As we approach the All-Star break, AGR decided to reflect on each team’s best player so far this season. Sometimes the choice was easy (e.g., Kyrie Irving as the Cavs’ MVP); sometimes it was hard (e.g., Nicolas Batum/LaMarcus Aldridge as the Blazers’ MVP). After hours of debate, analysis, and the occasional noogie, AGR contributors Izzy and David settled on MVPs for each of the NBA’s 30 teams. The primary statistical resources used were basketball-reference.com (for PER and Win Shares), 82games.com (for opponent PER and Net +/-), and godismyjudgeok.com (for ASPM and VORP). Today, Izzy starts us out with the results from the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta Hawks (Al Horford): Choosing between Horford (5.2 WS, 18.5 PER, 2.76 VORP) and jack-of-all-trades Josh Smith (2.3 WS, 17.4 PER, 2.26 VORP) was not easy, but Horford’s clear statistical advantage was enough for us to give the nod to Al. J-Smoove is a first-class defender, but his occasional attitude issues, inconsistency, and shot selection (career-low 49.1 TS%) doomed him. Horford’s style isn’t as loud as Smith’s, but his consistency and ability to stretch the defense earned him the honor of being the Hawks’ first-half MVP
Boston Celtics (Kevin Garnett): The Celtics’ Big 3 (Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo) all have a legitimate case, but Garnett’s defense and leadership make him the best choice. Moreover, he leads the team in PER (19.4) and WS (4.6). Rondo is injured and doesn’t even conclusively make the Celts better, so it’s tough to choose him. Despite some signs of aging, Pierce is playing fine (he leads the team with a 3.00 VORP). But few players defend the post and direct a defense like Garnett, and for that we award him the first-half MVP for the Celtics.
Brooklyn Nets (Brook Lopez): I would never have predicted that Lopez would be outplaying Deron Williams at this point in their respective careers, but that’s exactly the case right now. Lopez sports a PER of 24.9, which ranks 5th in the league. Most importantly, he’s improved in rebounding (14.5 TRB%, his best since his rookie season) and defense (career best 104 DRtg; career best 5.7 Blk%, which ranks 6th in the league). There’s a reason D-Will publicly stated that he wasn’t worthy of an All-Star selection and there’s a reason Lopez was selected to replace Rondo in the ASG. Add it up and we have an easy winner. Congrats, Brook.
Charlotte Bobcats (Kemba Walker): Walker (team-leading 18.8 PER and 3.2 WS) has been one of the lone bright spots this year for the Bobcats, who are struggling amidst their rebuild. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a strong start to the season and Ramon Sessions has been nearly as good as Kemba, but Walker’s unexpected improvement (particularly in shooting efficiency) and leadership push him beyond his peers.
Chicago Bulls (Joakim Noah): The Bulls are once again surviving without Derrick Rose, and they have no one to thank more than Noah. Fellow All-Star Luol Deng plays a ton of minutes (league-leading 39.7 MPG), but Noah’s playing a ton of minutes as well (38.2 MPG) and filling in for recently-departed Omer Asik. Noah leads his team in Win Shares (5.1; Deng has 4.1); more importantly his energy level sets the tone for the Bulls 6th-ranked defense.
Detroit Pistons (Greg Monroe): Most of the press surrounding the Pistons has focused on rookie sensation Andre Drummond, but the Pistons’ best and most consistent player has been Greg Monroe (team-leading 4.1 WS and 2.62 VORP). He hasn’t improved as much as expected for a 3rd year player, but that doesn’t change the fact that his production is of All-Star caliber. Until Drummond’s role expands, Monroe will be the Pistons player most vital to their success.
Indiana Pacers (Paul George): Deciding between Paul George (17.0 PER, 5.9 WS, 4.11 VORP) and David West (19.9 PER, 6.1 WS, 3.46 VORP) was as difficult as any selection for this article, but George’s increased role in light of Danny Granger’s absence struck us as somewhat of a tie-breaker. George and West have both been A-list defenders this year for the Pacers’ league-best defense. Both have come up big in crunch time, too. But George’s defensive and play-making responsibilities, along with with his three-point shooting (38.8 3pt%), are too tough to ignore; for those reasons he’s our choice for the Pacers’ first-half MVP.
