NBA midseason storylines


Rowan Witzel, Staff Writer

After around 50 games, the 2022-23 NBA regular season has been unlike any other. League scoring averages are at highs not seen since the late 60s, producing strings of 50+ point games from multiple star players and a newly broken record.The only things that have stayed true are dominant big men at the top of the league and Kyrie Irving dismantling another team’s title hopes. With less than half the season left to go, only time will tell how the rest of it plays out.

Eastern Powerhouses
Through 52 games, the Boston Celtics are again on top of the East, with early MVP candidate Jayson Tatum and two-way guard Jaylen Brown remaining one of the league’s best duos.The attention they require on the offensive end has opened up space for players like Malcolm Brogdon, whose efficiency is the highest it’s been in years.

The return of defensive anchor Robert Williams III will bolster an already elite defense ranking 7th in points allowed per game. As one of the most well rounded teams in the league, the Celtics are likely in for another title push.

However, star studded rosters throughout the top 5 seeds have been making pushes to keep the east from bleeding green.

Philadelphia is home to the most unstoppable pick-and-roll duo in the league, with James Harden’s new playmaking centric role making MVP candidate (but non-all-star starter?) Joel Embiid looks even better than he already is.

The Bucks continue to be a top contender, with Brook Lopez’s resurgence as a top big-man defender pairing with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo as a frontcourt duo that shuts down the paint like no other.

The Cavaliers are a dark horse to come out of the East, as they have the most dangerous offensive backcourt in the league in Donovan Mitchell (27 ppg and 5 apg) and Darius Garland (18 ppg and 7 apg). Questions arose in the off-season regarding whether or not the Cavs’ perimeter defense was good enough to contend, but their would-be struggles have been hidden by the elite defensive trio of Isaac Okoro and seven-footers Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley, who is drawing comparisons to Kevin Garnett.

Western Competitors
In the West, however, one clear front runner has left the rest of the seeds unclear, as the difference in wins between the 3rd and the 13th seed is only one and a half games larger than the difference in wins between the 1st and 2nd seeds.

The Nikola Jokic-led Nuggets sit at the top, with the Joker averaging a triple double and continuing his dominance as the best playmaking big we’ve ever seen. He’s also putting up 25 a game, so teams are often forced to double him when he gets in the paint.

Jokic being double-teamed has been a problem for the Nuggets in the past, but their pickup of Kentavious Caldwell Pope (shooting 46% from 3) has punished opposing defenses this season for putting too much attention on the Serbian superstar.

If it’s not them, the Grizzlies, Clippers, and Mavericks have a strong case for defeating a Nuggets team that has struggled with injuries and closing playoff games in past seasons.

The Kyrie Trade
Despite being one of the top contenders in the Eastern conference, the Brooklyn Nets became the newest victim of Kyrie Irving’s unloyalty. After abruptly requesting a trade last Friday and threatening to sit out if a deal wasn’t made, Irving was shipped to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, and a haul of draft picks.

The Dallas backcourt will likely become the most dangerous one in the league, with Irving already experienced in playing off all next to a ball-dominant superstar during his stint with the Cavs. Although Luka Doncic is 2nd in usage rate and has been in desperate need of help, the acquisition of Irving also leaves many unanswered questions.

Without Finney-Smith, the Mavs don’t have a defensive identity on the perimeter. The trade proves that they are all in on contending this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they are not done making a deal for more defensive help before the deadline hits.

For the Nets, Irving’s low trade value gave them no other option than to make a deal centered on depth and picks. Now having one of the deepest rosters in the East, Brooklyn will still be looking to uphold their spot as a top 5 team in the conference.

However, It’s possible that Kevin Durant is shipped away as well before the trade deadline, with teams like the Celtics and Suns expressing interest in the Nets last remaining superstar. If a deal is not made, the season will lie in the hands of Durant, who will have to prove that he can be the frontman of a championship team.

Chasing Kareem
LeBron James has shown unmatched offensive longevity through his still-going 20-year career, being one of the best scorers in the league for almost two decades. Still, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38-year-long record for the most points of all time seemed out of reach for him until this year. On Tuesday night, the King was crowned as the highest scorer ever in Jabbar’s former home of LA, solidifying himself as one of the most illustrious scorers in NBA history.