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 five dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:

Jacob Goldstein: Nylon Calculus, contributor

Ray LeBov: Basketball Intelligence, founder

T.J. McBride: Mile High Sports, editor

Quixem Ramirez: News 4 San Antonio, news editor

How do you feel about the new All-Star Game format? Will the draft revitalize the game, making it more competitive as intended?

Goldstein: I have mixed feelings on the new format. Having captains pick the teams could lead to more competition if the captains committed to trying to make the best team possible. I somehow doubt they will, instead opting to pick their friends and teammates leaving the All-Star rosters not a whole lot different from the previous split by conference. On top of that, the decision to not have the All-Star draft air on TV is just so, so bad. I feel like the NBA is just wasting the main reason for changing the format. Yes, it would be slightly awkward for whoever gets picked last, but that kind of drama is what NBA fans live for. We love watching the All-Star snubs go out and have a great game to show us why they deserved a spot. Imagine how much fun it could be if the last guy picked then was motivated to try to wreck the players on the other team? More NBA beefs are good for fans. The League is trying to do something at least to make the game more competitive, but I think this effort will fall short and we will just get the same 170+ points games as always.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBov: The new format is a “let’s try something, anything” gimmick. That’s why it is a little strange the “draft” is going to be secret. If you come up with a goofy gimmick, why not televise it? Revitalize is too strong a word, but virtually anything they came up with would likely make the game better and more competitive since the bar had sunk so low. The captains now will have a stake in the outcome so that should help a little. To what extent that filters to the rest of the players is questionable. Any efforts to improve the game should focus on inspiring or incentivizing the players to treat it as basketball rather than “And-1.” mixtape game. Maybe USA vs. Internationals? Significant prize money probably wouldn’t do the trick: How could you add enough so that it would matter?

McBride: The idea that an untelevised All-Star draft will revitalize the All-Star game does not ring true to me. First, not allowing fans to see the draft pretty much kills the majority of the drama and enthusiasm surrounding the change. Secondly, it is clear who the top picks will be. LeBron James and Stephen Curry both will play favorites and pick their friends first and foremost. The one fun wrinkle is once the pool of players to draft out of begins to thin out. Who gets ignored and skipped over? Will it create even more pettiness?

In terms of raising the competition level, everything about this format should help. While having bad blood and personal vendettas play out in live time is fun, it is even more fun to have those same vendettas and angst among teammates. While how improved the actual game will be is yet to be seen, the All-Star Game will be significantly more intriguing.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Ramirez: I’m a fan of the new format, for the most part. I’d be 10,000 percent on board with the tweaks if the NBA televised the entire draft, making for an absolute must-watch experience in mid-February where we could watch two of the best basketball players alive construct basketball teams among their peers. Not only would it be fascinating to see how everything unfolds—does LeBron pick Kyrie at all? Who does Steph take after Durant?—but can you imagine how demoralizing it will be for the last guy picked? You never want to be the last guy picked anywhere, even among an elite group of basketball players. It’d be so perfect and I’ll never forgive the NBA for denying us this experience.

Maybe next year.

This week we learned Kemba Walker is on the trade block, where’s the ideal destination for Walker and where would you like to see him play most?

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBov: There are so many imponderables to this, including who the Hornets would require in trade. Part of the difficulty of this, then, is that we don’t know who would remain as his teammates.  That said, how about Denver? Walker’s skill set and experience would be a good fit and also fill an immediate need at PG. And Harris, Barton, Lyles, Jokic and Kemba are all ages 22-27, to go along with 20-year old Jamal Murray, so that works, as well, with Paul Millsap as the “elder statesman”.

McBride: The ideal spot for Kemba Walker has to be the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich getting his hands on Kemba within just a couple weeks removed from deciding to move on from Tony Parker just seems to perfect for me to ignore. Once you then include the recent reports of Kawhi Leonard struggling through his rehab process, it makes the possibility even juicer.

