Home NBA The NBA elevator; who’s moving up and who’s moving down?

The NBA elevator; who’s moving up and who’s moving down?

The league is like an elevator; if someone is moving up, someone else is coming down.

Going down

Trae Young

At least when Damian Lillard draws 6.2 fouls per game over the 2019–20 season, he’s finishing through contact and dunking on your team’s big man.

At least when James Harden drives into the key and extends his arms, he gets hacked. On some of those step-back threes, Harden gets absolutely cleaned. Up.

Trae Young has found a way to get to the free throw line without getting fouled, making the 2020–21 Hawks one of the most unwatchable teams of all time.

You know the guy who takes issue with your choice of words rather than the point you’re trying to make? That’s what it’s like when Ice Trae hunts for fouls.

Like, bro, stop getting hung up on your own agenda, you were born into a white upper-middle-class family, when it comes to any discourse around any sort of discrimination, all you have to do is listen.

Rookie and college Trae was such a fun story, and even year two Trae averaged a hair under 30 and 10, but the Trae or Luka Dončic “narrative” is dead in the water. Luka, in a down year, is more valuable than Young can ever aspire to be.

I know this is as a result of how biased American media is towards their guys, and they’ve put accountability on the little guy YET AGAIN (thanks capitalism) but this is the best I’ve got at a grassroots movement, and if I were to delegitimise an NBA player along the way, I’m glad it could be Trae Young.

Eric Bledsoe

Mini LeBron — the longer you spend in New Orleans the more I miss your time playing for the Clippers. I don’t know why, but you putting up 6.7/2.6/3.0 in 197 games in LA was an awesome viewing experience before you got your shine as the starting point guard of the Phoenix Suns, next to starting point guard Goran Dragić and starting point guard Isaiah Thomas. Except wait, you didn’t wanna be there.

Your time in Milwaukee was inoffensive and you offered a skillset that complemented a lot of their success, but in New Orleans, your relationship with the organisation is that of Vučević’s in Orlando and Beal’s in Washington — whatever the opposite of mutually beneficial is.

You’re supposed to be one of the steady heads yet you lose your cool the most. Every time you shoot it means that Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker aren’t shooting.

His fit for the current juncture of his career at NOLA is questionable on both a basketball and organisational level, so maybe I’m looking at it from the wrong perspective, but I’ve already written this paragraph and there’s no way I’m going back on my word now.

Victor Oladipo

Thicky Vicky is a likeable guy with a likeable game. His career has taken on many different roles and varying levels of health.

In Orlando, he and Tobias Harris were two of the most fun young guns to watch and NBA fans got to catch both of them at the same time.

There was that crazy time sandwiched next to an MVP Russell Westbrook when he had to sit in the corner and wait until Westbrook shot it or wanted an assist. NBA fans knew he wasn’t being maximised during his time in Oklahoma but it was interesting because we all knew he had more than what Brodie was giving him.

Next stop, Indiana. We got to see prime Oladipo and what a sight to behold: 37 percent from three, 23.1 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a league-leading 2.4 steals — whopping!

He was recognised with an All-Defence and All-NBA selection, as well as the 2017–18 Most Improved Player, as he should have.

He is now in Houston, next to my boy John Wall and I’m sure we’ve all seen graphics of their defensive rating since the Harden trade, but there just isn’t that pizazz that Orlando Oladipo played with.

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His career draws parallels to Blake Griffin’s in the sense that both he and Blake have had to adjust their games to how their bodies have transformed, going away from athleticism and allowing the game to come to them. With 20 injuries and setbacks of various severities since November of 2017, there’s no wonder Oladipo’s stock is falling in terms of how fun he is to watch.

Victor (and Marco) I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Domantas Sabonis

I’ve been tossing and turning (both of those are lies) as to why Sabonis is on this list, and I think I’ve cracked the code. I see parallels between Sabonis and 2017–2020 Joel Embiid — outstanding post scorer who makes you pull your hair out when defending outside of two feet from the basket with no ability to adjust their offensive game to complement their teammates.

These issues compound when the other centre on the team is Myles Turner; a gun defender who’s leading the league in blocks by a long shot, and, in theory, is a floor spacer.

In the Turner or Sabonis discussion, I have been and always will be on team Turner as he is undeniably the prototypical big in today’s league. They’re trying Sabonis and Turner this year, and of course, they have T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert to come back, but whichever way you chop it, they’re 17–20 on the young season.

Yet again, maybe I’m being unfair and taking my frustration out on the wrong party, maybe the fact that the Pacers are limiting both Sabonis’ and Turner’s potential is what I should be highlighting; who knows, I’m really not that smart of a person, especially when you think critically about it.

Anthony Davis

Oh! Oh did you get poked in your eye again Anthony Davis? That’s crazy that’s like the sixth time this quarter alone!


The delays on the replay reviews weren’t enough unnecessary and avoidable dead time throughout an NBA game, let’s spend more time doing something that isn’t playing basketball.

