Blogtable: Biggest surprise at season's halfway point is ... ?

Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day. Staff

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The biggest surprise at the halfway point of the season is ____________________?

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Steve Aschburner: Said it before, I’ll say it again: James Harden’s emergence as an MVP favorite tops everything else I’ve seen or heard. A guy whose game, in my view, had been too self-indulgent and disconnected from winning looks to be doing everything new Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has asked (or Harden’s previous coaches might have). Harden not making even the third all-NBA team last season was on merit (that’s how I voted, in full disclosure). Harden topping a lot of our five-spot Most Valuable ballots at this stage is on merit, too.

Fran Blinebury: Despite coming back to Earth of late, I don’t think anybody saw the Rockets with the third-best record in the NBA at this point. And we’ve also got to be pleasantly shocked by the 76ers return to the land of the living on the wings of Joel Embiid.

Scott Howard-Cooper: The Rockets. Didn’t see this coming at all. Should I start believing they are more than just a good regular-season team?

Shaun Powell: The rejuvenation of Mike D’Antoni’s career, which was all but left for dead until the Rockets paired him with James Harden. Suddenly, Houston has the most lethal offense East of Golden State, with far less talent. Honorable mention is Russell Westbrook averaging 10 rebounds.

John Schuhmann: The last time we answered this question, I went with a team (Memphis). So this time I’ll go with an individual: Joel Embiid. We have seen a lot of talented rookies over the years, but few that are truly impact players on both offense and defense. The Sixers have been 14 points per 100 possessions better with Embiid on the floor (plus-3.2) than they’ve been with him off the floor (-10.8). We knew that he was talented, but I don’t know if anybody expected him to be this good right away, having such little basketball experience and having not played in two years. He’s still got a long way to go, but he already has a remarkable feel for the game and a really soft touch for such a big guy. You could certainly make the argument that he deserves an All-Star spot.

Sekou Smith: The Houston Rockets as a top-three team in the Western Conference is where the biggest surprises start in the first half of this season. I don’t think anyone outside of the Rockets’ braintrust and perhaps the always confident James Harden could have envisioned anything like what we’re seen from coach Mike D’Antoni’s team thus far. I’ve always believed that the sign of a truly great, transcendent player is when the guys around him rise to another level because of him. That’s happening this season in Houston (see Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Montrezl Harrell and others). Plus, they are playing a style that is enjoyable to watch. They shoot is as aggressively as any team in the league from distance, they play with pace and they’ve even shown some bite on the defensive end. I’m looking forward to seeing how they manage the rest of this regular season and if they can carry it over to the postseason.

Ian Thomsen: After two years without competitive basketball and zero NBA experience, Joel Embiid – in spite of his minutes restriction – has looked instantly like a star while transforming a laughingstock into a team of promise. His recovery has been dramatic and remarkable.

Lang Whitaker: How good Houston has been. Count me among those who thought the uniting of Mike D’Antoni and James Harden would result in a lot of points and an equal amount of Ls. At least the points part was correct. The Rockets have been awesome, thanks largely to James Harden and his ability to still be an elite scorer while still facilitating for his teammates.

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