After an exciting All-Star weekend, the second half of the season is set to get started. The first half of the year has been full of surprises. From the Charlotte Hornets to the Utah Jazz, hopes are high across the league. Let’s see which teams and players are primed for success in my NBA second-half predictions.
Let’s start with an easy one. Before the season, LaMelo Ball was the favorite to take home this award. Once the season started, things were not looking great for Ball, who struggled at times coming off the bench. He has been on a roll since entering the starting lineup, averaging 20.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game in February. Tyrese Haliburton continues to play well for the Sacramento Kings (13.2 points per game, 49.4 field goal percentage). New York Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley is impressing people, averaging 12.2 points per game in under twenty minutes. If Ball can keep his turnovers down and produce at the level he’s shown he is capable of, the ROTY award will be his to lose.
Despite what Pat Beverly may think, there are some quality players in the running for this year’s award. According to Vegas odds, the top five players in the running include four All-Stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert are the two most recent winners, but teammates Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid each have a shot at taking it this year. NBA blocks leader Myles Turner is third, according to the oddsmakers. While Gobert is currently the favorite, my money is on Simmons this year. Not only is Simmons a more versatile defender, but he is leading the league in deflections with four per game. While 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game may not jump off the stat sheet, you’d be hard-pressed to find another player in the league that can guard LeBron James one night and Damian Lillard the next.
This year’s Most Valuable Player race is as interesting as it’s been in years. Nikola Jokic is having one of the most efficient seasons in NBA history, averaging nearly a triple-double (27.1 points, 11 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game). The Denver Nuggets are sixth in the Western Conference and need a second-half run. James Harden is making himself a contender despite his bad start with the Houston Rockets. Since coming to the Brooklyn Nets, Harden averaged 25.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game. However, the Nets All-Star cast will make it hard to name any of them as the league’s MVP.
Next, we have James, who is always in the running for this award but hasn’t won it since the 2013 season. If the Los Angeles Lakers make a run while Anthony Davis is out, James may be able to secure his fifth MVP title. As of now, he is a close second to Philadelphia 76ers’ big man Embiid. Not only is Embiid averaging 30.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, but he is the lone MVP candidate who is also a contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Multiple 40-point games and clutch shots have put Embiid in the driver’s seat as long as he stays healthy.
While on the topic of Embiid’s health, an injury-free second half could very well lead the Sixers to the NBA Finals. The Nets are right there as well, with the potential to run any team out of the gym on a given night. Brooklyn may come out on top in the regular season, but they could struggle come playoff time. Blake Griffin is a nice addition, but he doesn’t solve or in any way help the Nets’ biggest issue. Without more front-court depth, this team could struggle in a seven-game series against the Sixers. Philadelphia has taken their lumps in the playoffs over the last few years. They look ready to take that next step to the promised land.
It’s hard to bet against the Jazz when it comes to the final standings in the Western Conference. While the Phoenix Suns are red hot, I doubt they can maintain this pace for the remainder of the regular season. The Los Angeles Clippers are keeping pace with their LA counterparts and the Nuggets still have a shot at a top-four seed. The Lakers have struggled recently, but it is hard to bet against James getting to the NBA Finals. They will certainly make a move before the trade deadline and they are a finalist in the Andre Drummond sweepstakes. If you pair that with a healthy Davis, you’ll have this year’s Western Conference champs.
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