NBA Society Huddle: Post All-Star Outlook

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This is Basketball Society’s NBA huddle, where we will gather some of our favorite writers, personalities, and friends in the field for their thoughts on current NBA topics.

In this huddle, we have some takes on how the remainder of the season will look now that the All-Star break has passed. We’re happy to have five meaningful and notable hoops contributors participating. Be sure to give them a follow.

Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson: MSG Networks, Basketball Society

Justin Jett: Vice Sports, Def Pen

Jarod Hector: SNYtv, BET

Josh Eberley: HOOPMag

Martin Soaries: Basketball Society

1. Which team do you think is the most likely to make a second-half push?

Brandon: There’s two. The Los Angeles Lakers will surge as will the Boston Celtics. They both have played beneath their privilege in the first half of the NBA season.

Justin: The Philadelphia 76ers are about to shock a lot of people with their talent. Their starting lineup is destroying worlds in their first four games to the tune of a 20+ net rating and each player fits almost perfectly with each other.

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Photo: Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

Jarod: A few teams “could” make a move. If LeBron stays healthy, he will likely get the baby Lakers ready to roll. They are three games back of the #8 seed, and with 25 games remaining after the break, they’ll likely need to finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 17-8 to make it.

The Jazz are currently the no. 6 seed in the west and only 2 games behind Portland for the  #4 seed. Securing home-court advantage in the first round is definitely something the Jazz players would like.

Josh: I think the Utah Jazz are a good bet to keep on coming, they are near the bottom for the strength of schedule and they were a trendy pick to be the Western Conference’s second-best team in the off-season. Donovan Mitchell is out of his slump and Rudy Gobert is once again playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level, I wouldn’t be shocked if they were the three seed come the playoffs.

 

Martin: Even though they’re in good standing I say the Toronto Raptors make a statement in their final 23 games, which according to NBA.com’s John Schumann is the easiest schedule of this last stretch of the season. After picking up Marc Gasol their “second-half push” would mean beating out Milwaukee for the overall no. 1 seed in the East.

2. Is the MVP still in favor of going back to James Harden after his ridiculous run?

Brandon: Harden has a steady momentum. But it is not how you start it is how you finish.

There are two alternate ending, deleted scene scenarios that they didn’t give you in the theater that you’ll get on the DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Prime, Netflix and via Firestick.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts on an enjoyable performance at the All-Star Game and keeps that momentum in the second half of the season AND SO ON AND SO ON…

Paul George continues to do Paul George things and makes folks turn their head and give him the nod.

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Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Justin: My hottest take is that the player averaging nearly 10 points per game more than the second place MVP favorite should probably win MVP. The Houston Rockets would be a lottery team if not one of the three worst teams in the league if not for James Harden. What he does is repetitive and boring but effective, even when he does not shoot that well.

JarodI don’t know about that. It’s true what Harden is doing this season, offensively, is historic. No player in league history has averaged 36 ppg while being this efficient. He is shooting 37% from three and his true shooting percentage is 62. All that while having a usage rate above 40. That’s insane. But…

Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 27 PPG, 12.7 RPG, and 6 APG for the season. He is shooting 58 percent from the field and has a 30.3 PER. He is the best player on the league’s best team (record wise). Then there is…

Paul George. He is averaging 28.7 PPG, 8 RPG, 4 APG, and 2.3 SPG and has taken over as the best player on the OKC Thunder. He is, arguably, the best two way player in the league.

If I had to make a vote today, it would be Giannis by a slim margin. How’s this for a startling fact? This season will likely be the first time, since the 2005-2006 season, that LeBron won’t finish in the top five in MVP voting.

Josh:  I would disagree. I think the award goes to Giannis Antetokounmpo with Paul George also getting some votes if the ballots were drawn up today. I think it’s still relatively open enough that even Nikola Jokic and Steph Curry aren’t totally out of the running. As for my hot take; if the Thunder finish strong, with George continuing at his 2019 pace, I could see a scenario where Paul George wins MVP, DPOY, and the Most Improved Player award. Which has never happened before. (George has already won Most Improved Player and to date, no MIP went on to win the MVP. That would change if George or Antetokounmpo won this year.)

