For this edition of Coffee Table Talks, the writers at C&B will talk about some of the biggest surprises and disappointments of the NBA season now that we are heading into all-star weekend.
What NBA team has exceeded expectations?
Timmy: I absolutely have to go with the Toronto Raptors. I want to give honorable mention to the Portland Trailblazers, but strictly in terms of wins and performance the Raptors have blown my expectations out of the water. I thought they would regress while the rest of the East got better, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
DeRozan and Lowry just keep on taking bigger and bigger leaps every year, and now they are probably the second-best starting backcourt in the whole league. The Raps have the 5th best point differential in the league and the 6th most efficient offense. As it stands right now, I could easily see a Cleveland-Toronto ECF going to 6 or 7 games. I wouldn’t even be shocked to see Toronto make their way in to the finals if they keep playing the way they have been.
The only thing to watch out for is another post-All Star break collapse like last year.
Eric: I will admit, I thought Portland Trailblazers were going to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, but they have been pretty awesome this season, plus they are very fun to watch. They have one of the best backcourts in the NBA and they are currently projected to make the NBA playoffs. They got rid of every player in their starting lineup from last season other than Damian Lillard.
No one would have been surprised if the Blazers tanked and became a lottery team, but no one would have predicted that the team would make the playoffs, which could happen.
Connor: Man you guys took all the good answers before I got here. Since you two already took my first two answers I will have to go with the Dallas Mavericks. While I know they have been a perennial playoff team in the Western Conference, I didn’t think they had it in them after they got worked in the “DeAndre Jordan Saga.” After thinking they had one of the most dynamic shot blockers in the NBA, they quickly had to turn face and fill the void with Zaza Pachulia. They acquired Wesley Matthews, but he was coming off a major knee injury. They had a lot of point guards, but Derron Williams was seen as washed up and Raymond Felton was never more than a backup.
The odds seemed to be stacked against them but somehow they have been able to stave off tanking and remain relevant. Pachulia was a borderline All-Star, Williams has, thus far, avoided the mark injury that has plagued him in so many previous season, and Dirk has turned back the clock and been very productive. While they don’t have a chance against the Warriors or the other Western Conference elites, I definitely didn’t see them competing for a possible home court advantage in the playoffs.
What NBA team has disappointed?
Timmy: There is a few teams that deserve this title, but none more than the Houston Rockets. Houston came out of the gates playing like garbage, and not a whole lot has changed since then excluding a few decent stretches of basketball. The centerpiece of their team, James Harden, seems to have taken a step back since last year. He has mostly returned to form at this point in the year, but it took him a month or two after living the life of a Kardashian this offseason.
The Rockets have the 5th worst defense in the league, and it’s a known fact that those teams simply do not last in the playoffs. As it stands today, the Rockets are outside of the playoff picture. Even if they do bump the Jazz or the Trail Blazers out, they are looking at a ridiculously tough first round matchup against any one of Golden State, San Antonio, or Oklahoma City.
Eric: A combination of the New Orleans Pelicans and the Atlanta Hawks have been the most disappointing teams this season. It is hard to blame the Pelicans for being bad this season because of the amount of injuries the team has suffered. The most disappointing thing about this team is that I really thought they were going to make the leap this season behind superstar play from Anthony Davis, but both the team and Davis have not made the leap due to injures for the most part.
For the record, I never thought the Hawks would come even close to the 60 win season that they had last season, but I thought they would be the second best team in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks are still a top five Eastern Conference squad, but I just think they have not been very good this year and they have struggled against many teams. I still do not think the team should blow it up, like many rumors have suggested, but they have been disappointing.
Connor: Once again I will go outside the box a little bit with my answer. This may be more of a personal disappointment than anything, but I think the Miami Heat have severely underperformed so far. Coming into the year a healthy Chris Bosh, and impactful rookie in Justise Winslow, and an improved bench made Miami an immediate contender in the Eastern Conference. NBA pundits around the country were saying that they thought Miami would have the best chance to knock off the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. I thought that their starting lineup was excellent and as long as everyone could stay relatively healthy, they would have a shot.
