Co-Written by Louie Snyder, Braden Wagle, Austin Wodock, Jakob Rosati, and Andrew Labuda
With every team just over 41 games, members of the staff gather to answer some of the biggest questions in the NBA!
Who is your midseason MVP?
Louie Snyder: James Harden. I don’t think anyone is really close to him in the midseason MVP race. On the season he averages nearly six points more than the next leading scorer in the NBA. In his last 10 games, Harden is averaging nearly 44 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. He’s done that all without Chris Paul and has only had Eric Gordon for the game against the Nets. Although the Rockets started off cold, Harden has led them back to the 5th seed in the West. He has also been the leading scorer for the Rockets in 38 of the 41 games he has played in. With all that said, if Harden wants to win the season MVP award and continue the Rockets success, he is going to have to do it without Capela, who is having a career season, and CP3 for who knows how long.
Braden Wagle: Everyone who knows me, knows I am a big James Harden fan. He took the Warriors to seven games with a supporting cast no better than Russell Westbrooks, even when Chris Paul went down, the Rockets came within 10 points while having one of their worst shooting nights of the season. If Ariza just shoots 25% from the field the Rockets win the game. With all of that said, Harden has been even better this season than last. He has willed the Rockets to the four seed, and 14-4 in their last 18, all without Chris Paul. James Harden is leading the league in scoring and fourth in assists. He is putting up historic numbers that rival streaks Kobe and Jordan went on. Harden has to be the MVP to this point, and likely back to back at the end of the year.
Austin Wodock: James Harden. As much as I love Giannis wanted to put him here, it’s hard to overlook the absolutely stupid things Harden is doing on the court. He’s leading the league in scoring by over 5 points per game! Oh, and he’s contributing 6 rebounds and nearly 9 assists per game. Harden has resurrected the Rockets from the cellar of the Western Conference earlier this season to the four seed, all while Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and now Clint Capela have battled through injuries all season. If he continues to produce at a level similar to this its hard to imagine an MVP not named James Harden.
Jakob Rosati: I am going to have to give it to Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks have the second best record in the NBA. Giannis is averaging 26.4 points, and a career-high in rebounds at 12.6 and assists at 6.1. Behind the Greek Freak’s play, the Bucks have become one of the scariest teams in the NBA as they have been able to match up with just about anyone defensively. His shooting has increased as well which only helps his case. They are on their way to a 50+ win season which would make an MVP very plausible for the young Milwaukee star. I am rooting for him, hopefully, he can perform in the national spotlight to bring it home later in the season.
Andrew Labuda: As much as it pains me to say this, James Harden. He has simply been the best player in the NBA for the totality of this season. Giannis is a close second and after him, there is a large gap in my mind. If Curry or Lebron were healthy all season it would be different but they have both been injured. But back to harden, he has started in all 40 of the Rockets games this year and averages 34.8 PPG, 8.6 APG and 6.3 RPG. Those are MVP caliber numbers especially when you consider other stat lines that won the MVP. For example, Steve Nash won the MVP with 18 PPG, 10 APG and 4 RPG and when Steph Curry won he averaged 30 PPG, 6 APG and 5 RPG. With all of that said, the MVP is more than just a stat line although stats do have a factor in. Harden’s impact for the Rockets is unquestioned, without Paul for most of the year and now without Capela, Harden has done it all and if you ask me, right now he is the leader in the clubhouse for MVP.
What rookie outside of Luka Doncic has impressed the most?
Louie: Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch many of the rookies play much this season. But Deandre Ayton was very impressive in the 2 games I’ve watched him play in against the Pacers this season. From what I’ve seen he looks extremely polished for a rookie big man. Not many big men, or players, come in as a rookie and have a stat line like 16.6 points, 10 rebounds, and 1 block per game. The scouts seem to have been pretty spot on with Ayton. He is a low post nightmare and can fill it up on the boards. While these stats and skills aren’t showing up in the win column, the Suns’ roster is very young and just not up to par with the rest of the NBA. But none of this really matters because of Luka. As long as Doncic stays healthy, he is going to run away with this award.
Braden: Deandre Ayton. It’s the boring answer, but also the right one. He is averaging a double-double and looks every bit the piece the suns have been looking for at forward. Under the radar rookies right now could be Wendell Carter or Marvin Bagley, neither get big minutes so their numbers are not flashy, but they are 2nd and 3rd in rebounds among rookies despite both playing under 24 minutes. Ayton, however, should be a force in this league for years to come.
