3 Surprises at the NBA’s Midway Point

From the improved Eastern conference, to the top heavy Western conference, the 2015-2016 NBA season has had some interesting surprises. Here are my top 3.

(Image courtesy of Warriors World)

1.) The Dominance of the Warriors & Spurs

With this NBA season featuring a lot of inconsistent play and plenty of injuries, the Warriors and Spurs have avoided both of those storylines to remain at the top of the NBA standings.

There is no doubt that a few teams, outside of the Warriors and Spurs, can win the NBA championship this season (Thunder and Cavs come to mind). The Warriors, however, at the midway point, are clearly the favorite.

Steph Curry has had perhaps an even better season than last year (hard to believe – I know), and the Warriors sit at 37-3 in the standings. Curry has poured in 29.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 6.3 APG. All while shooting an amazingly high percentage – 51%.

Curry hasn’t been without help on both ends of the floor. Draymond Green is picking up where he left off during last year’s impressive championship run – proving he is no fluke and making an argument that he is the game’s best two-way player. Green, like Curry, has remarkably diverse numbers across the board: 15 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 7.3 APG.

What is even scarier is that their defense has been far from stellar – giving up 102 PPG to their opponents. If the Warriors can improve their defense, it’s hard to see anyone knocking them off come April, May, and ultimately in June.

The Spurs may be a dark horse for potential of ending the reign of Golden State. The Popovich-led Spurs have received little media coverage (surprise, surprise) competing with the Warriors flashy roster. San Antonio sits at 35-6, just a few games behind Golden State for the top spot. LaMarcus Aldridge and David West were two great additions over the offseason, and they are just now beginning to look more comfortable playing alongside Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and the legendary Tim Duncan.

Unlike Golden State, the Spurs are the best defensive team in the NBA at the midway point – giving up just 89 PPG.
NBA fans should be holding out hope that we end up with a Western conference final of San Antonio and Golden State. That series would have the potential to be one of the greatest ever – and I would be very surprised if we didn’t see that matchup come May. The Warriors and Spurs have easily been the top two teams all season long.

2.) Kristaps Porzingis and Derek Fisher

I will admit it: when the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis with the 4th overall pick in last June’s draft, as a big Knicks fan – I was devastated.

With Towns, Russell, and Okafor off the board – we still could’ve nabbed Willie Cauley-Stein or Justise Winslow. Good thing I am not the Knicks GM.

Kristaps Porzingis has been an incredible story so far this season, and quite possibly the Rookie of the Year. He’s averaging 13.9 PPG, 8 RPG, and 2.0 BPG. Any casual observer watching highlights of Porzingis, who played for Sevilla in Spain last season, realized he could shoot the ball. But offensively, Porzingis is shooting just 42% from the field, and 33 percent from 3-point range. His shooting ability is not what has made this rookie so special. He has answered the questions surrounding his ability to defend and rebound.

With the incredible footwork, range, and diversity in his game, Porzingis is a star in the making. A case can be made that he is already an All-Star, and for all the experts out there on draft night saying he won’t be ready until Kanye West is elected President (in the year 2020…for the older readers), you have been proven wrong. And that includes myself.

Porzingis and Fisher

(Image courtesy of the New York Daily News)

Now, why has Derek Fisher been a major surprise? Ultimately, I concluded last season that he was not a good coach. Fisher did an awful job (no other way to put it) with that Knicks team – sure, the roster was broken down at this point in 2015. However, up until the fleecing of the roster, the rookie head coach had plenty of talent to work with – and failed miserably.

This season has been a different story. The Knicks rebuilt roster comes with a rebuilt coach, one who is willing to make adjustments and whose team does not look nearly as lost as it did all last season. At 20-21, the Knicks sit just on the edge of a playoff spot in a dramatically improved Eastern conference. The second half of the season will be fascinating to watch the Knicks, but if they play near .500 basketball from here on out, Fisher deserves a lot of praise. Perhaps he owes a lot of credit to Porzingis, and to Phil Jackson for selecting him on draft night.

3.) What Happened to the Rockets and Wizards?

As I mentioned earlier, this NBA season has been highlighted by inconsistent play and plenty of injuries. The Wizards and Rockets are two teams that have left me underwhelmed by their play.
After a trip to the Western conference finals last season, expectations were high for the Houston Rockets. Their free fall from the top of the league began just 11 games into this season when they mysteriously decided to fire Kevin McHale following a rough 4-7 start.

The Rockets now sit at 21-19 with interim head coach Kevin Bickerstaff – good for 7th in the West. James Harden is still putting up MVP numbers, but reports that Dwight Howard is unhappy in Houston began surfacing in mid-December.

Houston clearly doesn’t have a championship caliber roster around Howard and Harden, but I did expect them to win 50+ games. Their problems mostly stem from their inefficient defense – they rank 26th in opponents points per game. Despite having Dwight Howard, the Rockets lack the ability to rebound the ball. Houston finds themselves 22nd in the league in that category.

In a year where the Western conference has been weaker than I can remember in the past decade, it is surprising that the Rockets find themselves barely hovering over .500. It will be interesting to see if they can get back on track, and rally in the second half of the season. If not, we may see big changes in Houston.

The loss of Paul Pierce has hurt more than anyone anticipated – perhaps less so for his on the court play and more so for his leadership off of it.

With that said, Houston is not the only team who has been a disappointment (also looking at you, Phoenix). The Washington Wizards have been incredibly inconsistent this season. Yes, the Eastern conference has improved. But, most (including myself) believed the Wizards were an up-and-coming team following last year’s campaign. The loss of Paul Pierce has hurt more than anyone has anticipated – perhaps less so for his on the court play and more so for his leadership off of it.

Scanning through their roster, John Wall is one of the most exciting players in the league, and is teamed up with young backcourt talent such as Otto Porter, Jr. and Bradley Beal. Throw Marcin Gortat into the mix – a talented center appropriately nicknamed “The Polish Hammer” – and you’ve got yourself a solid squad, right?

The only problem is, similar to Houston, the Wizards play no defense – and are dead last in the NBA in rebounding. If they can improve ever so slightly in these two categories, I’m confident we will see Washington make a post-All Star break rally into the 6th or 7th seed in the Eastern conference playoffs.

About Tyler Michels

Tyler is an NC State alum living in Raleigh, NC. Growing up in Northwest New Jersey, Tyler developed a love for New York sports teams, driving his desire to become a writer. In his free time, Tyler can probably be found on a golf course.

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