Young Stars Continuing to Make Their Mark in League
This week the internet and NBA Twitter were set on fire with the release of ESPN’s NBA Top-25 Players Under the age of 25. Many agreed, many disagreed but in the end the list gave commentators and basketball fans something to openly debate. With the NBA world all discussing the top young players in the game, this was the perfect time for some of these guys to either show why they deserved to be on the list or show why they deserved to be higher up on the list. This week we are going to focus on two of the Top-5 players who were ranked on this list. These guys have had a great season thus far and really showed out this week with some primetime performances and some big time wins over top-level competition. With all that being said, this week’s Hoopers of the Week are rising stars Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic. Let’s get into it!
Let’s start off in the Eastern Conference with two-time Boston Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum. He was ranked 5th on ESPN’s Top 25 Under 25 list and with all eyes on the league’s next crop of young superstars, Tatum rose to the occasion and shined in the spotlight.
On the week, the Celtics went 2-1 and have won four of their last five games. In the first game, Boston faced off against All-Star Center Joel Embiid and the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who came out with a win by a score of 106-96 on the back of 35 point from Embiid, but that would not stop Tatum from having a solid outing himself. Jay-Tay put up 20 points, four rebounds and four assists on 7-of-17 shooting from the floor.
Next up we had yet another matchup between Eastern Conference playoff teams as the Celtics took on Julius Randle and the New York Knicks. This was a nip-and-tuck game that came down to the last couple of possessions but in the end, it was Boston who came out with the victory, winning 101-99. This game was essentially carried by The Jays as Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 57 points and both had a double-double with ten rebounds apiece. With no Kemba Walker in the lineup, guard Marcus Smart played third fiddle in this one by chipping in 17 points and also dishing out nine assists on the night.
For the Knicks it was RJ Barrett and Julius Randle who kept things afloat combining for 51 points. Unfortunately for them, Smart hit a clutch three to Boston up 96-93 in the closing seconds that allowed them to hold on and pull out the win.
Lastly is hands down the best performance of the week. In one of the most exciting games of the entire season as the Celtics hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves for their 7th straight game at home in the Boston Garden. In what turned out to be an overtime thriller, Tatum had himself a career night in route to propelling Boston to a 145-136 victory. He scored a career-high 53 points along with ten rebounds and four assists on 16-of-25 shooting from the floor. Tatum was 6-of-10 from beyond the arc and even showed some aggression in the paint by drawing contact and going 15-of-16 from the free throw line.
It goes without saying but it is obvious the Boston Celtics are not having the kind of season they were expecting coming off of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Sitting at 7th in the East with a record of 27-26, Boston still has the chance to make a play at a Top-4 seed and a lot of that has to do with the play of Jayson Tatum. So far this season he is averaging a career-high 25.7 points and 4.3 assists along with 7.0 rebounds while shooting 45.7% from the floor and 38.2% from three.
If the Cs want any chance at making some serious noise in the playoffs, they will need to lean heavily on the combination of Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They are going to once again take significant strides and reach another gear in their all-around game. Thankfully for Boston fans, these guys are more than capable of kicking things up a notch. They have already started to turn up at the right time as they make their final push towards the playoffs.
Next is the guy who actually was slotted at No. 1 on the ESPN Top-25 Under 25 list and that is Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic.
Coming into this season, many oddsmakers had the young phenom as the pre-season favorite to win league MVP. He surely is not leading the pack with guys like Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard in the running, but he still has had a solid season thus far and is quietly putting up MVP caliber stats.
Looking at this past week, Doncic and the Mavericks went 2-1 with big wins over two of the best teams in the NBA. Dallas kicked off the week matching up against Donovan Mitchell and the red-hot Utah Jazz who sit atop the Western Conference. Doncic put up a near triple-double in this one with 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. But to take down the top-seeded Jazz, it truly took a team effort. Veteran Forward Dorian Finney-Smith dropped 24 points and Doncic’s backcourt mate Josh Richardson contributed 17 points and five rebounds. Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway also combined for 36 points coming off the bench. With firepower coming from all angles, the Mavericks were able to outlast a 28-point outburst from Mike Conley to win the game 111-103.
Next was an in-state rivalry game against the meddling Houston Rockets. Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis both went for 23 points apiece, but John Wall and the Rockets were able to steal the win in the end. Wall put up 31 points and seven assists along with Christian Wood who chipped in with 22 points and ten rebounds. The big downfall in this game for Dallas was their struggles from beyond the arc. Doncic was the ringleader of the team’s shooting wows as he went 1-of-9 and the team went 10-of-39 from three. This would lead to Houston handily winning 102-93.
Lastly was a battle between the Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks were missing two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in this one, but that would not sway the Mavericks from laying the smack down on the third best team in the East. Doncic again put-up a near triple-double with 27 points, nine assists, and nine rebounds on 11-of-20 shooting from the floor and three threes. Porzingis also came up big in this one dropping a monster double-double with 26 points and 17 rebounds on 10-of-20 shooting from the floor and four threes. Despite all five Milwaukee starters scoring in double figures, the Mavericks’ two stars were too hot to handle as they led their team to the 116-101 victory.
The Dallas Mavericks currently sit at 7th in the Western Conference with a record of 29-22 and have won seven of their last ten on the back of Luka Doncic. Looking to build off of a strong performance in the first round of the NBA Playoffs last season against the LA Clippers, Doncic has continued to assert his dominance as one of the best young players in the game. This season he is averaging a near triple-double 28.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.7 assists while shooting 48.3% from the floor and a career-high 37% from three on just over eight attempts a game.
We all know that Doncic can put up ridiculous numbers on a nightly basis, but he cannot carry this team alone if the Mavs are looking to win a playoff series this year. It will come down to guys like Kristaps Porzingis and Jalen Brunson, who is a sneaky candidate for 6th Man of the Year, to elevate their game in the playoffs to give them a real shot against teams like the Jazz, Suns or Clippers in the first round. Nonetheless, Dallas has a real chance to be a dark horse contender in a crowded and competitive Western Conference.