Austin: Jaren Jackson. I’ve been anti-Jaren Jackson since his days in high school. I’ve called him overrated and soft and a variety of other things that aren’t usually associated with a Rookie of the Year candidate. I rescind all my previous comments and apologize to Jaren and Grizzlies fans everywhere. This dude is legit. With a 13/5/2 slash line coupled with nearly 2 blocks per game, Jaren is looking like the rim-running stretch five scouts and GMs pegged him as all the way back in high school. This year’s iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies isn’t the “grit-and-grind” bunch that went to the playoffs on numerous occasions and Jackson has been an integral part in keeping a much more up-tempo grizzlies squad on the outer fringes of playoff contention.
Jakob: As a Clippers fan, I am going to have to give Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the nod. He has helped his surprising Clippers team stay relevant with his master of all trades skill set. He has incredible driving and playmaking abilities, flashes of shooting potential, and strong defensive efforts. The Clippers have been hovering all around the Western Conference standings since inserting him into the starting lineup. Whether the Clippers make the playoffs or not they have definitely exceeded expectations. Shai is top 10 in blocks and steals among rookies, and ranks number 4 in assists. That’s pretty impressive for a kid that I am sure the casual basketball fan has never heard of. I am extremely excited about what the future holds for Shai. Go Clippers.
Andrew: As a Seventy-Sixers fan I am going with Landry Shamet. He was the 26th pick in the NBA draft and he has done more with fewer expectations than a top 10 draft pick. If you don’t watch the Sixers play than you might not even know who he is but he has shown signs of being a young JJ Reddick and has shot the ball extremely well. He is second among all rookies for three-pointers made with 79 made and only trails Luka Doncic. He also has the third best three-point percentage for all rookies who have shot more than 60 three-pointers at 38.5%. In addition to all of that he has a season high of 29 points in a game and gets serious minutes for the Sixers at 20 minutes per game. He has been impressive ever since the Jimmy Butler trade when Brett Brown threw him into the spotlight more often.
PHOTO CREDIT: THEDEVILSDEN
Who should go #1 overall in the NBA Draft his summer?
Louie: I don’t normally pay attention to college basketball unless it is March, or Indiana University basketball. Romeo has looked good and has lived up to his expectations but I know he isn’t the #1 overall pick. Unfortunately, I also had to watch Zion destroy IU when they played earlier this season and while I believe he will be the #1 overall pick due to his strength and athleticism in college, I don’t think he should be due to his inability to shoot and the fact that he hasn’t played against NBA strength. If I was the GM with the opportunity to pick the next star to join my team, I would have to go with R.J. Barrett. He’s averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists at Duke and he’s a great athlete that translates to his great transition game. Now I’m not saying he’s going to come into the league and be a star right away, he has struggled shooting the 3 this year and his lower body strength is a little lacking. But he is still young at 19 years old, and his confidence for such a young player is what really catches my eye, especially on a team so great as Duke’s this year. Once he gets with NBA coaches who will work with him on his shot, and trainers that will strengthen his lower body, the sky is the limit for this kid.
Braden: This is a tough answer, as a Duke fan I like all three guys. I am going to go with a surprise Cam Reddish. I don’t think he will go number 1 but he should. I love RJ Barrett, but parts of his game remind me too much of Andrew Wiggins and I worry he will fall down a similar path. Zion is a freak and might be able to do some real damage, but Reddish reminds me A LOT of Paul George. He is long and a great shooter, his weakness right now is his inability to be the Alpha dog, but that is something George struggled with too. George also struggled, learning how to play with Westbrook, like Cam is now with RJ and Zion. Cam has probably the biggest upside and could be a dangerous wing for years to come.
Austin: RJ Barrett. I love RJ Barrett’s game. He is as smooth as a player as you can find at the 3 positions in college basketball. He is fantastic at running rim to rim and converting in transition or playing half-court ball and getting to the rim almost at will. He kind of reminds me of Jayson Tatum, but with more upside as his jump shot still needs a bit of work. Zion Williamson is the trendy pick, but I still don’t see how his game translates to the NBA where there is a greater number of athletic juggernauts. I like RJ Barrett to come in and make an impact right away, while only continuing to get better.
Jakob: Zion Williamson. I don’t need to give you this kid’s stats. He can play basketball and everyone knows it. We have literally been talking about him for years and he is only 18 years old currently. This is the first time someone has seen attention like this since LeBron James. Zion is a walking highlight reel at 284 lbs which would make him the second heaviest player in the NBA behind Boban Marjanović who is 7’ 3’’, with the athleticism of Russell Westbrook. Nobody wants to be in this lane when Zion comes running down the court. A ridiculous amount of media attention will come from drafting this kid too, something every franchise wants and some may need. I don’t know if Zion will have the best career out of the next rookie class, but I think he will do the most for a franchise right off the bat, making him the clear choice as the #1 overall pick.
