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The Hype/Concern Index: Kobe’s Jerseys Go Into the Rafters, and Isaiah Thomas Targets a Return Date

All the good, bad, and HEZZZZZZONJA from around the NBA

Kobe Bryant smiling after his final game Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Welcome to the Hype/Concern Index, a semiregular post capturing the NBA news and events to get hyped on or concerned about.

Hype: Kobe’s Jerseys to Be Retired

On Monday night, Kobe Bryant will, in the most Kobe way possible, have both of his jersey numbers (8 and 24) retired at Staples Center.

Everyone is heaping praise on Kobe, including Kobe himself and the Warriors, the Lakers’ opponent for the night of the festivities.

“Just the experience in seeing one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there. I’m not going to keep them in the locker room to watch tape of the first half,” Steve Kerr said. “The players would look at me like I was nuts. There’s something interesting going on the floor. Let’s go out there.”

Golden State, like many other teams in the league, is full of players who grew up idolizing Kobe. “That was a proud moment,” Kevin Durant said when talking about beating Kobe and the Lakers with OKC in the 2012 playoffs. “I can say that I won in one-on-one against Kobe in the playoffs. Not too many people can say that. But he does have five championships.”

GIF of Kobe holding up five fingers

Despite everything else Bryant has accomplished in his career — for example, he is the only player in NBA history with more than 30,000 points, 6,000 assists, and 6,000 rebounds — it always comes back to the rings.

Hype Meter: 8 and 24/10

Hype: Chris Paul Is 14–0

Look at your Point God now.

After leaving the Clippers (and their increasingly real-looking curse) behind, Paul is thriving in Houston. The nine-time All-Star has quickly adapted to a secondary role in the Rockets’ high-powered offense, while still being able to pick up the current MVP favorite when needed:

In only 14 games this season as a result of an early left-knee injury, Paul is on pace to post his highest PER (27.1) since 2008–09, when he finished fifth in MVP voting. Paul is also shooting a career-high six 3s per game at a career-high 42.9 percent clip, and both his assist and steal percentages are up from last season. Perhaps most importantly, Paul’s usage rate (22.6) is the lowest it’s been since the 2012–13 season. For now, it looks like Paul knew what he was doing when he fled L.A. for the better-fitting pastures in Houston. The help he has received from Harden, Mike D’Antoni, and the Rockets as a whole has resulted in not just wins, but also peace of mind:

Hype Meter: 7/10

Concern: The Bulls are 5–0 Since Nikola Mirotic’s Return

All right, let’s review. Two Bulls players, Mirotic and Bobby Portis, got into a fight right before Chicago’s tank — er, rebuilding season began. The scuffle left Mirotic with a broken jaw, and he missed the first 23 games of the season. Neither Mirotic nor Portis were let go, and the Bulls trotted out to a deliciously terrible 3–20 record. The player with a broken jaw returned and has led the Bulls to a five-game winning streak, including wins over the Jazz, Celtics, and Bucks. Over those five matchups, Mirotic is averaging 20 points per game and shooting 54 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3.

The Bulls have now tumbled from pole position in the race for the top pick to third in the tanking rankings, just half a game behind the Suns for sixth-worst. Should the ridiculous (and hilarious) #NikoEffect continue, even for a few more games, then wave the no. 1 pick goodbye.

Concern Meter: 4/10

Hype: Isaiah Thomas to Return in Early January

Thomas is eyeing the first week of January for his triumphant return, according to Yahoo Sports, and the timing of the news couldn’t be more interesting for the Cavaliers. Cleveland, fueled by LeBron’s ridiculous age-33 season, has won 18 of its past 19 games. During that stretch, the Cavs offense has been the second-best in the league, behind only the hyperactive Rockets, and their defense, which was last in the league before the streak, has ranked 14th.

The season is only two months old, but the panic set off by the Cavs’ early struggles feels like it happened years ago. The defending East champs are rolling, and though Thomas’s entrance into the lineup will likely lead to a period of adjustment for all parties, LeBron and Co. will certainly welcome another go-to scorer.

Oh, and by the way: The Cavs travel to Boston on January 3. I’m sure that’s a total coincidence.

Hype Meter: 8/10

Concern: James Harden’s Knee Pain

Harden nearly didn’t drop 31 points in the Rockets’ 115–111 win over the Bucks on Saturday night. Why? Because Harden almost sat out with a bruised right knee that he suffered Friday night … in a 124–109 win … over the Spurs … in which he scored 28.

With the Rockets firing on all cylinders, Harden has risen to the forefront of the MVP conversation. Missing games won’t help his case. But if this knee pain lingers, would the Rockets make an executive decision to rest him more often than not?

If Harden can put up 28 in a game with a bruised knee, then maybe it shouldn’t be the Rockets who are concerned, but rather every other team in the league.

Concern Meter: 2/10

Hype: Hezonja Has Gone Super Mario

Is the Magic’s 2017–18 season just going to be one long ordeal where we intermittently get excited about random players having hot weeks? Because if so, sign me up.

To start the season, it was Aaron Gordon wowing us with extended range and improved scoring skills. Jonathon Simmons has, from time to time, shown flashes of becoming an impact player. And now Mario Hezonja — the pride of Croatia and cult hero of the 2015 draft — has seemingly awoken from a two-season-long slumber. First, there was the 17-point performance against the Clippers on Wednesday, which was the first sign of life since … the draft? Then, the 22-year-old dropped 28, including eight made 3-pointers, against the Pistons on Sunday.

I don’t know who is happier: Noted Magic fan Kevin Clark, or noted Hezonja apologist Danny Chau. Personally, I’m just thankful there is still life in the Hezonja Hive.

Hype Meter: 5/10

Concern: Rudy Gobert Is Out Again

This one hurts. Gobert, the Jazz’s defensive anchor and de facto leader after Gordon Hayward’s departure, is back on the sidelines for a month after suffering a strained ligament and bone bruise in his left knee in Friday’s loss to the Celtics.

The Jazz say Gobert, who has already missed 11 games this season because of a bone bruise in his other knee, will be reevaluated in two weeks. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time. The Jazz have lost five of their past six, and have games against the Rockets, Thunder (twice), Spurs, Cavs, and Warriors on the horizon.

Utah can’t seem to get healthy this season, and even though Gobert hasn’t reached All-Star level yet, the team is desperate for any help it can get on the offensive end. Donovan Mitchell can’t keep the Jazz afloat by himself.

Concern Meter: 9/10