NBA midseason recap: What to know, midseason awards


Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Trask Coliseum

Elijah Mize , Contributing Writer

*All statistics listed are current as of Jan. 10, 2019

The new year is upon us and with it comes the second half of the National Basketball Association season. Now that we are a week into January, we are officially at the midway point of the 82-game regular season.

If the NBA has not been a regular on your list of nightly viewing pleasures, then let this serve as a recap of what you’ve missed.

Eastern Conference 

Starting at the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference, there are five teams separated by only 4.5 games. Overall, the conference is top-heavy as the same five teams in the race for first place are the only ones with winning records.

 The first of those five teams is the Toronto Raptors (31-12). With most of the NBA offseason talk going in the direction of LeBron James and his decision to head to Los Angeles, news of former San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard being traded north of the border was second fiddle.

Leonard has proven however, he won’t be taking the back seat to anyone in the East this season. Toronto currently has a league-high 31 wins and is led by a combination of Leonard’s 27.5 points per game, point guard Kyle Lowry averaging over nine assists per contest and first-year head coach Nick Nurse. Nurse has made the offseason firing of last season’s Coach of the Year award winner Dwayne Casey look like the right decision. 

Another team with similar characteristics, holding a league-low 11 losses is the Milwaukee Bucks (29-11). Led by the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo and first-year coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks find themselves on pace for the most wins in a season (52) since 2000-01. That season, the franchise lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers.

Rounding out the top five in the East are the Indiana Pacers (27-14) who are led by six players averaging 10 or more ppg including team-leader Victor Oladipo with 19.9, the 76ers (27-15) who added a disgruntled Jimmy Butler in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves last November and the Boston Celtics (25-15). 

For Philly, the health and continued production of Joel Embiid are paramount. Embiid ranks seventh in the NBA with 26.9 ppg and third overall in rebounds per game with 13.5. The Celtics still have Kyrie Irving averaging over 20 ppg, depth with five other players averaging 10 or more ppg and head coach Brad Stevens, who has his team on pace to win over 50 games for the third-straight season.

Western Conference 

Top to bottom, the West is clearly the better overall conference with 14 teams having 19 or more wins compared to the East with only eight. Adding even more confusion is the fact that the top eight seeds in the West are only separated by 5.5 games. 

By far one of the biggest surprises of the season has been the rise of the Denver Nuggets (27-12), who have the best record in the West and third-best in the NBA. Center Nikola Jokic has turned himself into one of the best big men in the league. Jokic is averaging close to a triple-double with 19.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 7.5 assists per game. The Nuggets are currently the one seed and have four players averaging 16 or more points per contest.

The Golden State Warriors (27-14) find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory, currently on pace for their lowest win total since the 2013-14 season. This would be the franchise’s worst campaign since head coach Steve Kerr took over in Oakland.

That said, it is only January and the team still has last season’s main ingredients for a championship recipe in Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. All three of them are each still averaging over 20 points a game.

Sitting at third in the West are the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-15). Behind the combination of Russell Westbrook (21.2 ppg) and Paul George (26.8 ppg), the franchise hasn’t lost more than two games in a row since losing four-straight to start the season. The Thunder frontrunners have been getting it done defensively as well, ranking first or second in the NBA in total steals and steals per game. George and Westbrook have 85 and 81 total steals respectively with both averaging over two per game.

The Los Angeles Lakers welcomed LeBron James to Hollywood this offseason. However, as of Jan. 11, the story for him is eight games and counting missed due to a groin injury. L.A. (23-19) is 3-5 without LeBron. When James has been healthy and on the court, he has averaged 27.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 7.1 apg with the occasional triple-double.

The Thunder stand at the top of the West, followed by the Portland Trail Blazers (25-17), Los Angeles Clippers (24-17), Houston Rockets (23-17) and San Antonio (24-18). The Lakers sit in at the eighth spot.

Midseason Awards: MVP 

With LeBron missing some time into the new year, the race for the league’s Most Valuable Player has been a clear two-man race between Antetokounmpo and Rockets point guard James Harden.

Harden has been on fire as of late, scoring 30 points or more in 14-straight games tying him for second all-time in NBA history. The Rockets star is only two games shy of the all-time record of 16 held by former Laker Kobe Bryant. With Chris Paul missing significant time for Houston, Harden has put this team on his back averaging 33.9 ppg and 8.6 apg on the season.

That said, if we take into account the entire first half of the season, October and November must count for something. During that stretch, Houston lost five of its first six games. A rocky start culminating in a 10-11 record heading into December. The Bucks and Antetokounmpo however, won seven-straight games to open the season and were 15-6 as the last month of 2018 arrived. 

Adding to the consistency Antetokounmpo has shown through the entire first half of the season are the numbers that could potentially set him apart in league history. He is currently averaging 26.6 ppg, 12.8 rpg, and 6.0 apg. At this pace, the Bucks star could become just the seventh player in NBA history to average over 26 points, 10 or more rebounds and five or more assists. If he keeps his average of six or more assists, he will be the only player in NBA history to average 26 ppg, 10 rpg and 6 apg.

Harden, Leonard and Lebron have had solid first halves to the season as well, but the midseason MVP is Antetokounmpo.

Midseason Awards: Rookie of The Year 

Starting with several honorable mentions, Memphis Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. leads all rookies in blocks with 63 total and is fifth among rookies in points per contest with 13.4. Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young — who many thought would be leading the Rookie of the Year race after the draft — is third among rookies with 15.5 ppg and ranks first among his first-year peers with 7.3 apg.

The two clear frontrunners in this race are Phoenix Suns center and no. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Deandre Ayton and no. 3 overall draft pick Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic. Both are playing above expectations on teams with absolutely no expectations to win.

Ayton is second amongst rookies in ppg with 16.5 and first in rpg by a large margin with 10.6 and 456 total. However, based on the excitement, numbers and pure talent displayed so far, Doncic is the winner of the midseason Rookie of the Year award. 

The Mavericks newcomer is leading all rookies in scoring averaging 19.8 points a game, ranks third in rpg with 6.7 and ranks second in assists per game with 4.9. Doncic has clearly been the best rookie to this point in the season with Ayton not too far behind. 

Midseason Awards: Coach of the Year 

The race to the Coach of the Year award may be the closest. Not to take anything away from Leonard, who has shown MVP-caliber performance throughout the season, but the seamless transition that has taken place in Toronto would not have been possible without the talents of Nurse, making him the midseason Coach of the Year.

Honorable mention goes to both Budenholzer and Nuggets coach Michael Malone who have led both of their teams to the top of their respective conferences.