola has hit a prolonged slump, failing to score more than eight points in any of his last nine outings.
The three-point proficiency he was showing off early in the season has seemingly abandoned him as he's only knocked down six of his 21 attempts from beyond the arc in the month of February. His lack of foot speed at this stage of his career allows opposing power forwards to expose him on the defensive end as well.
The Argentinian's spot in the starting lineup appears to be safe for the time being due to the dominant reserves-plus-Lowry lineup, but he may find himself in a bench role come playoff time.
The Phoenix Suns: The Suns have reached a new low after falling to the Joe Johnson-less Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night for their 13th consecutive loss. What started out as a promising season has gone off the rails completely. Markieff Morris and his baggage were shipped away to Washington at the trade deadline but Phoenix still can't get back in the win column. Brandon Knight is due back from injury soon but he won't be enough to save this trainwreck.
Kobe's impact on the Lakers: Remember that list of the best lineups in the NBA? Well the three worst units league-wide all include Kobe Bryant. To be fair, Los Angeles Lakers teammates Jordan Clarkson and Roy Hibbert appear on all three as well, but it speaks volumes as to just how low Bryant's game has sunk. Not too long ago, the sure-fire Hall of Famer was able to carry lineups all by his lonesome.
Is anyone really noticing though? Los Angeles is soaking up the farewell tour and is headed for what should be a top-three pick come the draft.