NBA Stock Watch: Joel Embiid asserts his dominance

Another week, another NBA Stock Watch.

Here are the players and teams in the league that are trending up and… in the opposite direction.

rising: Zion Williamson

When the clock ran out in a game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Phoenix Suns, Zion Williamson couldn’t help himself.

He was wide open. And he played against the team that eliminated his roster in the playoffs last season. In that moment, he broke the league’s unwritten code, which expects a player’s clock to run out in the dying seconds of a game that isn’t close.

Instead, Williamson raised for a Spinning Windmill Jam to give his team a 128-1117 win, sending the crowd at the Smoothie King Center into a frenzy – and the Suns into a fit of rage.

Regardless of whether you consider Williamson’s dunk unsportsmanlike, one thing’s for sure: he’s damn good looking and having fun. It’s a relief for basketball fans after Williamson missed all of last season with a foot injury and was relentlessly taunted for gaining weight during that time.

For the past week, Williamson has averaged 33 points with 70.4% shooting and 8.3 rebounds. He had led the Pelicans to three straight wins before losing on Tuesday night. They are tied at 18-9 for the best record in the Western Conference.

To add insult to injury for the Suns, two of the Pelicans’ wins last week came at their expense. And in those two games, Williamson had 35 points.

Traps: Phoenix Suns

The Suns are coming off their biggest rut of the young season, losing five straight games. So far they hadn’t lost more than two games in a row.

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They have fallen twice to Dallas, Boston and New Orleans. On Tuesday night they lost to the Lowly Rockets. Their loss to the Celtics was particularly embarrassing, a 27-point drubbing on their home court.

In their last five games, the Suns have had the second-worst defensive rating (122.4 behind the Wizards) and offensive rating (107.5) in the league. To put that in perspective, they’re seventh on defense (111.5) and fourth on offense (115.7) on the season.

So why the decline?

For starters, Devin Booker has averaged 14 points on 31.8% shooting in his last three games, a precipitous drop from the 27.4 points on 47.8% shooting he averaged for the season.

Then there’s Chris Paul, who is still working his way back from a 14-game absence due to a sore heel. He has scored six points or fewer in two of the three games since his return.

rising: Joel Embid

Joel Embiid has long puzzled why he has never won an MVP award. For the past week, those who have seen him play are scratching their heads for the same reason.

Embiid has at least 31 points in each of his last five games, capped off by a brilliant performance of 53 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Charlotte on Sunday.

He leads the league in scoring, averaging a career-high 33.3 points on 53.8% shooting and 9.7 rebounds.

Embiid has also kept the 76ers competitive despite significant injury-related absences from James Harden and Tyrese Maxey.

The 76ers are fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 15-12 record, six games behind first-place Celtics (22-7).

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traps: Washington Wizard

The Wizards have lost seven straight games, the longest losing streak in the league.

And to complicate matters, they’re on the verge of a six-game journey and five of the teams they’ll play against have winning records, including Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix, Utah and Sacramento.

The only team they face at this stretch that doesn’t have a winning record is the Los Angeles Lakers, who they recently defeated 130-119.

It doesn’t look like things are about to change for the Wizards, who have lost 10 of their last 11 games and are struggling badly with the injury virus.

Their hope is that Bradley Beal (hamstring) can make a comeback as soon as possible. Beal was cleared to resume basketball activity on the court, but the team added that his return will be dictated by “his clinical development,” which is a little too vague to be encouraging at the moment.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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