Best and worst of the NBA's first half

Originally Published: February 18, 2013
ESPN.com

The first half of the NBA season is in the books and All-Star Weekend was a success. Time to review what has taken place on the court so far.


1. Who was the best player of the NBA's first half?


Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: LeBron James, unequivocally. How nice has it been to watch James in recent weeks without the constant noise and nitpicking that accompanied everything he did on the court before this past June? When he delivers pinpoint passes now in clutch situations, nobody questions his moxie. And when he dominates the game, we can all sit back and marvel.

Andrew Han, Clipper Blog: LeBron James, and he's made it an increasingly easy answer. Seven straight games with 30-plus points heading into the All-Star break. Six straight games with 30 points and 60 percent shooting from the field. And the game that snapped the six-game streak? Thirty-nine points and ONLY 58 percent from the field. LeBron is not only the Beast of the East, but the entire league.

Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak: LeBron James. I know it's "boring" to pick him, but after his latest stretch of brilliance, how could you argue?

Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Kevin Durant. It's a razor-thin margin, but I'll give it to Durant for playing more games and scoring at a more efficient clip because he gets to the line more. James has perhaps been more impressive, but his relatively low free throw rate suggests he's not going to red-line his engine for more than 5-10 minutes each game. Durant hasn't coasted and his team has the better record.

Michael Pina, Celtics Hub: LeBron James. He smells of dominance. One of the five best passers, scorers and defenders in the world, and an elevator of those around him like nobody else in the sport. Watching him play is to see a possession-by-possession evolutionary process; when that stops is anyone's guess.


2. Who was the best team of the NBA's first half?


Arnovitz: The San Antonio Spurs. They don't even fly under the radar -- they fly under whatever technology predated the radar. The Spurs are the league's most versatile team. When their stars are healthy, they can dominate you individually. But when those guys are in street clothes, San Antonio's air-tight system takes over, which explains how they can run off wins with their three best players on the pine.

Han: The myth of San Antonio's inevitable demise is almost as pervasive as the idea that they are boring. The Spurs were thought of as too old to be contenders and they quietly, convincingly disprove that year after year. What did they do this year? Only be the first team to 40 wins and hold the best record in the NBA. And they did this for several games with their stars sidelined nursing injuries.

Koremenos: Oklahoma City. The Spurs may have the best record in the league, but the Thunder own the league's best point differential (plus-8.8 to San Antonio's plus-8.4) -- the better indicator of a team's true strength. Though their conference rivals have perfected the art of not beating themselves, it shouldn't hide the fact that OKC is the toughest matchup in the league right now.

Mason: San Antonio Spurs. No one has the regular season down to a science like the Spurs. From providing proper rests for their stars to ensuring that a strong bench prevents other teams from catching a break when the starters sit, San Antonio has once again provided a model for regular-season success.

Pina: The San Antonio Spurs have the league's best record at 42-14 (22-2 at home!) and are the only team to currently have a top-five ranking in both offensive and defensive rating. San Antonio's only glaring flaw comes on the offensive glass, where they grab the fewest rebounds per game in the league. No worries though, as that's probably because this finely tuned machine rarely misses any shots.


3. Who was the most disappointing player of the NBA's first half?


Arnovitz: It pains me to say it, but I was expecting so much more from Ricky Rubio. It's true he hasn't been at full health, nor has his team, which makes life more difficult for a point guard. But Rubio ranks 73rd of 77 qualified point guards in turnover rate and he's shooting 34.3 percent from the field (with a true shooting percentage of 46.2). I'm still bullish on his trajectory going forward, but there's a lot of work to be done.

Han: Deron Williams is the pick. Three years ago there were legitimate, livid debates on who the best point guard was, CP3 or D-Will. Now, in his third season with the Nets, Deron is almost at rookie lows in most major statistical categories. Expectations were muted with Dwight Howard with the understanding that he was recovering from back surgery. But Deron? Deron was supposed to take a high-payroll team and usher in contending expectations in a new major market. It just hasn't panned out yet.

