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NBA Stock Watch: Nikola Jokic’s rising MVP chances, Chris Paul’s diminishing impact HP NEWS

We have crossed the halfway mark of the season. The trade deadline is around the corner. So is the All-Star Game. What better time to take stock of the risers and fallers across the NBA?

RISING: The likelihood on an MVP three-peat

It’s hard to overstate just how incredible Nikola Jokic has been this season. He’s basically averaging a triple-double (24.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 9.8 assists per game). He’s shooting 62 percent (no, that’s not a typo) from the field. His Nuggets, after winning six in a row and 16 of their last 19, are now in first place in the Western Conference, basically all because of Jokic’s stellar play (according to the statistical website Cleaning the Glass, the Nuggets perform at the level of a 67-win team with Jokic on the floor and a 16-win squad when he sits).

By now you know about all the dazzling dishes, but did you know that Jokic has also become one of the league’s premier clutch bucket-getters? According to NBA.com, Jokic is 24 for 48 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime over the past five seasons, tied with Marcus Morris (10 for 20) for the best mark among players with at least 20 attempts. This jumper to seal a win over the Magic was his latest crowning achievement.

Jokic is both the league’s best watch and probably its toughest guard. If the season ended today he’d be the clear MVP, which would be his third straight, an honor only achieved by Bill Russell (1960-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68) and Larry Bird (1983-86). 

Right now, Jokic looks poised to add himself to that list.

FALLING: Kyrie Irving’s star claim

We know Kyrie is a great shot-maker, a player who can do miraculous things with a basketball. But with Kevin Durant expected to miss around a month with a knee injury, the Brooklyn Nets need Irving to be more than a compilation of highlights. They need him to be someone who can carry the offense in Durant’s absence.

So far, he’s failed. Yes, it’s a small sample size and all that, but in two games without Durant — against the Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder — Irving has hit just 36 percent of his shots and the Nets have been outscored by seven points in his 76 minutes on the floor. The Nets have dropped both those games. 

They’re going to need much more from him if they want to hold onto one of those top four spots in the conference.

RISING: The Boston Celtics‘ chances at the No. 1 seed

After a small bump in the road, the Celtics have rediscovered their winning ways. They’ve reeled off seven victories in a row, putting 4.5 games between them and the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently tied for second in the Eastern Conference. That’s a nice cushion that could prove insurmountable, and could pay major dividends come playoff time, especially with how stacked the top teams in the East are.

Also, that Jayson Tatum guy is pretty good.

FALLING: The Clippers

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: One of the Clippers’ two stars has missed five straight games and the team, as a result, is struggling. This time, it’s Paul George dealing with an injury, and while Kawhi Leonard is looking better and better, this is a group that just can’t find any rhythm.

Is it time to worry? The Clippers are just a game over .500, and just 1.5 games ahead of the 11th-place Phoenix Suns. Their offense still stinks (the Clippers own the league’s third-worst offensive rating). Time’s running out for this group to jell.

RISING: Jalen Brunson

Don’t laugh, but Brunson might be the Knicks’ best free-agent signing ever. He’s played like an All-Star (22.3 points and 6.4 assists per game, 39.6 percent shooting from deep) and been a stabilizing force and leader for a team that is five games over .500 and in sixth place in the East. 

I still think the Knicks made a mistake not going all-in for Donovan Mitchell. But you have to give them credit for recognizing that Brunson was a player who could thrive even when handed more responsibility.

FALLING: Chris Paul

It seems like the days of the Point God have come to an end. Not only is Paul shooting a career-low 42.5 percent from the field, but you can just see that his impact had been diminished. 

This is a guy who used to impact winning in myriad ways. Now? The Suns have been outscored by one point per 100 possessions with Paul on the court, and actually been better with him off. This is a team that’s become reliant on Devin Booker.

This doesn’t mean that Paul can no longer be helpful. But, at 37 years old, his incredible, surefire Hall of Fame career appears to be winding down.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is 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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