What We Learned in the First Half

The Houston Rockets are the most improved team in the NBA, winning 73% of their games, up a whopping 23%. In the off-season, they added Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon and then turned the offense over to Mike D’Antoni who has revolutionized James Harden. The Rockets are a legitimate contender to knock off the Golden State Warriors. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have the defense. They have multiple proven scorers and a facilitator and elite talent in James Harden.

Kevin Durant has been what we all knew Kevin Durant would be. He leads the Warriors in scoring, rebounds and blocks. He has seamlessly adjusted his game to the other All-Stars on the Warriors, specifically Steph Curry. He has a career high defensive rating of 101. His PER of 27.3 is the third highest of his career. In any other year, we would be talking about Durant as MVP but Harden without a second superstar and Westbrook without a second superstar have overshadowed the MVP talk.

The MVP is a two man race. Russell Westbrook or James Harden. Are you more overwhelmed by a triple double every night, particularly a player of Westbrook’s size battling night after night for rebounds against bigger and stronger front line players and Westbrook coming out on top? Or is Harden the MVP because Harden changed his game and will average double digit assists for the first time in his career? Harden’s team is championship worthy. Westbrook’s is not. So does Harden have the MVP advantage? Or how about this. Westbrook has more media fans than Harden. Harden has always had to work harder for media love. Will that be the tipping point?

LeBron James is better this year than last year but it’s LeBron so no one notices. Everyone expects him to be great and when he is there is a collective eye-roll. But consider this. He is playing his most minutes in three years. His 3-ball is a three year high. His rebounding is a four year high. He is having a career year in assists. (And in turnovers). 25.8 points per game is a three year high. With the Cavs injuries to stars LeBron has had to step his game up and even though he is a 14 year veteran, he has yet to decline. He’s not competing against Steph or KD but his legacy in NBA history.

Joel Embiid is Rookie of the Year and the vote will be unanimous. Embiid is nearly a 20 point player in the first half of his first NBA season. He blocks shots. He hits long twos. He finishes through traffic. He is a true face of the franchise (until Ben Simmons gets on the court), affable with the media, willing to be shocking and humble and most importantly he lets his game do all the talking. He is only playing 25 minutes. When he is playing 40 minutes, uh-oh NBA. Embiid may be an All-Star as a rookie.

Carmelo is experiencing his highest level of frustration/annoyance than anytime in his Knicks career. He reportedly went postal in the locker room after the Knicks lost to the 76ers. He was mad, according to reports, that he was frozen out in the last play and didn’t get the last shot. Carmelo had to watch as a Porzingis airball created the fast break that determined and made possible the winning jumper. Carmelo doesn’t want to be traded but he is closer than he ever has been to thinking about rescinding the no-trade clause. Who knew The Process would make Carmelo depressed? However, we all knew Carmelo would be blamed for everything that Knicks do wrong. It’s just the way it is.

The lottery is not a cure. Guess who will be in the lottery this year? The same teams who were in the lottery last year. The Timberwolves, Lakers (top-3 protected), Nuggets, Nets (pick goes to Celtics), 76ers, Suns, Kings etc. Tanking doesn’t mean much. It is a long way from misery to the playoffs.

Getting paid in the offseason was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mike Conley got $153 large and has had a strong season: 41.3% from three. 18.8 points, a career high, and 6.0 assists. DeMar DeRozan signed a $140 million deal. He is scoring a career high 28.2 points, shooting a career high 47.4% and a career high 25.2 PER. Giannis Antetokounmpo signed a $100 million dollar extension and will be a first time All-Star: 23.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 53.0% field goals.

Derrick Rose is not misunderstood. Taj Gibson believes he is. But the Rose  narrative of late is that he speaks and then pivots. One day Derrick Rose goes AWOL. The next day he says he is considering retirement. The next day he says he wants a max deal. Whether or not the Knicks make it to the playoffs will determine his money. Rose is falling into that Dwight Howard trap of no one paying attention because he can’t make up his mind what he really wants.

The NBA Finals is rigged. Only 5 teams have a shot: Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Rockets. It is progress. Last year only four teams had a shot as the Rockets were a mess. This is not parity.

The NBA fixed the Zaza Pachulia as an All-Star fiasco before it could be a nightmare. Fan voting which has Pachulia getting the second most votes among fowards is only half the vote. The media gets 25% of the vote and I guarantee you no one will have Pachulia as a starter. Then the players have 25% of the vote and Pachulia will be persona non-grata, outside of Warrior players. Each group has their vote total weighted and given a score. The three scores (fans, media, players) are added up. The highest totals (2 guards, 3 forwards) make the starters for their conference.


photo via llananba

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