I am trying not to be a homer of the team that I cover, but the place I would like to see Walker play is in Denver alongside Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap. While it is almost impossible to imagine the Nuggets trade for Kemba without sending one of Gary Harris or Jamal Murray, the thought of that much skill and savvy on the floor makes me giddy with excitement.

Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images

Ramirez: Can I be a total homer and pick the Spurs? (Because I am.) San Antonio doesn’t have the assets to acquire him, but he’d fit in like a glove in the Spurs system considering his scoring proficiency and pick-and-roll exploits.

He has a team-friendly deal for the next two years and Walker would solve a good chunk of the Spurs’ issues at point guard.

This needs to happen, but it won’t.

Goldstein: Kemba Walker is one of the best point guards in the NBA on one of the most team-friendly deals in the NBA. In a vacuum, Walker is one of the easiest players to trade. The issue is that the Hornets are on the verge of small market hell: a expensive, bad team. Having to pair one of the Hornets bad contracts is going to make it really tough for any good deals to take place. That being said, I would love to see the Spurs try and put a package together using Pau Gasol, Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills to try and get a third star in his prime in Walker to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge and a (hopefully) healthy Kawhi Leonard. The NBA is a nuclear arms race right now, and this could be the move to put the Spurs back on a true level of title contention with the Rockets and Warriors.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are allegedly pursuing George Hill and DeAndre Jordan. Assuming they add both to their core of Kevin Love, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Isaiah Thomas, is it enough to threaten the Warriors?

McBride: I do not think that acquiring both George Hill and DeAndre Jordan would be enough to allow Cleveland to ’threaten’ the Warriors. But getting one — or both — of Hill and Jordan would significantly improve the Cavaliers on a whole.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Ramirez: If we suspend reality for a second, and assume the Cavaliers somehow fleece two teams of quality rotation players without giving one back in return, then yes it’s enough to make the series competitive.

But I’d still pick the Warriors in this hypothetical series.

Goldstein: The best answer I can give is…maybe. As an analytics guy, I have a trade projection model that I use to track how a trade changes the expected final record of a team. Currently, my model projects the Cavaliers to finish 3rd in the East with a 47-35 record while having the average margin of victory of a 45 win team. If they are able to add both Jordan and Hill, the model would project them to play like a 62 win team after the trade. While I will not guarantee that these trade would move the Cavaliers into contention, it gives them a chance and a chance is all they need. If they make these trades and can make it back to the finals and really make the Warriors or Rockets or whoever makes it out of the West work, then maybe LeBron will be more likely to stay. So, while I am not sure it is really enough for them to catch the Warriors, it is their best shot at convincing LeBron they could if he just stuck around a little bit longer.

Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBov: Even with those additions, the only way they would seriously threaten a fully healthy Warriors’ team is if the Western Conference Finals vs the Rockets wore the Dubs out while the Cavs had an easier time in the ECF. (And don’t count out the Rockets as possible WC champs, if they can stay healthy). Jordan and Hill would help address the Cavs’ defensive deficiencies but midseason integration would temper that somewhat. By comparison, the Dubs are a “well-oiled machine”. Also, the Cavs would still be at a disadvantage with Thomas and Jordan as their third and fourth best players as compared to Thompson and Green. Age differential and the Dubs’ speed and quickness advantage would also likely play a significant role.

LeBron James will become the third fastest player to get to 30,000 points, trailing only Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In terms of just scoring, where does he rank all-time?

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Wanna be one of the first to Congratulate you on this accomplishment/achievement tonight that you’ll reach! Only a handful has reach/seen it too and while I know it’s never been a goal of yours from the beginning try(please try) to take a moment for yourself on how you’ve done it! The House you’re about to be apart of has only 6 seats in it(as of now) but 1 more will be added and you should be very proud and honored to be invited inside. There’s so many people to thank who has help this even become possible(so thank them all) and when u finally get your moment(alone) to yourself smile, look up to the higher skies and say THANK YOU! So with that said, Congrats again Young King 🤴🏾! 1 Love! #striveforgreatness🚀 #thekidfromakron👑

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Ramirez: He’s somewhere in the top five for me, along with Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain and O’Neal. His ridiculous shooting efficiency gives him the nod over Bryant.

