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.
15. John Wall
It usually takes several seasons for a number one pick to experience serious success in the NBA. It comes with the territory of being drafted to a team bad enough to “earn” the first overall selection.
But for John Wall, bad luck has played a big role in the limited success he has suffered through at the start of his career.
To start with, he was drafted to a team boasting the likes of JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Andray Blatche and a self destructing Gilbert Arenas, and has subsequently missed the playoffs in his first three seasons.
If Blake Griffin had not had his rookie season delayed a year, Wall would have walked into the Rookie of the Year award in 2010-11.
And he’s only played in every game in a season once – during the lockout shortened season – due to numerous injuries.
However, things are beginning to look up for the one-time Kentucky Wildcat.
Through 47 games, Wall is averaging 19.8 points (19th in the league), 8.5 assists (fourth), and 2.0 steals per game (fifth) – all career highs.
While he is proving to be more durable than ever, averaging 36.9 minutes per game (10th in the league) and has suited up for every game this season.
More importantly, Wall’s play has Washington entrenched in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, currently sitting fifth.
Meanwhile, at 24-23, the Wizards have an above .500 record for the first time in four years.
All of this has helped Wall earn his first All-Star selection, and on his way to fulfilling his potential as a top point guard in the league.
14. Dwight Howard
After his nightmare spell in LA, Dwight Howard is beginning to look like the imposing force he was during his time with the Orlando Magic.
It still comes in patches, but D12 is clearly in a better place mentally and the Rockets are reaping the benefits.
This season, the former number one overall pick is averaging 18.3 points (second amongst centres), 12.3 rebounds (fourth in the league), 1.8 blocks (ninth), and is shooting 57.7% per game (fifth).
And while these numbers aren’t much better than his production as a Laker, he is playing less minutes and his per 36 stats are markedly improved.
The usual faults in Howard’s game are still there. He is still only hitting 53.3% of his free throws, leads the league in fouls, and is seventh in turnovers.
But don’t get it twisted, Dwight is still having a great season, and despite his struggles at the line and with fouls, he has the 20th best PER in the league.
He might have lost his rapport with the fans after his turbulent spell with the Lakers – Howard was not voted an All-Star starter for only the second time of his eight selections – but Howard has found his confidence again in Houston and his play clearly shows it.
13. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard has gone from rookie sensation to bona fide All-Star in only his second season.
One of the catalysts for the upstart Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard’s sophomore season is proving to be even more impressive than his record-breaking rookie year.
Through 48 games, Lillard is averaging 20.7 points (14th in the league) and 5.7 assists per game (19th), while hitting 139 threes (behind only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson).
His play earned him his first All-Star selection (no easy feat in the loaded Western Conference), and his ability to bomb away from beyond the arc (40.9%, 23rd in the NBA) and ice games in the clutch (88.9% from the line, third in the league, and a pair of game winners this year) is a major factor in the Blazers rising so rapidly in the West.
Portland currently sits third in the super-competitive Western Conference in large part due to their first-time All-Star.
Lillard’s charge to Rookie of the Year honours last season surprised many around the league after being picked sixth overall out of Weber State, but while his continued rise is equally as impressive, it should not come as surprise to anyone.
12. Blake Griffin
The NBA universe is going to have to start accepting that Blake Griffin is a good basketball player.
Matter of fact, he isn’t just good, he’s slowly becoming a superstar in his own right.
This season, the former Oklahoma Sooner is putting up 23.3 points (eighth in the league), 9.7 rebounds (13th), 3.5 assists (third amongst power forwards) and 1.2 steals per game (second).
Throw in 29 double-doubles (sixth best in the league) and the league’s 10th best PER and it is ridiculous to doubt Griffin’s abilities.
Griffin’s game has continued to improve in each of his four seasons in the league.
Once a much criticised free throw shooter, BG now boasts a respectable 70.1% percentage from the stripe.
Often labelled a one-dimensional player, Griffin has improved his outside shooting and now hits 54% of all two-point field goals – including a reasonable, if not impressive, 40.8% from 16-25 feet.
Continually labelled soft, Griffin has been the most fouled player in the league this season and continues to attack the rim despite the constant punishment he receives.
And while some say Griffin is only an effective player because he plays with Chris Paul, since CP3 injured his shoulder in early January, Griffin has helped LA stay the course and hold onto the fourth seed in the West.
Since losing Paul, Griffin has increased his averages to 26.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 55.3% from the field. Meanwhile, his plus/minus has increased from 5.6 before the injury to 11.3 without Paul.
The Clippers’ playoff hopes have been dependant as much on Griffin’s improvement as it does Paul’s high level play And so far this season, Griffin is delivering in spades.
11. James Harden
With Kobe Bryant injured and Dwyane Wade being nursed through the regular season, James Harden has become the unofficial best shooting guard in the league.
Once a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Harden is now a perennial All-Star after earning his second All-Star nod this season.
Averaging 23.8 points (seventh in the league), 5.5 assists (second amongst shooting guards), 4.8 rebounds (third), and 1.3 steals per game (10th), Harden has become the face of the Houston Rockets.
His defence often leaves something to be desired, but his unique offensive abilities are amongst the elite in the league.
His distinct ability to get to the free throw line (300 made, third in the league. 84.8%, 20th) and knock down threes makes him one of the league’s hardest covers.
He is also playing a career high 38.3 minutes per game this season, yet is still ranked 20th in the league in PER.
With Dwight Howard beginning to return to form guarding the rim behind him, Harden can afford to be somewhat lackadaisical on defence.
However, for him to truly crack the top ten, he needs to begin to play on both sides of the ball.
That being said, the Rockets sit fifth in the West, with a record good enough for third in the East (by a fair margin) and that would not be possible without Harden’s offensive talents.