The NBA season has reached its halfway mark and the league has some players that are HOT and some that are NOT.
HOT: James Harden
With his recent scoring tear, James Harden has pushed his scoring average to 33.9 points per game. If Harden can maintain this pace, he will join Kobe Bryant (once) and Michael Jordan (twice) and the only players in the last 40 years to score at least 33.9 points per game over an entire season. Not only is Harden leading the league is scoring, but he has also hit 28 more three-pointers than Steph Curry for tops in the league (granted Curry has played seven fewer games and has fewer attempts) and easily leads the league in free throw attempts. He is also putting up these scoring numbers while also ranking 4th in the league in assists at 8.6 per game and leading the Rockets back to the upper echelon of the West without a healthy Chris Paul.
NOT: Ben Simmons
Now you might be asking, how can you say a second year player averaging 16/9/8 on 57.3 percent shooting be on the “Not” list, but hear me out. In Simmons rookie season, he attempted 11 threes, eight of which were classified as “heaves” at the end of the clock. He made zero. In his 121 career games, Simmons has made exactly zero three-pointers. For as much flack as Markelle Fultz has been given for his lack of a jump shot, Fultz has made 4 three-pointers in his 33 career games. Simmons is also a 56.8 percent free throw shooter, the same percent that Fultz is shooting this season. After an offseason where the word on the street was how much work Simmons had put into improving his jump shot, Simmons’ average distance shot is 4 feet and he has shot just 2.2 percent of his shots outside of 16 feet and is shooting just 10 percent on those shots. To put that in perspective, Hassan Whiteside shoots 7 percent of his shots outside of 16 feet and is a career 40 percent on those shots. Even traditional Center, Andre Drummond, shoots 1.4 percent of his attempts outside of 16 feet and he has made 21 percent on his career. While Simmons passes and handles like a point guard, he shoots like one of the worst shooting bigs in the NBA and defenses are figuring that out.
HOT: Steph Curry
On January 5th, Curry had his 11th career game with at least 10 made three-pointers. There have been 39 such games in NBA history. Teammate Klay Thompson has four and J.R. Smith has two. No other player in history has multiple 10-three pointer games. In that same game, Curry passed Kyle Korver for fourth place on the all-time list for three-pointers made. Curry has now made 2280, behind only Jason Terry (2282), Reggie Miller (2560), and Ray Allen (2973). What’s remarkable about this is that Curry has joined this company in so many fewer games. Curry has played in 655 games and will likely pass Jason Terry the next game he plays. Terry played in 1410 games, Miller played in 1389, and Allen played in 1300. Of all of those all-time great shooters, not only does Curry have the highest scoring average of the group, he also has the highest three-point percentage, field goal percentage, and effective field goal percentage. Do not take for granted what Curry is doing simply because he is making it seem commonplace. We are witnessing the greatest shooter to ever walk the planet and contrary to popular belief, he is the best player on his own team.
NOT: Klay Thompson
While Curry is enjoying another strong season, Thompson has struggled with consistency. Yes, he scored 43 points the other night (on just 4 dribbles no less), but overall Klay is having his worst shooting season of his career. The career 41.7 percent shooter from distance is shooting a career-low 35.6 percent from three this season. That’s good for a tie with Al-Farouq Aminu for 84th place in the league. His 52.1 effective field goal percentage is the lowest its been since 2012-13 and his 80.4 free throw percentage is his lowest since 2013-14. These are not the shooting numbers we are accustomed to seeing from one of the most feared shooters in league history.
HOT: Paul George
Paul George is having a career year. That’s saying something when you are talking about a multiple time All-NBA and All-Defensive Team performer. George is averaging a career-best 26.8 points and 2.2 steals per game. His defensive rating of 101 is better than defensive stalwarts Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard and matches reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. He and Russell Westbrook have led the Thunder to the league’s top defense.
NOT: Russell Westbrook
Westbrook has set some pretty high standards for himself. So while some players would love to average 21.2 points per game, we haven’t seen scoring numbers this low for Westbrook since his second season in the league. We also haven’t seen his shooting numbers dip this much since then either. He is shooting just 42 percent from the floor and a microscopic 23.5 percent from three. His effective field goal percentage is down to 44.9 percent. These are not the numbers we expect to see from Westbrook. Tough to say that about a guy averaging a triple-double again this season.
HOT: Buddy Hield
In his third NBA season, Hield is finally starting to show the shooting touch that had some comparing him coming out of Oklahoma to Steph Curry. Hield is now scoring a career-best 20.2 point per game and he’s doing it at an impressive clip. Hield is shooting 47.5 percent from the floor, 44.5 percent from three, and 85.5 percent from the stripe. 46 percent of his attempts are coming from behind the three-point line. His effective field goal percentage has climbed to 57.7 percent, which is good for the third-best mark of any guard in the league.
NOT: Joe Ingles
The Utah Jazz have underachieved so far this season and one of the big reasons why is the shooting of Joe Ingles. Sure you could say that Ingles is struggling now that defenses know that they can’t have the guy who looks like an insurance salesman get wide open looks, but the fact is Ingles’ shooting numbers are down across the board. Last season Ingles shot 44 percent from three and ranked among the league leaders, this season he’s shooting just 37.1 percent (down 6.9 percent). He also down 6.9 percent in effective field goal percentage, 15.2 percent in free throw percentage, and 3.0 percent down in overall field goal percentage. When your primary skill is shooting, that makes for a difficult season for you and your team.
HOT: Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose has had a major bounce-back season. He is averaging just 19 points per game, the most since his All-Star days in Chicago. Not only is Rose scoring, but he’s doing it in ways he’s never done it before. Never known as a great three-point shooter, Rose is shooting a scorching 46.2 percent from three, good for fourth in the league. For a guy who has fought through so many injuries and was essentially written off and out of the league, Rose is amazingly in the running for an All-Star spot in the brutally competitive Western Conference.
NOT: Jimmy Butler
The Jimmy drama seems to find Mr. Butler regardless of where he goes. The latest is his verbal altercation with new coach Brett Brown. The Sixers are saying everything is fine, but Butler is upset about his role in the offense and is shooting fewer shots per game than any season since 2013-14. Butler also hasn’t averaged so few points since he made his first All-Star team. Since trading for Butler the Sixers are 15-8 and have not been able to rise in the Eastern Conference standings.