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 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 for an awards themed edition. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:

Neil Dalal: Hoop District DC, contributor

Preston Ellis: Bleacher Report NBA, editor

Rohan Katti: Behind the Bucks Pass, writer

Thomas King: Hardwood Houdini, site expert

Arati Patel: Fumble Sports, producer

Which NBA fanbase do you think is most starved for an NBA championship and why?

Dalal: When you think of where some of the best young basketball talent comes out of, Washington, D.C. and the DMV area is up there with L.A. and North Carolina. Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo, and Markelle Fultz are just a few of the stars from the DMV that tore it up at a young age. Then when you see the lack of homecourt advantage the Washington Wizards constantly have at now Capital One Arena, you get perplexed. Sure, D.C. is a transient city with a lot of fandoms represented because of people coming from all over the country, but I would be willing to be that the Wizards have one of the worst crowds in the NBA—they typically only get loud when free Chick-Fil-A is on the line. Having seen what the Washington Capitals did for the city, I think the Wizards winning an NBA championship would revitalize the basketball fandom that is in the roots of the city.

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Ellis: At the risk of appearing the homer, I will abstain from the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans. Instead, I nominate the Portland Trail Blazers. The Moda Center Mob continues their outpouring of support every season to the underdog that perennially overcomes odds, only to fall short in the end. Whether it be the fragility of superstars Brandon Roy and Greg Oden or the classic misstep in the form of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, the Blazers simply have suffered more than most.

Portland does have a championship banner from 1977, but the height of ’90s powers was consumed by Jordan, the very athlete they mistakenly glossed over just one decade earlier.  Another promising unit that turned the page into the 21st century was then renamed “The Jailblazers.” Then, just last season, after a favorable third-seeded finish, the Blazers were overcome in the biggest playoff shocker of the 2017-18 season, losing in a four-game sweep to the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans, who had never before won a playoff game in his tenure. Then this meme was created to add insult to injury.

Honorable mention: Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Katti: I may be cheating here, but I say both Jazz fans and Bucks fans deserve a championship. Though they are both storied franchises, there is a combined one championship between the two, with Milwaukee winning in 1971. They are two of the smallest markets in the League, and yet they both are primed for great success this season. Small market teams always must deal with the constant questioning of their stars leaving, and that feeds into my thought that they need to win a championship. A championship for either of these teams would lift the fanbase out of the insecurity they constantly have and show the league that any franchise can win it all.

King: I think it comes down to Indiana and Utah, as neither fan base has seen their team win a title. But Utah fans are the hungriest because they came so close to a championship in 1998, they could almost taste it. Jordan ripped the ball and the trophy right out of Karl Malone’s hands and the fans remember that.

Indiana had some good teams with Reggie Miller lose out to Jordan in the East Finals, but it’s not quite the same as the closeness a fan feels when he sees that NBA Finals logo stamped on their home floor.

I think the 76ers fans seem to be the angriest fan base with the most to prove. Philly hasn’t won an NBA title since 1983 and has lived in Boston’s shadow on the East Coast. Joel Embiid has stoked a Sixers cult on Twitter that is as rabid as they come.

Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Patel: I have two answers to this. The Suns and the Wolves.

Steve Nash deserved a ring and he shouldn’t have had to go to join the Warriors to get one. That’s all.

As for Minnesota: It’s got to be the most frustrating thing in the world when your team has all the pieces, but just can’t get it together. I think that’s far worse than being a fan of a team that isn’t even a contender for the eighth seed. Every time I watch Minnesota, I think about how stacked they look. The fan base has got to be sick of it. I would be sick of it. I think Minnesota might be one of the only teams that has had it within reach so many times but can never quite get there. It’s one of those “What’s worse? Losing by 1 point or losing by 50 points?” questions. The Wolves fans have been losing by 1 for so many years now.

Minnesota traded Kevin Garnett for five nobodies and some cash considerations. These dudes have won the division ONCE and it was in the same year that LeBron James was drafted. Nothing was the same.

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks into the season, what has been the biggest surprise?

Patel: It’s got to be Kemba Walker. Why is nobody talking about Kemba Walker? I thought it was laughable before the season started when he said he didn’t want to be on an elite team and that he wanted to “create something special in Charlotte” which is commendable, but I really thought that came alongside Michael Jordan saying he wasn’t willing to trade Walker for “anything but an All-Star.” It’s like, of course he said that. But he’s starting to prove it and we’re only a week in.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Anyway, Kemba is already breaking NBA records with 19 treys in the first three games, just atop of Gallinari and Curry. That is insane. If he were on any other team that isn’t the Hornets, this would be talked about by everyone and NBA analysts would be raving about that kind of a performance. I also read somewhere that behind Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving, he has the most points of anyone in that 2011 draft class. Kemba Walker could slide in and be an early candidate for MVP and I don’t think many people saw that coming.

