In this week’s NBA Roundtable, a handful of Society writers convene to reflect on James Harden’s historic stretch, Paul George’s MVP candidacy and which player deserves more All-Star votes after a surprising first return of results. This week’s participants are:
- Ryan Calpin (@calpinr_)
- DJ Allen (@DJAllen23)
- Eric Rose (@EricRose6)
- Evan Anderson (@Jordainian21)
- Cam Carter (@Camwriting_)
1. What adjective would you use to describe the current run James Harden is on?
Calpin: Special. He has scored 35+ points in his last 10 games. He is joining the likes of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as the only players to have scored at least 400 points in a 10-game span. I mean whenever you are in company with two of the greatest players of all-time, you know you have to be doing something special.
Allen: Insane! What he’s doing right now is special and as Calpin said, Harden’s name is being mentioned with a lot of the greats. Seeing runs like this is always great because we get to witness a great scorer in a zone. However, we have to hold up on the “best scorer in the league” comments because if I’m not mistaken, Kevin Durant is still in the NBA.
Rose: Ridiculous. This is Harden at his peak and, at his current form, he’s proving to be one of the greatest offensive players of all time. There are aspects to his game that are pretty unlikable and sometimes just hard to watch, like the 0.9 more FTA per game than Joel Embiid who also seems to get to the line at an alarming rate, but you can’t argue with the results. His game is one of the smoothest and most efficient we’ve ever seen and this current run has elevated him to heights we haven’t seen from him.
Anderson: Crazy. Harden has been playing really good basketball lately, averaging 40.8 points per game over his last 10 outings. His ability to create space off of step backs and crossovers gives him the advantage to score or get fouled. I would say he’s almost at his peak, but he has to show up and win come playoff time for me to say he’s at his peak. If Harden can continue this crazy run, I can’t see why he couldn’t win another MVP Award.
Cam: Kobe-esque. The last player too score 400+ points in a 10-game span was Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan was the only other player that achieve this feat. Harden is on another level, and if he pushes the Houston Rockets into the top-three of the Western Conference come April, who can deny him his second consecutive MVP? He leads the league in scoring and is fifth in assists. Is there anything else that needs to be said?
2. True or False: Paul George is a legitimate MVP candidate.
Calpin: I think Paul George has had a great season, if not the best of his career. I think that George has made people think about the Oklahoma City Thunder actually being a legitimate threat this year. However, the NBA is very, very good and the best of the best are better than we have ever seen. For those reasons I can’t consider George a legitimate candidate because to me, being legitimate means that you have a shot to actually take home the trophy. I am taking guys like Giannis, LeBron, Steph, Harden, and Durant before George, so no, I can’t see him having an actual shot at the trophy.
Allen: True. I think he deserves to be in the conversation because he’s leading the Thunder to great success this season. They’re second in the Western Conference and a lot of that has to do with what George is doing on both sides of the ball. There are a couple of candidates who I would take before him, but he deserves to be a candidate.
Rose: True. Paul George is averaging career highs in every major statistical category and the Thunder are in the second seed in maybe the deepest Western Conference we’ve ever seen. PG has also been instrumental in keeping the team afloat despite the most inconsistent stretch we’ve seen from Russ in years. Over the last eight games, Russ has had performances of 8/12/9 on 3/17 shooting, 9/9/8 on 4/22 shooting, and 14/16/10 on 3/20 shooting – the Thunder are 2-1 in those games. The old Thunder had no chance of closing out those games but PG’s monumental season has changed the tone for the franchise.
Anderson: True. Paul George is killing it this season averaging 27 points per game, eight rebounds, and four assists. PG and Westbrook have been getting it done for Oklahoma City, who are second in the West. We’ve been waiting for PG and the Thunder to start being a legit threat in the West, and it appears as if they have become one, mainly on the back of George. It’s been exciting to watch PG’s incredible season so far, so I don’t see why he shouldn’t be in the MVP discussion.
Cam: True, however the Cali native winning the award is a long stretch. Paul George is a two-tier player and with the Association’s elite one-tier players having career seasons, it would be hard for George to finish in the top-three. I will say if Paul George continues to play like this through January he should receive more consideration as league MVP.
3. What do you make of Jimmy Butler’s reported clash with Brett Brown, and what does it mean for his future in Philly?
Calpin: Right now, I don’t know what to think. Sure, Jimmy Butler doesn’t have the greatest track record of being the easiest player in the world to share a locker room with, but at the end of the day, he joined a new team a few months ago with two superstars with two superstar personalities. I think Brett Brown has a lot of juggling to do to make sure all three of his cornerstones are happy day in and day out. I also think Elton Brand and the 76ers have a lot of thinking to do at the end of the season and how they feel the rest of the 30-year-old Butler’s career will go.
Allen: I’m honestly on the fence about it. I respect Butler and his strive for greatness. A lot of people compliment his work ethic and his desire to win. However, if this is true, it doesn’t look good on him. It looks like drama is following him everywhere he goes and that’s a trend 76ers fans hoped would stop when he arrived in Philadelphia.
