With the 2014-2015 NBA season about halfway through, it’s time to recap the past four months of the season and give the midseason awards. Far from being a normal NBA season, this year has had ample twists surprises, for both individual players and teams as a whole.
In the weaker Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks lead the way with the first seed on lockdown with a five game lead over the second seed Washington Wizards, and a seven game advantage over the Toronto Raptors.
The Hawks have surprised everyone; they’re currently 38-8, which is only four wins shy of their total wins from last season, where they finished eighth in the conference. Dubbed “the Spurs of the East” by LeBron James, the Hawks utilize efficient team play to break down opposing teams’ defences. Since LeBron’s 2010 decision to join the Miami Heat, the trend of the NBA has been forming teams with multiple high-scoring superstars in hopes they would mesh together and dominate the league. However, the Hawks, Wizards, and Raptors have all shown that this is not a necessary tactic to win, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference.
Unlike the Hawks, the Wizards and Raptors have not been complete surprises. The Wizards have been establishing a core of young talent since drafting Point Guard and double-double machine John Wall in 2010. Bradley Beal has been one of the best young shooters in the league, scoring 15 points per contest on 46 percent shooting from the three-point arc. The additions over the past few seasons of Nene Hilario, Marcin Gortat, and veteran Paul Pierce show they are solid contenders to represent the East in the Finals.
The Toronto Raptors have not been a surprise at all given their division. The Atlantic Division, which the Raptors hold a ten game lead over, is utterly atrocious. The Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks are two of the worst teams in the league, combining for a record of 18-74. The Raptors’ solid core of guards Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozen, and Terrence Ross, as well as their formidable front line of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, will prove competitive in their weak division.
Possibly the biggest surprise of all, however, is the mediocrity of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland is currently the fifth seed in the East, and constantly treading .500, with a record of 27-20 The team has three superstars, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. LeBron left Miami to return home and play for the team that he started with and, in the process, created another “Big Three.” They will still make the playoffs, without question. However, the Cavs have wildly underachieved; the team was globally predicted to accumulate no more than 20 losses, as well as one of the best scoring offenses in league history.
The Western Conference is always ultra competitive. Perennial contenders such as the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have taken a backseat to the younger, up-and-coming teams like the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State is led by its explosive scoring backcourt, Point Guard Stephen Curry and Shooting Guard Klay Thompson. Nicknamed “The Splash Brothers” for their incredible shooting abilities, Curry and Thompson have propelled the Warriors to a 36-7 start. This hot start is definitely a bit of a shock, given that the offseason predictions had San Antonio and OKC running away with the conference.
The Spurs are arguably the only real powerhouse of the NBA over the last decade and a half. Since Tim Duncan’s arrival in 1999, the Spurs have won five NBA titles, most recently in 2014 with a 4-1 series win over Miami. However, this sustained winning has cooled down slightly this season. Currently 30-17, the Spurs are positioned at the seventh seed in the West with the eighth-placed Phoenix Suns right behind them. Even though the Western Conference is very competitive, it is a little astonishing at how the Spurs have slipped in the standings after a 62-win season last year. The injuries to key players, starters, and previous NBA Finals MVPs Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard definitely weakened the team at the start of the season, but when the team is altogether healthy, the Spurs will definitely be a force in the playoff picture.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are another team to watch out for in the second half of the year. Kevin Durant, last season’s MVP, and All-star Russell Westbrook both started off the year injured, and OKC’s record suffered. Since the return of the superstars, the Thunder have had one of the best win percentages in the entire league, and will absolutely pose as a threat when they heat up and ultimately bump another team out of the playoffs.
The 2014-2015 season award race is a little ambiguous right now, especially because second half performances are a huge factor in deciding which individuals should be recognized for the annual awards.
The Most Valuable Player belongs to James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Not only is the Shooting Guard the league’s leading scorer on a 27 points per game average, he has also assisted on more three point shots made than any other player has scored them. Also, he creates more chances for his teammates when he drives to the basket; over half of his missed shots on the drive result in an offensive rebound because the opposition’s defense collapses in on guarding Harden, opening up opportunities for big men like Dwight Howard to get the rebound and score. Harden has done it all this year; he scores, assists, and rebounds. There is no doubt he will keep up his high level of performance throughout the second half of season.
DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers should win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Jordan leads the league in rebounds per game with a fantastic 13.4 per contest, and is second in blocks per game with 2.4. Jordan is the only player in the league who is top five in both statistical categories.
The Coach of the Year award is the most unclear recognition halfway through the season. While coaches Steve Kerr (Golden State) and Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta) both have impressive credentials to justify winning the award, Budenholzer with the slight edge, I see Jason Kidd as the best candidate for the award. Kidd is the coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the worst record in the NBA last year, but now sit as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 23-22 record. What makes this seemingly mediocre team more impressive is that they have a winning record without their first round draft pick, second pick overall, Jabari Parker. Parker was a favorite for the rookie of the year award before suffering a season-ending injury. With the huge improvement and loss of a key player, Jason Kidd has truly coached the Bucks into a solid position and most likely a playoff berth, making him the best candidate for Coach of the Year.
Minnesota Timberwolves Shooting Guard Andrew Wiggins will win the NBA Rookie of the Year. Over the last three weeks, Wiggins has stepped up big time, particularly on offense. He is averaging 15 points per game on 43-percent shooting and four rebounds per game on the season. While his defense is harder to track through stats, he is a fantastic perimeter defender due to his elite quickness and athleticism. Many predicted that Wiggins or Jabari Parker, the first and second overall picks of this year’s draft, respectively, would be the favorites for the award, but with Parker going down due to injury, it seems Wiggins is the clear cut candidate to win.
The Most Improved Player of the Year award has the most clear recipient. Jimmy Butler, Shooting Guard/Small Forward of the Chicago Bulls will win, no doubt. Butler has significantly raised every major statistical category since last season, when he was viewed as a one-dimensional defender. Now, averaging 20 points per contest, with six rebounds and three assists, Butler will for sure win the award this year, and get a hefty new free agent contract this upcoming offseason, as he has proven to be a potentially huge asset to any franchise.