Miami Heat (LeBron James): Chris Bosh is shooting a career-high 60.1 TS%, Dwyane Wade is back to his old self, but LeBron is on a tear like none other in his career. LBJ (31.2 PER, .304 WS/48, 8.94 ASPM) is more than the Heat’s MVP so far this season—he’s been the best player in the Eastern Conference, if not in the entire league.
Milwaukee Bucks (Brandon Jennings): Milwaukee would be a playoff team if the season ended today, but it is difficult to decide who deserves most of the credit for that (although it’s certainly not Scott Skiles). Is it the supremely talented Monta Ellis? The enigmatic Ersan Ilyasova? Shot-blocking savant Larry Sanders? Nope, it’s got to be Brandon Jennings because of what he contribiutes in the way of minutes (team-leading 37 MPG), three-point shooting (36.7 3pt% while making over 2 threes per game), and leadership. He might not lead the team in PER (that’d be Dalembert) or WS (that’d be Ersan), but he does lead them in VORP (2.78). It’s not pretty, but perhaps our endorsement of Jennings will earn him that max contract he’s seeking.
New York Knicks (Carmelo Anthony): It’s been shoot-out central for the Knicks this season—in a good way—and Carmelo Anthony’s offensive prowess has gone a long way to propel the Knicks to their 3rd-ranked offense. Tyson Chandler anchors their defense, leads the league in TS% (69.2), and leads his own team with 7.8 WS, so it’s not like he’s a bad pick. But Melo’s career year (personal bests in PER, TS%, and WS/48) is too much for opposing coaches to ignore when they send their double teams; it’s also too much for us to deny him first-half MVP for a surprisingly good New York Knicks squad.
Orlando Magic (Nikola Vucevic): Not everyone expected Vucevic to be the standout big man among a frontline featuring Gustavo Ayon, Glen Davis, Andrew Nicholson, and Kyle O’Quinn, but Vucevic stands out not only as the best big also as the team’s first-half MVP. Yes, Jameer Nelson has had a bit of a revival (when healthy). Yes, Arron Afflalo and J.J. Reddick has shouldered bigger offensive loads (when healthy). But no Orlando player has brought the consistency or the numbers to compete with Magic’s young and surprisingly good center (18.0 PER, team-best 4.4 WS and 2.21 VORP).
Philadelphia 76ers (Thaddeous Young): The Sixers might be struggling without franchise cornerstone Andrew Bynum, but that’s no fault of their first-half MVP Thaddeous Young (17.7 PER, 4.6 WS, 2.92 VORP). It’s tempting to choose Jrue Holiday (18.3 PER, 2.9 WS, 3.07 VORP), whose contributions are more visible than those of Young. But Thad’s strengths–protecting the ball, interior passing, rebounding, and career-best defense–are subtle ones, and it’s one reason why he has such strong plus/minus numbers. He might miss too much time with his curent injury to be his team’s MVP over the whole season, but he deserves the honor of being the Sixers’ first-half MVP.
Toronto Raptors (Jose Calderon): Things are a bit awkward in Toronto. First, when they lost their franchise cornerstone Kyle Lowry to injury, the team improved under the facilitating play of Jose Calderon; they even kept him as the starting PG when Lowry returned. Despite this motion of trust and repsect from the Raptor organization, they proceed to trade away their first-half MVP in order to acquire Rudy Gay, a player who somewhat replicates DeMar Derozan’s skillset. No, I can’t explain Toronto’s strategy (either in the short-term or long-term), but what I can say with confidence, however strange, is that current Detroit Piston Jose Calderon was Toronto’s best player for the first half of the season.
Washington Wizards (Nene): The Wizards have been somewhat newsworthy of late with John Wall’s return from injury and the team’s subsequent improvement. Much of this success is attributable to Wall, but lost in the fold has been the play of perennial All-Star Nene, who leads the team in PER (18.8) and WS/48 (.142). The Wizards’ recent improvement has coincided with Nene’s increased playing time. He has played more games than Wall, is helping anchoring a stellar defense with Emeka Okafor, and is the team’s most reliable scoring option. Wall might soon replace Nene as the team’s MVP, but for the first half of the season, the big Brazilian gets the nod.
Stay tuned for a look at the first-half MVPs for the Western Conference sometime next week!
Where do you stand on the Paul George-David West debate? Did we overrate Brandon Jennings or underrate Tyson Chandler? Ler us know in the comments. You can also email us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com, like us on facebook, and follow us on Twitter!