In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have snatched the lead from the collection of all-stars the the Brooklyn Nets have pulled together.
Nets fans will point out that James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have played fewer than ten games together, and when they do team up, it will be a different story. A couple of games behind the Nets, Milwaukee Bucks sit comfortably ahead of a pack of five teams, all separated by two games.
Out West, the Utah Jazz have a two-and-a-half-game lead over surprise team Phoenix Suns. A few games further back are the Los Angeles Clippers. The Denver Nuggets overtook the struggling Lakers this week, while the Portland Trail B lazers and Dallas Mavericks will be hoping to get above the Lakers before the great LeBron James returns to fitness for the Los Angeles team.
As we enter the final stretch of the season, talk also turns to individual players and the frontrunners for the coveted rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.
In the rookie of the year running, the bookies have Anthony Edwards from the Bucks as the favourite, a position he has held for most of the season. Edwards’ average of 23.8 points per game as well as 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists put him ahead of the primary challengers, Oklahoma City duo Theo Maledo n and Aleksej Pokusevski.
While the rookie of the year relies on stats, the MVP award can seem more like a political contest.
This year’s current favourite is Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, who has 26.3 points per game, 10.9 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.5 steals.
These are great numbers but Jokic is ninth in points per game, 12th in field goal percentage, eighth in rebounds and fourth in assists. Others in the reckoning are Damian Lillard from Portland, Joel Embiid of Philadelphia, the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and Harden. However, bookmakers still have James as one of their favourites.
What’s noticeable here is the lack of players in non-contending teams because their feats don’t count, right?
In Washington, the Wizards are having a lousy campaign and, barring a miracle turnaround, won’t be seeing post-season play. However, they have a player on pace for what should be an MVP season. Russell Westbrook is a nine-time All-Star and won the MVP in 2016-17 when he completed a feat only achieved once before, a triple-double season. The triple-double is a term used in basketball to describe a player who scores 10 points, collects ten rebounds and has ten assists in a game.
In 2016-17 Westbrook averaged that over the 82-game season; only Oscar Robertson had done it before in 1962. Since that season, Westbrook completed the feat twice more in Oklahoma.
This season Westbrook is averaging 21.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.8 assists as he looks set to create only the fifth season triple-double ever, his fourth. The NBA MVP race is in need of a new approach because, right now, the most visible stars with the best stories, lead the way, not the best players.
Maybe if Westbrook ends up at a play-off team, he'll be allowed back in the conversation.