With a successful All-Star game in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look at what’s happened in the 2017-18 NBA season thus far.
Head Coach Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics adjusted quickly to Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury and remain in the thick of the conversation in the Eastern Conference. With the new-look Cavaliers squad holding the third seed and working to figure things out on the fly, the Toronto Raptors and Celtics—currently jostling for the conference’s first seed—are in great position to make a run at the NBA finals, making the Eastern Conference more competitive than it’s been in quite a while.
One bright spot to date is in Minneapolis. Tom Thibodeau is prepared to work his Timberwolves starters hard for ideal playoff positioning—but they’ll have to do it without the injured Jimmy Butler, who tore his meniscus in his first game after the break. Beyond the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors, the order of teams holding seeds three through eight change daily, since they’re separated by only a couple of games.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Rockets
Near-unstoppable when Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela are on the court, the Houston Rockets sit atop the Western Conference after the All-Star break, albeit barely ahead of—you guessed it—the Warriors. All three players have been key to the Rockets’ success, but none more so than Harden, who’s looking to add the MVP trophy to his mantle after his two previous runner-up finishes in the voting. He’s averaging 31.5 points per game, with a sparkling 60-point triple double—one of the best games in NBA history by some metrics—to highlight the first half of the season.
Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Paul George was “dumped” for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis last offseason in a trade that the Oklahoma City police investigated as a robbery. The smooth-singing Oladipo is back in front of his college fans and proving the doubters wrong. Oladipo earned his first All-Star berth this season, averaging 24.4 points per game—with an average of 4.8 on the fast break, which is the second best mark in the NBA. With his help, the Pacers have a better-than-expected 34-25 record, good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons, 76ers
Take your pick—Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell. Both are having incredible rookie seasons. Simmons is a do-everything machine for the playoff hopeful process-trusters in Philadelphia, while Mitchell is a budding star, helping keep the Jazz in the playoff hunt, even after widespread changes. However, Simmons takes the edge so far: He’s a gifted all-round talent who puts up a more efficient game than Mitchell. Simmons is averaging 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, and his defensive contributions outweigh those of his Utah rival.
Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
The first-place Raptors are third in the NBA in point differential, behind only the Rockets and Warriors. The team’s depth of young talent has been a key factor in its success this season. The “bench mob,” as forward CJ Miles has nicknamed it, currently ranks as one of the league’s best five-man units. Even as questions of playoff performance float back to the surface, the new-look, ball-moving, three-point-shooting offence commands your attention. The Raptors are poised to make waves, and Casey deserves credit for his role in making it happen.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from NBA.com