Now the season is hotting up. While some of us were taking their University exam time sabbatical, the NBA Season kept chugging along, writes Garbh Madigan.
Coming towards the All-Star break is always a good time to start debating the MVP because players most definitely keep an eye on the rankings, plus we are halfway through the 82-game season grind. This often shows in the All-Star Weekend itself as the competitive elite go at each other for supremacy.
In a weird turn of events, you won’t find the consensus “top two” players in the game in this list. That is an indication of what this season has been like in the ever-changing NBA. There are no clear favourites with a championship pedigree really showing themselves as a championship contender and star-studded teams like the Cavaliers and Thunder have struggled.
In mid January, one thing is for certain – this is the year of the point guard. Positions in basketball were only created so novices can follow the game, however, the PGs have been dominant. This is reflected in the rankings.
1. Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Curry and the Warriors have been on fire in the first half of the season. Steve Kerr has done a wonderful job following on from Mark Jackson and they are in the top three of all the old essential statistical categories. While Klay Thompson has become a legitimate All-Star quality player on a stacked squad, Curry is the King.
The Warriors washed away the Houston Rockets by 25 over the weekend and Curry decimated James Harden out of the discussion for number one in the MVP race.
Curry’s numbers stand out as definite All-Star numbers, but not necessarily MVP numbers. That does not mean they are not still remarkable.
Per Basketball Reference, Curry is actually down on his three point percentage to 40% from 42.5% last season but he is now (for a point guard) making an astounding 59% of his two point shots. Teams have run him off the three point line, so he just changed his scoring methods.
In all he has made 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range, 92 percent from the free throw line, all while averaging 23.3 ppg, 8.0 apg and 5.0 rpg. In addition to this, his often maligned defence has improved on what is now one of the best in the association – helping him to reach 2.2 steals per game, which puts him in the Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio class.
The astounding thing is, Curry is doing all of this on a steady 33 minutes per game, the lowest (bar from his injury hit 2011/2012) in his career.
Curry has mastered the art of playing point guard this season in a way that only a select few have in recent years. And that’s saying a lot given the current state of the NBA’s most well-stocked and difficult position.
To think, this guy is only on $11 million per year for another two years (mainly due to his pre signing injuries.) Watch out NBA, Curry is coming.
2. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
“The Harden Trade” is going to haunt the Oklahoma City Thunder for years to come. They gave up this guy for the concepts and chances of future hope and success when they had a bone fide superstar under their grasp.
As Kirk Goldsberry explained so brilliantly for Grantland, Harden is the personification of basketball’s future. He only takes efficient shots and relies on the free-throw line to maintain his elite levels of efficiency:
“Symbolically, Harden might be the most important player in the world. He’s a manifestation of the current trends in offensive basketball. The things that make him such an unusual superstar serve as a league-wide harbinger of what’s to come.”
This doesn’t always please the purists and die-hards and Harden’s game may not win everyone over.
There are still those who decry a perceived lack of defensive ability, even though he’s been far better in 2014-15 than he was last year. It turns out he could play defence but just was not bothered and it was “an effort thing.” There are still some who refuse to accept that earning—and making—free throws is a legitimate way to produce offense too.
I am part of the group that thinks the Rockets have overachieved this first half of the season with a Western Conference strong 28-13 record that has them fourth in the West. The addition of Josh Smith and the return of Terrence Jones should definitely help them but the real difference maker is Harden. 26.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks make him elite, no matter what way he does it. The real injustice is that this guy won’t even make the starting line up of the All-Star Game due to easily manipulated fans!
3. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)
The fact that Davis is still only 21 scares the living daylights out of me. If this guy played in a better system (or fit) for a better offensive coach than Monty Williams we could potentially be talking about him having a 30/15/3(blocks) line which would be record breaking.
Somehow, the most talented young player in the NBA has managed to stay alive in the race for a scoring crown while essentially picking up the scraps in the half-court set. He isn’t nearly as heavily featured as he should be, and he’s perfectly content to dominate while playing within the flow of the offense.
We haven’t seen these sort of numbers since Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were in their prime 20’s and before them – legends like Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. When a player “slows down” to have 24.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.9 blocks before their twenty second birthday it is pretty remarkable.
When the Pelicans eventually make a few trades and get themselves together in a year or two, Davis will have the league as his oyster.
Notable Mentions (4-10)
- Damian Lillard
- Marc Gasol
- Jeff Teague
- John Wall
- Pau Gasol
- Tim Duncan
- Kyle Lowry
Garbhan Madigan, Pundit Arena.
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