Opinion Sports

Winners, Losers, MVP Favorites and Everything In Between: All Things NBA

Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic. Photo Courtesy of NBA.com.

The NBA All-Star Break was held from Feb. 16-18 with the All-Star Game, Dunk Contest, 3-Point Shooting Challenge and other festivities taking place. The break extends past the weekend, and games won’t start back up until Feb. 22 as teams across the league take a much-needed breather.

In honor of the All-Star Break Weekend, it’s the perfect time to do a quick recap of what’s gone on in the NBA so far.

Let’s jump in with our winners and losers in the team category. Starting in the East Conference, the New York Knicks have set the league on fire with their play since the start of 2024. The team from the Bronx has everything working, and a once-vulnerable defense has significantly tightened things up since the acquisition of OG Anunoby from Toronto. 

The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks are exactly who we thought they were — excellent. The Celtics are the league-wide team to beat, and the Bucks have been stellar with their only hiccup being that their first-year head coach Adrian Griffin has already been fired.

After a hot beginning to the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have taken a major leap back since the injury to their MVP center Joel Embiid. They still sit in the fifth seed in the East but are currently trending downward and Embiid is slated to be sidelined till at least the playoffs as he recovers from left meniscus surgery.

As for the Western Conference, this side of the league is stacked with young talent that has been fun to watch. Fans and experts alike expected the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City (OKC) Thunder to be good — but not this good. The two young squads sit in the one and two spots in the West and have been unstoppable all season. 

In Minnesota, Anthony Edwards, alongside his big man duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, have tormented teams since the season began. OKC has also left its opponents without an answer all season long. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie teammate Chet Holmgren wasted no time finding their groove on the court together.

As exciting as the West has been this year, there have also been some major letdowns this season in the Western half of the league. The Golden State Warriors can’t seem to give their star point guard, Stephen Curry, any type of help. Whether it be poor play or suspension-worthy antics (mostly from Draymond Green), the Warriors are always in the headlines, and for all the wrong reasons.

The Los Angeles (LA) Lakers came out guns blazing this year, and after winning the first-ever In-Season Tournament (IST) that the NBA hosted to incentivize players to compete in more games, the Lake Show has struggled to stay on the map. Their IST championship trophy was certainly fun to boast about, but going 3-10 after the championship game put a damper on the fun in LA. They’ve partially cleaned things up since the underwhelming return to play after the IST, but the swag LA had once played with has been hard to come by for the Lakers.

Without a doubt, the biggest disappointment this season — and not just in the West — has been the Memphis Grizzlies. The injury bug plagued them early, and boy has it prevailed. From starting the season without veteran players Steven Adams and Derrick Rose to losing young studs Marcus Smart and Desmond Bane, the Grizzlies have been without their complete roster since the season opened up back in October. However, the most crucial loss to the “Grizz gang” has been its go-to point guard Ja Morant. Morant is not only Memphis’ best player, but one of the league’s best, and without him, nobody takes a second glance at the Grizzlies. 

Now for a brief look at how the awards races are going around the league. The Rookie of the Year trophy is still up for grabs, but the French phenom Victor Wembanyama is starting to run away with the award. The 7-foot-4 center that can move like a speedy guard is something the sport has never seen before. He’s put the San Antonio Spurs on his back, and besides OKC’s Chet Holmgren, I don’t see anyone else as deserving of the award as Wembanyama is.

As for the Most Valuable Player award, the easy answer is either Denver’s Nikola Jokic or Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both big men have two MVP awards under their belt since 2019, and with Jokic nearly averaging a triple-double at the moment, he’s making a case for his third MVP. 

I would love to see a guard take home the trophy this season, and Dallas’ Luka Doncic is the perfect candidate. His league-leading 34.6 points per game is impressive enough, but he can almost always give the Mavericks double-digits in either assists or rebounds too. Dallas is currently the seventh seed in the West, and if it wasn’t for Doncic, the playoffs would likely be out of the picture for the Mavs. Those circumstances alone fit MVP credentials to me.

When the All-Star Break wraps up and play gets back underway, I see the Celtics and Knicks continuing their hot play. Milwaukee will remain solid, and as the Indiana Pacers continue to get comfortable playing at a more competitive level, look for them to make some noise with the playoffs nearing. No matter what, the playoffs are likely going to go through Boston, and after watching them up until this point, there’s no reason why the Celtics aren’t the championship favorites.

The West is full of exciting, yet immature talent, so it’s going to be hard for me to bet on any of these teams. OKC still has a lot to learn, and I wouldn’t be surprised if its young core crumbles in crunch time. I think Minnesota is partially in the same boat, and while it could make a deep playoff run, I am still more trusting of teams like the defending champions out of Denver or the veteran-filled Phoenix Suns. 

Buckle up for an exciting second half of the NBA season, because if it’s anything like the first half, we’ll be in for a treat.