As we near the All-star midseason break (which for some reason happens 55+ games into the season), it’s time to recap who the overachievers (and in some cases, underperformers) have been thus far in the season. Here we go…
Best NBA Rookie: Demarcus Cousins
Yes, King fans, things may not be as hopeless as they seem (actually, you live in Sacramento – yes they are). That being said, Demarcus Cousins has taken his game to Blake Griffin-esque levels in February, averaging 17.0ppg, 11.4rpg. 1.0spg, and 0.6bpg. Meanwhile, John Wall has faded going into the All-star break. Wall may still prove to be the better NBA player in the long-term, but for my money, Cousins is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
(and by the way, no, I do not count Blake Griffin as a rookie. Redshirts are only allowed in college football)
Most Likely to Have Benefited from Playing on the U.S. FIBA Team This Past Summer: Tie. (Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon)
Note to all coaches with young, upcoming talent: if you want to accelerate their development to elite status, it may not hurt to give Coach K a ring. Love, Rose and Westbrook especially took a quantum leap and have all jumped into NBA elite this year.
Honorable Mention: Lamar Odom. Who’d have ever thought we’d be calling Odom the most consistent Laker?
Best legendary coach to quit in the middle of the season: Larry Brown
Sorry Jerry – whether we consider you a great NBA head coach or not, you’re still behind Larry Brown. The same Larry Brown who brought the Clippers to temporary relevance, took Allen Iverson to the NBA Finals, and made Joe Dumars seem like a brilliant GM (huh?). The two are almost polar opposites in terms of what makes them legendary. Larry Brown, in the Pat Riley mold, is the prototypical rent-a-coach, capable of short periods of brilliance followed by player burnout. Sloan made his mark via the amazing consistency of his Utah Jazz teams over a 23-year period.
Most Overrated Player with a High Scoring Average: Monta Ellis
I live in the bay area, so trust me on this one. The Golden State Warriors will never do anything in the NBA as long as Monta Ellis continues to be the featured player in their offense. Without a doubt, Ellis is a great scorer on a bad team,averaging 25.1ppg thus far this season.This does not absolve him of the fact that he plays no defense, averages only 3.5 assists per game, and over 3 turnovers per game. Worst of all, he’s stunting the growth of the real star of the team, Stephen Curry, from transitioning to an elite level. Advice to Warriors management: trade Ellis for what you can get, and build this team around Curry and Lee.
Distant runner-up: Carmelo Anthony. Controversial choice? Absolutely. But the fact remains that Melo is a no.2 player parading around in the guise of a No. 1.
Most Improved Player: Kevin Love
All-star snub no more — this was an easy one. Kevin Love is putting up a stat line for the ages this year, with 40 consecutive double doubles and averages of 21.3ppg, 15.6rbg, 2.5apg, 47% FG, 88% FT, 43% 3PT. He is up in every statistical category vs. 2009-10 including averaging 7 points and nearly 5 rebounds more per game. He’s also made Al Jefferson a complete footnote in Minnesota Timberwolves history.
Honorable Mention: Russell Westbrook, Wesley Matthews. Russell Westbrook’s stats may not clearly show it, but he has made the jump this year from nice 2nd year player to elite #2 option and point guard on a very good Oklahoma City Thunder team. Wesley Matthews makes this list for really coming out of nowhere to become an extremely credible NBA player at 16.1ppg (not to mention helping keep the Trailblazers somewhat relevant without Roy and Oden)
Coach of the midseason: Greg Popovich
As much as it kills me to admit this as a diehard Laker fan, Popovich is one of the most underrated coaches in the game.He has an aging Hall of Fame power forward and an overrated point guard as 2 of his 3 best players, but somehow has his team on a pace to win 68 games this year. If you look at the talent disparity between the Spurs and the next 3 best teams (Lakers, Celtics, and Heat), the talent disparity is laughable.
Honorable mention: Tom Thibodeau. The work he has done missing Boozer for a significant chunk of time during the 1st half of the year should not be discounted.
Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant
Before we make Derrick Rose the default MVP, we need to look over at Oklahoma City. This choice is as much a prediction as it is an assessment of who’s had the best first half. Durantula has been an absolute menace as the season has progressed. In February, he has taken his game to its highest levels of the season, averaging 30.8ppg, 9.8rbp, 3.0apg, and 1.6bpg while shooting 54% from the field. The Thunder have a similar record as the Bulls and a supporting cast that doesn’t differ much in talent (Boozer/Noah/Deng/Korver/Brewer vs. Westbrook/Green/Sefalosha/Kristic/Ibaka) – and yes, I’m counting the fact that Boozer and Noah have each been out roughly half of the midseason to date.