Second Half Crystal Ball

By Kevin Pelton
Oct. 12, 2002

One of my hunches about sports untested by statistics has always been that the second half of a season (and, in some cases, the playoffs) is a better predictive tool for how a player will do than the entire season. In simpler terms, if a player gets better from November to April, odds are he’ll be better the next November than he was in April. Unfortunately, I don’t know where to find the years’ worth of statistics I’d need to test this hunch. What I do know where to find is last year’s stats for the second half, allowing me to determine which players improved during the second half and which declined.

After some fairly tedious work, I constructed a spreadsheet with statistics for the first and second halves for each player who played at least 20 games in each half (to avoid a player playing in five games and averaging 20 points per game as a mere aberration). I then found the difference between halves for six statistical categories: points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, and my own calculations of ‘efficiency’, ‘value per game’, and ‘value over replacement player’. I sorted the appropriate players to find the 10 ‘hottest’ -- largest improvements from the first half to the second half -- and ‘coldest’, going the other way. As a general rule, I’ll discuss players who ranked either in the top or bottom ten in two or more categories. Above and beyond them, some players who only showed up once were interesting enough to deserve investigation.

Further, for these purposes, I sorted the players into general categories. Not all improvement is the same, nor all decline. For some players, it’s a case of scoring less because they took fewer shots. For others, their improvement reflects part of their natural development process. I didn’t think it was fair to lump all these disparate groups together.

Youthful Development

Tyson Chandler, Forward, Chicago
The learning curve, I would guess, is never steeper than it is for a rookie entering the NBA out of high school, as Chandler did last season (and, lending credence to this theory, another high schooler appears on this list and a third, Kwame Brown, wasn’t far off of it). No player improved in rebounds per game more than Chandler, who nearly doubled his average to 6.3 over the second half, to go along with 8.2 points on 48.5% shooting. Increased minutes also allowed Chandler to up his value per game by 5.6, another area he ranked in the top ten. Chandler’s summer-league performance was a disappointment, but it’s easy to see him continuing to grow by leaps and bounds this season.

Eddy Curry, Center, Chicago
See, I told you there was another high schooler. If forced to name a ‘most improved in-season’ player, I’d probably tab Curry, who showed up on an astounding five of the six top ten lists. In the first half, Curry was utterly worthless, but he was a solid starter in the middle over the final three months, posting second-half averages of 9.3 points and 5.1 boards while shooting 54.5% from the field. Given the sad state of NBA centers, that qualifies as at least average -- at age 19. This guy is scary good, and I think he represents the best chance of any current NBAer to break into the elite center group that has thinned considerably in recent years.

Ricky Davis, guard, Cleveland
Finally given an opportunity to display his wares during the second half, Davis looked like a player who’ll be a starter in this league for a decade to come. While he’s primarily a scorer, Davis did that efficiently and often during the second half, averaging 14.6 points on 50.8% shooting. For all the hype about Darius Miles and DaJuan Wagner, I feel Davis is probably, if only for this year, the Cavaliers’ best player. He has the chance to put up some big numbers in the fast-paced Cleveland attack (assuming there’s somebody to get him the ball). Think the shooting guard-poor Hornets wish they still had Davis?

Peja Drobnjak, center/forward, Seattle
Drobnjak is far older than most of his counterparts on this list, seven years older than Chicago’s kids, but he had to make the transition from playing his entire career overseas to the NBA last season. That transition was something less than smooth; through mid-February, Drobnjak was labeled a bust. After Vin Baker was injured, however, he was given a regular role in the rotation and shined, averaging 8.5 points and 4.1 rebounds during the second half. Drobnjak’s upside is far less than the other players on this list, but he is a very valuable big man, especially on a cap-friendly three-year contract.

Jamaal Magloire, center, New Orleans
Right behind Curry on that list of potentially elite centers is Magloire, who only needs minutes to break out into a star (not easy considering he’s behind Elden Campbell, who has slowly bloomed into one of the East’s top centers). During the second half, Magloire averaged 10.8 points and 6.6 boards per game while shooting an eye-popping 58.7% from the field. (Consider that Houston’s Kelvin Cato led the league with a 58.2% mark; Shaquille O’Neal shot 57.9%.)