Goldstein: LeBron will always be underrated as a scorer because he is renowned as such a great passer. Often, his individual scoring ability is forgotten amid the highlight passes and chase-down blocks. Now I am not old enough to remember all of the greats of the ’60s or ’70s or even the ’80s so I am sure I am forgetting someone, but I would have LeBron behind Wilt, Kareem, Jordan, Durant, and Shaq—so sixth all-time. At his best, LeBron literally could not be stopped. His stepback three from the left wing is always money, he is a tank when he drives and he can jump over anyone who gets in his way. What holds him back in my book is that for a large portion of his career, teams would dare him to shoot instead of crowding him. The Spurs refused to guard him on the perimeter during the 2013 Finals, instead trying to let him beat himself with midrange jumpers. LeBron is great at scoring, but that weakness is what prevents me from putting him above any of the guys I listed.

LeBov: Typically, when asked to rank players, my tendency is to quote the Zombies’ song, “She’s Not There”: “How would I know, why should I care?” But, I’ll do my best. In his early years, LBJ was a mediocre shooter, but, like the rest of his game, he has evolved in that respect. He has not only improved as a shooter but has increasingly found ways to outsmart and overpower defenses. It is difficult to rank him as a scorer: one obvious way is by the number of points he has and will continue to accumulate. Beyond that, the myriad ways he can score puts him near the top. Even when teams concede three-pointers to him to try to avoid his powerful drives, he still finds a way.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

McBride: This is such a tough question. Based on pure scoring ability, it is impossible for me not to put him in the top-five in my opinion, even without an elite jump shot. His efficiency, growth, and sheer takeover power is and was a sight to behold. I will always go back to game five of the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals when LeBron decided to rip through the Detroit Pistons and scored 29 of the Cavaliers 30 points over a 16-minute stretch to singlehandedly save and win Cleveland the game. The fact that he finished off the contest with a game-tying dunk in regulation and the layup in double overtime to win just puts the cherry on the top for me.

After Jason Kidd got the axe, which coach currently sits on the hottest seat?

Goldstein: With the firing of Jason Kidd, the easy answer becomes Ty Lue. Lue has struggled quite often to avoid getting out-coached and has not been an improvement over David Blatt even if the team likes playing for him more. My hotter take answer would be Michael Malone, head coach of the Nuggets. The team has struggled a bit as of late, and he has been wildly mismanaging his rotations. He insists on playing Nikola Jokic out of position with Mason Plumlee despite it not being very effective compared to the other options and despite similar experiments with Jusuf Nurkic failing last season. With the Nuggets struggling and their being some questionable decisions, eventually someone might decide Malone just is not the right coach for this team.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBov: The targets: which teams are perceived as significantly underperforming? This season, that is probably the Wizards, Bucks, Hornets, and Magic. Most of the time it doesn’t seem to matter all that much whether underperformance can be reasonably attributed to the coach. It is easier to place blame there than on the team building that management has done. Another factor is often whether the incumbent was hired by, or inherited by, current management. Even though he doesn’t qualify under that criteria, now that the Bucks have fired Kidd (who, by the way, was inherited), I would say Scott Brooks. Management may not be satisfied with the pace of player development, Brooks’ strategic decisions, his lineup management and the team’s seeming inconsistent effort level.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

McBride: If I was answering this question just an hour earlier or so, I would have easily said Jason Kidd. With Kidd now out of a job, there are not many other coaches that are really on the hot seat. Arguments can be made for Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta or Frank Vogel in Sacramento, but neither seem to have a seat warm enough to make things uncomfortable. The two names that I think could pop up are Ty Lue in Cleveland or Michael Malone in Denver. The Nuggets currently find themselves hovering around .500 and on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture. While it does not seem like Ty Lue is on the hot seat, the defensive struggles and brutal losing streaks that the Cavaliers have sustained could spell the end of his time in Cleveland.

Ramirez: Gregg Popovich because the Spurs haven’t won a title this season yet.

(Am I right?)