Around the Rim

By Josh Eberley #41

Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome back to Around the Rim!

Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices heard and trendy issues. Last year, we had over 150 unique contributors working at any and every outlet you can think of living all across the globe!

The roundtable will run every Tuesday, with new questions and new voices each week. If you have a question you’d like answered by the panel, tweet @JoshEberley or @HOOPmag and check back each week to see who hopped in for the current edition. Last week’s edition can be found here!

This week we are fortunate to have four dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:

David Brandon: Daily Thunder, contributor

Kevin Cottrell: NBA-TV, Sr. researcher

Victoria Jacobi: Franchise Magazine, contributor

Sean Sweeney: Complex, contributor

Jimmy Butler has been on a tear. Over his last 20 games he’s averaging 25.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.8 APG, and the Wolves are 14-6 over that stretch. If the vote was today, would he get his name on the top-five of the MVP ballot?

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Brandon: I think he would. Jimmy’s been playing awesome for the Wolves, and he’s clearly their best player. Their success has also corresponded with his usage rate going up—he’s been consistently in the mid- to high-20s over this win streak, and he’s been awesome at the end of games. It’s somewhat disguised the fact that much of the Wolves’ rotation isn’t great on defense and their bench is incredibly thin. Marcus Georges-Hunt has given them good minutes, and Crawford is still Crawford, but Thibodeau has mothballed about half the team. Keep an eye on Butler as the season progresses, as the lack of depth and high minutes for starters may take a toll. But for now, Jimmy Gets Buckets should absolutely be in the conversation.

Cottrell: At first glance, it was a quick no. However, looking at Butler’s numbers and obvious impact on the team success I can see how one may give a slow yes. The Timberwolves are currently just a half game out of the No. 3 seed after a blowout win over the Portland Trail Blazers for their fifth consecutive victory. Jimmy deserves to be considered as an All-Star but MVP is still too early for me to call. In no particular order, guys like James Harden, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, not to mention Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, all figure to have a say in who will hoist the Maurice Podoloff Trophy at season’s end. If the Wolves can continue defending at a high level while racking up the wins, Jimmy ascension up the MVP ranks will be inevitable.

Jacobi: Jimmy has been one of my favorite players to watch this season so far. His stat averages consistently depict a complete game and the team has flourished accordingly, so yes, I’d absolutely put him in the MVP talks right now. KAT, Wiggins, Teague, and the rest of the core seems to really be gelling over the last 10 games. The Wolves have the second-best offense and the third-best defense, taking the third spot in the West. It’s working and Butler is a HUGE leading factor.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Sweeney: To me, there’s a clear top three right now. Despite the injury, James Harden is my pick for MVP. He’s averaging a 32-9-5 for one of the league’s three best teams. Then you have LeBron James, and what is an MVP ballot without the King on it? That’d be sacrilegious.

After that, Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves a spot, though the hype around his fast start has cooled in recent weeks. We can throw Kyrie Irving in here as well.

The final spot ultimately comes down to how you feel about the Warriors. Do they deserve an MVP candidate because they are still far and away the team with the highest ceiling, not to mention the best record? Or does the greatness of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant combine to cancel them both out?

With all that said, if Jimmy Butler keeps up his current level of play, and the Timberwolves continue to close the gap between themselves and the West’s holy trinity (GS, Houston, San Antonio), it wouldn’t surprise me to see his name on this list when the season is over.

Kyrie Irving did a podcast with J.J. Redick and the two confided in some of their favorite conspiracies. Among them, were dinosaurs even real? And of course, can we be sure the world isn’t flat? Do you believe in any NBA conspiracies?

Cottrell: Conspiracies seem to be just as synonymous with the NBA as Spalding, but I find it hard to believe in NBA conspiracies overall. This is my 10th season covering the Association and I’ve witnessed the Lakers acquiring Paul Gasol in what many believed to be a complete heist of a trade, while also seeing the same Lakers get denied the rights to Chris Paul. The Heatles came together in spectacular fashion and still walked away with as many titles as the Bad Boy Pistons. Remember the seemingly unbeatable 73-win Warriors who managed to blow a 3-1 lead? Conspiracies are convenient but ultimately the League is full of the most talented players to play the game. Referees miss calls the same way players miss shots. So no to NBA conspiracies, but let me get back to you on whether or not dinosaurs are real.

