2019-2020 NBA Midseason Review and Predictions

NBA Stars

We are about halfway through the NBA season!  At this point, we have a pretty good idea what each team is about, and what their Playoff chances look like.  A lot of surprising teams, and seemingly even more disappointments.  Exciting season nonetheless.  Let’s take a look at the potential award winners, surprises, disappointments, along with division breakdowns.  Here we go.

Most Valuable Player
There are about a half dozen players you could make an argument for, mostly your usual suspects.  James Harden is on pace to have the best scoring season since Michael Jordan in 1987 (37 points per game).  Luka Doncic is a triple-double machine (averaging 29, 10, 9).  Karl-Anthony Towns is quietly having an outstanding season (26, 11, 4).  And LeBron James is playing like vintage LeBron James (26, 11, 8).  But the best player in the NBA right now is still Giannis Antetokoumpo, the reigning MVP.  30 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists.  He’s your MVP.  Giannis Antetokoumpo

Rookie of the Year
Before the season started, Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson seemed like a lock to win the Rookie of the Year.  But after tearing his meniscus on October 13th, his rookie season was delayed.  He is scheduled to return next week, so we will at least get a few months of him.  Too late to win the Rookie of the Year Award though.  Which makes this probably the easiest race among all the Awards.  Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant is leading all rookies in both points per game (18) and assists per game (7).  Nobody has been close to him this season.  Ja Morant

Defensive Player of the Year
Defending Defensive Player of the Year winner Rudy Gobert is turning in another fine defensive season (15 rebounds, 2 blocks).  Portland’s Hassan Whiteside has been a defensive force as well, with 14 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.  But the winner at the halfway point of the season has to be Andre Drummond.  16 rebounds (1st in NBA), 2 steals (2nd), and 2 blocks (10th).  Excellent all-around defensive effort.  Andre Drummond

Sixth Man of the Year
At the midpoint, this is the closest race of all the awards.  There are 4 players who are worthy of the award.  Goran Dragic (15, 5, 3) and Dennis Schroder (18, 4, 4) would both be in contention most years.  But the Sixth Man of the Year at this point of the season plays for the Clippers…but which one is the question?  Defending Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams (20, 6, 3) or Montrezl Harrell (19, 7, 2)?  The depth of that team is astounding!  But who wins the award?  Williams has won it enough (3 times).  Montrezl Harrell

Most Improved Player
Luka Doncic and Brandon Ingram have both made significant improvements in their games, but both were very good players before this season, so I will leave them out.  Bam Adebayo has made huge strides, averaging 9, 7, 2 last year…to…16, 11, 5 this year.  But the most improved this year, by a long shot, has been Devonte Graham.  Last season he averaged just 5, 3, 1.  This year, he is averaging 19, 8, 4.  Easy pick.  Devonte Graham

Coach of the Year
As noted in my NBA Preview, I am not a huge fan of this Award.  Not that it shouldn’t be given out, but because it rarely goes to the most deserving Coach.  It usually neither goes to the best Coach, nor to the Coach with the best team.  It ends up going to the Coach whose team is “better” than expected (something the media typically predicted).  Anyways.  In terms of improvement, Erik Spoelstra has done a great job in Miami this season.  Missing the Playoffs as a 10 seed last season, and currently 29-13 sitting in the 2 seed right now.  He should get some consideration.  In terms of what the “experts” said, I would say Memphis has exceeded expectations more than any other team has.  Last season they finished 12th in the West, 16 games under .500.  This season, although they are only 20-22, they are currently sitting in the 8th spot in the tough West.  But, the Coach of the Year has to go to the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Explanation in the next paragraph.  Billy Donovan

Biggest Surprise Team
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook on consecutive days this past summer, I immediately thought 3 things.  1. Chris Paul will never play a game for OKC.  2. They are about to blow this team up and start over.  And 3. This team will suck.  Well, Paul is playing (very well), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is turning into a star, Dennis Schroder and Danilo Gallinari are both averaging over 18 points per game, and Steven Adams is still doing Steven Adams things.  They are currently 24-19, sitting in the 7 seed.  To be honest, I didn’t expect them to win that many games all season.  Oklahoma City Thunder