Rose: The more I hear about it, the more I think the story was completely overblown. Brett Brown has said the report was unfair to Jimmy because the film session wasn’t disrespectful and that he even agrees with Butler’s complaints about putting him in more comfortable positions to be the Jimmy Butler of old. It’s pretty interesting that this story broke at a time where the 76ers have a bunch of nationally televised games on the horizon. Funny how that works, huh?
Anderson: I don’t like to hear about it. We knew Butler was a superstar coming to Philadelphia with that “I’m the guy” mentality. I don’t think Butler should address these issues aggressively, but that’s who he is. Brett Brown has to think about this situation because the 76ers were looking for another superstar to help the team’s overall success, not bring drama and threaten their chemistry. Butler should accept his role on this team because the more complaining he does, the more drama is to come.
Cam: I love ‘Jimmy Drama.’ It seems like Jimmy Butler is a very up-front and honest guy. If something is getting under Jimmy’s skin before he shuts down, he likes to discuss the problem. With Jimmy Butler previously thriving in pick-and-roll and isolation plays he has a right to be frustrated. The up-tempo style helps players like JJ Redick more, not an iso scorer like Jimmy. Brett Brown is trying to mesh, but there seems to be a big shift that can be made.
4. Who’s more likely to finish top-three in their respective conference: Denver or Indiana?
Calpin: I think both teams are going to be playoff bound and I actually think both teams have enough talent to be able to make some noise in their respective conferences come playoff time. However, we all know the Western Conference is stacked with more overall talent and for that reason, I believe the Indiana Pacers have a better chance to finish in the top three of the East.
Allen: I would say Denver. I like the pieces that the Indiana Pacers have, especially Domantas Sabonis who’s having a very underrated season. But off the strength of the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and the Boston Celtics, I don’t see the Pacers taking a top-three seed.
Rose: I think you have to go with the Pacers just by virtue of the conference. Although Denver is the more talented squad, they have to surpass the Warriors, Rockets (if they can climb back into the top three, and their fast approaching), and Thunder, and will have to fight with the Blazers and Spurs to even get home court in the first round. On the other side, Toronto is the only team that seems to be set in stone as a top seed in the conference while teams like Boston, Philly, and Milwaukee have some things to work out before they solidify their respective positions. With the way the Eastern Conference is looking, Indiana at two wouldn’t be a huge shocker.
Anderson: I have to say Denver before Indiana. Denver has a talented team with Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic running things there. Even though their conference is tougher with the Warriors, Thunder, and Rockets, the Nuggets have a stronger team than the Pacers. The Pacers have some bumps in their system but have some guys that are having decent seasons like Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. They will make the playoffs, but lower than the Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks.
Cam: Victor Oladipo’s 11-game absence helped propel the Pacers to another level this season. Before winning four straight games without Oladipo, they struggled, going 3-4 in the first seven games without him. Although, after their slow start they never scored under 95 points until their loss against Cleveland. With the East being much easier than the West, Indiana will make noise in the playoffs as a top-three seed.
5. Name a player that you think deserves more All-Star votes.
Calpin: I think that Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons deserves more votes. The first votes came in last week and he stood at just over 192,000 votes, trailing the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jimmy Butler, and I believe he has played better than both of those guys this year. Griffin is averaging 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists on strong shooting numbers while putting a very below average Pistons team in position to at least make the playoffs this year. He should be getting more All-Star love.
Allen: I would have to mention a guy we discussed earlier and that’s Paul George. We’re talking about him in the MVP discussion and he’s leading the second best team in the West so I think it’s more than right that he grabs some more All-Star votes.
Rose: Damian Lillard is 47,000 votes behind Klay Thompson?! The same Klay Thompson who is having by far the worst shooting season of his career, shooting just 35% from deep and has been by almost all accounts an average NBA starter at best? The same Damian Lillard that’s top 10 in the league in points per game and having one of his best shooting seasons ever? Come on, cuhhh (Chris Smoove voice).
Anderson: Devin Booker. The Suns are struggling to win games this season, but Booker is still the primary guy scoring for them. He averages 25 points per game, four rebounds, and seven assists. Booker received 111,897 votes first go-around and is right behind Lonzo Ball with 175,040 votes. Booker has more of All-Star talent than Lonzo and has to do way more for his team, so I’m lost on those votes.
Cam: Damian Lillard is once again leading Portland to a playoff appearance this season. The first showing of votes that were released this past week showed Lillard coming in at sixth place among guards. Breaking 200,000 votes, Lillard’s season of elite play has been hard to ignore. Averaging 26 points on 45% shooting with five assists and six rebounds. C.J. McCollum is going through a massive slump and Dame has propelled the Blazers to a 6-4 record in the last ten games, and deserves more attention as an All-Star for his efforts in keeping Portland steadied.