The NBA already reached it's midway point as far as the number of games remaining, but the All-Star is the official midway checkpoint.
Over the last five years, I have been a major critic of the NBA, disappointed with the lack of competition, lack of overall talent, and the gossip girl media coverage. This season has been different...to a certain extent. I still think the competition and talent level could be higher, but there have been some great individual performances.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden are the first two players that come to mind when you bring up stellar individual seasons. Westbrook and Harden both are carrying them to a playoff spot. The Rockets are in a better position than the Thunder with Harden running the show, currently 3rd in the Western Conference. When word got out that Mike Dantoni was going to put Harden at point guard, nobody knew what to expect; however, it did make sense. Going back to Harden's days in OKC, when he shared the floor with Westbrook and KD, he was the one that controlled the offense coming off the bench.
D'antoni never spoke on if that influenced his decision to use Harden as his floor general. I would put money on it that he used film from those early-OKC days to incorporate a free-flowing offense for Harden to run. Harden could be D'antoni's second MVP point guard but unlike Steve Nash, Harden is a scoring machine. Harden is averaging 29 points per contest while leading the league in assist with 11 dimes per game.
The other MVP front-runner, Russell Westbrook is having a historic season. He is doing things that no one in the last two generations of basketball fans has ever seen. Westbrook through 57 games is averaging 31 points, 10 dimes, and 10 boards, with a total of 27 triple-doubles this season. Russell will need 14 more triple to tie Oscar Robertson's regular season record of 41. At this rate, there is a good chance that Russ could catch that mark and even eclipse it with 25 more games remaining in the season. The Thunder are still a few pieces away from being a major contender in the West, but for them to still be a playoff team after losing Kevin Durant, further proves that Westbrook is a franchise player in this league.
MVP - Russell Westbrook
Sixth Man - Lou Williams
Coach of the Year - Mike D'antoni
Rookie of the Year - N/A
Comeback Player of the Year - Isaiah Thomas
There hasn't been much of noise from the rookies this year. The #1 pick Ben Simmons has yet to play and everyone else is still trying to adjust to the NBA game. Malcom Brogdon has been impressive for the Bucks and Brandon Ingram lead all rookies in minutes per game, but none have put themselves ahead of the pack. Not a good year for rookies in the NBA.
Harden and Russ aren't the only ones having career years. Isaiah Thomas is putting himself in the conversation as one of the great scoring little-men in NBA history. Thomas is on the cusp of averaging 30 points per game, currently sitting at 29.9 per contest, second behind Russell Westbrook. Thomas leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 10.7 points in the fourth, earning himself the title of "Mr. 4th Quarter". The Celtics are 2nd in the Eastern Conference, and even though Russ and Harden are putting up historical numbers, Thomas deserves some MVP consideration.
Behind the Celtics are the Washington Wizards, who are led by John Wall. Wall is having another career year and the Wizards are clicking. Bradley Beal is healthy, Otto Porter is transitioning into a solid NBA player, and the chemistry of the team finally looks cohesive. In 2017, the Wizards are 17-4, one of their losses coming against the Cavs in 135-140 overtime loss (Beal led all scorers with 41).
Pre-All Star Break Top Five Moments
1. Kyrie Christmas Day Shot
2. Russell Westbrook 20-20 Triple Double
3. James Harden 53-16-17 Triple Double
4. Wizards-Cavs Overtime
5. Giannis Antetukumpo Game winner in MSG
The season has begun to sizzle out as we approach All-Star Break. The season has been competitive, but everything comes back to the Warriors and Cavs. Both teams are still ahead of the field, even with teams and players having promising seasons. The irony is both teams are playing below expectations. The Warriors with 4 All-Stars and the last two MVP winners have nine losses so far this season; without Kevin Durant, the Warriors finished the season with 9 losses. The Cavaliers had a rough month of January, Lebron experiencing his first losing month since 2006. LeBron voiced his opinion about not having enough on the roster, demanding the front office to acquire another playmaker, mainly a point guard to back up Kyrie Irving. The pressure is building since neither team has a comfortable lead over the respective 2nd place team in their conference; Warriors only 4 games ahead of the Spurs and Cavs 2 games ahead of the Celtics.
Despite the struggles, everyone is still expecting both to be in the Finals come June. The only team that could spoil those arrangements is the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are quietly 43-12 and Kawhi Leonard is playing at an MVP level averaging 26 points and 6 boards. Two of Kawhi's biggest games came against the Cavs and Warriors. To start the season, he led the Spurs to a 129-100 win over the Warriors, and in late January he dropped 41 on the Cavs.
What to look for Post All-Star Break
The trade deadline. The rumors have been coming out at a rapid rate throughout the season. Players like Boogie Cousins, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, and any other star player in the league has been mentioned in fantasy trades. Teams like the Celtics, Clippers, and Cavaliers are looking to gain an extra piece for the final stretch going into the playoffs.
The Warriors relationship. The Warriors has had some moments where it looks like there could be friction. KD and Draymond Green have been seen shouting at each other during games, and while both have extinguished any ideas of it being friction between the two, it's still hard not to notice. Even losing their 9th game before All-Star Break could create some tension in the locker room. KD is the odd man out when it comes to the team chemistry of the Warriors, and if things become shakier, it will be interesting to see how the original 73-9 team will react to him.
The Knicks. The Knicks have been a bad reality TV show all season, Charles Oakley being dragged out of Madison Square Garden being the climax. Where will they go from here? Carmelo has already expressed that he is not going to be forced out of New York by Phil Jackson. On the flipside, we still don't know if Phil actually wants to remain the President of Basketball operation. Whether it's Melo or Phil, one of the two will be out of New York.
LeBron James Emotions. Bronny has been very emotional this season. He has attacked anyone that criticized him and isn't showing any signs of stopping. His recent emotional reactions could be a sign that he is feeling the pressure of trying to conquer the team out west.
Russell Westbrook v. James Harden MVP race. This will be the story of the second half of the season. James Harden team is doing better thanks to him but Russell is doing things we never seen before. Who will get the edge?