Biggest Disappointment
In 2019, the Portland Trailblazers finished with a 53-29 record, and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.  They feature one of the best players in the NBA (Damian Lillard), one of the better scorers (CJ McCollum), and traded for one of the best defensive players in the League (Hassan Whiteside).  Expectations were high coming into 2019-2020.  Well, they are 18-26, sitting in the 11 seed in the West.  They have had a couple injuries (Jusuf Nurkic and Rodney Hood), but should still be better than 8 games below .500.  Portland Trailblazers

Onto the Division picks.  In my NBA Preview and Predictions article I wrote before the season, I made predictions for each Division winner, along with the playoff picture.  I also previewed each Division more in-depth (links below).  Like usual, I am batting about .500.

Southeast Division
Preseason Prediction - Hornets, Wizards, Hawks, Heat, Magic (in order, last to first)
Well, I have gotten roughly 0 of the 5 correct at this point in the season.  The Hawks are in last, and aside from star Trae Young, this team really doesn’t have much.  The fact that 43 year old Vince Carter is getting meaningful minutes tells us everything we need to know about the 2020 Hawks.  The Wizards lost John Wall for the season, and Bradley Beal is doing all he can.  Which clearly isn’t enough to carry this team.  After losing Kemba Walker this past offseason, expectations were not high for the Hornets this season.  Despite being only 15-29, they have a bright future with all 5 starters being 27 or younger.  In my preseason preview, I said the Magic will be about exactly the same as last year…42-40 last year, 20-23 this year.  Got that one right!  Sitting on top of the Division at 29-13 is the Miami Heat.  I knew they would be good, but didn’t think they would be this good.  The emergence of Bam Adebayo and addition of Jimmy Butler has turned this team into a defensive force.

Atlantic Division
Preseason Prediction - Knicks, Nets, Raptors, Celtics, 76ers
I predicted the Knicks to be in last place, and of course, they are.  Even though they sit at just 11-32, they are actually not as big of a dumpster fire as I thought they would be!  Good job out of you.  The Nets have been a mess this season.  Kyrie has only played 15 games, and despite having his best statistical season, has proven he’s not capable of being a #1 on a good team.  Guess they’ll have to wait until Kevin Durant comes back next season.  The 76ers are 28-16, but doesn’t it feel like they should be better than that?  When you have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, there is no reason you should be 6th in the Eastern Conference.  The Raptors are the defending Champs, but when Kawhi Leonard bolted for Los Angeles, many (including myself) thought they would make a major step back.  Kyle Lowry is still solid, Fred VanVleet has gotten better, and Pascal Siakam has turned into a borderline All-Star.  Dangerous team.  The Celtics are sitting on top of the Atlantic, but just 1 game separates them, the Raptors, and the 76ers.  The addition of Kemba Walker and subtraction of Irving seems to be working out, as the Celtics are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA with 3 players averaging over 20 points per game.  This Division will go down to the wire.

Central Division
Preseason Prediction - Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers, Bucks
Aside from swapping the Bulls and the Cavaliers, I got this Division correct.  For the Cavaliers, I am not sure what their plan is.  They are clearly rebuilding, but they still have Kevin Love (31) and Tristan Thompson (28) in their starting lineup.  Time to ship those guys off.  The Bulls are a relatively young team, with a core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter.  They may be good in a few years…but not now.  The Pistons snuck into the Playoffs last season year, but have taken a major step back this year.  Despite Andre Drummond having an excellent season, they are just 16-27, and with Blake Griffin’s return uncertain, things are not looking up.  The Pacers offseason acquisitions Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, and Jeremy Lamb have all proven to be good signings.  They are currently sitting in 2nd, and with Victor Oladipo scheduled to return in a couple weeks, they should get even better.  As for the Bucks, they have the best player in the NBA…and on a related note, they have the best record in the NBA.  Cream of the Eastern Conference crop.

