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:

Andrew Bailey: FanRag Sports, contributor

Nitzan Bluvstein: The Knicks Wall, contributor

Travonne Edwards: Leverage the Chat, host

Adam Mares: Denver Stiffs, site manager

Carter Rodriguez: Fear the Sword, editor

 

The Blake Griffin trade came out of nowhere and shook the basketball watching universe. Ten years from now, what will you remember about Blake Griffin and his nine-year tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers?

Bailey: Unfortunately, the lasting impression might just be the villain status Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers embraced. His first few years, back in the Eric Gordon era, were exciting. Here’s this 6-10 monster dunker who can also run a break and drop dimes at full speed with pinpoint accuracy.

Then Chris Paul, Doc Rivers, and eventually, Austin Rivers all showed up with loads of flailing, complaining, flopping, complaining, losing and complaining. And oh, did I mention the complaining? Then add that to the fact that they almost became hopeless heels in a pro-wrestling style feud with the Warriors.

So, while it probably should’ve been the ridiculous playmaking for a player his size, or his ever-evolving game, the lasting impression is all the “extra” stuff that came from the Lob City Clippers.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Bluvstein: I hate to be negative and in no way is this meant to disregard a nine-year career, but I’ll probably remember this monster trade the most. If we’re being realistic, 10 years from now, I’m most going to remember an organization dealing away their franchise star six months after pitching him with a whole production. I mean, come on, they fake-retired his number at Staples… Blake Griffin and the Clippers were synonymous. Now, there’s a lot more to remember with Blake and the Clippers and I’ll let the other guys cover that, but I think this is going to stand out through time. Mainly because it’s going to change how players approach contracts and look at no trade clauses. Sure, Griffin knew what he was doing by pushing for a fifth year instead of a no-trade clause, but I guarantee this shake up is going to have players think about that kind of option a lot closer if it can be awarded to them.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Edwards: I think the Clippers made a mistake by trading away Mr. Clipper, when you think of the Clippers you think of Blake Griffin, this will come back to haunt them.

Mares: Blake Griffin’s tenure in Los Angeles was iconic. Lob City will hang in the rafters of NBA lore alongside other iconic-but-not-championship teams like “Seven Seconds or Less,” the “Jail Blazers,” and Kidd’s Nets teams. Their impact in the record books and in NBA mythology won’t match their impact on our experience of the era. When we look back on the 2010-2018 Los Angeles Clippers we’ll likely whittle their essence down to a team that owned the highlight reel but rarely mattered more than as a sacrificial lamb to the era’s main attractions.

It’s sort of a shame. Lob City was so many things. In retrospect, they might’ve been a bridge between two eras. Blake Griffin was a prototype for what the modern NBA big man would become while also hanging on to what previous generations expected the big man to remain forever. A versatile, athletic big-tall person who could shoot from outside, dribble, pass and do all of the things that guards could do yet still had the explosiveness and strength to battle down low. But Lob City also became the failed test case for what the NBA was set to become. The Clippers never succeeded, nor did they ever really come close. And  Griffin was the marquee face of an idea caught between the ideals of a previous generations and the creativity of the era that followed. That’s how I will remember Blake Griffin in Los Angeles. It’s not so much a disappointment as it is a half measure in a league that was so rapidly evolving into a fuller and more complete version of itself. He is the T-800 in a world that quickly produced the T-1000.

Rodriguez: The Mozgov dunk. Blake was such a force of nature. Looking back at his highlights from his early Clippers tenure really reveals how much was robbed. Mozgov wasn’t the shell of himself that we now see in Brooklyn and Blake’s throw-in/dunk was a complete destruction.

He had plenty like it, but only “Mozgov” became a verb for a particularly nasty posterization. As much as the narrative around Blake and the Clippers morphed into a net negative somehow, those early years were pure, unadulterated fun.

 

Greg Monroe to Boston or Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans—which player will thrive better with their new team?

Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Rodriguez: While Mirotic is likely the better fit and will have more opportunity to shine, I’m inclined to say that Monroe is the pick here. He has obvious limitations, yes, but is there a coach better equipped to hide his players shortcomings than Brad Stevens? Monroe won’t be asked to do anything he can’t, and when he’s in position on defense, he’s better than his reputation.

It’s also worth wondering if Mirotic’s hot shooting so far this year (42.9 percent from three) will eventually collapse back down to a still solid but not nearly as spectacular number (36.1 percent for his career).

Bailey: This is a tough call, but Nikola Mirotic, just because there appears to be slightly more opportunity for him in New Orleans than there is for Greg Monroe in Boston.

Monroe eventually starting next to Al Horford is certainly possible, if not likely, but the Celtics have had a lot of success with either of Aron Baynes or Daniel Theis inside. Marcus Morris and Semi Ojeleye have had their moments at the 4 too. Monroe has more talent than all those guys, and his ability to pass should make him a good fit in Boston’s equal-opportunity attack, but that’s still a fairly crowded frontcourt.

Mirotic, meanwhile, is headed to a spot where starting is a foregone conclusion. With DeMarcus Cousins out for the season, there’s really no other logical configuration for the Pelicans than Mirotic and Anthony Davis as the 4/5 combo. And for a team that starts Rajon Rondo, getting as much shooting in there as possible is the way to go. Mirotic spacing off Rondo, Davis or Jrue Holiday’s drives should make for plenty of open looks.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Bluvstein: Monroe to the Celtics. I say that because of my weird (read: justified) trust in Stevens’ ability to fit guys into a squad, and make them their most efficient selves. Stevens will find a way to hide his weaknesses and amplify his strengths so he becomes an effective fit off the bench. Monroe performed well in a sixth man role with Milwaukee last year. It won’t be as much of an adjustment in Boston. The Celtics are so young, and should they have a deep playoff run (read: they will), then a guy like Monroe which can come off the bench and give you some minutes could only help. Brad will be able to utilize him there, and it just helps that he has some recent experience. I think the Pelicans have more to figure out after having lost a core part of their squad, and with only so many games left, I think you’ll be able to see Monroe thrive more effectively, even if he will be getting less minutes.

Edwards: Nikola Mirotic will thrive more in his role as a guy who can fill up the stat sheet with instant buckets and add rebounding to the frontcourt.

Mares: On paper, Mirotic should thrive more but I am a firm believer in the church of Brad Stevens. The genius of Stevens is that he gets the essence of the players he is given to coach. In that way, Greg Monroe will likely be put into position to be his best self: a low-post scoring machine whose blemishes are covered on the defensive end by well-timed help and sturdy supporting lineup combinations. Mirotic, on the other hand, is thrown into one of the League’s most chaotic situations where he’ll be asked be all of the things he’s good at being and a lot of the things he isn’t. My money is with Monroe in Boston.

 

Victor Oladipo has been an inspiring story this season. Can you think of anyone else who severely disappointed early on, only to turn it around significantly in their fifth or sixth season? How does that player’s season compare to Oladipo’s revival?

Mares: Chauncey Billups comes to mind. Through his first four seasons, I don’t think anyone saw Billups as a future  Finals MVP. Oladipo likely won’t reach those highs. After all, Billups landed in the perfect situation in order to exploit all of his best talents while diminishing his most damning flaws. And yet, Oladipo seems to mirror Billups in many ways. Oladipo is incredibly skilled and capable of being the go-to player on a really good team. That is a role that he wasn’t asked to take on in Oklahoma City and one he wasn’t prepared to take on in Orlando. In Indiana he found a place where he could spread his wings at the exact moment when he was most prepared and capable of doing so without crashing to the ground.

Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

 

Bailey: Victor Oladipo is joining a proud group of NBA late bloomers that includes Detlef Schrempf, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups and Kyle Lowry, just to name a few. All were first-round picks. Except for Lowry, all were top-15 picks. And all of them took a good four or five years to figure things out.

The one that really mirrors Oladipo’s, though, is Billups. Oladipo was a No. 2 pick who had a 15 PER, a .527 TS% and .068 WS/48 over his first four seasons. Billups was a No. 3 pick who had a 14 PER, a .528 TS% and .076 WS/48 in his first four seasons.

Like Oladipo, Billups began his ascension in Year 5, though it wasn’t as dramatic. Billups’ scoring average went from 9.3 to 12.5. His Box Plus-Minus went from minus-1.4 to plus-1.5. Oladipo’s jump from fourth year to fifth saw a rise in scoring from 15.9 to 24.1. His BPM went from minus-1.3 to plus-4.3. Billups jumped into the plus-4 range in Year 6, his first with the Detroit Pistons.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Rodriguez: The only player that comes to mind with an arc similar to Victor Oladipo is Kyle Lowry in Toronto. Prior to landing with the Raptors, Lowry averaged 10.4 points and 4.8 assists in 27 minutes per game. Then, all of the sudden, he exploded. Since moving North, Lowry has averaged 18.0 points and 6.8 assists while becoming a regular minutes leader around the NBA at 34.7 minutes per game over those six seasons.