Jacobi: The only NBA conspiracy I believe in is, “basketball reasons,” when David Stern used those two words to nix a Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. And no, the world isn’t flat, although, I did start following one of the conspiracy pages Kyrie follows on IG. We need to know what he will hit us with next.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Sweeney: Do I believe for a minute that Michael Jordan actually ordered bad pizza the night before Game 5 of the ’97 Finals? No, MJ was a McDonald’s guy. So while I can’t accept what Kyrie Irving is saying, I can’t ignore it, either.

My favorite NBA conspiracy has to be Delonte West changing the course of NBA history through one ill-timed romance. Without West’s rumored “coupling” with LeBron James’ mother during the 2010 playoffs, everything might be different. Think about it:

  • LeBron and Cleveland don’t fall apart over the final three games against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals and go on to make the Finals
  • We likely get LeBron vs. Kobe in the Finals, thus changing the course of YouTube debates forever
  • Perhaps LeBron never leaves for Miami, potentially preventing the entire “superteam” era from ever happening
  • Indiana, not Miami, ends up the new dynasty in the East, and Roy Hibbert, not Stephen Curry, becomes the poster boy of the new NBA (I’m pretty sure this would’ve never happened either way, but it’s fun to think about)
  • And Delonte West’s career never unravels, thus ensuring everyone everywhere gets more Delonte West, which is always a good thing

Brandon: Not really. I think the human tendency to try to see patterns in everything is responsible for most of the NBA conspiracy ideas that have taken root over the years. I’ve also refereed games, and nothing makes you more sympathetic to how hard it is to keep up with and see everything on a basketball court than trying to referee. There are plenty of safeguards in place against most of the common theories, including the draft lottery.

As we get closer to the NBA trade deadline (February 8), which probable playoff team needs to be most active working the phones?

Jacobi: Everyone in The Land should be on their phones. The Cavs haven’t been able to get any major wins lately so there’s definitely frustration. Are they willing to offer the Nets pick in a deal? Doubtful, unless it’s a bigger deal with the Clippers, for instance. Thompson and Frye are most likely on the trading block, for who though, Tyreke Evans? Maybe DeAndre Jordan? Depends on what LeGeneralManager has planned out. BelieveLand.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Sweeney: I wanted to say the Celtics, considering the assets they have available ($8.4 million trade exception, draft picks, young talent likely too expensive to keep) as well as the fact that Cleveland looks like they’re *finally* one untimely sprained ankle away from an early summer. But even with Kyrie, it still feels like Boston is playing with house money. They can probably/maybe/possibly afford to wait.

It’s worth mentioning that Cleveland has the least to lose and the most to gain at the trade deadline, which always makes things interesting. As presently constructed, they have no chance of beating Golden State. So do you roll the dice, make a move to position yourselves for one last run during the LeBron James era? Or do you stick to the few future assets you do have and keep Plan B percolating in case LeBron jumps ship to team up with LaVar?

Look at these names: Marc Gasol, Julius Randle, DeAndre Jordan, Tyreke Evans, Lou Williams, Nikola Vucevic, Jordan Clarkson. There has to be someone out there that could help Cleveland.

Brandon: I think it’s the Cavaliers. They’re trying to convince Bron to stay, and their roster is getting older and slower every year. The retreads are wearing thin. If they can’t convince LeBron to stay, they probably disappear into the NBA abyss again, and he doesn’t have the help on roster to match up to the Warriors. If they can make a substantive move to upgrade the roster (especially at forward or center), they need to do it. If nothing else, it gives them something to build around if Bron leaves, especially if they go for a DeAndre Jordan or someone like that—an IT/Love/DAJ core is still quite solid.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Cottrell: It’s rare that a midseason trade results in a title or even a Finals berth. But if you ain’t trading at the deadline, you ain’t trying! Which is why the Toronto Raptors needs to be active now through the first week of February. The Raptors could use some depth along the wing to help defend LeBron James or another ball handler to help take pressure off DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Toronto has played some of the best ball the North has seen in recent years. Therefore, the time is now for them to take advantage of a potentially vulnerable Cavaliers team by serving as buyers at the deadline.

Quietly the Los Angles Clippers are only one win behind New Orleans for the last playoff spot. Who do you think misses the playoffs, the Clippers or the Pelicans?

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Sweeney: This one is easy: The Clippers. They feel like they’re on the cusp of a major collapse, whether it’s from the inevitable Jordan trade or injuries or other teams realizing, “Hey, these guys are starting the equivalent of 2.75 NBA-quality players. We should probably win this game.” This Clipper restart should’ve happened last summer, to be honest.

