NBA All-Star break update

John Keen

Russell Westbrook mid-air at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. 

From expected conference standings to historical individual performances, the NBA’s first-half brought fans a wide range of discussion topics heading into Mid-February’s All-Star break.

The Golden State Warriors (43-8) and Cleveland Cavaliers (34-15) each hold the top spot in their respective conferences.

Golden State and Cleveland are both led by great offenses. Golden State’s offensive rating of 114.1 (average number of points scored per game) is not only the highest mark this season but also the highest mark in league history through a season’s first half. Cleveland ranks fifth in this category at 109.6.

Disparity in Golden State and Cleveland’s record comes down to defense.

The Warriors rank first in defensive rating at 101.4 (where offensive rating is the average number of points scored per game, defensive rating is points allowed per game), while Cleveland ranks 16th with a mark of 105.6.

Despite leading the Eastern Conference, Cleveland’s play has regressed considerably from its championship form last season.

The Cavaliers have the fourth best record in the NBA (behind three western conference teams: Golden State, San Antonio and Houston) and sit just two games ahead of the surging Boston Celtics.

Cleveland’s recent struggles have led to frustration from the team’s best player.

“We’re a top-heavy team. We have a top-heavy team. We need a [expletive] playmaker,” said LeBron James.

Outside of the conference’s top teams, individual players and performances have grabbed first half headlines.

While many players are having great individual seasons, three have separated themselves from the rest: Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Isaiah Thomas.

When Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder over the summer to join the Warriors, fans and pundits alike knew Oklahoma City would struggle.

While the Thunder have struggled overall sitting at seventh in the Western conference, Westbrook’s individual achievements have surpassed any expectations.

Westbrook is the first player since Oscar Robertson (1962) to average a triple-double through a regular season’s first half. Not only is Westbrook scoring 30 points while dishing 10 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds per game but his usage percentage (amount of time the ball is in a player’s hand on any given possession) is also over 41 percent, the highest mark in the NBA.

James Harden, like his former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook, is having a great individual season. Harden is averaging 29 points, over 11 assists (leading the NBA) and eight rebounds per game

Harden’s team, the Houston Rockets, are having much more success, giving him a slight edge for first half MVP.

If Harden and Westbrook are one and two in first half MVP, Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas would be a close third.

Thomas’s raw numbers (29.9 pts/6.3 ast/2.7) are not quite as impressive as Westbrook and Harden’s, but his fourth quarter scoring is second to none in the NBA.

According to ESPN stats and info, Thomas is averaging 10.5 points in fourth quarters this season, most by any player in 20 years.

With Eastern Conference standings still in flux and historically great individual performances to keep track of, the NBA’s second half looks to be as exciting as its first.