Welcome to The Pick and Pop halftime report. At this point of the season, the good players and teams are starting to separate themselves from the bad ones. A guy that was known for his bad attitude is starting to receive some love for his on court performance, while someone like Dwight Howard who used to be a shoe-in for an All-Star bid receive a message from the fans. We might actually have seven teams over .500 in the Eastern Conference by the end of the season, and out West there is a dog fight going on for playoff position.
1. Who is the NBA’s mid-season MVP?
Kein I’d say it isn’t unrealistic to elect the Durantula for mid-season MVP honours. After losing All-Star scoring guard Russell Westbrook to knee surgery, OKC has only lost 6 of 21 games, with 3 of them being tight losses of 5 points or less. Durant’s averaged 36 PPG, 7 RPG and accounted for a third of his team’s total points in the period, including five 40+ games (48, 48, 54, 46, 41.)
Lloyd It can’t be anyone but Kevin Durant. Paul George had the early season claims, then LeBron James went on a bit of a run with his insane shooting performances, but KD is doing things on an historic level. He scored over 30 points in 14 straight games and he has single handedly carried the Thunder to the top of their division, reeling in the Blazers recently. This is not voter fatigue, this is the real thing.
Haar If the NBA were to hand out the MVP award at this point in the season, Kevin Durant would undoubtedly serve as the rightful recipient of this honor. Unless you have been residing under a rock, it is clear to every knowledgeable NBA fan the 25 year old is the best scorer in the league, as the small forward is currently killing opponents with an average of 31.1 points per game. In addition to his high-profile scoring, however, Durant is also producing 7.6 REBS, 5.3 ASTS, and a field goal percentage of 51 percent – all very exceptional numbers. His productive all-around efforts are the main reason as to why OKC is leading the West with a record of 38-10, and his overall play thus far is more than deserving of MVP honors.
Sykes Before the season, I had Chris Paul. Before his injury, I had Chris Paul. But right now, Kevin Durant is playing on another planet. He leads the league in PER at 31.1, he leads the league in scoring at 31.1, the Thunder have won a bunch of games in a row and Durant had a killer 30+ point scoring streak going. There’s no one really playing like that right now—not even LeBron James.
Wilson As of right now, Kevin Durant has become that beast that every single fan of the game has wanted him to be over the last few years. He scores so effortlessly and now has taken it upon himself to make plays for others on the floor, resulting in a career high assist average. While Lebron is cruising through the Eastern Conference and waiting for the playoffs, Durant is giving us his all. I’m not sure if I’ll be touting him for this award at the end of the season with Westbrook’s imminent return but the spotlight is currently on Durant alone.
2. Who is the most improved player thus far?
Sykes Goran Dragic has to be the most improved player in the league. Anthony Davis will get a lot of love for this award, but I generally don’t think second year players should get the most improved award when this type of improvement is expected. Dragic, on the other hand, has been one of the most efficient scorers at the guard position in the league and he’s done a ton of work without Eric Bledsoe. I’d say he’s a no-brainer pick.
Kein I’ve got my vote for Sir “Lance-alot” Stephenson. Outside of the scoring capabilities we all know, the man has shown off his passing instincts this season and taken Indiana to the next level. The numbers and highlights say it all.While Anthony Davis is having a wild sophomore season, Lance has a far stronger case. He has been through the grind and been labelled as a problem child, was given a chance and taken under the Pacers’ (and Larry Legend’s) wing, and has made huge strides in his game and level of maturity as a player.
Haar There should be absolutely no debate on this question: Lance Stephenson is, by far, the most improved player this year in the NBA. He is averaging career highs in almost every single significant stat category, he’s playing an important role in the Pacers’ success, and he has already produced four triple-doubles in a season which has only just passed the halfway point. If the fourth year shooting guard can keep up this level of play, there is no doubt in my mind he will end up receiving the 2013/14 campaign’s Most Improved Player award.
Lloyd In my mind, DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers has shown the biggest improvement. Sure Lance Stephenson has been phenomenal and Eric Bledsoe started the season on fire, but Jordan has taken his game to another level. He is averaging a whopping 14 boards per game up from a mere 7.2 last season, while also increasing his scoring up to 9.6 points and his blocks have gone from 1.4 to 2.3. Doc Rivers can trust him to play big minutes and that is a massive factor for the Clippers title charge.
Wilson Often we evaluate athletes by their physical ability and skill, but don’t usually judge them by their maturity. However, in the case of DeMarcus Cousins, even before he was drafted, the main concern about him was his maturity level. Most people involved with the sport believed Cousins could be one of the best centers in the league if he had his head on straight; for the most part, the critics were correct as Cousins drew the ire of officials resulting in fouls called against him, technical fouls, and missing court time due to discipline. This season, with Shaquille O’Neal as his mentor, Cousins entered the season with a positive attitude and it has mad all the difference in his statistical output; he’s posting career highs across the board and is in the top 5 in PER.
3. Who deserved to be selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team but didn’t get chosen?
Haar Lance Stephenson is the biggest all-star snub in the Eastern Conference this season. Not only is he second on the Pacers in scoring (14.2 ppg), but he currently leads all shooting guards in rebounds (7.2 rpg) as well as all Eastern Conference shooting guards in assists (5.3 apg). As I have stressed, the 23 year old two guard is playing outstanding basketball, and it is an absolute travesty the young gun is missing the game while a player like, say, Joe Johnson (15.6 PTS, 3.3 REBS, 2.8 ASTS) is participating. (This is not to say Joe Johnson is undeserving, as he most certainly is. On the contrary, I am simply stating Stephenson is just more deserving of this honor. Yes, there is a difference.)
