After a heady first half of the season, the other half will thrill with an impending battle for playoff spots in both conferences.
With teams like New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trailblazers and Denver Nuggets fighting to hold on to postseason spots, every game will prove crucial in determining which mid tier side joins elite teams in the playoffs.
Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are shoo in to make deep runs in the postseason with an aim to face the best from the Eastern Conference. The Western’s opposite conference is dealing with a similar thread as teams including Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia Sixers lead an onslaught for postseason spots.
From a player standpoint, this time of the season is big in deciding the next phase of a career as it can make or break a career. Those desired by others will be moved and those undesired by their teams and suitors will be moved; either way this time of the season represents change.
Changing the personnel and eventually style has big impact on the season ending fortunes of a franchise. Players who have the potential to turn teams into title winners like DeAndre Jordan on Cleveland Cavaliers roster for example or Nikola Mirotic’s needed presence on Oklahoma City Thunder’s, bench are in demand. However, other players presence on rosters are shaky in the immediate future as their play for the rest of this season will determine how long their services are required.
Players on this list need a big impact in the second half of the season else risk getting jettisoned out of their current teams.
Jae Crowder, Cleveland Cavaliers
Crowder was included in the trade between Cleveland and Boston Celtics because of his impact on defense-needed badly in Ohio following the 1-4 Finals loss to Golden State last season- and three point shooting form. Far from the best shooter in the league, the former Dallas Mavericks do it all Forward is far from the worst too which makes him the perfect guy to pair alongside LeBron James. Halfway through the season, Crowder’s impact on the offensive side is just at par with expectations for a player off the bench-8.4 points and 3.3 rebounds.
However, his impact on defense is yet to be felt as Cleveland is ranked 29th in the league on that end. Much worse, he and J.R. Smith’s presence on the floor is detrimental to the Cavs as the team registers an improved 12.9 points per 100 possessions when both men are on the bench. Playing alongside offensive juggernauts James, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver should unleash the best catch and shoot exhibition from Crowder as he is bound to be open for shots with the trio commanding attention from opponents.
Bismack Biyombo, Orlando Magic
Unsurprisingly starting the season slow, the Democratic Republic of Congo international had to deal with a lot of bodies in Magic’s loaded frontcourt despite the absence of Serge Ibaka who replaced Biyombo at Toronto Raptors. A glimmer of hope came through close to the end of 2017 when Nik Vucevic got injured opening up a spot in the starting unit at Center. Biyombo’s minutes have climbed but his production is flat despite Orlando’s system opening up just enough to accommodate his paint oriented game. Without Vucevic in the lineup coupled with Aaron Gordon’s improved three point shooting production, Biyombo should be dominating beneath the basket. However, he is producing five points and 5.5 rebounds per game while occasionally dropping a highlight block or two.
With Vucevic set to return from a hand injury in a few weeks, Biyombo will be back on the bench. With management adding a three point shoot big in Marresse Speights, the Congolese should still feel comfortable to produce way higher than he is averaging at the moment. Old school non shooting Centers like Biyombo are running low on options in the league and with a $17 million salary to boot, improving his play in the season’s second half is contingent on his NBA’s future.
Allen Crabbe, Brooklyn Nets
After a breakout campaign in 2015-2016, Portland Trailblazers rewarded Allen Crabbe with a bumper four year, $70 million deal. A disappointing 2016-2017 season followed and Crabbe was moved to Brooklyn Nets in a trade to get rid of his contract this season. With Brooklyn going anywhere but up as the side continues to rebuild, Crabbe should have been a star on a bad team with very few players to take away touches from him as he experienced in Portland playing alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
As a three point shooting threat, Crabbe should be completely at home in New York as the Nets attempt the most shots from deep behind Houston Rockets this season. In Kenny Atkinson’s run and gun system, Crabbe should be averaging more than 12 points per game.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter