Just past the halfway point of a 2016-17 NBA season that seems to have a pre-determined finale, there have still been a number of things to be surprised by in the world of basketball. A cursory glance at the standings doesn’t reveal much different from last season, but hiding behind those predictable records is a ton of stories and subplots that have made this year highly entertaining. Here are a few:
- Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, and still might not be the favorite for MVP.
- The “Greek Freak” isn’t living up to his name: he’s completely eclipsed it, leading the Bucks in five statistical categories.
- The Philadelphia 76ers “process” may actually be working.
- Chris Paul is out for two months because the Clippers can’t have nice things.
- The young rising team in the West that everyone had to keep an eye out for was not the Minnesota Timberwolves, but rather the Denver Nuggets.
- Shocker alert: after a high-profile offseason, the Knicks are falling apart.
Obviously the growing animosity between the Cavaliers and Warriors has been fun to watch too, but since I’ll likely spend all spring writing about that, let’s ignore it for now. At the mid-season mark, it’s time to spotlight the other guys in our odds collection.
NBA Mid-Season Odds (2016-17)
NBA Title odds
- Golden State Warriors: 1/1
- Cleveland Cavaliers: 7/3
- San Antonio Spurs: 11/1
- Houston Rockets: 20/1
- Toronto Raptors: 25/1
- Boston Celtics: 50/1
- Utah Jazz: 60/1
- Los Angeles Clippers: 60/1
- Oklahoma City Thunder: 80/1
- Memphis Grizzlies: 80/1
- Atlanta Hawks: 100/1
- Indiana Pacers: 100/1
- Washington Wizards: 100/1
- Charlotte Hornets: 150/1
- Chicago Bulls: 150/1
- Milwaukee Bucks: 150/1
- Detroit Pistons: 200/1
- Portland Trail Blazers: 200/1
- Denver Nuggets: 400/1
- New Orleans Pelicans: 400/1
- Sacramento Kings: 400/1
- Minnesota Timberwolves: 500/1
- New York Knicks: 500/1
- Philadelphia 76ers: 500/1
- Dallas Mavericks: 1,000/1
- Orlando Magic: 1,000/1
- Los Angeles Lakers: 5,000/1
- Miami Heat: 5,000/1
- Phoenix Suns: 5,000/1
- Brooklyn Nets: 10,000/1
The most notable riser from our preseason odds has been the Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni’s system has brought out the absolute best in James Harden, who regained the MVP form he seemingly lost a season ago. Surrounded by three-point shooters, Harden is leading the league in assists, as the Rockets operate one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA. They still allow a ton of points, but that’s partly because of the quick pace they play at: Houston actually ranks 14th in defensive efficiency (tied with Cleveland).
Another team turning heads in the West is the Utah Jazz, but they’re achieving their success by doing the exact opposite of Houston. The slowest paced team in the NBA, the Jazz are racking up wins by snuffing out opponents on the defensive end, allowing under 95 points a game. With Paul out for the Clippers, this hot Utah team should blow past them and finish as a top-four seed in the conference.
The East has produced fewer surprises, with no teams really emerging from the pack to challenge Cleveland. In fact, the Cavaliers are the only team to make a trade of significance, acquiring Kyle Korver from Atlanta. It’s a real shock. Boston was given favorable odds to start the year not for what they were, but because of what they could become, sitting on a boatload of tradeable assets. But the Celtics have yet to execute a big move, and without one, they won’t make it far in the playoffs. As clutch as Isaiah Thomas has been for the Celtics this season, they continually get owned on the boards by the East’s top-tier teams.
The biggest faller was, unsurprisingly, the Knicks and their failed attempt at a “super team.” Even though the Ringling Brothers are going out of business, at least New York will always have this circus of a franchise to fall back on.
NBA MVP odds
- James Harden, Rockets: 5/4
- Russell Westbrook, Thunder: 5/3
- Kevin Durant, Warriors: 9/1
- Lebron James, Cavaliers: 12/1
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks: 20/1
On pace to accomplish a feat not seen since Oscar Robertson (average a triple-double for an entire season), Russell Westbrook is still in an uphill battle to get recognition. Passed over for a starter spot in the All-Star Game, Westbrook is also trailing Harden in the MVP race. While his numbers are staggering, particularly his usage rating which is on pace to be an all-time high, the Thunder are just an okay team.
Harden’s Rockets are on pace to finish around 60 wins and near the top of an ultra-competitive Western Conference. Oklahoma City is currently the seventh seed, on pace to fall short of 50 wins. I get that Westbrook is important, but being important on an average team isn’t as impressive as being important on a 60-win team. And don’t give me the “he has no talent around him” argument. If that truly mattered, LeBron would’ve won MVP every season he was in Cleveland.
While we’re on the topic of historic achievements on average teams, let’s recognize what Giannis Antetokounmpo is on pace to do. The “Greek Freak” could become only the fifth player in league history to lead his team in every (good) statistical category (points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks). He’s also close to becoming the first player to finish in the top 20 in the league in all categories. The 22-year-old has truly arrived this season, and the future of Bucks basketball looks awfully fun.
NBA Coach of the Year odds
- Mike D’Antoni, Rockets: 3/2
- Quin Snyder, Jazz: 4/1
- Billy Donovan, Thunder: 7/1
- Brad Stevens, Celtics: 9/1
- David Fizdale, Grizzlies: 10/1
D’Antoni and Snyder are both in the conversation because of the dramatic improvements their teams are making this season. Billy Donovan, however, might be the first Coach of the Year winner to see his record from the prior season dramatically decrease. The Thunder were put in a tough spot after losing Kevin Durant, but the team has weathered the storm, largely because of Westbrook. Donovan should be applauded for how he’s managed his star’s minutes. Arguably the most integral player to his team in the entire league, Westbrook’s 34.6 minutes per game only ranks 21st in the NBA.
Brad Stevens eventually winning COY feels inevitable, but this year’s Celtics haven’t really changed much from last season. As for David Fizdale, he’s gotten dealt some pretty tough injuries in his first season as the Grizzlies’ bench boss, yet the team continues to grind out wins.
Odds on the next NBA coach fired
- Fred Hoiberg, Bulls: 2/1
- Kurt Rambis, Knicks: 5/1
- Alvin Gentry, Magic: 5/1
- Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers: 8/1
No head coach is getting calls for his job from across the NBA universe, but if there was a title for hottest seat, it would have to go to Fred Hoiberg. The Bulls’ cast of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo hasn’t really gelled out of the gate, and while Hoiberg should probably be lauded for benching Rondo recently, Chicago is still clinging to a playoff spot for dear life.
Kurt Rambis might be relatively new to the Knicks job, but as previously mentioned, the team is a dumpster fire. Someone is going to have to take the fall for this season, although New York fans may be hoping that someone is Phil Jackson.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].