Kein Once again, Lance. His breakout season thus far and flashy moves definitely deserve a spot on the All-Star Weekend. On both counts of fan entertainment and recognition, the man should have made it.
Lloyd It has to be Kyle Lowry. The veteran point guard has carried the Raptors to a surprising lead in the Atlantic Division while averaging 16.8 points and 7.6 assists per game. I doubt you’ll find anyone, bar the coaches, who think Joe Johnson was a more worthy selection.
Wilson I wrote an article regarding who the All-Star reserves should be prior to the official announcement, all but Jeff Teague came to fruition; I also wrote at the time that Lance Stephenson would be snubbed. That said, I now feel that Kyle Lowry is most deserving. The Raptors are 20-10 since they’ve traded Rudy Gay; Lowry has been instrumental during this time, averaging over 18 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, and 1.5 steals, while shooting 46% from the field and 43% from land of threes. The coaches got it wrong by selecting Brooklyn’s Johnson, a guy that’s playing like an average Joe.
Sykes Kyle Lowry. Lowry has a 122 offensive rating that is only climbing and he’s neck and neck with John Wall as the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have been on a tear and a lot of that is because of Lowry’s offensive efficiency. He doesn’t use a bunch of possessions—his usage rate is under 22%. But when he does have the ball, he makes things happen.
4. Who was the Western Conference’s biggest All-Star snub?
Lloyd I debated between Mike Conley and Anthony Davis, but overall, it has to be the second year big man in New Orleans. The second year forward is leading the league in blocks at 3.3 per game, while also averaging 20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Crazy numbers for a sophomore. Hopefully, Adam Silver rights the wrong and names him as the injury replacement for Kobe Bryant.
Kein Definitely Boogie. He’s been putting up BIG (I’m looking at you NBA!) numbers and he’s not getting the props he rightly deserves. While Dragic’s absence in the reserves is tragic in itself, but I’m with DeMarcus Cousins for top snub out West.
Haar While there are certainly quite a few candidates for this acknowledgement, the Phoenix Suns’ point guard Goran Dragic stands out as the most significant snub in the Western Conference. Presently, the 27 year old “one man” is producing 19.9 points, 6.1 assists, and a field goal percentage of 50 percent, and if it weren’t for his phenomenal all-around play thus far this season, Phoenix would be far from boasting the surprising 28-18 record they currently possess. Dragic has more than proven his worth as an NBA All-Star through his consistently stellar performances, and it is truly a shame coaches around the West failed to recognize this fact.
Sykes I have to go back to Dragic here. He’s averaging 20 points per game and 6.1 assists. He’s one of three guards in the league shooting over 50% from the field. The other two are Tony Parker and Dwyane Wade. Out of the three, Dragic may be the most efficient one this season. He’s only taking 14.1 shots per game and is getting massive scoring production out of those attempts. He really deserved to be an All-Star.
Wilson Allow me to go all stat geek on you for a moment while I compare two players. Player one is 4th in REB%, 1st in USG%, 5th in *PIE, and 5th in PER. Player two is 5th in REB%, 11th in USG%, 20th in PIE, and 24th in PER. The guy that was selected by coaches was player two – Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, player one – DeMarcus Cousins will just be partying in New Orleans. If you want to mention defense, Cousins ranks 10th in the league in steals, good for 1st among bigs. I’m not saying Howard doesn’t deserve it, he’s just the most similar style player to Cousins that made it. Maybe coaches should put more thought in selection than just name recognition. I’m assuming Anthony Davis will be an injury replacement.
*PIE (Player Impact Estimate) as quoted from NBA Stats: a statistic measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in.
5. What would you like to see happen during the second half of the season?
Wilson I’d like to see the Detroit Pistons figure out their identity and put together a winning streak that I know they are capable of. There is far too much talent on this roster for them to be barely scratching a .400 winning percentage. Joe Dumars put this team together for coach Cheeks, so ultimately the responsibility is on him. We’ve seen flashes of the Stones’ potential, they can make the post season real exciting if they play more consistent.
Sykes No more injuries. Please? I just can’t stand to see great players going down week after week. Eric Bledsoe, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Al Horford, Anthony Davis, Nate Robinson, J.J Reddick, Chris Paul and the list goes on. All of these players have experienced terrible injuries that have kept them out long term. I don’t want to see any more of these. Hopefully, the basketball gods will have mercy.
Lloyd I’d like to see all of the injured players come back and perform at their best. Think of the names we are missing that are yet to return or if they have returned, aren’t at their peak. Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Eric Bledsoe, Kemba Walker, Steve Nash, Ryan Anderson, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousisn, DeMar DeRozan and I’m sure there are others I’m missing. When they are fully functioning, the league will be better for it.
Haar There are three things I would enjoy seeing transpire over the course of the second half of this season: 1) Kevin Durant putting up enough points to finish the year with a PPG average greater than 32, 2) The Minnesota Timberwolves establishing themselves as legit contenders for a playoff spot, and 3) The Milwaukee Bucks losing enough contests to finish the campaign with only 10 victories. Yes, odds are that last one will likely fail to occur.
Kein Operation Un-Tankapalooza. A team previously hell-bent on the lottery (e.g. Bucks, Celtics, Jazz) suddenly decide they had enough of losing. Mentioned team goes on a homicidal win rampage, squeeze into the playoffs and scrap their way into the Conference Finals before getting exterminated in a grueling, nail-biting seven game series. That, would make for a hell of a storyline. Now, how did that old NBA slogan sound like, Where Amazing Happens?
Stay tuned for the next edition, which will be released after the All-Star break. If there’s a topic you’d like #TeamPnR to cover, please leave us a note in the comments section.