That’s how most basketball fans would describe this past week, particularly ones in the Lake Michigan area. First came the news that former MVP Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls was hurt again, the victim of a torn meniscus in his right knee. And now, All-Stra teammate and Most Improved Player candidate Jimmy Butler is out 3-6 weeks after hyperextending his left elbow.
Bulls fans, and the NBA in general, have taken one giant, James Harden-sized kick to the man region. Two of the league’s most exciting players are gone just in time for the playoffs.
How is anyone supposed to enjoy the rest of the regular season without wondering who has the upper hand in the back-and-forth race between Butler and Klay Thompson for the top spot in our rankings?
Perhaps more importantly, can Butler still win the Most Improved Player award if he misses the rest of the regular season?
Sure, Butler has played in 55 games, and sure, his immense offensive improvement was one of the main reasons why the most delusional Bulls fans still held onto hope that they could win the Eastern Conference, even if Rose didn’t return for the playoffs.
But with a strong finish to the season, either Golden State’s Thompson or Miami’s Hassan Whiteside could overtake Butler. For Thompson, the issue is that he was a budding star last season. For Whiteside, the issue is that most people still don’t know who he is.
The race for this translucent beauty is wide-open now.
We’ll see if someone can jump up and grab it. Without tearing something, of course.
On to the rankings.
1. Jimmy Butler, G, Chicago Bulls. This is more than just a symbolic ranking after the Jimmy went down on Sunday. He had reclaimed the lead on our Big Board (we make one up every night … no we don’t) after scorching the Wolves for 28 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks on Friday, and with Klay Thompson struggling, the top spot was his to lose. If the season ended today, Butler would win the award. So, how much will missing 3-6 weeks hurt his chances? I guess we’ll find out.
2. Klay Thompson, G, Golden State Warriors. He has been struggling of late, following up a 2-for-10 performance from the arc at Boston on Sunday with a 1-for-9 clunker from deep in Brooklyn on Monday night. Thompson finished with just seven points and shot 3-for-17 from the field against the Nets. We’re going to go out on a limb and say that the six-game road trip and the fact that the Warriors were playing their fourth game in five nights on Monday had something to do with it.
3. Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat. Mr. Whiteside almost singlehandedly rebounded the Heat to victory against the Hawks, grabbing 24 boards in Miami’s 93-91 loss on Saturday. He then messed around and got a double-double, putting up 17 and 14 in a 115-98 insult-to-injury victory over the Suns before being ejected for tussling with Alex Len. If Whiteside comes through with a monster March and April, he’s got a shot to steal this award now that Butler is down.
4. Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz. The big fella keeps balling, having posted back-to-back 14-rebound games before a 10-point, eight-board, six-block performance against the Nuggets. On Tuesday, he grabbed a career-high 24 boards with 15 points in a road win over Memphis. The sky is the limit for this kid, and that’s why Utah dealt Enes Kanter for a couple of draft picks and a used washing machine.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks. The Yan-man (his first name’s pronounced Yon-nis) is like a stats game show. Which category is he going to fill up today? A few weeks ago, it was points (he scored 27 and 25 on back-to-back nights). He’s also had big rebound games (11, 12 and 15 in games last month), big assist nights (8 and 6) and is averaging more than a block and a steal per game in February. What’s he going to do next?
NEXT FIVE: Draymond Green, F, Golden State; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Detroit; Dennis Schroder, G, Atlanta; Robert Covington,G, Philadelphia; Alexis Ajinca, F-C, New Orleans.