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 a town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices and trendy issues. We’ve had over 250 unique contributors working at any and every outlet you can think of living all across the globe.

The roundtable runs 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:

KL Chouinard: Atlanta Hawks, writer

Gregory Esposito: Sports 360 AZ, contributor

Mike Fisher: 105.3 The Fan, Mavs insider

Wes Goldberg: The Step Back, contributor

Justin Hodges: A Sea of Blue, assistant editor

Brad Rowland: Dime on UPROXX, contributor

 

The 2017-18 season is at a close, 10 years from now when you think back on this season what do you think you will remember?

Chouinard: Ten years from now, the 2017-18 season will be remembered for being the end of the four-year run of the Warriors and Cavaliers meeting in the Finals. Beyond that, it’s going to be remembered for the weird stuff: Kawhi’s odd injury absence, J.R. Smith’s soup discus, the secret fight tunnel in Staples, Colangelo’s burner accounts, and the mystery struggles of Colangelo’s No. 1 overall pick.

Esposito: The lasting memory of this season will be that it was the year of Twitter. From burner accounts to veiled trade requests it was nuts and left its stamp.

Think about it. We had Kevin Durant’s burner accounts come to light right before training camp which was more entertaining/pathetic than anything. Then, within days of the season starting, we had Eric Bledsoe tweet he didn’t want to be in Phoenix which led to his benching, covers story that he was talking about being in a salon with his wife and subsequent trade to Milwaukee. All pretty crazy and memorable and that’s before we get to Big Collar’s Last Stand.

The absurdity of the Bryan Colangelo story is one of the all-time bizarre and great NBA stories. Was it his wife? Was it really him? What exactly is the line where a collar goes from normal to cartoonish and why must it be defended?

They are all questions that may never be answered but for one beautifully ridiculous week, during the NBA Finals mind you, we all played internet detectives.

Twitter caused a trade, a firing and far too many headlines in 2017-18 season and I’ll always remember that.

Fisher: The NBA re-wrote its CBA with the purpose of preventing the “super team” … and got outsmarted. LeBron is a “super team” all by himself; that’s a “forever” thing, and no rules can stop him. But the Warriors can because they defied so many traditional conventions and assumed obstacles to team-building.

This is a dynastic franchise, the greatest shot-making team of all time, and a group that deserves to be remembered for all time.

Allison Farrand/NBAE via Getty Images

Goldberg: Considering that the result was easily predictable from the beginning, this season won’t be remembered for who won the championship. LeBron has been predictably great for the last decade-plus, but I don’t think anyone saw this level of greatness coming. We’ll remember this season as the first one that actually helped build LeBron’s legacy despite it ending in one of his most one-sided NBA Finals defeats. When we talk about LeBron’s resume, the 2018 Finals will stand as a positive, not a negative like his other Finals losses. His playoff averages of 34 points on 54 percent shooting, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists will stand as one of the great playoff runs in NBA history. Secondary stories will be Houston threatening to take down the dynasty before Chris Paul’s injury, Kawhi Leonard’s drama in San Antonio and the Bryan Colangelo Twitter fiasco, but I don’t think we’ll be talking about that a decade from now. However, I do think we’ll be talking about the rise of an unbelievably strong rookie class. In 2028, when Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum and others are 10-year veterans, legacies built and building, we’ll remember how impressive they were in their first years in the League.

Hodges: I’ll remember this season as the turning point for the NBA’s newest era. So many stars were born, and we got a firsthand look at the League’s newest wave of young talent. The stories and headlines were both incredible and comedic, and the League was simply enjoyable.

The season came after one of the greatest offseasons in any sport and we witnessed proficient, entertaining teams continually beat on each other in efforts to catch the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.

We saw Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, arguably the two best rookies since LeBron James, explode into stardom while both winning playoff series; something that I would have told you was impossible if you had told me even a year ago.

These were also the best playoffs that I’ve seen in my time watching the NBA. From Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday erupting on the Portland Trail Blazers, the incredible run of the short-handed Boston Celtics, to the Golden State Warriors being pushed to the complete edge the playoffs were exhilarating and memorable.

Rowland: It’s always tricky to evaluate in this fashion but the Warriors and their third title in four years will take top billing. I’ll remember LeBron’s playoff dominance, the Rockets being an offensive juggernaut in a unique way, a really impressive rookie class and the (further) rise of position-less basketball. In the end, though, this isn’t a season in which the champion will be overshadowed, even amid all of the conversations about the way they were created.

 

Steph Curry has now tied Larry Bird and LeBron James with three rings. How high up the NBA pyramid has Curry climbed? 

