Triple Threat Weekly: Looking Forward to the 2nd Half

Weekly NBA Content by Back of the Jersey

Tyler Michels and Jim Armstrong size up a few storylines for the NBA’s second half, including which low Eastern Conference seed is likeliest to knock off a top seed.

Who is your 2nd half breakout performer?

Tyler

D.J. Augustin: Nothing baffled me more this past off season when D.J. Augustin was on the market, and demand stayed extremely low. Ultimately, Detroit managed to snag him as a backup; a seemingly nice fit to play behind the inconsistent starter in Brandon Jennings. Since Jennings tore his achilles tendon on January 24th, Augustin has stepped in and been one of the top point guards in the NBA. The six-year veteran from Texas is averaging 16.0 PPG and 7.1 APG during Jennings’ absence. This includes monstrous averages over the last four games of 21 points and and 10 assists. I still can not believe Augustin was not signed this past off season as a starter (a team in New York could have used a starting PG of his caliber), and I expect his superb play to continue into the 2nd half of the season.

Jim

Kevin Durant: The reigning MVP has missed 27 of his team’s first 50 games and is averaging his lowest PPG (25.2 PPG) since his rookie season. He’s also shooting a career worst 85.7% from the free throw line, while his RPG and APG are well off his MVP clip from last season. The All Star weekend could not come at a better time for Durant who is still rounding into form after undergoing surgery to repair a fracture in his right foot. I fully expect OKC to qualify for the playoffs and be one of the most dangerous lower seeds (think Memphis last year) in the history of the NBA. Right now OKC sits three games out of the #8 spot in the Western Conference, with New Orleans one game better than them and Phoenix holding the final playoff spot. With Durant going at full tilt in the second half, no one will be talking about whether or not he deserved his all star selection.

Who is your MVP?

LeBron James tries to bring Cleveland a championship

Unsurprisingly, LeBron James has been vital to Cleveland’s success. Will he capture his fifth MVP award?
(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Tyler

LeBron James: It is debatable who is currently the best player in the NBA. Fans across the country could make the argument for names such as Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Steph Curry – amongst others. However, no one has been more important to their team’s success this year than LeBron, who of course, has been the best player in the game for the past decade. Now 31-20 overall, the Cavs are riding a season high 12-game winning streak. But, the most important stat might be that Cleveland is just 2-8 when LeBron does not play. James has gone for over 30 points five times during the streak, and is averaging 27.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 7.4 APG overall.

It is clear that with the additions of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov the Cavs are on the verge of a special 2nd half of the season. But, despite the balance and supreme talent up and down Cleveland’s roster, LeBron James’ play determines the team’s success. And, when he’s playing like he has the past two weeks, there may be no stopping the boys from Ohio.

Jim

Steph Curry: He’s one of only a few players in the NBA who has the skills and chops to put up 40+ points in a night (2x this season already). On Wednesday night (2/4), Curry carved up Dallas to the tune of 51 points on 10-16 shooting from the 3-point line. He’s a top-3 best scorer in the NBA but the real secret behind Steph Curry’s ascendency to the top of the MVP conversation is his renewed focus on defense. Curry has become a legitimate two-way player under the tutelage of Steve Kerr. Curry currently sits #4 among all NBA players in PER, with a ridiculous 43.5, behind only Anthony Davis (46.2), James Harden (45.2) and LeBron James (43.6).

You could easily make an MVP case for any of these four players but quite simply Golden State has been the best team for much of the NBA season (Atlanta has recently supplanted them as #1) and a big reason is because of Steph Curry’s maturation and growth into a 2-way player.

Which Eastern Conference team could pull off an upset of one of the top 3 seeds?

Tyler

Milwaukee Bucks: The Eastern conference is incredibly different than the Western conference. The lack of balance in the East is no surprise, but it makes it nearly impossible to select a team to beat the Hawks, Wiz, Raptors, Cavs or even the Bulls. Those five teams will be fighting for the top three seeds for the remainder of the season. If I had to make a prediction, I believe the top three seeds will be Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago.

With that said, I am going to go with a true dark horse. We may get a Bucks-Bulls first round, and the Bucks are a team that could potentially upset Chicago, if not, at least push them to the limit. Jason Kidd has shown he can coach up young talent, as the Bucks are winners of five straight and are 27-22 overall. The recent emergence of John Henson has been huge to Milwaukee’s current five game run, and Brandon Knight is a borderline All-Star point guard who has thrived in Kidd’s system. I never thought I would say this, but Milwaukee could be a serious threat in the Eastern conference playoff bracket come April.

Jim

Charlotte Bobcats: Charlotte has been one of the most incredible comeback stories this season (and for any season for that matter). After losing 20 of their first 25 games this season, many (including myself) left this team for dead in January. Even in the rotten Eastern Conference, I thought there was no chance this team could even sniff a playoff spot. As I’m writing this on February 7th, Charlotte has made one of the most impressive runs up the conference standings. Charlotte has moved from the bottom of the Conference to the #7 seed, with a record of 22-27, in the last 30 days. A large reason for the turnaround has been the maturation of Kemba Walker. With Al Jefferson slipping a bit from his monstrous 2013-14 campaign, Walker is leading the team in PPG (18.8 PPG), assists (5.2 APG) and steals (1.4). Walker needs to stay healthy for this team to have a chance in the playoffs (Walker has missed 8 games thus far due to knee issues).

Look for the Steve Clifford led Bobcats to settle into the #6/#7 seed and challenge a Toronto/Washington squad in the first round of the playoffs.

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

Speak Your Mind

*