While Miami is certainly still in the mix in the East, currently holding the fifth seed right now, they have not truly fulfilled their potential. Dwayne Wade and Bosh have done their part, but Goran Dragic has been a disappointment and their bench has been very inconsistent.
What NBA player other than Stephen Curry is making a strong MVP case?
Timmy: I’m going to totally contradict my last answer here and say James Harden–but let me explain myself. This is following a strict definition of MVP as the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, not the BEST player. All of the other elite players in the league are paired up with better talent than Harden is. My first thought was to say Russel Westbrook, but OKC would still be a solid team because of Kevin Durant. LeBron James, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry– all of these guys have AT LEAST one other all-star playing with them. Harden is basically alone, and he carries the Houston Rockets on a nightly basis.
Eric: Has to be Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonard. Green is Golden State’s most valuable player and Curry is the team’s best player. I know Green does not have the numbers to try and make a strong MVP case, but he is certainly playing like an MVP on both ends of the floor.
Kawhi has made the leap that everyone wanted him to make this season. He can finally takeover on offense, and he is still one of the best defenders in the NBA.
Connor: I’m going to have to go with Kevin Durant on this one. After an injury-filled season last year, KD has burst back onto the scene and returned to his MVP form. He has the third highest scoring average in the league, the second highest PER behind Curry and he is a borderline 50-40-90 guy. He is crashing the boards at an almost career-high level and has stepped up his defense.
Simply put he can do things that not many other people in the league can do. People may have forgot the sheer greatness of KD because of his injury, but no longer.
Who are your NBA stealth title contenders?
Timmy: Refer back to answer 1; Toronto Raptors. I don’t really think that the Raps are built for a championship run just yet, but it’s not stealthy enough to say Oklahoma City. I think most hoop fans know that, no matter how good Golden State is, San Antonio or OKC could end up knocking them out in a Western Conference Final. If that happens, I think Cleveland or Toronto would have a change at winning in a 7-game series.
Eric: The Oklahoma City Thunder are a stealth title contender, which is crazy to think about seeing that they have two of the best five players in the NBA on their squad. The Thunder have been awesome this year, but they are being overshadowed by the Warriors and the Spurs. If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are healthy for the playoffs, boy are they going to be tough to beat.
Connor: It’s hard to think of a stealth title contender because the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder and Cavaliers have separated themselves so much from the rest of the pack. If I had to pick one sleeper for a playoff run it would have to be the Clippers. I know that they are the Clippers and will find a way to screw things up in the playoffs, but outside of the top four teams in the league I think the Clippers have the most talent. Their bench needs work and they could get better with a few trades at the deadline, but they could cause some problems.
What is your biggest NBA midseason takeaway?
Timmy: Every time I think the NBA can’t get any better, it does. This season has been fantastic so far, and it is only getting better. I think the overall watch-ability of the NBA has never been higher. Just about every team in the league has SOME reason to tune in and watch them play on any given night of the week. Even in the doldrums of February, the league is turning out exciting game after exciting game.
Eric: This is a popular opinion, but my biggest takeaway is that Stephen Curry is ridiculously amazing. I thought the reigning MVP was incredible last season, but he is even having a better season this year. Along with Curry being amazing, my other midseason takeaway is that the Warriors are probably going to win the title and only end the season with less then 10 losses, which is crazy to think about.
Connor: My biggest takeaway from the first half of the season is that the 2016 NBA Champion is going to come from the Western Conference. Without and pretty big upset, the Cavs are going to come out of the East. While the Cavs could muck up some games and take a game or two in the Finals, they aren’t beating the Spurs, Warriors or Thunder in a seven-game series. I’m not sure anyone is beating the Warriors at all, but even the Spurs and Thunder have a better team than the Cavs. And while everyone knows I’m not the biggest Cavs fan, this is not me being a hater. The three top teams in the West are better overall teams than the Cavs and that is just a fact.
THE NBA IS AMAZING