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Rowland: If we assume sort of an “average” aging curve (a bold assumption), he’s probably in the top 30 now. None of the cumulative metrics will put him there at the age of 30 but with multiple MVP’s, three titles and some of his full-season performances, it is perfectly reasonable. If he retired tomorrow, we wouldn’t be talking about a top-30 overall resume but there’s still time for him to build it and, for players still active, there has to be some level of projection included.

Chouinard: Top 10. Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter of all time in a game where shooting is the skill that matters most. Jordan, Russell, Kareem, LeBron, Magic, Bird, Chamberlain, Duncan and…that’s about everyone that needs to go ahead of Steph. Curry won more often than Jerry West. If you take Kobe off any Lakers title team and add Curry, the Lakers win every time.

Esposito: See, I don’t think rings should have that huge of an impact when considering individual greatness. Call me crazy, and you wouldn’t be the first, but determining someone’s overall ability compared to others is based on the individual. A championship is a group effort.

You can’t tell me that LeBron individually didn’t have one of the greatest playoff runs despite not winning a title. Why didn’t he lose to Curry and the Warriors this year? Because, outside of Kevin Love, he was carrying the NBA equivalent of the Bel Air Academy roster not including Will Smith.

A third ring is nice but it’s window dressing. If anything, Curry’s 9 three pointers in Game 3 of the finals moves him up on the list for me because he yet again proved he’s one of the best shooters we’ve ever seen. Based on his shooting alone he’s top 30.

I’ll politely get off my soap box now.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Fisher: I find this exercise to be kind of empty and very exhausting. We spent the last few weeks debating “James vs. Jordan,” and in doing so really just missing out James’ brilliance—because we wanted so badly to win an argument.

Curry would have been a superstar in any era. And in this era, he is a perennial scoring champion type, a perennial MVP type and a perennial champion.

I don’t feel the need to compare Curry to, say, Wilt Chamberlain. For me, these sorts of lists are mostly designed to fill offseason time.

Goldberg: But no Finals MVPs! Just kidding. But maybe not. When we get to this level of NBA hierarchy, everything matters. But we’ll get to that. I think the first part of answering this question is to consider where Curry ranks in greatest guards ever. There are a few who clearly rank ahead of him all time: Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Oscar, Gervin, West and D-Wade. Maybe Curry one day climbs ahead of them, but right now he’s in the next tier with Bob Cousy, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton. Cousy’s resume is stacked—six titles, 13-straight All-Star games, All-NBA first team 10 times and averaged at least 20 points per game in four different seasons before the advent of the three-point line. I’d say Curry is somewhere behind Cousy and ahead of Thomas (greater individual seasons and awards) and Stockton (#ringz). In his 2010 book, Bill Simmons had Cousy ranked 21st all time, Thomas 23rd and Stockton 25th. In 2016, Sports Illustrated‘s Jack McCallum ranked his top 50 players all time and had Curry one spot behind Stockton (30) and two behind Thomas (29). That was two championships ago. So Curry is comfortably in the top 30 all time, but not top 20—not yet. Now, the Finals MVP narrative is overblown, but Curry is still missing a dominant Finals series like Dwyane Wade’s 2006 performance. He can rack up the individual awards, but he’ll need memorable moments on the big stage to climb over the greats who still rank ahead of him.

Hodges: I think it’s time to put Steph Curry up there with the greats. He should have a legitimate argument for being the greatest point guard ever, if not then right up there with Magic Johnson and whoever else you want to debate.

It can’t be understated that Curry was the driving force in what was the complete uprising of spacing and perimeter shooting that has now transformed the NBA. Now with three rings, two MVPs, and arguably the greatest single-season ever in 2016, there are very few with as legitimate of a résumé as the Chef.

For me, he is without a doubt a top-20 player of all time, and you could even argue for top 15.

 

As a thought exercise, take away Steph Curry from the Warriors prior to the postseason, you can replace him with someone else. Who is the worst player you can replace him with that still results in a Warriors title?

Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Hodges: This would be a much easier question to answer if it weren’t for the Houston Rockets.The gap between the two was so thin in that series it’s difficult to imagine the Warriors pulling it off with even a minor downgrade. Then again, it’s still the Golden State Warriors and Curry was far from his dominant self after sitting out for so long with injury.

Damian Lillard is probably the answer given how similar he is to Curry thus the Warrior offense wouldn’t have to make too major of a change to their style of play. My secondary pick would likely be either Kyle Lowry or Kyrie Irving, and maybe you could throw a curveball with Jrue Holiday or even John Wall.

