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 350 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:
Ryan Blackburn: Denver Stiffs, contributor
Paul Centopani: The Step Back, contributor
Porter Larsen: ESPN 700, Jazz insider
Max McCauley: Seven Seconds or Less Podcast, host
Doyle Rader: Forbes Sports, contributor
Eric Yeboah: Bleacher Report, social producer
A stacked Hall of Fame class (Ray Allen, Maurice Cheeks, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash) was celebrated this past weekend. Of the players inducted, who did you enjoy most in their prime and why?
Blackburn: Each of the players added to the Hall of Fame last weekend brought a unique way of playing the game, and they represent just how much the NBA has changed in recent years. My fandom is young at this point, and I couldn’t appreciate Maurice Cheeks and Grant Hill at the greatest points in their careers because of it. One player I could appreciate for the sheer amazement of his NBA success was Steve Nash. Nash was small and slight, throwing himself around like a ragdoll to win games. Despite the physical disadvantages though, Nash maximized the gifts he was given, and he put on a show, threading passers through a wall of defenders, making heroic shots, and making the impossible, well, possible.
More importantly though, it was quite clear that Nash and his head coach, Mike D’Antoni, were changing how the game of basketball would be played for years to come. The Seven Seconds or Less offense was functional, innovative, and exciting, and the focal point in Nash orchestrated all of it. I’m a basketball thinker and enjoy the tactics of creating a good shot. This was Nash’s bread and butter, and it was easy for me to appreciate Nash’s ability to think the game of basketball at a higher level than anyone of his era.
Centopani: Two words: Jesus Shuttlesworth. I’m originally from Connecticut which comes with an obligation to celebrate all UConn players past and present.
Recency from the back end of his career with the Celtics and Heat evokes Ray Allen as strictly a shooter. But he was a bonafide star during his prime, leading the Bucks and Supersonics during the early aughts, slashing through the lane, scoring from anywhere, and of course, banging threes.
He’s also responsible for arguably the best shot ever, one with such a high degree of difficulty that only he’d have the wherewithal and shooting ability to pull off.
Larsen: I wasn’t able to see Cheeks or Hill live, so I can’t justify picking them despite both being phenomenal talents. Kidd and Nash, each in their own unique way, transformed and redefined the point guard position. For me, it’s all about Jesus. Jake Shuttlesworth and his kid were instrumental in shaping my love for basketball in He Got Game. Watching Allen not only live up to but exceed the biblical expectations of that Spike Lee joint was nothing short of spectacular. The dude literally became the messiah of the three-point shot. He came of age as a Seattle SuperSonic. Reached the mountain top as a Boston Celtic. Played the villain alongside LeBron in Miami. For the back-end of his career, he’s been a sidekick of sorts. Whether it be to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce or The King and Dwyane Wade, Allen excelled playing second fiddle. I think that makes the younger generation undervalue how iconic he is. Shattering the career three-point record before the League had really transitioned into the perimeter-based beast it is today. Delivering one of the more clutch shots in the history of the sport during game six in Miami. He was so methodical and consistent in his craft, that his prime really spanned across a couple generations. Sugar Ray was just too sweet, earning him the nod here.
McCauley: Not a difficult question for this Suns fan. With apologies to Jason Kidd and Grant Hill (both of whom donned purple and orange), the answer is Steve Nash. En route to back-to-back MVPs, Nash revitalized basketball in Phoenix by quarterbacking the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns, the most entertaining team in the franchise’s history—it’s the namesake of my podcast for a reason! And while the Nash-led Suns never got over the hump, they left their mark on the League by pioneering pace-and-space, up-tempo basketball and making several deep, memorable playoff runs, none of which would have been possible without Nash’s unique talents. And at the end of the day, winning a title isn’t always everything. Ask yourself: Who is more important to NBA history, the 2000s Suns or the 2006 Wade-Shaq Miami Heat?
As an aside, if you’re too young to remember prime Grant Hill with the Detroit Pistons, do yourself a favor and pull up some of his YouTube highlights. There’s a reason Hill was the first in a long line of players to be labeled “the next Jordan.” He was incredible.
