Spacing the Floor | Pt. I: Kyrie Irving is now ‘The Man’ and that’s proving to be a tough task
It’s just past the midway point of the season and All-Star Weekend is Feb. 15-17. While there have been some surprises in the fan voting for the starters, things could balance out as voting comes to an end Monday.
The fans hold 50 percent of the vote while the players and media split the remaining 50 percent. If this particular media member had a vote, this is what the ballot would look like:
Eastern Conference frontcourt
Current fan voting: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Kawhi Leonard (Toronto), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
Goodwill’s ballot: Antetokounmpo, Leonard, Embiid
For perhaps the only time on this ballot, the fans got it completely correct. Antetokounmpo (26.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, six assists per game) is the MVP so far on the league’s most consistent team, the anchor of new coach Mike Budenholzer’s space-driven offense, relentless in his approach and still nowhere near reaching his potential.
Leonard (27.6 points, 7.9 rebounds) has answered all questions about his health after being traded from San Antonio, thriving in Toronto for a team that feels like the favorite to reach the Finals. He could be second on MVP ballots right now.
Embiid (27 points, 13.3 rebounds, two blocks) has taken a huge leap on a nightly basis aside from the numbers, and is a monster on both ends and the league’s master troll.
Apologies to: Blake Griffin (Detroit), Jimmy Butler (Philadelphia)
Eastern Conference backcourt
Fan voting: Kyrie Irving (Boston), Dwyane Wade (Miami)
Goodwill’s ballot: Irving, Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)
With apologies to Wade, who’s been effective in his last go-round with the Heat, the spot has to go to Simmons. His deficiencies are well-noted but his all-around game has to be recognized. When he goes to the basket, he’s a force and he’s one of the most creative passers around.
Irving gets the nod as well, as he’s becoming more efficient on offense as a distributor and is evolving into having the greatest scoring repertoire for a point guard this league has seen.
Apologies to: Kemba Walker (Charlotte), Victor Oladipo (Indiana), Bradley Beal (Washington)
Western Conference frontcourt
Fan voting: LeBron James (L.A. Lakers), Luka Doncic (Dallas), Paul George (Oklahoma City)
Goodwill’s ballot: James, Kevin Durant (Golden State), Nikola Jokic (Denver).
Let’s get this out of the way: James has to start. He’s still the game’s best player and, statistically, he’s performing at around his career averages. The Lakers’ struggles without him further bolster his case in the deepest field in quite some time.
Durant is a no-brainer, too, keeping the champs afloat through Stephen Curry’s absence. He’s scoring at his highest rate since coming to the Bay and his six assists per game are a career-high.
Although George and Anthony Davis are performing at MVP levels, the nod goes to the Joker, the most complete center in the game as the hub for the league’s most surprising team. He can’t jump over an extension cord, but it doesn’t matter: 19.7-10.1-7.5 must be rewarded.
Apologies to: Davis, George, Clint Capela (Houston), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)
Western Conference backcourt
Fan voting: Derrick Rose (Minnesota), Stephen Curry (Golden State)
Goodwill’s ballot: Curry, James Harden (Houston)
Curry is an obvious pick and a sleeper for MVP if the Warriors make a second-half run. He is a system on his own, as everything revolves around him. Quietly, his numbers (29.8 points, 5.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds on 49.1-45.9-92.3 splits) are better than his first MVP run and comparable to his unanimous 2016 campaign.
Harden, of course, is on a crazy run as Houston has crawled its way back to respectability in the middle of the conference. His 35.4 points per game are the highest since 2006, tying Kobe Bryant’s mark, and his usage is a record 40 percent. And … don’t play him too tight, he’ll make you fall.
There are other deserving candidates, and Rose’s presence atop the ballot is surprising but given his re-emergence from the land of basketball irrelevance, it’s understandable.
Apologies to: Damian Lillard (Portland), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City), DeMar DeRozan (San Antonio)
Talking the talk
“They know who we are.”
— Golden State’s Kevin Durant after the Warriors’ 142-111 thrashing of the then-West-leading Nuggets in Denver. If the Nuggets didn’t know the West’s best had a level nobody else can get to, 51 points in the first quarter will do it.
1. The Wizards are playing better without John Wall, and Bradley Beal is emerging as a leader who players will follow. That said, should the Wizards look to trade Beal with his value at its highest? They’re capped out and going nowhere. With Wall’s enormous contract, this could be their only chance at a rebuild.
2. Who knows if Luke Walton is the long-term answer for LeBron’s Lakers? This wasn’t the job he took initially and he wasn’t team president Magic Johnson’s pick as coach, but he was given free agents who couldn’t shoot to complement James. And now they’re not shooting. Can you blame Walton for that?
3. After the Minnesota Timberwolves failed to show up against Jimmy Butler and the 76ers, one name came to mind: Jim Boylen. Pushups for everybody!
4. A self-lacing shoe, Nike? Operated by your phone? The future is here, and I’m not sure whether to be intrigued or afraid.