If the Rockets didn’t exist, you could argue that Shaun Livingston probably would’ve gotten them through.

Rowland: This is a tough one, if only because they were so close to losing to the Rockets. I think they would’ve beaten the Cavs in the Finals with an unimpressive starting point guard but, against the Rockets, they would’ve needed someone close to Curry’s level and, even then, it may not have been enough.

Chouinard: The Warriors barely, barely eked out a series win over the Rockets, so it’s going to have to be someone good. I don’t know. Giannis? Anthony Davis? James Harden?

Esposito: You could have replaced him with a G-Leaguer and you’re still getting the same results for the Warriors. Sure, it may have taken them six or seven games to close out the Warriors but that’s the luxury when your team has four all-stars, three potential hall of famers and two MVP candidates. You can lose one and still fire on all cylinders. We saw it for a portion of the regular season.

Durant would have taken on more of the focus and done it well. Plus, when you look at the Warriors roster, it’s deep with quality role players who can always step in and make up some of the production as well.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Fisher: I believe you can go down to the very end of the Warriors bench and move him to the top of the rotation. Durant, Thompson and Green will still win you four out of seven.

I see a lot of G-League basketball. So, let’s make it Quinn Cook. And heck, they DID play Quinn Cook is big playoff series that they won.

Goldberg: What complicates this question is Andre Iguodala’s injury in the Western Conference Finals. So I’ll answer this hypothetical with two separate answers, one in which Iguodala still gets injured, and another in which Iguodala, hypothetically, does not get injured.

Quinn Cook did a nice job filling in for Curry during the regular season. His ability to shoot on and off the ball made him a solid replacement and allowed Steve Kerr to run the same offense when Curry was off the floor. Had Iguodala not gotten injured, I bet the Warriors could have still won the NBA title with Cook filling in at guard and guys like Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Iguodala taking on more of a facilitating role. Without Iguodala against the Rockets, the Warriors needed Curry and everyone else. James Harden cooked against Curry, so there’s an argument to be made that, if forced to replace Curry, you’d opt for a defensive-minded guard such as Ricky Rubio. Rubio would have hurt the Warriors’ spacing, but did a decent job when forced to pick up Harden in the Western Conference semis. His creative passing could have kept Golden State’s ball movement humming. The Warriors could probably have passed for a finals team with Rubio at point guard–an above average guard–but not much worse than that.

 

The player in this draft people aren’t talking enough about is ______ because _________.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Goldberg: Villanova’s Mikal Bridges because he doesn’t blow you away with size or athleticism (and he’s already 21), but he’s a solid player who can make an impact right away at a premium position. Every team wants—needs—more 3-and-D guys. Bridges projects as that more than perhaps any one else in the draft. Bridges can slide onto any roster and help. He can make catch-and-shoot threes and attack closeouts off the dribble. He’s an intelligent player who will make the right play more often that not. At 6-7 with a 7-2 wingspan and rangy 200-pound frame, he can guard multiple positions in a switch-heavy defense. I have a feeling some team will take Bridges in the last half of the lottery and, by the All-Star break, it will look like a steal.

Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Hodges: Lonnie Walker, because outside of Michael Porter Jr. and Mikal Bridges there isn’t a better wing prospect in this draft.

In high school Walker showed traits to be an excellent defender, and still can be a above average defender in the NBA. At Miami his offensive game widened tremendously.

His three-point shot is a legitimate part of his scoring arsenal, but his athleticism is what separates him. He is bouncy and quick off the dribble, has good ball handling and the ability to effectively finish at the rim. He can score at all three levels and can do it efficiently. His ceiling is tremendous and I have little doubt he’ll be an effective NBA wing.

Rowland: Wendell Carter Jr. is the best choice. There are a number of factors but part of it arrives from the fact that he played with Marvin Bagley III. That alone would take shine away from any big man, but Carter Jr. is a legitimate top-10 talent that just happens to be “boring” in the minds of many. He is good at basically everything and, while he isn’t elite in any one way, he is a high-floor starting center type that has a varied and impressive skill set. There are many players projected behind him (with good reason) receiving a lot more attention but Carter Jr. is just going to roll out of bed and be a long-time starting NBA center.

Chouinard: Gary Clark. If there’s a late second-round pick who might emerge into a rotation NBA player in the next couple of seasons, it very well may be Gary Clark. Clark can rebound and defend as a mobile power forward, and he doesn’t bring a lot of weaknesses to the table. He can shoot NBA threes. He can handle the ball a bit. The only real knocks on Clark are his age (23) and his wingspan (6-10).

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Esposito: Michael Porter Jr.