It’s crazy to think the Los Angeles Lakers won the chip last year, and AD’s talent isn’t even close to being maximised. New Orleans AD had multiple eight and nine block games, as well as a ten block triple-double on his 25th birthday.

His 59 and 20 game in a 111–106 win against the Detroit Pistons was dominance like we hadn’t seen for a while.

Also, shoutout to Jrue Holiday for finding 20 of his own in that game. Again, I believe the pieces that are around AD in LA don’t help the cause, but ultimately, he is the player that has become less fun to watch.

Searching “free Dawkins” after school when the Pelicans played, you were never shocked at the ridiculous stat line Davis delivered, but that same aura just doesn’t surround him anymore.

On the up

Keldon Johnson

From the shitty where the shkinny carry shtrong heat, Vince Stap- I mean Keldon Johnson is a drawcard every night. I find myself routinely starting Spurs games to see how Dejounte Murray is going and finishing them because I can’t stop watching Johnson. He plays with such fearlessness and confidence, years ahead of where a 21-year-old should be.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Greg Popovich’s influence, and the Spurs scouting philosophy, looking for players who have already gotten over themselves.

The credit is all due to Johnson, obviously, but I believe this symbiotic relationship best illustrates why his stock is rising. Great work on the last album, and keep ballin’ out, Keldon.

Christian Wood

The crush I have on Christian Wood started at the end of the 2019–20 regular season and has accelerated exponentially since the start of this season. With similarities to Anthony Davis (hey, he sounds familiar) Christian Wood has a boundless array of moves to create opportunities for himself.

An ultra-talented scorer with a solid defensive foundation on which he can build upon, the 25-year-old has a potential All-Star future ahead of him. He demands so much attention from opposing defences whether he has the ball or not and Houston’s recent struggles reflect the absence of his gravity (…as well as a few other things).

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He is extremely assertive with his attack, bringing you into his realm and never falling into yours. I hate using the word alpha, as it’s usually a word that strictly insecure men, who often actually demonstrate a lot of beta tendencies, use, but, colloquially, we all know what I mean by it and it’s the easiest way to illustrate who Wood is on the basketball court, so there ya go.

Caris LeVert

Every time Caris gets his opportunity he stands out as an all-around scorer who isn’t afraid to go at anyone. His wiry frame and ability to negotiate any defender while playing with an infectious joy and seemingly constant smile is sure to get any fan on board.

He has always played alongside or behind other shot creators, so he is usually criminally under-recognised, especially considering how smart the average basketball fan is.

In Indiana, he will most likely be their first option on the wing, so strap in if you aren’t yet on the Caris train, or if you are on the train but you have yet to strap in. Boasting averages of 23.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.8 assists in the bubble to end the regular season, and 20.3 points, 6 rebounds and 9.5 assists in the bubble playoffs, he’s a lock for the winners in this article, especially moving forward.

He has great body language, never dropping his head after a miss and always on to the next play. That ever expressive face that always seems to be doing some form of smile, and that accompanied by some of the most positive vibes I’ve ever seen from an NBA player forces you to be a fan of the guy.

James Harden

Having led the league in scoring the past three years, with averages of 34.3, 36.1 and 30.4, you may be wondering why James Harden is in the winners of this article, considering he’s currently at 25.3.

Over these seasons, he has had a very contentious play style that seemed to split the perspective on him, with most people falling on the anti-Harden side at the conclusion of the 2019–20 season.

High usage, extreme use of the high pick-and-roll and plays that only ever ended in a Harden field goal attempt or a potential Harden assist.

I believe the Westbrook MVP season (2016–17) was the best version of Harden we’ve ever seen, as he was willing and wanting to move the ball early and often which ended up in him averaging a career-high and mind-boggling 11.2 assists.

If you’ve seen any passage of play by Nets Harden, you know exactly why he’s in the winners. Emulating that 2016–17 season, his willingness to pass and include everyone on the court while playing energised has manifested in him averaging 11.2 assists in 25 games with the Nets. The constant pressure he applies offensively is overwhelming to opposing teams, combine that with the talents of Kyrie and KD and you may be reading about the 2020–21 NBA champions.

Julius Randle

It may be the million dribble-hand-offs Julius Randle has done this season, or the billion in-and-outs or the trillion hesi’s, whichever you think it is we can all agree that Randle is climbing up everyone’s fun-to-watch power rankings.

The 2020–21 Julius Randle is the Julius Randle everyone (or maybe just me) wanted to see coming out of college. A hyper-aggressive ball handler attacking from an awkward position and a mismatch on every possession due to his above average (but not elite) ability to do most things on the offensive end.

Wings and guards on me? Cool, I’ll turn into Zach Randolph (Randle-ph, if you will).

Baguette Biyombo (Rudy Gobert) guarding me at the top of the key? Awesome, let me hit him with a couple of hesi’s and in-and-outs.

Immanuel Quickley’s cooking? DHO here we come babyyyyyy!

The Knicks seemingly have 5000 internal storylines, but the external storyline is 20–20 and Randle is one of the biggest reasons why… the Knicks are back.

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