Rader: Just because of my age, I enjoyed Nash’s prime the most. He won his two MVPs while I was in college and probably consuming the most basketball of my life up to that point. He was a staple in the playoffs and the rivalry between the Suns and Mavericks at the time was must-watch TV.
It’s hard to express just how much fun it was to watch him play. He possessed a sixth sense on the court, finding teammates, dribbling under the basket, and nailing dagger threes. You knew that transition three was going in before he even pulled up. It was devastating.
Yeboah: When they say basketball is an art form there are several players that come to mind, and Steve Nash is one of them. As a point guard I enjoyed his game because it was jaw dropping and unique in its own right. He didn’t possess the athleticism that other floor generals had and because of that it highlighted every skillset he had. He not only made his teammates better, but as a fan he made you see the game in a different light. There will never be another Nash.
ESPN posed an interesting question and I’ll present it to you as well: Of individuals eligible but not currently in the Hall of Fame, who is most deserving?
Yeboah: Tim Duncan and its not even close. The accolades all speak for themselves and oddly it never feels like the praise he receives is enough. I understand how easy it would be to utter Kobe because his “Mamba Mentality” lives on through players like Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and on social media day in and day out. However, Duncan is solely responsible for the success of one of the most winningest franchises in sports history and he’ll probably never say it. Blake Griffin once said Duncan “deserves the shine, but was riding underneath it.” and I couldn’t agree more. Timmy fundamentally dominated his position like no other big before him and set a standard for any Spur that follows his legacy. He allowed coach Pop to critique him, so the rest would know there is never a ceiling when it comes to development. There was no answer for him and no other answer to this question.
Centopani: Danny Ainge. Ainge was decent as a player, but people forget the Hall of Fame accounts for overall influence within basketball. He won the Wooden Award at BYU, coached the late ’90s Suns, and is currently the shrewdest GM in the League. With the teams he’s built in Boston and the blatant lopsidedness of his trades, we should start revering him as an ultimate puppet master like Pat Riley or pre-New York-flameout Phil Jackson.
Blackburn: One of the most interesting sections of the Hall of Fame is for non-players. It’s easier to make a case for a player, or even a coach, over somebody like Sonny Vaccaro. Despite that, Vaccaro changed the way basketball is played, and he should be honored as such. By helping grow the marketing aspect of the game, he set the standard for the valuation of the athlete as well as the team. His work growing Nike, Adidas, and the All-Star game from the ground up were paramount to the current NBA landscape. After meeting and speaking with him on his experiences a couple years ago, it’s clear that the NBA has missed the boat on his exclusion, and it’s time to rectify that.
Larsen: Man, there’s really no shortage of options here. So many great basketball players have been omitted from this exclusive club. I think the most glaring exception from the HOF is probably Chris Webber. Since I’m certain Webber makes the cut in 2019, I’m going to go a little bit further back into time and obscurity to make an argument for Jack Sikma. Sikma truly revolutionized the center position. Before there was Arvydas Sabonis or Mehmet Okur, there was Jack Sikma. His unique skillset was something folks hadn’t yet seen in a guy his size. He defended the paint, spread the floor, facilitated and was automatic from the charity stripe as a 6-11 center. A seven-time NBA All-Star, Sikma scored 17,000 career points, reeled in 11,000 rebounds and blocked 1,000 shots—only 11 other players in NBA history can say the same. Those 11 players are all surefire HOFers. His individual accolades seem to stack up, so what is keeping him out? Team success? Nope. Sikma had monster performances in playoff appearances, including the 1979 NBA Finals. Alongside Dennis Johnson (HOF), Jack helped led the Seattle SuperSonics to an NBA championship over Elvin Hayes (HOF), Wes Unseld (HOF) and the Washington Bullets. You’ve got my vote, Jack.
