Now that the All-Star Game has passed, it’s time to move on and look forward to what the second half of the NBA season offers. In the course of the first half, there were many teams who were incapable of reaching their potential. Some were left scrambling, by needing to find balance within their rosters, which means that dealing away a center piece may be needed.
Not all teams have failed to live up to the hype however, and several are running through their respected conference with ease. In the process, a handful of records could be in deed broken by seasons end. Here are the biggest questions that must be answered during NBA’s second half.
What will Phoenix do from here?
Despite an aspiring start, things in Phoenix have sputtered out fast. Whether it’s been generated from key injuries to their back court, that was suffered months apart. First it was a torn meniscus by point guard Eric Bledsoe in December, then combo guard Brandon Knight went down with a severe groin injury in mid January. With all things considered, everything and all has deteriorated in front of Suns’ interim head coach Earl Watson’s eyes. Now, this leaves an impression of progress that’s fleeting and currently the franchise carries no sense of direction.
It’s evident how vital the Bledsoe/Knight duo was for Phoenix, as they made up 40% of the offense before both got injured. Since Knight went down on January 19th, the Suns have gone with everyday backup guard Archie Goodwin to handle the role of primary ball handler. Goodwin has progressed admirably under his new role this past month, averaging 16.5 PPG during his last ten games starting.
Unfortunately, the strides Goodwin has made is the lone bright spot Phoenix is currently experiencing. Even with the additional moves it’s difficult to read where the Suns’ front office is building towards. Although the Suns’ back court shows signs of promise, there is little stability within the front court. From Markieff Morris’ constant clamoring of playing time, there seems to be no encouragement present.
The once nimble Tyson Chandler is now old and slow and is having his worst season as a pro. Through 23 minutes of playing time per night, Chandler has regressed as a scorer, only pitching in five points per contest. Aging forward and lifetime bench player P.J. Tucker, who is 3o shouldn’t be part of the long-term plan that head coach Watson is philosophizing. If Phoenix wants to make strides even amid the bad times, then developing Goodwin as much as possible will go a long way. For as much attention as the Suns’ guards are receiving, they likely will have to send one of them away once the season ends. This means rebuild is inclined to occur.
With the season already lost, the Suns need to disperse more action to forwards Mirza Teletovic and TJ Warren. Even rookie wing Devon Booker deserves to flirt with an increase of minutes.
Are the Celtics this big of a threat?
Last season, the Atlanta Hawks stormed through the Eastern Conference by riding off the backs of free agent acquisitions and development of talent within the organization. This led them to take the top spot in the conference, and eventually to sail as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, before falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games.
Atlanta proved that sometimes you can succeed in the NBA without containing a premiere All-Star. It took several years and even an assortment of draft classes, but eventually the Hawks were able to groom Paul Millsap and Al Horford into formidable, franchise front-court pieces. For the most part, the Hawks’ tactical concept is something that very little managements can recreate perfectly in the modern-day NBA. However, everything can always be re-arranged differently.
Like most cases, no two things are ever alike. But if there is a team who’s latched onto the Hawks’ model of achievement intently it’s this year’s Boston Celtics. Yes, the same scrappy, selfless, team-oriented style of basketball is propelling the Celtics to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings. As of now, they’re sitting third, directly below one of the league’s most polarizing teams, the Toronto Raptors.
Entering the second half, the Celtics feel like they are one star player away from becoming a serious threat and they have picks, players and contracts to offer. Despite them being involved in every trade discussion and linked to just about every available player. Danny Ainge revealed no signs of dealing away specific positions or weaknesses on the roster amid the trade deadline.
Right now, there’s a growing sense around the team that they’re building toward something that’s worth keeping. Those Brooklyn picks offer legit chances of getting star-level talent in the draft and Ainge isn’t going to give them away for aging stars at the end of their contracts.
A big reason for the Celtics’ unexpected rise revolves around Crowder’s versatility on defensive. In addition, this incorporates well with his ability to guard the opposing team’s best player. In turn, this makes him extremely valuable to the Celtics’ cause. Not only that, but he’s also coming along nicely on the offensive end. As Boston’s everyday starter, Crowder is the team’s third leading scorer, averaging 14.1 PPG and at 25 he still has a lot more room to grow on a steal of a contract. The same argument could be made for Smart, who has upgraded his ability to read the floor as a playmaker. Smart is making passes he wouldn’t have even thought of last year, and currently has a chance to be a really solid starting point guard once his three-point shot continues to improve.
No question has Boston proven that they’re legit contenders to win a few games in the playoffs. Although the bigger dilemma Boston is facing with and will be for the foreseeable future is in regard to its front-court rotation. Boston feels confident with the trajection of Kelly Olynyk’s and Amir Johnson’s game, as both are logging a consistent 20-23 minutes per night. However, the makeup of center Tyler Zeller and stretch forward Jared Sullinger’s contract don’t justify that both will stick around for Ainge’s massive plan.
Will Golden State make history?
No team is playing better basketball in the league right now than the Golden State Warriors. By building upon last year’s NBA title, Golden State has breezed past nearly everyone during the first half of the season. Stephen Curry is performing at an MVP level yet again. He is averaging 29.8 PPG, and is connecting on 50.8% of his field attempts, 45.4% from three. And with that, he’s closing-in on becoming the first back-to-back MVP winner since San Antonio’s Tim Duncan from 2002-03.
It’s not just Curry who’s game has stepped up. Forwards Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green have earned every ounce of their increased playing time. Even with a balanced attack every night, Barnes and Green are steadily developing into the Warriors’ most efficient scorers. Per 100 possessions, the combination of Golden State’s two common stretch forwards have administered Offensive Ratings over 115 (the league average is 100). In addition, both hold onto PERs of 16 (NBA average is 15).
In a general sense, all of the teams in the NBA seem to be gunning for Golden State, which stands with a record of 48-4. This unstoppable unit is one of two teams that remain unbeaten at home (San Antonio is the other one). Considering how dominant the Warriors are right now, it’s not far off to believe this year’s team can match the 1995-96 Bulls’ record wise. Golden State kicks off the second half of its season on a seven-game road trip, concluding with a premiere visit to Oklahoma City.
In order for the Warriors to finish the regular season with single-digit losses, they’ll have to sustain a winning percentage of at least 83.3%. This is fairly achievable given that 17 of Golden State’s 30 remaining games resides in Oakland.