Michael Olowokandi, center, Los Angeles Clippers
No player improved their scoring average by more over the second half of the season than Olowokandi, who leaped from a pedestrian 7.0 per game to 15.1 almost entirely on the strength of his play during March and April. That said, Olowokandi still only shot 44% in the second half, meaning much of his improvement was due to shooting more. I’m not as sold on Olowokandi’s long-term potential as the other big men (a number of them, aren’t there?) on this list.

Jason Richardson, guard, Golden State
Okay, part of this is how poorly Richardson played in the first half -- 11.2 points per game on 39.8% shooting, inadequate numbers for a shooting guard. However, his dramatic improvement in the second half to numbers of 17.7 and 44.6% portends continued improvement as a focal point of the Warrior offense this season. If Richardson has worked on his shooting as much as he should have in the gym this summer, he could average 20 points per game this season, no question.

Etan Thomas, forward, Washington
Of this specific group, Thomas was the most surprising entrant to me. I liked Thomas’ potential when he left Syracuse, but didn’t think he had done much of anything last season after injuries ruined his rookie year. Though Thomas certainly wasn’t a world beater by any stretch of the imagination, he was productive off the bench, averaging 5.6 points and 4.8 boards on 55% shooting in the second half. The Wizards’ crowded frontcourt will make it tough for him to do more.

Jake Tsakalidis, center, Phoenix
After a disappointing year and a half, Tsakalidis had an impressive April last season, and that buoyed his second-half improvement. With 9.1 points and 6.5 boards per game in the second half, Tsakalidis was another productive part-time young center. In this case, the improvement seems real enough, and Tsakalidis seems poised for a strong season.

More shots/minutes:

Antonio Davis, forward/center, Toronto
In the absence of star Vince Carter, Davis was called upon to be the Raptors’ primary offensive option down the stretch as the team snuck back into the playoff picture in the East. Davis responded after a dismal first half that made many pundits question the lengthy contract Toronto lavished upon him last summer. Davis’ second-half field goal percentage -- 44.1% -- was still too low, but his raw numbers of 16.9 points and 9.7 boards per game are the envy of many Eastern competitors.

Pat Garrity, forward, Orlando
A natural three, Garrity took advantage of a dismal Magic frontcourt to find a starting spot at power forward down the stretch. As a complimentary player alongside Tracy McGrady, Garrity sat on the perimeter and bombed away, allowing him to average 12.8 points and 5.0 boards in the second half. However, with Grant Hill hopefully healthy and further reinforcements up front, Garrity will be hard pressed to duplicate his performance if he returns to being just another shooter off the bench.

Juwan Howard, forward, Denver
The catalyst of Howard’s statistical improvement is obvious; he went from a Dallas team loaded with offensive options to a Denver team bereft of alternatives. Putting it up more, Howard averaged 17.6 points and 8.1 boards for the Nuggets while still shooting a respectable 47.7%. Howard’s main source of (anti-)publicity is his outrageous contract, but he could put up huge numbers this year on a miserable Denver team and should be a valuable free agent next summer.

Kurt Thomas, forward/center, New York
With limited alternatives up front in New York, Thomas stepped up and was better than most anyone realized in the middle of the morass that is the Knicks. Over the second half, he averaged 16.6 points and 9.9 boards on 51.2% shooting -- and they were going to trade him for Baker (more later)!?!? Depending on the health of Antonio McDyess and the status of Latrell Sprewell, odds are Thomas’ numbers will go down, but he’s still an extremely valuable player more or less in his prime.

