You hear a lot of things when you are connected to a bunch of heavy hitters, and I heard a couple of things last week that sent me in search of the truth. And whatever the truth is, it was not readily apparent.
First I heard from a source close to the Bulls that Tom Thibodeau had lost his locker room, his football coach mentality wearing thin with key members of a roster who it is fair to say have underperformed. It’s not like Thibs is Pete Carroll, and it’s not like the Bulls have anything to be overtly proud of with their 27-15 record that includes a 12-10 mark at home.
But then I went checking around, speaking with another source who is plugged into all things regarding he Bulls, and was told that nothing could be further from the truth. Didn’t Thibs guide the Bulls to winning records and playoff appearances the past two seasons despite being without Derrick Rose? Didn’t they just win 10 of 11? Does that count for nothing?
Whether those things count for anything, IMO, will be determined in the next couple of weeks as the Bulls head into a back-breaking section of their schedule that began with their home loss Saturday night to the scorching Atlanta Hawks. Their next three are against the Cavs, Spurs and Mavericks. Then they hit the road for three games in four nights against the Warriors, Lakers and Suns, followed by a four-day break before they resume their seven-game road swing by playing the Rockets, Pelicans and Magic. Only the games against the Lakers and Magic should be considered gimmes, and a 2-7 stretch would undoubtedly make Thibodeau known as David Blatt 2.0.
As of now, for the record, my leading Coach on the Hot Seat guy is Jacque Vaughn of Orlando. But nobody cares about that team, even if they have the best center in the Eastern Conference.
So as we move into the second half of the season, what do we have to look forward to? Another month of cameos by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant before they both shut it down for the purposes of tanking, another three months of riding Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside to fantasy victories, along with the inevitable bidding wars that will break out to take over ownership of the Hawks and Brooklyn Nets. The guess here is that neither goes for less than $1 billion.
Oh, and we also have a wide-open MVP race, which is why we are here.
So enough with the musings, and let’s get on with the rankings.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. Best player on the team ith the best record, a team that is making gamblers quite happy this season. They are 25-12-1 against the spread, including 13-4-1 at home, where their record is an NBA-best 17-1. Their point differential is plus-10.9, which is astonishing. If you had to focus on one stat and one stat only when assessing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 30 teams, you would look at point differential. You know who told me that? Ray Allen, at the conclusion of Game 5 of last year’s NBA Finals. Curry begins the week at .498 from the field and .399 from 3-point range, along with 92 percent from the line. I’ll wager than he is in the 50-40-90 club by the time the next edition of these rankings are published. (LAST EDITION: No. 1).
2. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks. His numbers won’t knock your socks off: 17.4 points, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals. But he is the motor that makes the Hawks run, and these guys have already put it into fifth gear. To those who have been living in a phone booth, we offer the following recap: Since Thanksgiving they are 26-2 (the losses were to Orlando and Milwaukee). They have defeated the Bulls twice and the Cavs twice, and they have posted road wins at Houston, Dallas, Portland and the Clippers. They have eight losses total, which is the same number of Ws belonging to the Philadelphia 76ers, the third-worst team in the league (betcha never though you’d read that this season).In January, Teague is averaging 18.9 points and 8.4 assists. His assists-to-turnovers ratio this month is 4.94. (LAST EDITION: No. 2).
3. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. I have been partial to Damian Lillard in the previous editions of these rankings, but LA has been pouring it on lately to keep the Blazers within striking distance of the ‘Dubs (3 1/2 games back). He has gone for double figures in his last 23 games, and really turned it on over the past couple weeks with 37 against the Clippers, 24 against the Spurs and 32 against the Grizzlies. Yes, it would have been nice if even one of those games was a victory, but the Blazers gave themselves a cushion to absorb a mini-slump, and they will bounce back if they can figure out what has been ailing Nicolas Batum. It would not surprise me if Batum starts coming of the bench if Portland can get Wilson Chandler from the Nuggets for a No. 1 pick. In the meantime, LA is earning his max money and is a safe bet to remain in Portland, same as Marc Gasol is likely to do in Memphis. (Sorry, Knicks fans. But you could still get Greg Monroe). (LAST EDITION: NR)
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. Like a lot of people (OK, like not a lot of people), I spent Sunday afternoon switching back and forth between Pelicans-Raptors and Packers-Seahawks. AD did not play, but Alexis Ajinca had the game of his life as NOLA sent the Raptors to yet another defeat. So we begin this week with the Pels sporting the same record as the Thunder, having gotten back to .500 without the services of this guy and Jrue Holiday. They are my new favorite team to watch (sorry, Atlanta). The kid is third in scoring, ninth in rebounding and leads all qualified players in blocks (although Rudy Gobert is going to overtake him). As I have been saying all season, if this team makes the playoffs, this guy is going to win the award. There are 44 games left to see if that happens. (LAST EDITION: No. 4)
5. Jahlil Okafor, Duke Blue Devils. Yes, this spot should probably go to James Harden, who leads the league in scoring but got stymied the other night by Klay Thompson in a 25-point loss to the Warriors. So we will break with precedent and give the No. 5 spot to the center from Duke who is going to be the cause of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony shutting it down, and Philadelphia trading some combination of Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and/or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute so they can go on the 30-game losing streak they will need to get the most ping-pong balls in the lottery. They call him the next Tim Duncan, and let’s not forget that it was the Spurs who tanked way back in the day in order to increase their chances of landing Duncan. (LAST EDITION: NR)
DROPPED OUT: James Harden (3), Jimmy Butler (5).
THE NEXT FIVE: James Harden, Rockets; Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers; Jimmy Butler, Bulls; Klay Thompson, Warriors; Chris Paul, Clippers.
EDITION V: LeBRON JAMES APPROACHES THE BIG THREE-OH
EDITION IV: FROM NEW YORK TO SLOVENIA TO CUBA
EDITION III: PRINCE WILLIAM MEETS LeBRON JAMES
EDITION II: HEADLINE PORN FOR MARK CUBAN
EDITION I: ODE TO VANCOUVER
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.