No team with DeMarcus Cousins is trustworthy, either, but at least the Pelicans have a real desire to make the playoffs. You should root for them, too. None of us will survive a summer if we have to start hearing Anthony Davis-to-Golden State rumors every day.

Brandon: I think the Pelicans miss the playoffs. Gentry’s quietly been doing yeoman’s work with a funky roster that doesn’t fit together at all, but there are still big questions about the Pelicans, and their depth has been awful. The Clippers have been getting great production out of fringe NBA guys, and so long as they can keep enough playmaking on the floor to get the ball to their more limited guys they have some firepower. The Pelicans have been playing E’Twaun Moore at small forward—their usual construction is 3 guards, a F/C and a C. It’s not viable long-term, especially as those undersized players wear down from the grind of defending larger guys. Both teams have checkered injury histories, but the Pelicans have been worse. Rondo has not been great anywhere, but he’s been far worse sharing the floor with Boogie, and without him the ball-handling falls off a cliff (Holiday, Moore and Clark are all more comfortable off the ball). Clips in, Pellies out.

Cottrell: The Clippers can’t seem to get out of their own way at times. This recent stretch of ball, highlighted by the play of Lou Williams, serves as a good story but ultimately can it be sustained? The Pelicans have the talent (Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins) coupled with the veteran backcourt (Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday) with the eagerness to prove their doubters wrong. Although the two teams are separated by a game in the standings, their talent pool seems to be a world apart.

Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Jacobi: *clears throat* Louuuuuuuuu! One of the most talented and fun scorers. However, despite the lack of a deep bench in New Orleans, I still have the Pelicans making it to playoffs over the Clips. Anthony Davis & Boogie Cousins are relentless, both averaging a double-double, respectively, and the only thing holding that Clippers team together is Doc Rivers.

Which NBA player has given you the most joy on a nightly basis this year?

Brandon: I’ve mostly been watching the Thunder, and I think the guy I enjoy most watching on a nightly basis is Andre Roberson. He still couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, and his offensive limitations have been noticeable. But watching him on the defensive end of the floor is like watching Rembrandt at work in his studio—the man sticks to his assignment like a limpet, blows up every passing lane, kills play after play in the womb, and covers literally every other person on the team’s defensive assignment. He’s a savant, and I wish more people recognized the beauty in his defensive game.

I’ve also loved DeMar DeRozan. Such a huge fan of his game—he’s incredibly patient, and he uses his footwork to perfection to get to the exact spot on the floor he wants to shoot from. This year he’s added the three-point shot to his arsenal, too, which has helped their spacing. He’s been giving half a care to defense, too. And his playmaking (which I argued in the offseason was his and the Raptors’ biggest need in his game) has taken a massive step forward. It’s like watching a chiller Kobe.

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Cottrell: The player that gives me the most joy to watch is a toss-up between Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid. Irving has been in full on “Uncle Drew” mode, embarrassing opponents with his dribbling wizardry while leading the C’s to an East best 34-10. On the other hand, there’s Joel Embiid and the young Sixers. The big man not only plays with a big smile, but talks a ton of smack and backs it up with big performances. Making the Sixers must-see-tv (at least when he’s cleared to play).

My favorite player to watch this season has been Steph Curry. I was curious to see how he’d approach this season after winning another title without being named Finals MVP. So far he’s responded like a two-time league MVP. Raising his scoring average +2.5 PPG from last season while keying in on another 50/40/90 season. The Warriors will always be a tough out, but when the Chef gets cooking this team plays at a historic level.

Jacobi: Kyrie Irving. Uncle Drew. The earth is flat when he has the ball in his hands.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Sweeney: I love me some Jimmy Butler, and I love everything about him this season. He came to a new team and tried to share the food with everyone else…only to eventually realize he’s a lion surrounded by a bunch of house cats. Seriously, Butler’s personal strength trainer described him as “a serial killer’s dream.” My kind of guy.

Eventually, Butler got angry and annoyed and pissed off and now what do you know? Minnesota looks like a team that could give Golden State real trouble in the second round.

But, alas, my favorite player to watch is Stephen Curry. As always. He’s so unique, from his perimeter rainbows to his flicka-da-wrist passes to the way he inspires his teammates, to even the way he seemingly turns everything into a sort of videogame version of reality where it’s all either a 3-pointer or a dunk. The fact that no one is talking about him right now is a little weird: take away his lingering ankle injury and there’s a case to be made he’s the MVP of the League so far.