Andrew: Listen, I am just not on the Zion hype train. I just don’t see it. Yes, I know his size and strength and the highlight dunks but that doesn’t make him worthy of the number one pick to me. He is limited as a shooter and has the weight to guard centers but not the height and I’m not sure where exactly he would play in this NBA. After all of that, I’m going with RJ Barrett. To me, he fits the modern NBA perfectly. He has the ability to get to the line and is a nice shooter. He also is very quick and can guard 4 positions. He is the definition of what teams are looking for in today’s NBA. He is versatile, he can shoot and he has speed. I would take RJ over Zion right now.
Which team currently not in the top 5 of the east could be a dangerous pull an upset in Playoffs?
Louie: None. There isn’t one team that isn’t currently in the top 5 of the East that has a chance of pulling an upset on any of these teams unless one of them losses their star for the postseason. With that said, if I had to pick a team that is the most dangerous to any of these 5 teams, I would pick the Miami Heat. Erik Spoelstra is a top 5 coach who has had to coach a team without a true star since the departure of Lebron James, and more recently Chris Bosh. The Heat are a team filled with some of the best role players in the NBA. Josh Richardson is a star in the making for sure, but he still isn’t there quite yet to lead a team in the playoffs. Finally, who could talk about the Heat without mentioning Dwyane Wade? He’s one of the best shooting guards of all time, if not the best. Paired with a great coach who will get his team to the playoffs, while also getting Wade the rest he desperately needs in the regular season to try and make his one last push in the playoffs. While I still don’t think the Heat have a great chance against any of the top 5 in the East, it also wouldn’t surprise me at all if a D-Wade led Heat are able to pull an upset in the first round of the playoffs. I just hope if it does happen, my Pacers aren’t the team it happens to.
Braden: All of these are long shots, but I will go with Miami as well for two reasons. One they have Spo. He is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and his teams will always scheme well in the playoffs. If they draw an inexperienced Bucks team, with an unproven coach in the playoffs, they might have a chance. Josh Richardson is long and can matchup up with some length. Dion Waiters comes back as another defensive guard who can be explosive. The other reason is Dwayne Wade. He is still one of the elite closers in the game, and while he can not give you 30 minutes a night, he can be a factor late in a game. The Heat would be a bad matchup for the Bucks or Pacers I believe.
Austin: Miami Heat. Yet again Erik Spoelstra has the star-less Heat in the playoffs all while arguably their best player, Dion Waiters, sat on the sidelines to begin the year. The Heat are a tough, physical basketball team and nowhere close to being a pushover for any of the top teams in the East. If the playoffs started today, the Heat and Pacers would match-up in a series that, as a Pacers fan terrifies me.
Jakob: I can’t believe I am going to say it, but let’s rock with the Brooklyn Nets. For a team that made one of, if not the worst, trades in NBA history, they have rebounded quite nicely. This young squad already has some solid signature wins over the Celtics, Raptors, Lakers, 76ers, and Nuggets already, and have kept most games decently close. Caris Levert was having a season that was starting to be viewed as a strong Most Improved Player candidacy but was unfortunately cut short due to a right foot dislocation. There is no timetable for his return but rumor has it he could come back before the season ends. Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie are great young pieces that they found essentially out of nowhere and we always knew D’Angelo Russell could be great. This team has a real Brooklyn feel to them with values of hard work and grittiness instilled, which you love to see with young teams. They have other veterans who can help them win a playoff series in Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, and Kenneth Faried too. I am excited to see how this team comes together as we pass the midway point.
Andrew: The answer is NO TEAM. The Eastern Conference is not like the Western Conference where all 8 times are capable of winning a playoff series. Disregarding serious injury to a team currently in the top 5 of the Eastern Conference there is no way a 6, 7 or 8 seed will pull off an upset. Right now those teams are the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, and Charlotte Hornets and they just are not capable of being any of the top 5 teams. The Bucks, Raptors, Pacers, Sixers, and Celtics are just far and away better than the bottom of the East and in a 7 game series, anybody betting on the Heat, Nets or Hornets are just asking to lose money.
Photo Credit: SLAM
Which team is the biggest threat to the Warriors dynasty in the Playoffs?
Louie: This is easily the toughest question to answer for me. The Warriors are able to beat any team on any given night, and even if they were to lose 1, and maybe even 2, of their top 5 stars to injury, they are still able to light on fire and blow any team out. With that being said, I have 2 teams in mind that I think have the best chances to possibly take the 2-time reigning champs down this year. My first team is the Toronto Raptors. They are probably the deepest team in the NBA with 6, and almost 7, players averaging double-digit points per game. Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA on both ends of the court and will for sure be top 5 in MVP voting at the end of the year. They have the 7th best offense in the league, match up very well defensively with the Warriors, and oh right, they swept them in the regular season. The other team I think has a chance against the Warriors is the Houston Rockets. The Rockets were a Chris Paul injury away from being NBA champions last year. Don’t @ me. James Harden is now an MVP candidate every season, Chris Paul has been one of the best point guards in the league since he entered, and Capela is becoming one of the best modern-day centers in the NBA. I know they lost some guys from last year and their injuries this year are concerning, but if they get healthy and return to last years form including their experience playing the Warriors in a Western Conference Finals last year, the Rockets are a real threat to beat the Warriors in the West.
Braden: I got to go with the Houston Rockets. Just a year ago, the Rockets were nine points away from the NBA Finals and a win over the Warriors. Ariza just goes 4/12 instead of 0/12 they win, or Eric Gordon doesn’t go 2/13. It was a historically bad shooting night, otherwise, the Warriors don’t win last year. The Rockets have the power, and James Harden to lead them. Harden just beat the Warriors without Paul, and while it is not the playoffs, it does show what the Rockets can do. The other team actually wouldn’t be the Raptors for me, it would be the Celtics. The reason they weren’t my answer is that right now they are struggling and not a real threat to the Warriors, but if they figure it out they can be. The Raptors have 2 stars, the Rockets have 2-3 (depending on Capela). The Celtics can have a full 5 starters that have star potential. Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward have not shown it, the chemistry has been off, and Tatum still looks young, but IF they figure it out watch out. This team would have no weak link for the Warriors to attack, we have seen Kyrie break down Curry before, and the Celtics would arguably have the better bench. Right now the Rockets are the biggest threat, but the Celtics can be.
Austin: Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are unstoppable. They have a roster with 5 all-stars, a former MVP candidate and one of the best head coaches in the game. They’re number 1 in the Western Conference after an absolute beat down of the Denver Nuggets, the team with the best home record in the NBA, in Denver. Oh, and they have gone this far without Demarcus Cousins who is expected to join the rotation within the coming weeks. As long as the Warriors avoid injury and a complete fracture in chemistry there is nobody that can stop them from making it 4 out of 5 championships.
Jakob: This is a hard one, and honestly I don’t have a great answer. I don’t think any team will come that close to challenging the Warriors. I like the Denver Nuggets in the West just because they match up well with the Warriors but I don’t know if they have the star power to actually give them a good run for their money nor anyone for that matter. The Warriors lack in big men depth, so their ability to stop Nikola Jokić will come down to the success of Demarcus Cousins’ return. Hey, the Nuggets have beaten the Warriors already this year, although, the regular season doesn’t mean squash. In the East, I like Boston if they can gel a little bit better come April, but I would probably give the Toronto Raptors the edge. They swept the Warriors this year and have simply just played amazing basketball. I have a sneaking assumption Kyle Lowry will come down to earth in April, as will many of their other role players. Again, as I said earlier, the regular season doesn’t mean squash and is not a good way to predict a playoff series.
Andrew: Let me start by saying, nobody is close to the Warriors as they stand now. There are some many variables as what could dethrone them but many are too unlikely or too far away to really predict. Whether it’s a Lebron, AD, and Kuzma lead Lakers or a full Celtics team not to mention the Clippers who seem to have a good chance of signing Kawhi Leonard and maybe another star this year. I don’t believe the Raptors with their team have a chance and I don’t have faith in the Bucks who are lacking stars after Giannis. If I had to take a pick at who was the best chance with the least amount of possibility to fail would be the Seventy-Sixers. I know they have struggled as of late but all of their stars are there. They don’t need another star or two like so many other teams do. Now they aren’t perfect and if this were to happen Ben Simmons would need to be shooting deep mid-range shots, not accurately but close to 30% just to bring a defender out on him. Butler, Embiid, and Simmons need to mesh better that is for sure but when you look around the league every other team needs major change and to me, the Sixers are the closest when it comes to how their team stands now to winning. The only thing the Sixers need to add is bench players which is much easier than adding another All-Star.