Oladipo’s arc feels different though. He had pedigree as a highly-touted draft prospect and, while never becoming a superstar, was generally recognized as a player who could be a top-two or top-three player on a good team. With that said – nobody saw this run coming.

Bluvstein: Steph Curry. Don’t roll your eyes yet, let me make the parallel. Curry started off his career with Monta, a poor coaching situation, and a host of injuries which limited his potential. He was not disappointing to say the least, putting up big numbers towards the end of his rookie year, enough to be in the ROY conversation. But if you remember, five years ago Bleacher Report didn’t even place him in top 20 players in the League for 2017-18, let alone all time. As soon as his situation changed, and he overcame ankle injuries with an intense training routine, he became a player that not only changed a whole franchise, but the game itself. Dipo is not that, and more than likely won’t ever be. But the significant shift from “no help” to “All-Star” is more than likely due to a situational shift as well as just being more developed as a player through hard training. Orlando/OKC did him no favors but now we get to see him play for this Pacers team as a first option, with that green light, and he’s thriving.

Edwards: When I think of late bloomers, only one guy really comes to mind and that is Marvin Williams. And still, he wasn’t nearly as good as Oladipo is currently, Oladipo is an All-Star this season and most likely he will also win Most Improved Player.

 

Andre Roberson meant a world of difference for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they are now 5-8 on the season without him. For reference, that’s a worse mark than the Wizards own without John Wall (9-6). Who do you think is the most valuable glue guy on a playoff team at this moment?

Edwards: Although, Roberson is deeply missed in the Thunder lineup, John Wall is way more important to his team’s success. I know the Wizards have won two games while Wall has been out but once you get to the postseason, you need everyone to compete.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Mares: It bothers me whenever someone refers to Gary Harris as the Nuggets’ best player. Not just because it undermines the team’s actual best player, Nikola Jokic, but because it tragically miscasts Harris as someone he isn’t meant to be. Harris is the definition of a glue guy. He is the Nuggets’ most consistent player and at times, their most important player, but he has never really been their best player. He’s capable of knocking down game-winners and capable of carrying a team through mediocre quarters but he is not capable of being a player a team builds around. No plays need be called for Harris, rather, he’ll fit into whatever play is called. He is one of the League’s best chameleons and in that regard. He’s equally capable of knocking down an open three-pointer at the buzzer as he is of locking down the opponent’s best iso scorer. He is the definition of a glue guy and he is so good at his role that he occasionally gets confused for a superstar.

Rodriguez: Clint Capela may be too good for these honors, but as a still relatively smaller name on a national scale, I think I can get away with it. Capela’s ability as a rim-runner unlocks the Rockets vaunted spread pick and roll. He’s a great finisher, and he has to be tagged by a third defender or he’ll throw down an easy alley-oop. Houston’s already amazing offense improves by 3.9 points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor, and they outscore opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions overall. Capela may not be a household name, but maybe he should be.

Bailey: With the exception of Dejounte Murray, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol (barely), every San Antonio Spur gets a plus-minus boost when they share the floor with Kyle Anderson. On the season, the Spurs are outscoring opponents by five points per 100 possessions when Anderson’s on the floor and 1.8 points per 100 possessions when he’s not.

Why? Anderson truly fills in the gaps for any lineup, like, well, glue.

He can pass, rebound, shoot a little and defend multiple positions. No one in the NBA this season matches or exceeds Anderson’s assist percentage, rebounding percentage, steal percentage and block percentage. If you expand the search to include the entire three-point era, you add seasons from Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Paul Millsap, Andrei Kirilenko, Arvydas Sabonis and Draymond Green to the list. That’s it.

Anderson’s not going to have many nights where he lights up the box score for 20-plus points, but he’ll almost always find some way to contribute.

Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Bluvstein: Easily Draymond for me. This case has been made and beaten to death so I won’t go too deep into it because it’s obvious the reigning DPOY is crucial to the Dub’s success. But one thing to note is he’s notching his highest defensive rating of his career at the moment at 102.5. His rookie season DRTG was second worst at 100.1. I don’t think it should be ignored his health this season has been an issue.  Green had a stint this season with a lingering shoulder injury that kept him out for a few games in December and one in January. It might be speculation that it’s still bothering him but I don’t think it’s a coincidence Warriors are also notching their worst defensive rating since the 2011-12 season. There’s a lot of reasons the Warriors might be having their worst defensive season in this super era (slight Andre decline, mental fatigue, etc.) but the Draymond correlation is something to watch.

 

LeBron James came out and denied a report from ESPN’s Chris Haynes that he was interested in the Warriors saying, “It’s nonsense, and it’s a non-story.” Assuming you were LeBron James, where would you want to play next year and why?

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Bluvstein: Okay so, it depends on what’s important for the King moving forward. If it’s legacy and rings, Houston needs to find a way and get LeBron. Warriors are a juggernaut, but if their dominant “decline” has taught us anything this year, it’s that their aging bench players (Iguodala/Livingston) and the mental fatigue of all those years of deep playoff appearances are starting to weigh on the franchise. I think if Morey can make magic happen and get the King to team up with CP3 and the Beard next year, then the Warriors are no longer the sure favorite. If I’m LeBron, that’s what I do. Now if LeBron is going to value family and his kids over the rings/legacy, like he’s been saying and setting up all season, then I go to the Lakers assuming they can bring in one more big name. He probably won’t win a ring, but they’ll be pretty guaranteed to make a good playoffs run, and he’ll get to play and live in LA. I really don’t know how it’s going to go, but I’m 100 percent setting up Twitter/IG notifications for the king of social when summer hits.

Edwards: I’ve said time after time that my wish list destination for LeBron James is the San Antonio Spurs. James would be able to play in a system with a supporting cast of LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard. James also mentioned that he would want to play to about his son’s first professional year, we all know how good Pop is with managing players who may have spent a nice amount of time in the NBA. However, I truly believe James will join the Houston Rockets next season.

Mares: The Warriors don’t need him and deep down (or not even all that deep down) he has to know it. So, if I was LeBron, I would want to go somewhere where I could play a pivotal role in winning while also receiving the help I need to beat the greatest team of all time. So, at the moment, that leaves just two realistic choices: Houston, and San Antonio. San Antonio is the less likely of the two since they seem to be both cap strapped and dealing with a rare bout of roster uncertainty. So that leaves Houston. Mike D’Antoni has never been a conventional coach so the prospect of figuring out how to work with three extremely ball-dominant, isolation players would come off as hopeless in the hands of a lesser genius but with Houston, James Harden, Chris Paul, and LeBron James might provide precisely the absurd configuration needed to unseat the Warriors. It seems fitting that the era of pace, space, and ball movement could only be unseated by a team full of the league’s best isolation, spread PnR stars but maybe that’s what it would take. If Bron heads to Clutch City, there’s at least a chance that he could be the third head of the dragon that cracks the code that is the Warriors.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Rodriguez: Unfortunately for LeBron, there’s no destination that perfectly matches his ideal combination of chance to win, power in the organization, and max-cap room. LeBron’s said that he won’t ever take less than the max again, and while people can always have a change of heart, we can probably take him at his word here.

With the Lakers struggling and Paul George looking like he could possibly stay in OKC, Houston unable to open up max cap room and the Cavaliers looking extra dysfunctional, LeBron would be wise to sign one final one year deal with a player option on the second year with the Cavaliers. That way he can see what the Brooklyn pick turns into and give younger teams an extra year of seasoning before jumping ship, if he so chooses.

And, honestly, is anybody not still going to give LeBron a full max after next season? He can afford to wait it out.

Bailey: As dysfunctional as the Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be, that option still has to be in play. Becoming one of the League’s biggest villains clearly didn’t sit well with LeBron, otherwise he might not have bolted back to his hometown after four years with the Miami Heat.

The idea of the LeBron on the Los Angeles Lakers is intriguing, too. Boogie and LeBron together on one of the League’s most storied franchises made a ton of sense before the former’s Achilles injury. LeBron tutoring the young Lakers could be another fun path for his career twilight.

But the spot that makes the most sense, even if it takes some cap gymnastics to open up space on the roster, is San Antonio. Wanting to see the best coach of this era with the best player of this era (and probably all time) doesn’t take much of an explanation. Add to that the idea of partnering LeBron with Kawhi Leonard at the forward spots and how well the Spurs manage older players and this fit seems perfect.