Before the 2013-14 NBA season tipped off, Ball So Hard endeavoured to put an end to the debate of who reigns supreme in the league by bringing you the Ball So Hard 50. As the halfway mark of the NBA season approaches, it is time to reflect on the season that has been so far and reassess our rankings. Who has exceeded expectations? Who has fallen short? Find out below.
50. Nikola Pekovic
Previous ranking – unranked
Most casual NBA observers are aware of the Timberwolves struggles with injuries over the past few seasons. They know that Kevin Love is one of the best players in the league when he can stay on the floor. But Timberwolves fans will tell you just how devastating it is for their team when Nikola Pekovic misses games.
This season, Minnesota’s frontcourt tandem has finally managed to remain healthy, and both players are reaping the benefits of their health and the others presence on the floor.
Love is a fantastic outside shooter and he opens up space for Pekovic to work inside, as is evident by Pek’s league-leading 13.6 points in the paint per game.
Pekovic is in the midst of a career year, averaging 18.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game (eighth amongst centres), while his 19 double-doubles are tenth best in the league.
Meanwhile, Minnesota fans should be most excited by the fact that the big Montenegrin has suited up for each of the Wolves 37 games this season.
Pekovic is one of the league’s best offensive big mean – trailing only DeMarcus Cousins for points per game – but, much like his frontcourt buddy Love, his defence leaves much to be desired.
At 6-11, 243 lbs, Pekovic has the size to be a much more effective intimidating defensive force and rim protector. There is no excuse for someone that size, playing as many minutes per game (33.3), to average a mere 0.4 blocks a night.
There is room for improvement, but Pekovic is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the league.
49. Pau Gasol
The Lakers are a mess right now. Kobe’s comeback left fans wanting, seemingly every point guard (and out of position player that was forced into distribution duties) on the roster got injured, Nick Young is always a split second between going for 20 in a quarter or throwing an attempted 360-layup over the top of the backboard.
Meanwhile, Pau Gasol is quietly having a sneaky-good season.
The big Spaniard is doing his best to keep his team in the playoff race, averaging 15.6 points (the third most amongst centres in the league), 9.6 rebounds (seventh), 3.4 assists (second) and 1.4 blocks per game (ninth).
That being said, Gasol is clearly not the All-Star that the Lakers acquired from Memphis. He is shooting the worst percentage from the floor of his career (44.8%) and his 30.8 minutes per game is also a career low.
The trade rumours have died down slightly after Cleveland played their Andrew Bynum chip to acquire Luol Deng, but this Lakers team is on the precipice of a rebuild and Gasol being shipped out for future assets can never be ruled.
Meanwhile, Gasol will keep doing what he has down since he moved to the City of Angels, ignore the critics and rumours and continue to be one of the league’s sneakily good players.
48. Zach Randolph
Things haven’t quite gone to plan in Memphis this season. Marc Gasol has missed the majority of the season so far, fans are still scratching their head at Tayshaun Prince’s salary, and even Mike Miller’s shooting prowess couldn’t keep the Grizzlies from last in the league in three-pointers made and attempted.
Last season, the Grizzlies made an upset push to the Western Conference Finals. This season, they are 12 games behind the team that eliminated them from the playoffs, and the current first seeded San Antonio Spurs, and are languishing in 11th in the West.
However, this is no fault of Zach Randolph. The burly forward is having somewhat of a renaissance season, averaging 17.2 points (ninth amongst power forwards), 10.5 rebounds (fifth) and a career high 2.7 assists (ninth).
He is also fourth in the league for double-doubles with 23, and is one of only six players in the league averaging a points/rebounds double-double.
Randolph may not be the wrecking ball that lead Memphis to an upset win over the first seeded Spurs a few years ago, and despite his numbers, the Grizzlies are struggling without Gasol, but he is doing his best to hold down the fort until the Spanish stopper returns to action.
47. Gordon Hayward
Previously ranking – unranked
There is not much to cheer about in Utah this season as they sit dead last in the .
Western Conference. But the play of Gordon Hayward should have fans excited for the future.
The fourth-year guard/forward out of Butler is averaging career highs across the board – 17.1 points (eighth in shooting guards), 5.4 rebounds (second), 4.9 assists (fifth) and 1.3 steals per game (fifth) – and has developed into Utah’s go-to player.
While the play of other young players on the roster such as Derrick Favours and Enes Kanter has been sporadic at best, Hayward been “Mr Consistent”, with only five games under double digits in scoring, and 23 games with at least 15 points or more.
While having Hayward as your best player does not necessarily equate to many wins, the Indiana native has played himself into a great position with his contract expiring at the end of the season.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons even reported that the Boston Celtics are so enamoured with Hayward’s play that they could make a run at the young gun before the trade deadline
With Hayward likely demanding big money on the free agent market at the end of the season, and Jazz fans dreaming of Jabari Parker next season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Utah make a move while they hold all the cards.
46. Kemba Walker
Previous ranking – unranked
When the Bobcats signed Al Jefferson in the offseason, many questioned whether his addition to Charlotte’s squad would be enough to push them into playoff contention.
As of writing this, Charlotte are perilously holding onto the eighth seed in the East, but any praise directed towards Jefferson’s effect on his new team should equally be heaped onto Kemba Walker.
The former University of Connecticut standout, is putting up career numbers, averaging 18.6 points (eighth in point guards), 4.3 rebounds (fifth), 4.8 assists and 1.45 steals (11th).
Meanwhile, Walker is also shooting a career high 36.4% from behind the line.
What doesn’t show on the stats sheet is Walker’s on-ball defence. Walker’s speed, quick hands, and ability to hound opponent ball handlers is a big contributing factor to the Bobcats’ improvement on the defensive end.
Charlotte are ranked fifth in fewest opponent points allowed per game, and own the eighth best defensive ranking in the league.
Heading into the second half of the season, the Bobcats should find themselves in the thick of the playoffs race. Both New York teams are making a push from the outer, while the future of the Bulls and Hawks remains up in the air after injuries and trades have decimated their rosters.
Regardless, wherever the Cats end up, the improved play of Kemba Walker will be an enormous contributing factor.