Expert’s Corner: Halfway Heroes

This week, the NBA season passes exactly the halfway mark. With the glass half-full, we take a look back at the first two-and-a-half months of the 2012-13 NBA season in this special Expert’s Corner Column: at the best teams, best players, and those who have truly surprised us.

Best Team
Akshay's Take Karan's Take
There are four teams vying for my attention here. Miami in the East, while Oklahoma, San Antonio and the Clippers have impressed me most from the West. But if I’m pushed to pick one, I’ll go with the team with the best record at the moment, the Thunder. They rank No. 1 in points scored, 3-point and free-throw shooting percentages. They are among the top 10 teams in offensive (No. 1 here) and defensive rating. Also, of these four teams, the Thunder have the best record on the road, boasting a win percentage of 0.666. In one word, they have just been ‘awesome’. The Western Conference is racing ahead this season as the three teams with the best record so far this season all playing in the West: Thunder, Clippers, and Spurs. The Spurs and the Clippers present two opposite ends of the spectrum: one of them, a model of consistency, and the other making big splashes for the first time in their long history. But the best team in the West – and the entire league – is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have been on a tear this season. The Thunder have the NBA’s best record, highest point differential, are the NBA’s best offensive squad and one of the NBA’s top defensive squads. Right now, they’re number one.

Akshay's Take Karan's Take
Injury notwithstanding and the Mayans not updating their doomsday prediction to early 2013, this has to be Kevin Durant’s year. Durant has been phenomenal this season, leading his team to the best record in the league at 33-10. He leads the league in scoring average, total points scored and is on pace to complete a unique feat of shooting -- 50, 40 and 90 percent from the field, 3-point and free-throw line respectively. LeBron may boast of a marginally higher player efficiency at the moment than Durant, but if team records count for anything, Durant-for-MVP chants should become a reality this season. Carmelo Anthony made some noise in the MVP department early in the season. Chris Paul lifted the Clippers to unimaginable heights. And Kobe Bryant continued to play at a high level, albeit in a poor team. But the MVP battle comes down to the two best players who fought for last season’s NBA title: Kevin Durant and LeBron James. While LeBron is having another stellar season, my favourite for the award this year is Durant. Durant has become an all-around threat, whilst also having a historically great scoring season, and his team is the best in the league. For these reasons, he’s my mid-season MVP.

Best Defensive Players
Akshay's Take Karan's Take
Let’s say this was about the All-Defensive First team, so let’s break this down by position and then concentrate on the team with the best records in the league because that’s what counts the most. That said, my first five nominees to that team would be Tyson Chandler (center), Serge Ibaka (foward), LeBron James (forward), Tony Allen (guard) and Chris Paul (guard). A few others that were very much under consideration, but missed because of the aforementioned criteria were Joakim Noah, Larry Sanders and Kevin Garnett. With Dwight Howard – the man who was supposed to be a lock as the league’s best defender of this generation – having a subpar season, the Defensive Player of the Year award is up for grabs. These year’s top contenders come from two of the league’s best defensive teams – Joakim Noah of the Bulls and Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies. My nod goes to Noah, who’s helped keep his team relevant without Derrick Rose. Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Omer Asik, Serge Ibaka, and Tony Allen are also all having great defensive seasons.

Biggest Surprises
Akshay's Take Karan's Take
This could have also been under the heading ‘disappointments of the season’ or ‘Lakers’ corner’. Because much of what has surprised me this season has to do with the NBA’s most storied franchise. They caught me off guard when they fired Mike Brown just five games into the season. Next, they pulled a rabbit out of the hat by bringing Mike D’Antoni to set things right. Even then, I never expected a team, which boasts players like Bryant, Howard and Nash to be sitting at 17-25, in 12th position in the Western Conference standings at the halfway mark. And yet I feel that there are more surprises headed our way from this team in this very season. The two biggest surprises are both in LA: The Clippers (they’re surprisingly good) and the Lakers (they’re surprisingly struggling). Two months ago, I had argued with my co-blogger Akshay Manwani that the Lakers were definitely going to be the Kings of LA, but I’ve been proved dramatically wrong since. The failings of Kobe, Dwight, and Co. have been no match for the dominant basketball being played by the red-and-white section of Staples Center. The rise of the Knicks out East has also been a cause for surprise early in the season.

The REAL All-Star Starters
Akshay's Take Karan's Take
Let me say this again – winning matters most in the NBA. And with that philosophy here are ten names that should start the 62nd NBA All-Star game. Let’s look at the East first – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo, I have no problem with. But Tyson Chandler, with New York doing far better than Boston, should have made it ahead of Kevin Garnett. The West is a little more contentious. Kevin Durant and Chris Paul are lock-ins, but David Lee and Tim Duncan should be there ahead of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. The argument over the fifth spot concerns a certain Kobe Bryant. And while the Lakers may not be winning, Bryant’s 29-plus points per game at age 34 are just too hard to ignore. And so here’s giving the Lakers’ star the go- ahead on one more star-studded performance at the All-Star game.

- Akshay Manwani
Fans got their votes in to see their favourite starters in the All -tar Game, but not all of them deserve the nod amongst the 10 best in the league to start the mid-season exhibition. Going by the league’s system of picking two backcourt and three frontcourt players from each conference, my picks for the All Star Starters would be: East – Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler; West – Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Tim Duncan. I gave the nod to Chandler and Duncan ahead of Garnett and Howard because the former big men have been more effective in better squads this season.

- Karan Madhok