Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: Which team is the best at this point in the season?
> Biggest surprise to you at the halfway mark of this season?
David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The rapid improvement of the East versus the West. You don’t hear much talk from the media about re-seeding the playoffs because of the dreadful East any more, do you? Not to sprain my wrist patting myself on the back, but some of us argued — and continued to argue –that there’s no magic potion or league-mandated jerry rigging that’s going to make the East better. If you hire good coaches (Brad Stevens, Steve Clifford, Stan Van Gundy), draft the right players (John Wall, Jimmy Butler, Andre Drummond, Kristaps Porzingis), make smart trades (Goran Dragic, Nicola Vucevic, Marcin Gortat) and sign the right free agents for the right amount of money (Pau Gasol, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap), it’s amazing how quickly you can make your team better. I am surprised, though, that Houston and Phoenix and New Orleans have fallen off so quickly this season.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In the team category, I’m most surprised by Dallas. No way did I expect the Mavericks to be in the middle of things out West. I underestimated the contributions they’d get from Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia and Dwight Powell, didn’t fully account for the value in shedding Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis and took for granted Rick Carlisle‘s coaching. As for individual surprises, C.J. McCollum has been something of a revelation. Sure, he’s getting more opportunity – he already has played more minutes than in his first two seasons combined – but he still had to be capable of responding to it. The slender shooting guard hasn’t just scored more, he has spruced up his mid-range game and doubled his assist percentage. He’s a big Most Improved candidate in my view.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Mavericks. I was like everyone else. I thought it was going to be tough several months. Through no fault of their own, but still. I thought losing DeAndre Jordan with little chance to find a replacement center, while also relying on Wesley Matthews coming off a serious injury and 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, was a near-certain invitation to the lottery. Instead, Dallas is tracking to the playoffs and 2015-16 is becoming another affirmation of the skill of coach Rick Carlisle. The Mavs knew it all along, signing him to an extension before this latest proving ground, and a lot of people around the league knew it, but the success should be the ultimate sign of Carlisle and the atmosphere around the entire organization.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Pelicans. I thought by adding a decent coach and getting healthy and benefitting from one of the top-10 players in basketball would place them in the middle of the pack in the West (which isn’t that good this year). But they’re an awful team with major questions and, to be honest, Davis hasn’t improved a lick nor shown that he can transform a team (which is what superstars do).
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Kristaps Porzingis. The rookie was supposed to be a couple of years away from really contributing, but he’s helped the Knicks on both ends of the floor. He’s obviously big and skilled, but he’s also got a fantastic attitude, seems very comfortable living in a new country and in the league’s biggest market, and he even has Carmelo Anthony trying to play distributor every once in a while.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest surprise for me is just how big a gap there is between the top teams in the league (Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland, Oklahoma City and, perhaps, the Clippers on a good day) and the rest of the field. Like most people, I didn’t see the record start coming from the Warriors. And the fact that the Spurs are hot on the trail is truly an amazing feat, given just how all-time great the Warriors have been. Even with the significant improvement from top to bottom in the Eastern Conference, there is still a wide space between the true contenders and everyone else.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Warriors and Spurs are separating themselves fundamentally from the rest of the league. There is a long way to go, and things can change dramatically, but right now no other team is in the same league as Golden State and San Antonio.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Washington Wizards. For a team that pushed the Atlanta Hawks so hard in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, they definitely seem to have regressed. Now, I know they’ve had injuries, and they’re trying to play more small ball, but they just can’t seem to turn the corner and escape this neighborhood of being a perpetual .500 team.