Players taking it to the proverbial “next level”

Brent Barry, guard, Seattle
Okay, Barry may not belong here, but I wasn’t sure where to put him. He’s surely not young enough to go on the first list, and I don’t think he should be lumped with players on the second, whose ‘improvement’ was presumably due more to their surroundings than any actual development. Barry was without question a better player during the second half last season than at any point before in his career, surroundings be damned. His primary numbers -- 16.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.6 assists -- are solid but not necessarily eye-catching. What leaps off the page is his 52.8% shooting over the final three months -- unheard of for a shooting guard who shoots as many threes as Barry does. As for this year? Tough to say; Barry’s shot won’t go anywhere, but his starting role may be claimed by Desmond Mason. And what effect will clearing out Baker, who seemed to have a detrimental effect on Barry, have? Lots of questions, no answers -- yet.

Cuttino Mobley, guard, Houston
At the risk of being blasphemous, let me pose a question. Is Steve Francis really the best player in his own backcourt? Mobley’s numbers suggest that the answer is not as obvious as it seems. While he played well all season, Mobley was great in the second half, averaging 24.4 points per game on 46% shooting (a huge increase from his 41.3% first-half mark). Only five players averaged more points in the second half -- Allen Iverson, O’Neal, McGrady, Tim Duncan, and Paul Pierce. All I can saw is “Wow.”

Players on the older end of natural development

Michael Jordan, forward, Washington
A little blasphemous, to be sure, but it’s clear that Jordan’s game is slipping. To be fair, injuries played a large role in the process last season, meaning it is likely to reverse somewhat this season. However, Jordan in the second half did drop off from 25.0 points and 6.4 rebounds to 18.9 and 4.3. That can’t be ignored. Jordan of the first half was still a star; Jordan of the second half wasn’t.

Terry Porter, guard, San Antonio
Okay, we know how this one ends (for those who didn’t see it, Porter retired this summer to become an assistant with the Kings and former head coach Rick Adelman). Porter had successfully battled the aging process for many years up to last year, but it (and injuries) caught up to him last season. In the second half, Porter shot a miserable 37.6% and averaged only 4.0 points. The end was clearly near.

Less shots/minutes

Anfernee Hardaway, guard, Phoenix
Relegated to the bench by the arrival of rookie Joe Johnson in a trade with Boston, Hardaway was far less productive during the second half, losing 5.9 points and an assist and a half. With Johnson still around, this situation shows little chance of reversing itself. An improved attitude and better health, however, might make Hardaway a more valuable reserve.

Jumaine Jones, forward, Cleveland
To borrow a great old line from somebody in the Hawks organization about Christian Laettner, Jones isn’t a power forward, but he played one on TV last season. With the Cavs’ depth at the three, Jones was forced to the four, where he was overmatched defensively. As a result, when Tyrone Hill came back from his back injury near midseason, Jones’ minutes were cut severely. His points were almost halved to 5.6 per game in the second half, but Jones remains a competent player.

Nick Van Exel, guard, Dallas
Van Exel got the other end of the Howard effect, going from being the first (and sometimes second and third as well) option with the Nuggets to about the sixth option for the Mavericks. That caused the largest point decrease from the first half to the second, 9.5 points down (not to mention 2.8 assists), but Van Exel was not an appreciably different player with the Mavericks than he was in Denver.


Anthony Carter, guard, Miami
Carter only played 23 games in the second half because of a hernia. That, however, can’t hide the fact that he also simply wasn’t very good during the first half, causing him to lose his minutes to Rod Strickland. In those 23 games, Carter did next to nothing, averaging 2.3 points and 3.1 assists on 28% shooting. Ouch.

Vince Carter, guard, Toronto
Carter’s season has basically been lumped together, but the first half wasn’t a particularly noticeable drop-off from his stellar 2000-01 season. During the second half, Carter simply wasn’t himself whatsoever, seeing his scoring average fall to 22.6 points per game on 41% shooting. What I can’t entirely understand is why his assists dropped from 4.6 to 2.9 per game. No matter the answer, it will be a renewed Carter on the court this season, so the second-half drop-off doesn’t tell us much in my opinion.

