NBA midseason superlatives
Let's run down the half-season that was, beyond
Ever since Carmelo Anthony declined the Nuggets' three-year, $65 million extension offer last summer, the where-will-he-go/when-will-he-go storylines have dominated newspapers, websites, blogs and Twitter accounts everywhere. Anthony's ability to alter the future of at least two franchises has captivated the public's attention. With the NBA trading deadline more than a month away -- and with any resolution on Anthony's future not appearing imminent -- it's likely to continue to be the topic du jour for a lot longer, too.
Far be it from me to criticize an owner for expressing his frustration with his team, especially when that team starts 1-13. But Clippers owner Donald Sterling's motivating tactics aren't exactly a page out of Dale Carnegie. Early in the season Sterling was known to berate his players, most notably Baron Davis, whom Sterling reportedly attacked for his weight and shot selection, from his courtside seat (Chris Kaman later confirmed that Sterling had taken shots at him, too). And Sterling wonders why so few free agents are lining up to play there.
As the Suns continue to slide in the West, the calls for Phoenix to trade Steve Nash have grown louder. Moving the 36-year-old Nash now has its logic -- Nash deserves a chance to chase a championship in his final years and Phoenix can pick up a combination of young talent and draft picks for him while sliding 24-year-old Goran Dragic into the starting lineup as a replacement -- but the simple fact is the Suns have never seriously thought about dealing him. That hasn't stopped the national media -- and even Nash himself, on Facebook -- from regularly speculating about his future. "It's a fun story to write about," coach Alvin Gentry told me on Monday. "[But] we're not trading him."
Sure, most of New York was still swept up in LeBron fever when the Knicks tabbed Fields with the 39th pick in the draft last June. But Fields' steady game and John Havlicek-like polish (Donnie Walsh's words) have made him a fixture in the starting lineup. He leads the team in plus/minus and is just the third second-round pick in league history to win back-to-back Rookie of the Month awards. Fields won't make anyone forget Blake Griffin, but he will make you forget Damion James, Dominique Jones and the other dozen or so swingmen picked before him.
Moses Malone was a 6-foot-10, 260-pound man-child when he torched Seattle for 38 points and 32 rebounds in 1982. Love was a (listed) 6-foot-10, vertically challenged banger when he joined Malone in the exclusive 30-30 club 28 years later. Love's cerebral understanding of angles and positioning have always served him well, but his effort against the Knicks on Nov. 12 -- a gobble-up-every-miss performance Wolves coach Kurt Rambis called "just stupid" -- firmly established him as the top rebounder in the league.
Think Hawks coach Larry Drew wants to be burning Mike Bibby for 30 minutes a night? Think again. Drew had high hopes coming into the season that the speedy Teague could win the starter's job or at least claim a regular spot in the rotation. Instead, the second-year guard has been a fixture on the bench, averaging just 11.6 minutes. Atlanta has been a graveyard for young point guards since that fateful day in 2005 when the Hawks chose Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams, with Salim Stoudamire and Acie Law (along with the more experienced Speedy Claxton) each failing auditions. Soon, Teague may join that list.
The incomparable Griffin wins for sheer volume of highlight-reel dunks, but for one, spring-out-of-your-seat stuff, give me Smith's coast-to-coast, soaring jam on Dec. 16. With the clock winding down in the first quarter, Denver's Smith breezed by Ime Udoka off the dribble and posterized Gary Neal. TNT's Kevin Harlan's call that night summed it up: "We just saw a man fly."
Chandler carved out a nice niche as a defensive backstop in New Orleans, only to have chronic ankle and toe injuries cut into his last two seasons and threaten to stall his career. In Dallas, a healthy Chandler has fortified the Mavericks' defense, giving the team's potent offense a championship-caliber defense to rely on.
LeBron James' kick-the-crap-out-of-every-team-that-recruited-me-tour seemed likely to continue in L.A. on Jan. 12, what with Miami riding a 13-game road winning streak and having won 21 of 22 overall. But the Clippers weren't the least bit intimidated by the Heat's star power as they led 44-26 after the first quarter and held on to improve to 13-24. Griffin, as usual, was the catalyst, muscling Miami's smallish front line on his way to a ho-hum (for him, anyway) 24-point, 14-rebound night.
James has insulted his former team on television (with the ill-conceived "Decision"), on the court (with a nationally televised 28-point pasting in December) and last week took the fight to Twitter (
Wins and losses are the easiest way to quantify LeBron James' impact on Cleveland -- through 41 games last season, the Cavs were 31-10; this year they are a league-worst 8-33. But a closer look reveals even uglier numbers, especially on defense. Last season, Cleveland surrendered a stingy 95.6 points per game while holding opponents to 44.2 percent shooting. This season, with nine players from last year's squad still on the roster, the Cavs have allowed opponents to score 104.9 points and shoot 48.1 percent. Ugh.
Moments after Cleveland's 55-point pasting by the Lakers on Jan. 11, James couldn't resist getting in one more dig,
In an effort to curb complaining, the NBA authorized officials to hand out quick technicals for too many theatrics. The crackdown has been widely panned because of its subjectivity, with some referees willing to blow the quick whistle and others showing more restraint. Veteran official Ken Mauer is one of the former. In Minnesota on Jan. 11, Mauer blew five --
Durant was a chic pick to supplant LeBron as the league's MVP. But Durant isn't the best player on his team. That distinction belongs to Westbrook, who is one of two players (the other being James) averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. Westbrook has raised his scoring six points per game from last season while simultaneously bumping up his assist and rebound numbers. That's not a knock on Durant, either. He leads the league in scoring and, after a shaky shooting start, is connecting on 47.6 percent.
Can't have a midseason report without a frank discussion of Griffin, whose rookie season has been one jaw-dropping highlight after another. There was the poster-worthy dunks over Timofey Mozgov and Danilo Gallinari. There was the aerial show he put on against Detroit. There was the 47 points he dropped on Indiana. For a Clippers franchise that has been largely irrelevant for so long, Griffin's brilliance offers hope for the future.