Martin: My vote goes to Giannis right now, along with my vote for Mike Budenholzer as Coach of the Year.

3. Which team(s) out of the playoffs right now will end up making the postseason?

Brandon: Maybe the Los Angeles Clippers.

Justin: A LeBron-led team not making the playoffs almost seems like an impossibility. The odds are heavily out of their favor but I still expect the Lakers to make a push for the 7th or 8th seed. Imagine a Warriors vs. Lakers first-round series, talk about reviving the NBA’s tv ratings.

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Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports

Jarod: I mentioned the Lakers earlier. But if the Lakers don’t make it, the Kings are just on the outside and would be a fun #8 seed. Playoff experience for Fox, Hield, Bagley and that team would be huge.

Josh: I’m going to ignore the Lakers and place a hefty wager on the Orlando Magic getting in. Jonathan Isaac has shown some growth, Aaron Gordon is rock solid, and Nikola Vucevic has a well-warranted All-Star appearance. They’ve been playing well of late and I can see them sneaking in as the 8th seed.

Martin: I like Sacramento’s chances of making it in.

4. Which player do you think can have the biggest second-half resurgence?

Brandon: Kyrie Irving. The stats are there. Add the balance of leadership and takeover ability while staying healthy and making a deep playoff run. I’m here for it!

Justin: I think LeBron is going to flex his, “I am one of if not the best player of all time” muscles in order to get the Lakers in the playoffs. He has had probably the quietest season in his career so I think he is due for some complete league destruction.

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Photo: Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports

JarodWell, it’s really the last 1/3 of the season. Most teams have 25 games remaining and it’s all about solidifying home court for the top teams and getting in the right frame of mind heading into the playoffs. For the teams still jostling for positioning and trying to make the playoffs, it’s all about winning as many games as possible.

Caris LeVert could have a great surge down the stretch and his Brooklyn Nets will need it. LeVert suffered an injury in early November and just returned to action right before the break. LeVert showed flashes in his action just before the break. He needs to get his timing back on his shot and get back into rhythm with his teammates, but if he does, look out.

Josh: This is a good question. Let’s just say if the Houston Rockets want to get back to the conference finals or beyond, Eric Gordon needs to remember how to hoop, Clint Capela needs to be a real rim-protector again, and Chris Paul needs to fight off the decline one more year.

Martin: Very much looking forward to seeing what Isaiah Thomas will do in a thriving Nuggets system and environment now that he’s back in the lineup. I think he has the potential to be a key difference maker for how legitimately they compete in the playoffs.

Bonus: We’ve seen some amazing individual moves from the likes of Harden, Doncic, and others. What’s been the best individual offensive move you’ve seen so far?

Brandon: The Luka Doncic buzzer-beater in December with .6 seconds left to send the Mavericks and Trail Blazers into overtime was one of my favorites. I liked it. He palmed it, he flung it, he Larry Bird’ed it! Is that a word?

After that happened I reached out to legendary Miami rapper, Uncle Luke Campbell who made the hit song, “I Wanna Rock Doo Doo Brown” to ask if Luka could have his Uncle Luke nickname. Campbell told me maybe and that he likes Luka’s emergence and swag. Luka has a clear lane to be himself, play like himself and take the Dallas Mavericks baton as Dirk Nowitzki will retire at seasons end. I like what he’s doing in Dallas.

Justin: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s “I am going full speed at the rim” in the fastbreak is the most unstoppable play in basketball right now. You rarely see anyone try to stop it, let alone get close to actually doing it.

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Photo: LM Otero / AP

Jarod: There have been so many great moves this season. From Harden, Luka, KD, Steph, etc. But these three game-winners from Jimmy Butler, Giannis, and Harden immediately came to mind.

Josh: I’ve got All-Star on my brain but Hamidou Diallo honey dipping over Shaq is far and away the most memorable play of the season so far for me. Second up would be Durant’s fading triple vs. Toronto to force overtime early in the season.

Martin: The single most impressive move so far has to be Harden’s step back. With all of its controversy, it’s still a lethal mastery of footwork and body control. And now it’s become something that other players want to master for themselves.

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