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.
25. Ty Lawson
Last season’s Denver Nuggets team was defined by their “no superstar” line-up. In the absence of a true superstar player, the responsibility of star player fell to Andre Iguodala somewhat by default.
This season, that role falls to Ty Lawson, but don’t think that means Lawson is not having a fantastic season in the Mile High city.
Lawson is leading the Nuggets in scoring (17.9 points per game), assists (8.9) and steals (1.5).
And while he isn’t the most efficient scorer in the league, shooting 43% from the floor and 35% from deep this year, that can be expected from a primary scoring option who stands only 5’11”. What is impressive is despite his size, or lack thereof, Lawson gets to the line regularly, leading Denver in makes (5.2) and attempts (6.6) per game.
Lawson might not be an All-Star this season, but on a team of so called “no superstars”, the former North Carolina Tar Heel is playing at an elite level.
24. Goran Dragic
Previous ranking – unranked
This season, only two players in the NBA are averaging at least 19 points and six assists per game while shooting at least 49% from the field.
One of those players is two-time NBA Champion and four-time MVP, LeBron James.
The other is Goran Dragic.
Before the season started, all of the talk surrounding the Suns was hyping up the acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, and debating just how bad Phoenix was going to be.
Things haven’t shaped up exactly as most predicted it.
The Suns have far surpassed expectations and are on track for a surprise playoff position, and most of their success falls not on the shoulders of their prized asset Bledsoe, but rather it is the second-time Sun from Slovenia who has been the catalyst for Phoenix’s unexpected success.
Dragic is averaging a career high 19.4 points per game (sixth amongst point guards), as well as 6.1 assists and 3.4 rebounds a night. While his 21.8 PER is the 11th best in the league.
His elite level scoring also comes at an efficient rate, shooting 49.5% from the floor (a career high), while also drilling an above league average 37.4% of his three point attempts.
What has been most impressive is the way in which Dragic has carried himself since Bledsoe went down with a knee injury in late December.
Through 14 games in January, The Dragon has bumped his numbers up to 21.4 points, 6.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.2% from the floor and 42.9% from deep.
While his speed is killing teams, scoring the fifth most fast break points in the league (5.3), and is an essential part of Phoenix’s high octane offence.
In a deep Western Conference, Dragic was unfortunate to miss out on his first All-Star selection after he was overlooked by the league’s head coaches’ voting (although he could still make the team as Kobe Bryant’s, or even Chris Paul’s, injury replacement), but just because he wont be heading to New Orleans over the All-Star break, don’t think he doesn’t deserve to be their just as much as those that did make the team.
23. Arron Afflalo
Previous ranking – unranked
In his first season as a member of the Orlando Magic, Arron Afflalo struggled to find his groove, putting up averages of 16.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
Couple that with a disappointing production from the floor (43.9% field goals and 30.0% three point percentage) many were left wondering if he could be the primary scorer the Magic had recruited him to be.
This season, the former UCLA Bruin is on the cusp of being selected to his first All-Star game after improving his production to 20.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assist a night.
More impressively, Afflalo has boosted those disappointing shooting numbers to an efficient 47.1% from the floor and 42.2% from beyond the arc.
This is especially notable considering he has the highest usage rate of his career (used in 24.0% of his team’s plays) and faces the opponents best defender each night as a member of the talent deprived Magic.
Despite his teams unimpressive record, Afflalo should have done enough to impress the league’s coaches and be selected to his first All-Star team.
22. DeMar DeRozan
Previous ranking – unranked
On Thursday, it was announced that DeMar DeRozan had been voted to his first All-Star team as a reserve by the league’s head coaches, but it was news that shouldn’t have surprised NBA fans.
The former USC swingman is having the best season of his career, averaging career highs in scoring (21.8, 11th in the league), assists (3.6, eighth amongst shooting guards), rebounds (4.7, fourth) and steals (1.2, eighth), and has the Raptors placed third in the Eastern Conference.
The increase in scoring is nice, but DeRozan has always been a capable scorer (16.0 per game for his career), so the improvement in the other aspects of his game is what earned him his first All-Star nod.
Throughout his career, DeRozan’s inefficient shooting has also been a highly criticised area of his game, and while he isn’t shooting the lights out this season, he is shooting a respectable per cent (42.8% from the floor and 30.8%, a career high, from deep), given his high usage rate (27.9%, 10th in the NBA).
What will have impressed opposing coaches the most is the way DeRozan has carried himself, and the Raptors, since Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento.
After struggling slightly immediately after the trade, through 14 games in January, DeRozan has increased his production to 23.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
When Gay arrived from Memphis, there was debate whether DeRozan was excess goods for Toronto, but ask anyone in T-Dot now and there’s no question which All-Star gunner they prefer.
21. Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh has always been the overlooked third wheel in Miami. That tends to happen when you join forces with superstars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But don’t get it twisted, the former Raptor is a superstar in his own right.
This season, Bosh is averaging 16.9 points (fourth among centres), 6.7 rebounds and a block per game. Not spectacular statistics, but enough for him to earn All-Star selection for the ninth time.
What is most impressive about Bosh’s game is the way he has been able to reinvent himself to compliment his fellow Heatles’ stars.
In seven seasons with Toronto, Bosh averaged 20.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, highlighted by an impressive 24.0 and 10.8 season the year before he took his talents to South Beach.
In his first season with the Heat, Bosh tried to continue playing like a number one option. But it wasn’t after he transformed himself into the efficient complimentary player that he is today that Miami won their first title.
Much like Dwyane Wade, Bosh has adapted his game from prolific scorer to super efficient shooter.
This season, CB1 is shooting an impressive 54% from the field (a career high, 10th best in the league) and 36.7% (second among centres) on a career high 2.0 attempts from downtown per night.
He might be the butt of countless cheap jokes, and perennially underated and overlooked, but Chris Bosh continues to play basketball at an elite level and will be an essential part of Miami’s attempt to make their fourth straight finals appearance at the conclusion of the season.