McCauley: It’s Chris Webber. Although his NBA statistical credentials make him a borderline candidate, his time at Michigan seals the deal for me. My philosophy is, given that it’s a Hall of Fame, players should be inducted if they left an indelible mark on the game of basketball. Webber led the Fab Five, one of the most famous college basketball teams in history and committed perhaps the biggest brain fart in NCAA tournament history when he famously called a timeout that his team unfortunately did not have. To me, moments like that matter. They make certain players important parts of basketball’s history. I think it’s strange to have a Hall without Chris Webber.
Rader: I have to go with Shawn Kemp and Mark Aguirre. It’s pretty shocking that two of the best scorers in NBA history have yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Between them they have nine All-Star appearances (Kemp has six) and both helped lead their respective teams to the Finals with Aguirre winning two championships with the Detroit Pistons.
Ray Allen and Steve Nash join fellow 1996 draftmate, Allen Iverson, who was inducted in 2016. Kobe Bryant is on his way in and perhaps Stephon Marbury scores an invitation later in life. Looking back on that ridiculous ’96 class, how would you redraft the top 5?
Rader: I order: Bryant, Iverson, Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, and Allen.
Yeboah: In order: Bryant, Nash, Allen, Iverson, and Peja Stojakovic.
Blackburn: For me: Bryant, Iverson, Nash, Allen, and Stojakovic.
Centopani: I think the top-5 goes: Bryant, Allen, Nash, Iverson, and Marcus Camby.
Larsen: I’ve been going back and forth on this question for two days and keep coming back to one thing: five rings. For me: Bryant, Nash, Iverson, Allen, and Marbury.
McCauley: Drafting based on their careers already played out: Bryant, Nash, Iverson, Allen, and Marbury.
On a recent episode of HOOP’s Hot Takes and Shot Fakes we listed the 10 teams we were most excited to watch this season. Which three teams are you going to watch most?
McCauley: Boston, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. Gordon Hayward’s ghastly opening-night injury robbed us of a full-strength Celtics team last season, and Kyrie Irving’s late season knee troubles left us with a shell of what we expected the 2017-18 Celtics to be. But, in the face of all that, the Celtics still came within one win of the NBA Finals, in part due to the emergence of Jayson Tatum. It will be fascinating to see how Brad Stevens reincorporates Irving and Hayward into a team that may be the favorite to stop Golden State from winning their third title in a row.
The Mavericks added my favorite draft prospect of all time, Luka Doncic, and will feature perhaps the most fun young playmaking duo in Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. They wisely went out and signed veteran play finisher and defensive anchor DeAndre Jordan, who will help Doncic and DSJ figure out how to run an NBA offense together. They’ll be League Pass staple.
Oklahoma City is in my view the most underrated team in the League going into next season. The team finally has surrounded Russell Westbrook with the type of defense-first supporting case (Schroder aside—I’ll get to that in a second) that should maximize the Thunder’s ability to win with the polarizing guard. Although they made no major star acquisitions, we forget teams that aren’t Golden State often take a while to learn how to play together. The biggest question for them: How do they incorporate Schroder, who is essentially a poor man’s version of Westbrook?
Rader: I cover the Dallas Mavericks so I’m a little biased when I say that I’m excited to watch them next season. While I don’t expect the team to make the playoffs, the addition of Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan should improve the team’s standing. And from what I’m hearing, the team is thrilled to have Doncic. They believe that he’s every bit as good as the hype that surrounds him, if not better.
Sticking with the bottom feeders, I’m interested in what the Phoenix Suns will do next season as well. I wasn’t high on Deandre Ayton coming into the draft and his performance during Summer League left a lot to be desired. However, he plugs the hole at center that the Suns desperately needed to fill. However, the news that Devin Booker will be out indefinitely after having surgery on his right hand is disconcerting.
Finally, how could I not go with the Lakers? It’s LeBron. It’s L.A. It’s going to be a media circus. I’m here for the chaos.
Yeboah: Atlanta Hawks: The rookie trio of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman along with new head coach Lloyd Pierce signifies a new era in Atlanta Hawk’s basketball. A lot of fans around the league have always said Atlanta’s teams were boring, but that will change with John Collins and Trae Young teaming up.
Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz each are extremely talented, and each have something individually to prove—you’ll be a fool to avoid them. A team like themselves that’s pushing to break through are always the most compelling to follow. Boston is obviously closer, but Philly has another level to reach and I’m hype to see how bad they want it.
Houston Rockets: Last year, many idiots wrote off the chances of Chris Paul and James Harden working out before the season even started. The same is being said right now with the addition of Carmelo Anthony and the subtraction of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah A Moute. Interestingly, this year’s Rockets have the 2008 Celtics feel to them as far as three stars that failed to win a championship when they were the a franchises’ best player. Now coming together to what could be what they each needed all along. Who would’ve thought? Three guys that are deemed chokers in the playoffs and a coach with a philosophy supposedly not suitable for playoff success—entertainment at its finest.
Houston always seems to have this chip on their shoulder every season because a lot of fans just don’t want to buy it until they see it. three guys that are deemed chokers in the playoffs and a coach with a philosophy supposedly not suitable for playoff success—entertainment at its finest.
Blackburn: In order, the three most teams I’m excited to watch this year are the Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers. Toronto, of course, is mostly to do with Kawhi Leonard. I want to see his return to the NBA landscape, as many have forgotten just how talented he is on both ends of the floor. If he’s at his best, the Raptors have a puncher’s chance at a Finals appearance over the stacked Boston Celtics.
After Toronto, Denver is the most interesting team in the NBA. Expectations this year are high after barely missing the playoffs two years in a row. Nikola Jokic is a hot button topic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are up-and-coming guards, and Paul Millsap will return from injury. On top of that, Michael Porter Jr. is the most intriguing draft prospect from the 2018 class, and if he hits his ceiling, the Nuggets have a chance to do some damage.
Finally, the Indiana Pacers are an under-the-radar squad that has made start additions to surround Victor Oladipo. Tyreke Evans will add ball handling. Doug McDermott will add shooting. Kyle O’Quinn will add size to the bench unit. Combined with continuity of the starting lineup, those additions should push the Pacers closer to the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams.
Centopani: Just by my ongoing masochism in Knicks fandom, they’ll be the team I watch most. Though it finally feels like they have competence and stability in the front office and a solid foundation of talent. Excuse me as I knock on every piece of wood I can find.
The next two will probably be the Thunder and Bucks. Neither play the prettiest brands of basketball, but both feature physical anomalies as the face of their franchises.
People can disparage the stat hunting all they want, but Russell Westbrook is a destroyer of worlds. I think Russ is the most exciting player in the game and Steven Adams is the best gooney center the League has to offer. There’s been a lot of drama around the team, which makes it even more exciting when things are rolling and the raucous OKC faithful gets on their feet.
I’m hoping this is the year Giannis takes that final leap and carries Milwaukee into the Eastern Conference upper crust. I’ve written plenty of hyperbolic prose on the Greek Freak but watching the things he does on a basketball court are mind blowing. Assuming he develops a reliable jump shot, Antetokounmpo and the criminally-underrated Khris Middleton should bring the Bucks to the 4-seed.
Larsen: First, the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve been happy to jump on the Laker hate train my whole life. It’s crazy how much of a difference one guy can make. LeBron James heads to Hollywood for what appears to be his concluding chapter. He’ll ride off into the sunset and begin post-basketball life after this. Of course, it might be nearly a decade before we actually see him retire, but I’m not taking a minute of it for granted. He’s the greatest all-around basketball player we’ve ever seen. Now teamed up with my fellow Ute Kyle Kuzma and a cast of unique personalities, the Lake Show will be must see TV in 2018-19.
Next, my hometown Utah Jazz. I didn’t grow up a Jazz fan and have never found myself cheering for them. Covering the team in person, however, adds a unique perspective to the situation. Donovan Mitchell re-invigorated the Salt Lake City fan base. The reigning defensive player of the year returns in Rudy Gobert. Guys like Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Ricky Rubio get under the opponent’s skin to make for interesting matchups—incorporating the infamous Grayson Allen to the mix only adds to that chippy atmosphere. As usual, the team has lofty expectations locally. What’s different this year is the national outlets taking notice. It’ll will be interesting to see if this team can build on 2017-18’s late season success and live up to the hype.