Mike Miller, guard/forward, Orlando
Miller was actually injured in both halves of the season, but the chip fracture of a bone in his foot did not have lingering effects, with Miller putting together a fine first half of 16.8 points per game on 45.7% shooting. A sprained left ankle, however, bothered him throughout much of the second half and caused those numbers to drop severely to 13.1 and 40.8%. This one is awfully likely to reverse itself.

Donyell Marshall, forward, Chicago
I knew Marshall was good in Utah, but I didn’t realize just how dominant his first half was until I saw the isolated numbers. Marshall shot an unreal 55.8% from the field while averaging 16.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game -- not bad for a third option! A bruised hip bothered him in the second half, and Marshall’s numbers plummeted like the stock market. He shot only 46.0%, nearly a 10 percentage point drop, and averaged only 12.5 points per game in the second half. He won’t have the minutes to be able to put up his first-half numbers with the Bulls, but I think the “real” Marshall is closer to that player than the second-half imposter.

David Wesley, guard, New Orleans
Well, Wesley -- who turns 32 next month -- isn’t that old, but I’m not entirely sure whether his second-half decline was because of a foot injury or simply him declining. Wesley went from a capable starter -- 16.2 points, 41.1% shooting -- to definite bench material -- 11.4 points, 38.1% shooting. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that with Jamal Mashburn out, the Hornets had no viable alternatives at the two. Now they have Courtney Alexander, and there’s little doubt in my mind he’ll be the starter.

“Revealed as frauds” (A bit harsh, but that’s basically my opinion on these guys)

Vin Baker, forward, Boston
Arguably, no player declined more than Baker in the second half. I’m a Sonics fan, so I followed Baker closely, but I had forgotten just how well he played in the first half -- 16.9 points and 6.8 boards on 50.2% shooting. Not All-Star numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but solid. In the second half, words can’t describe how awful Baker was, averaging 9.8 points and 5.7 boards on 44.8% shooting. Given the larger context of Baker’s recent history, I’d say that’s more likely his natural level than his first-half play. Baker did have an injury, three dislocated toes, but I don’t think it really hampered his play.

Larry Hughes, guard, Washington
I easily could have thrown Hughes in the ‘circumstantial decline’ section, but in this case Hughes didn’t lose minutes because of a trade or because someone else returned from injury. He was benched on his own dubious “merits” and declined sharply across the board; his second-half numbers were barely adequate for a reserve, let alone the starter the Wizards seem to expect him to be. In case you can’t tell, I’m not high on the chances of Baker or Hughes to provide much help to their new teams.

Chris Mihm, forward/center, Cleveland
Mihm hasn’t had serious foot problems, so he’s got that going for him, but other than that everything about his NBA career thus far says “stiff”. In the second half, the Cavs caught the message and cut his playing time dramatically. That led to this stellar line for the lottery pick of just two years ago -- 5.1 points and 4.2 boards on 44% shooting. Yikes.

Mark Strickland, forward, free agent
Well, I don’t think anyone actually thought Strickland was good, but he did play over his head in the first half (6.5 points and 3.9 boards). The second half brought a more reasonable effort -- 2.7 points and 1.9 rebounds on 36.5% shooting. That’s more like it!

? (Not really sure why they went down)

Brendan Haywood, center, Washington
Haywood was a surprisingly effective player for the Wizards during the first half, posting a fine line of 6.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. Perhaps this was a case of water seeking its own level, but the rookie declined as the season went on. Despite shooting better (51.9%), Haywood’s numbers dropped to pedestrian marks of 3.6 points and 3.5 boards. Tough to see that changing too much next year.

Tim Thomas, forward, Milwaukee
Like with Vince Carter, a disappointing second half has caused Thomas’ entire season to be labeled a failure. He was effective in the first half, putting up numbers of 13.7 points, 5.0 boards, and 43.3% shooting. The second half was simply awful, with Thomas averaging 9.3 points and 2.9 boards while shooting 39.7% from the field. Some minor injuries might have played a role, but generally Thomas’ development ever since the 1999-2000 season has been questionable. I’d be something less than comfortable with Thomas as my starting small forward.

Kevin Pelton is the lead Pacific editor for He can be reached via e-mail at