NBA Midseason Review: Awards, Surprises, Playoff Predictions

Guest Post by Bryan Confer, Edited by Susan Shan

When I wrote my NBA preseason preview, many things came to mind: a possible Lakers three-peat, Kevin Durant’s potential to improve as a player and whether he could take Oklahoma City to the next level, the Shaquille O’Neal signing with Boston, and obviously, like everyone else, I couldn’t wait to see how Miami’s “Big Three” turned out.

What I didn’t predict was how dominant Blake Griffin would be. I thought that once teams zoned him and forced him to shoot jumpers, his effectiveness and productivity as an offensive force would decrease dramatically.

I still stand by my original analysis, but Griffin has been nothing short of spectacular. He has literally revamped Baron Davis’s career; Davis actually appears motivated to play basketball these days.

Griffin has nearly single-handedly made the Clippers the more exciting team to watch in Los Angeles. As amazing as he is to watch on television, there is nothing like watching him live; he’s absolutely breathtaking.

The rookie has scored the most points in any NBA game this year. His 47 points on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day were the most by a Clipper since Charles Smith dropped 52 at Denver a little over 21 years ago. Griffin’s 47 were also the second most ever scored on MLK Day; Gilbert Arenas had 51 for the Washington Wizards in an ’07 game versus the Jazz.

Griffin also added 14 rebounds on that historical day, becoming just the second rookie in the past 25 years to record a 45/10 game. The first? A 20-year-old Shaquille O’Neal in February of Shaq’s rookie year. Only two players in the history of the NBA have ever had games like Griffin’s 47/14 at the age of 21 or younger: Michael Jordan (49/15 in 1984-85) and Rick Barry (57/15 in 1965-66). Pretty stout company.

Kevin Love has also been surprisingly good this season. He broke out with a 31-point, 31-rebound performance versus the New York Knicks on November 12. Love was feeling it that night; he had told Michael Beasley during the third quarter that he was going for it. Mission accomplished.

Not only did Love nab the first 30-rebound game since Charles Barkley did it in 1996, he was the first player to go for 30 points and 30 rebounds since Moses Malone accomplished the feat in 1982. Not only was it the first 30 and 30 game of my lifetime, it was the first for all other players on the floor that night.

Love currently leads the NBA with almost 16 rebounds per game. Together, Griffin and Love became the first two players to have double-double streaks of 27 or more in the same season since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (39 and 29), Dave Cowens (37), and Spencer Haywood (37) in the 1971-72 season.

With the many surprising and some not so surprising things that have occurred thus far, I’ve revised my playoff predictions and individual awards list.


Revised Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference
1 – Miami Heat: 61-21 (Previously: 1st — 63-19)
2 – Boston Celtics: 58-24 (Previously: 4th — 48-34)
3 – Chicago Bulls: 57-25 (Previously: 3rd — 50-32)
4 – Orlando Magic: 54-28 (Previously: 2nd — 57-25)
5 – Atlanta Hawks: 52-30 (Previously: 5th — 45-37)
6 – New York Knicks: 43-39 (Previously: DNQ)
7 – Philadelphia 76ers: 38-44 (Previously: 8th — 38-44)
8 – Milwaukee Bucks: 35-47 (Previously: 7th — 41-41)

Two things I conclude from this: 1) I must have lost my mind when I wrote my season preview and left the Knicks out of the playoffs in a very weak bottom half of the Eastern Conference, 2) looking at the top four teams in the East, you could make a case for any of them to represent the conference come June; of the four, however, Boston is the only team to have a winning record versus plus .500 teams this season.

Western Conference
1 – San Antonio Spurs: 63-19 (Previously: 6th — 53-29)
2 – Los Angeles Lakers: 61-21 (Previously: 2nd — 56-26)
3 – New Orleans Hornets: 56-26 (Previously: DNQ)
4 – Oklahoma City Thunder: 55-27 (Previously: 1st — 59-23)
5 – Dallas Mavericks: 55-27 (Previously: 4th — 55-27)
6 – Utah Jazz: 53-29 (Previously: 3rd — 55-27)
7 – Portland Trailblazers: 52-30 (Previously: 5th — 54-28)
8 – Denver Nuggets: 51-31 (Previously: 7th — 52-30)*
*Barring a Carmelo Anthony trade. If the Nuggets trade Carmelo, insert Phoenix Suns: 49-33 (Previously: DNQ).

Okay, so maybe I was a tad irrational when I had the Oklahoma City Thunder finishing first in the conference; I was blindsided by a huge Kevin Durant man-crush. Nevertheless, the West’s top four, contrary to the East’s, all possess winning records against plus .500 teams.

The Spurs and Celtics (each conference’s best team at the moment) are both 3-0 in overtime games. The Spurs, however, are 6-1 in games decided by three points or less; the Celtics are 6-4. The West also has a great chance at having all eight seeds finish with at least 50 wins. Some might argue that the East is more talented and top-heavy, but the facts show otherwise.

Revised Individual Awards

Rookie of the Year
See: Griffin, Blake
Previous: John Wall

Sixth Man
Lou Williams. Not because I’m a Philly homer, but because he is the best player off the best bench in the NBA this year. He plays in crunch time, and more often than not, he delivers. Spare me the Lamar Odom argument; Odom has started in 31 of L.A.’s 46 games. Enough said.
Previous: Lou Williams

Most Improved Player
Paul Millsap. Millsap has thrived in the absence of Carlos Boozer this season. He has increased his scoring by eight points per game, rebounding by two per game, and he has the second-highest single game scoring mark this year (46 points vs. Heat in early November). The Jazz have struggled as of late, but Millsap has been consistent throughout season.
Previous: Hedo Turkoglu

Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Howard. Top-five in blocks and rebounds again. The same player usually holds on to this award for a few years before it changes hands (Dikembe Mutumbo, Ben Wallace, and now Howard).
Previous: LeBron James

Coach of the Year
Gregg Popovich. Not only does he have the Spurs back atop the Western Conference, Popovich is managing his team perfectly. He is limiting Tim Duncan’s minutes and preserving him for the playoffs, but hasn’t sacrificed wins by doing so. In addition, he finally realizes that Manu Ginobili deserves to be a starter. As an added bonus, this is arguably the most fun to watch Spurs team in the Tim Duncan era.
Previous: Keith Smart

Most Valuable Player
LeBron James. No one wants to be boring; no one wants James to win the MVP award for the third consecutive year, including me. Derrick Rose and Amar’e Stoudemire are undoubtedly sexier picks because picking them looks cool and sounds cool.

You can make a case for Rose but spare me the Stoudemire argument. The Knicks are barely above .500. You can tell me he’s averaging three points more per game this year, and I’ll tell you that he’s taking four more shots per game to do so. I’ll also note that his shooting percentage is down. Stoudemire isn’t even having his best season, statistically.

Contrarily, Rose is. The argument for Rose is that the Bulls are a great team, and Rose is the best player on a great team. Besides the Heat with James, the Bulls made the best off-season acquisition when they signed Tom Thibodeau. T-squared has taught this young team how to play team defense and has gotten the best out of each player. Even Luol Deng dropped 40 points against Portland in November.

The problem with this is that there is no definitive criteria for MVP. Is it best player in the league? The best player on the best team? The guy who means the most to his team? The Heat hold the second-best record in the East, and James is the best player on the planet; I don’t know what your criteria is for MVP, but that’s enough for me – for now.
Previous: Kevin Durant (let it go – that man-crush thing again)

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E-mail Bryan questions and comments at bryanconfer@hotmail.com

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