Last, but definitely not least, the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have built a roster that looks to be the favorite in the East. Re-incorporating two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward just adds to the allure. I’m genuinely intrigued with how they’ll work their rotation to get that litany of wings enough playing time. Plus, seeing LeBron’s Lakers take on Kyrie’s Celtics will be a treat in and of itself.
Bodog released their Rookie of the Year odds. Leading the field are Ayton +350, Doncic +375, Sexton +700, Knox +750, and Bagley +1000. Do you like the odds distribution or is there someone further down the line you’d put your money on?
Larsen: I don’t have any beef with Bodog’s ROY odds apart from the favorite. The 2018 class, particularly the top 10-15 picks, is littered with talent and All-Star potential. There are numerous guys that have a shot at winning Rookie of the Year. I do think Ayton and Doncic have the inside track, though, and that’s reflective of the odds. My money would have to be put on Luka. Doncic may not have the highest ceiling in the class, but I do believe he has the highest floor. The kid has been playing professional basketball — at a high level nonetheless — since he was 16-years-old. I reckon he has a solid rookie campaign before Dirk Nowitzki passes the torch in 2019.
McCauley: My money is on either Luka Doncic or Collin Sexton. Not only is Doncic my favorite draft prospect in recent memory, he is well-prepared for the challenge of professional basketball given that he’s already played professionally for a half-decade in the second-best league in the world. Even if Doncic’s ceiling is limited (as some, but not I, think), there’s a lot of reason to think he’ll be better right away than the NCAA draftees who have faced neither the rigors of an 82-game season nor playing against adult professional basketball players who have mastered their craft.
For Sexton, it’s all about opportunity. Sexton was far from my favorite prospect coming into the draft but should some of the more highly drafted prospects struggle, Sexton’s pure counting stats—which should come with high usage—may be enough for him to steal the award.
Rader: Personally, I think Doncic should be the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He has more experience than anyone else in the field and played against tougher competition. Other than that, I think all of these guys deserve to be in the conversation. I’d also add Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter, and Lonnie Walker to the pool. Don’t sleep on them.
Yeboah: The distribution is accurate given who appears the most NBA ready now. Ayton and Doncic are no-brainers for that top two spots. I would only switch Sexton and Knox given their markets and how their impact on the game will be perceived. A 20-point game by Knox in Madison Garden is like 40 as opposed to a 20-point game in Cleveland being just that—a 20 point game. I do however believe that Marvin Bagley will make this race interesting before the season’s over as his defense progresses and he gets a better command of how to dissect offensives. Good news, in the end we’ll be in store for yet another tightly contested race with plenty to argue about.
Blackburn: The distribution seems reasonable, but I would elevate Marvin Bagley just a bit. He should have a gigantic opportunity to be a first option on the Sacramento Kings. If the Kings are better than advertised with Bagley leading them in points and rebounds, then he has as good a chance as any to claim the hardware. Beyond obvious candidates in Ayton, Doncic, and Bagley, I like Mo Bamba a lot. He’s not currently in line for excessive playing time, but I expect the Orlando Magic to shop his competition for the starting center position, Nikola Vucevic, as soon as Bamba proves he deserves more minutes. I believe in Bamba’s ability to captain a defense, and with his self-awareness and understanding of his need to improve certain skills, I would bet on him figuring things out very soon. If he shoots better than 30 percent from behind the three-point line on moderate volume in his first year, it will open up the rest of his game to be a threat in the midrange and paint offensively.
Centopani: Rookies of the Year happen at the intersection of talent and opportunity, so I think those odds look in line to where they should be. If I had to pick one of the frontrunners, I’d go with Luka Doncic. His playmaking should be a shot in the arm for a veteran Mavericks team. He has the best chance of impacting the bottom line of wins the most.
Going down the list into the longshots, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander intrigues me. He should play right away, either in three-guard lineups or spelling the starters. Plus, you figure his minutes increase in the second half of the year when the Clippers fall out of the playoff chase and sell off their pieces to contenders.