Northwest Division
Preseason Prediction - Thunder, Timberwolves, Trailblazers, Jazz, Nuggets
The Timberwolves, despite a stellar season from Andrew Wiggins and an outstanding season from Karl-Anthony Towns, are currently 15-27, sitting in last place.  One of the more underachieving teams this season.  Speaking of underachieving, the Trailblazers are 18-26.  Far cry from their Western Conference Finals appearance from a year ago.  Going in the opposite direction are the Thunder, who are sitting in 3rd (7th in the West).  Their expectations were very low after trading away Paul George and Russell Westbrook, but Chris Paul and Co. have had a great 1st half.  The new-look Jazz, despite starting off just 13-11, have stormed back and are currently 29-13.  Donovan Mitchell is still the star, and newcomers Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic have fit in nicely.  And sitting on top of the Northwest are the rich, creamy Nuggets.  They made no moves this offseason and brought the exact team back, which is looking like a very good decision.  6 players averaging in double-figures, and Nikola Jokic is a bonafide star.

Southwest Division
Preseason Prediction - Grizzlies, Pelicans, Mavericks, Spurs, Rockets
Coming into the season, many people thought the Pelicans would be competing for a Playoff spot…then rookie Zion Williamson went down with an injury…they are currently in last place.  He is scheduled to return in a few days, so we should at least get a glimpse of what this team will look like in the future.  Quick, when is the last time the Spurs missed the Playoffs?  That’s right, 1997.  They are currently in the 9 spot, just 1.5 games out of the Playoffs.  This sounds crazy, but this actually might be Gregg Popovich’s best coaching job.  This roster simply isn’t that good.  Speaking of overachieving, the Grizzlies are a somewhat surprising 20-22, which isn’t bad considering their record last year.  They are very young and balanced team, with 6 player scoring in double figures.  They may not make the Playoffs this year, but their future is bright.  The Mavericks were expected to be good this year, but I don’t think anyone expected them to be this good.  Kristaps Porzingis appears to have fully recovered from his injury, and 2nd-year Luka Doncic has been a machine, averaging 29, 10, & 9.  And sitting on top of the Southwest is the Rockets.  The Russell Westbrook / James Harden experiment has not been perfect, but it’s been good enough.  Westbrook has been productive, and Harden is having the best scoring season in over 30 years.

Pacific Division
Preseason Prediction - Suns, Kings, Warriors, Lakers, Clippers
As you know, the Warriors have represented the West in the NBA Finals the last 5 seasons.  They did lose Kevin Durant to the Nets, Klay Thompson is out for the season, and Steph Curry has played only 4 games this season.  But did anyone think they would be this bad?  9-34?!?!  And best quote of the year of the year was by Charles Barkley, referencing Draymond Green’s “triple-single”.  Awesome.  Much like the Grizzlies, the Kings are balanced and young.  4 starters 27 or younger, and 7 players averaging in double figures.  This team will be good in a couple years.  The Suns had 19 wins last season, which was worst in the Western Conference.  They already have 17 wins this season, and with Deandre Ayton back from injury and Devin Booker’s scoring prowess, this team has taken major strides.  Not quite ready for the Playoffs, but soon.  The Clippers are currently 2nd in the Pacific, and 3rd in the West.  Paul George has missed 16 games, and Kawhi Leonard 9.  This was expected coming into the season, as this team is built for the Playoffs.  Look for them to start making their push in a couple months.  And the best in the West has been the Lakers.  After missing the Playoffs the last 7 seasons, they revamped their team, and have been one of the two best teams in the NBA all season.  If LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both healthy coming into the Playoffs, they have a real good look at a Championship.

Looking back at my preseason predictions and ahead to the Playoffs, here is what I had lined up:

Eastern Conference Playoff Teams (and seeds)
1. Milwaukee Bucks
2. Philadelphia 76ers
3. Boston Celtics
4. Indiana Pacers
5. Toronto Raptors
6. Orlando Magic
7. Miami Heat
8. Brooklyn Nets

Western Conference Playoff Teams (and seeds)
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Denver Nuggets
3. Houston Rockets
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. Utah Jazz
6. Golden State Warriors
7. Portland Trailblazers
8. San Antonio Spurs

So in the Eastern Conference, I had 8 out of 8 correct!  The seeds were not perfect, but I’ll take it.  For the Western Conference, I had 5 out of 8 right.  Not great, but 2 of the 3 I missed are within 3 games, so I have a shot.

I think that about covers it.  Now, tell me what you think!!!

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