Koremenos: Andrea Bargnani. Coming off a career season, it seemed like the Italian forward was ready to push the Raptors back into the playoffs. But from the very first game, Bargnani regressed horribly on both ends of the floor, and a promising campaign quickly turned into a nightmare.

Mason: Deron Williams. Hate to pile on Brooklyn's supposed franchise player, but whether it's something in the offensive structure or an injury or just regular old decline, defenders are having an easier time than ever staying in front of Williams. His attempts at the rim this year are a career low.

Pina: Eric Gordon's season has been clouded by question after question concerning his health and commitment to New Orleans, the organization that signed him to a maximum-value four-year, $58.3 million contract less than eight months ago. Is his knee hurt? Is he unhappy? Gordon was an eyelash away from playing on Team USA during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Today he's stuck in trade rumors.


4. Who was the most disappointing team of the NBA's first half?


Arnovitz: A tough one, because most of the teams that ostensibly fall into this category have suffered debilitating injuries -- Philadelphia, Minnesota, Toronto. I thought we'd see more from Boston before Rondo's injury, and even though Dallas had an overhauled roster, it seemed likely to be more competitive. But there isn't a standout stinker this season -- though there's still plenty of time for disappointment!

Han: Talk about mismanaged expectations; it would be shocking if any team other than the Los Angeles Lakers were the choice. This was the team laden with four All-NBA talents, a super-team of complementary players that could conceivably scratch the 70-win threshold. Instead, there's been nothing but coaching turnover, infighting and the probability that this will be the most talented team to ever miss the playoffs.

Koremenos: L.A. Lakers. From the start I had reservations about a team with serious questions about age, health and depth, but perhaps no one could have imagined they'd be under .500 at the All-Star break. They perhaps should have never been considered championship contenders to begin with, but there's no denying this year has been a major disappointment for L.A.

Mason: Minnesota Timberwolves. Not really their fault, but still … this has been depressing.

Pina: The Los Angeles Lakers came into the season widely speculated to be legitimate title contenders/favorites in the eyes of many. Today they're 25-29 without Pau Gasol for the foreseeable future and no apparent rush to make any significant trades. Apart from the Boston Celtics, who are fighting their way from a distant second, not sure anyone else is even close.


5. What's one interesting stat from the NBA's first half?


Arnovitz: One team and one individual stat: The Los Angeles Lakers, with Dwight Howard anchoring the paint, have the league's 17th-ranked defense. We knew they'd be suspect on the perimeter, but no Howard team should rank this low. On the rosy side of the ledger, Chris Bosh is shooting better than 55 percent from 16-23 feet. As a frame of reference, Dirk Nowitzki in his best season never eclipsed 52 percent.

Han: Out of lineups to play at least 190 minutes together, the bench unit of the Clippers (Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes, Odom, Turiaf) is the second best five-man unit in the league in terms of defensive efficiency at 89.3. Not just among bench units -- ALL lineups of EVERY team. Talk of the Clippers is usually centered around fast breaks and dunking, but "Lob City" doesn't happen without "D City."

Koremenos: One. As in the number of players with a double-digit PER the Portland Trail Blazers have outside of their starting five. And even that player -- Meyers Leonard -- has struggled so much defensively at times it's hard to even consider him a positive force. Pretty incredible this team is hanging around on the fringes of the playoff chase getting virtually nothing from its bench.

Mason: How's this for filling a role? Last season, Pacers forward Danny Granger took 15.1 field goals (making 41.8 percent) and 5.6 3-pointers (making 38.1 percent). In Granger's absence, Paul George is taking 15.2 shots per game (making 42.2 percent), 5.5 3-pointers (making 38.6 percent). In addition, George is rebounding and assisting more than Granger did last season.

Pina: The 15-win Washington Wizards have one of the NBA's best defenses. Ranked seventh overall -- higher than Oklahoma City and Miami -- right now they're holding teams to a feeble 96.7 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, per NBA.com/Stats. Only the Indiana Pacers are better.