(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)
By the time you read this article, the NBA All-Star Game will be over and the second half of the season will be underway. Many great individual and team performances have been made during the first half, so here are some of the honors I would hand out if the season ended today:
MVP: Chris Paul, PG, Hornets
Many fans figured that the Western Conference would be loaded this season, but not many people thought that the Hornets would be sitting at the top of it with a 36-15 record. Paul continues to carry the Hornets by averaging 20.5 points, 10.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 4.0 rebounds per game. While playing a fast-paced style, Paul has managed to commit only 2.7 turnovers per game, which has allowed him to rank third in the NBA with a 4.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Though he is not really a three-point shooter (34%), Paul still manages to shoot 48% from the field because of his quickness and slashing ability.
Similarly to when Steve Nash won back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006, Paul makes everyone on his team better because he distributes the ball and knows how to run the show. Amazingly, Paul’s first half numbers this season are actually better than Nash’s numbers in ’05 (15.5 points, 11.5 assists) and ’06 (18.8 points, 10.5 assists). While putting up more points and comparable assist numbers, Paul also plays better defense, commits fewer turnovers, and plays with less talent around him than Nash did during his MVP run. If Paul continues his current pace, he might have one of the best seasons for a point guard in NBA history.
Apologies to: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett
Rookie of the Year: Al Horford, C, Hawks
With the injury to Greg Oden before the season, Kevin Durant has easily been the NBA’s most heralded rookie. He has basically been handed the award by many analysts, but Horford, who was picked right after Durant in the NBA Draft, actually deserves the award -- for now. Horford has had very little trouble fitting into the starting center spot on the Atlanta Hawks, and he is averaging 9.3 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also manages almost one block, one steal, and one assist every game.
Though Durant is more skilled offensively, Horford has managed to make an efficient 47% of his shots. Durant, who is playing shooting guard at six foot eight, has struggled by shooting just 29% from three-point range. Horford is the better defensive player and recently had 15 points and 20 rebounds while playing solid defense in a win against Pau Gasol and the Lakers. If I had to pick who had the higher ceiling, I would pick Durant in a heartbeat. But so far, Horford has just been better.
Apologies to: Durant, Al Thornton, Jamario Moon
Sixth Man of the Year: Manu Ginobili, SG, Spurs
Making the case for Ginobili is fairly easy; he is averaging 19.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game while shooting three-pointers at a 40% clip. With so many injuries, the Spurs have been starting Ginobili recently, but when the team is healthy, he routinely comes off the bench to provide a strong scoring punch. Even with Tony Parker injured for much of the season, Ginobili’s play has helped the Spurs to a 34-17 record, good enough for fifth place in the West.
Apologies to: Leandro Barbosa
Most Disappointing Player: Vince Carter, SG, Nets
Carter is one of the best players in the league and has thrown down some of the greatest dunks of all time. Unfortunately for the Nets, he is not one of the best teammates or winners. Carter has put up pretty good averages in the first half -- 20.7 points, 5.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds -- but New Jersey is just 23-30. Carter’s lack of leadership and inability to help the Nets win more games is probably one of the biggest reasons why Jason Kidd wants to be traded. On the surface, the trio of Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Carter should be enough to win plenty of games in the Eastern Conference, but Carter has been as unreliable as ever. Carter is still a strong individual talent, but if he’s still such a game-changing player, his name would not be as frequently involved in trade rumors as it is.
Apologies to: Just about anyone on the Heat or the Knicks
Most Disappointing Team (besides the Heat or Knicks): L.A. Clippers
Picking on a team without its best player, Elton Brand, hardly seems fair, right? Well, the Clippers just missed the playoffs last season with a record of 40-42 even while playing a part of the season without Brand. At 17-33 the Clippers would seem to be a team without much talent on its roster, but that is not really the case. Even without Brand, the Clippers still have Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, and a very talented rookie in Al Thornton. However, Sam Cassell has not played well and neither has Tim Thomas. Many Clippers fans hoped that the team could stay close in the standings so Brand could come back and lead the team to the playoffs – but that’s not happening. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all to sign Tim Thomas, who has career averages of 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds, to a 4-year, $24 million dollar contract after the 2006 season.
Most Surprising Moment: The Pau Gasol Trade
Without a doubt, the Gasol trade came out of nowhere. Not only did the Lakers get Gasol for very little, but the trade also sparked the Shaq trade to Phoenix and the near-completion of the Nets-Mavericks trade involving Jason Kidd. The Western Conference was already much better than the East before the trade, but somehow the conference got even better in a matter of weeks.
Apologies to: the Warriors signing of Chris Webber; anything Bill Walton says
Most Bizarre Story: The Downfall of Latrell Sprewell
Before leaving the NBA after the 2005 season, Sprewell had a relatively successful career playing for the Warriors, Knicks, and Timberwolves. His career, though, took a strange turn when he turned down a three-year, $21 million dollar contract after the season. Sprewell’s rationale for turning down the contract was confusing at best; he said, “I’ve got my family to feed.” As it turns out, Sprewell’s home was recently up for foreclosure, and he also had to sell his yacht. No one knows for sure exactly why Sprewell stopped playing in the NBA, but his apparent troubles only prove one thing: athletes can be just as strange as everyone else.