Sure, his back injury should be of concern to teams but when you look at his pure scoring ability and where he was ranked coming into college, someone is likely going to get one heck of a steal in the lower half of the top 10 with this kid.

Fisher: I think we are talking a lot about Luka Doncic but I’m not sure many of us actually know what we’re talking about. There is a lot of misinformation, I think. About his willingness to manipulate the draft, about his off-the-court behavior, and about what a Euro player in general can or cannot do.

The smart team, the right team, will draft Doncic and will know exactly what it is getting. “Smart and right,” will turn out just fine.

 

Which of the big men in this draft has the highest floor and why?

Fisher: Oh, this is the easy one and according to NBA scouting types that I’ve talked to, it’s not even close. There might be this guy who is maybe, ‘the next Hakeem’ or that guy who is maybe, ‘the next Robinson.’ But the Wendell Carter Jr. comp that is universally made is Al Horford. The feeling is that there is a good bet that he can be that very solid caliber of player early on, and for a long time. Carter Jr. is almost the very definition of “high floor.”

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Goldberg: As we saw in the playoffs, your center needs to be able to stay on the floor in crunch time situations. That means being able to switch or, at least, show on the perimeter and have the athleticism to hang with small players or dart back to the basket before the offense gets there. Quickness will be key for the big men in this draft. Mo Bamba, who is being compared favorably to Rudy Gobert, projects as the center with the highest defensive ceiling. But it’s Gobert’s defensive instincts and basketball IQ as much as his physical advantages that makes him such an impactful defender. It remains to be seen whether we’ll get that from Bamba at the NBA level. For these reasons, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. has the highest floor. He’s quick and versatile enough to switch against modern NBA offenses. He’s above average or strong in the areas demanded of modern centers—defensive quickness, outside shooting, facilitating—and his weaknesses—rebounding, post game, brute strength—are less important in 2018. At the very least with Jackson, you’re getting someone who can help your defense in the playoffs, even if his shooting and offensive game don’t translate.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Hodges: Of the top tier big men, give or take how you really feel about Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. is the most fundamentally safe pick of the pool.

Already has a well-built NBA body at 6-10 and some of the best defense I’ve seen from an one-and-done big since Anthony Davis. Even if the best he’ll put up numbers wise is 13-15 PPG, he’ll be a true building piece because of his impact and the fact that he can consistently hit 3s.

Chouinard: Jaren Jackson, Jr. In the 2018 version of the NBA, a lot of big men get played off the floor when the quality of the game goes up. The thing that holds most of them back is that they lack the defensive footspeed necessary to track smaller players. Jaren Jackson, Jr. isn’t going to have that problem. His floor from the moment he enters the NBA is something like “the Shawn Marion of centers.”

Rowland: I think it’s Deandre Ayton but evaluating floor in this crop of big men is difficult. Ayton’s physical profile helps quite a bit and I just can’t see him “busting” on the offensive end of the floor. The same could be sad for Marvin Bagley III on offense, but he isn’t quite as big and physical as Ayton, meaning that he’ll need to rely more on his athleticism (which is impressive) and could be an even bigger problem defensively. I’m tempted to say Jaren Jackson Jr., simply because of his defensive profile and the fact that he should be (very) good on that end right away but Jackson Jr.’s offense may never arrive. Ayton may not be quite as sure-fire of a superstar as some want to believe but part of his allure is a super high floor that arrives with his freakish make-up.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Esposito: This is a question I’ve wrestled with a lot as a Suns fan and someone who has covered the team. For 50 years now, this team has been searching for a generational center. Heck, they’ve been looking for an all-star caliber center. Finally having the No. 1 pick in a draft with some many quality bigs has been both fantastic and infuriating. It’s been total paralysis by analysis.

Deandre Ayton seems to be the logical choice. He’s built like a guy with multiple NBA seasons under his belt which is usually unheard of for a young big. He has offensive skills down low that some have compared to David Robinson or Hakeem Olajuwon. Oh, and he has a jumpshot that he can hit from long range, too. Sounds like the potential to be an all-time great until you spend a month debating his defense and nitpicking every little thing about it you can.

On the flip side you have Mo Bamba who has everything you could want from a defensive center. When you’re compared to a Rudy Gobert you know you’ve done things right and could be just want teams want on the defensive side. Offensively though you have questions and are rebuilding your jumpshot. A bigger red flag thanks to Markelle Fultz than finding Jesse Spano with caffeine pills right before the big test.

Both have the ceiling to be a Hall of Famer but it will take work. Needless to saying I’m so excited, so excited…I’m so scared about which big man the Suns take.