Dalal: The Jimmy Butler situation in Minnesota is certainly one of the wildest stories in the NBA in the past few years, but going back to earlier in the offseason, the Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan trade was eye popping. It was pretty clear that the Spurs and Leonard needed a divorce but the Raptors cutting ties with someone who became the face of the franchise was shocking. John Wall himself expressed that Masai Ujiri and the Raptors did not show DeRozan loyalty and essentially stabbed him in the back by not communicating with him upfront, man-to-man. DeRozan reinvented his midrange game to fit into today’s NBA of three-pointers and layups. He led his squad to the No. 1 seed. That was not enough for Ujiri who was tired of falling to LeBron James. I will always wonder what Toronto could do in 2018-19 with DeRozan with James now out West.

Ellis: The biggest surprise one week into the season was the “Staples Center Spat” between Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Brandon Ingram. Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul have a history of malice between each other, and evidence suggests that even their girlfriends were at odds with one another.

The league office is rumored by Brian Windhorst to hold ill-feelings toward Rondo as a result of his comments toward Bill Kennedy in 2015.

Now, three of the game’s prominent figures are suspended, but the most upsetting and surprising part of all of this is seeing the tempers overflow of two easily seen faces of the NBA on the game’s biggest stage. Paul, after all, continues to serve as the National Basketball Players’ Association President and has represented the NBA as a player, faithfully and successfully for near a generation (14 seasons).

The NBA players have done wonders to build up the game we love both on and off the court, and though no one is perfect, and mistakes will happen, it was disappointing to see that level of behavior displayed so publicly and must be considered the most surprising story thus far in the 2018-19 season.

Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Katti: I am honestly baffled that Jimmy Butler is still an active member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. This whole situation has been a mess for over a month now, and there appears to be no end in sight. Pat Riley has confirmed that he has ended talks with the Timberwolves for Butler, and Jimmy himself has been playing regular season games with Minnesota. I thought for sure that Karl-Anthony Towns signing his extension and the Wolves excusing Butler from media day/the preseason were clear signs that Minnesota was moving on from Jimmy, but here he still is. Not only are they putting their cornerstone in a tough position, but the Wolves are also tanking the trade value of Butler by keeping him. While the Suns are Kings continue to be the most mismanaged franchises in the League, Minnesota may be approaching that level with the handling of this situation.The

King: I mean, the biggest surprise has to be this whole Jimmy Butler situation in Minnesota. He asked out, Minnesota hasn’t found the right trade partner yet, so he shows up at practice, puts on a basketball show and blasts every Timberwolves player, coach or employee within eyesight and then holds court for an ESPN camera. I’ve never heard anything like it, but the whole scene makes me smile.

Butler is averaging 28 points per game after the first week, but the main source of his ire, center Karl-Anthony Towns, is taking the fifth-most shots per game on the team and the Timberwolves look like a powder keg about to explode at any point. Better than the imploding they are doing now, perhaps.

 

The early Boston-Toronto matchup did not disappoint. How confident are you that those two are going to meet in the Conference Finals? If I offered you that matchup or any other pairing of teams, which would you choose?

Katti: Friday night’s matchup between Boston and Toronto was arguably the best game of the young NBA season. It was a game fueled by star power and teamwork from the top two seeds in the East from last season. Both teams feel as if they have the chops to be last team standing when the season ends. It’s not difficult to predict that the Celtics will return to the Conference Finals, as they essentially add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a team that reached that height in last year’s playoffs. Boston will have plenty of time to figure out how to maximize the sheer talent their team possesses, so they should be an absolute monster of a unit once the postseasons arrives. LeBron James leaving the East leaves a spot open in the East Finals, and Toronto plans to power their way in through the magnificence of Kawhi Leonard and the steady star-level production of Kyle Lowry, with great secondary pieces to surround them.

Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

While I am predicting that Boston and Toronto will be meeting in the Conference Finals, there are other teams in the East that won’t go down without a fight. Philadelphia has an entire season to add some more shooting to their lineup, and their two stars will be tough for any team to deal with. Milwaukee has the best player in the conference in Giannis, which automatically puts them in contention to be the best in the conference, and the Bucks have already show early how ridiculously potent their offense can be under Mike Budenholzer.

King: Boston and Toronto did not disappoint, how confident are you that those two are going to meet in the Conference Finals? If I offered you that matchup or any other pairing of teams, which would you choose?

Of course, anything can happen, and both of these teams have shown that nothing is for sure, but I think these two teams are on a collision course for the Conference Finals. In my eyes, they are a class above the rest of the East. The Raptors addition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and the Celtics return of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving put those teams, when it’s all said and done, on a level closer to the Golden State Warriors than the Milwaukee Bucks or the Philadelphia 76ers.

Patel: 100,000,000 percent and I would choose this matchup over anything else. Look around the East, there isn’t a third option that even comes close to Boston v. Toronto. You could consider Philly or Milwaukee, but they would be iced by either of these two teams. I like the partnering of John Wall and Bradley Beal, but I don’t see Washington coming out of the East in the top two. Kawhi changed everything. Without Kawhi, this matchup would be decent at best and that second spot would be up for grabs come playoffs. But I foresee these two going at each other’s necks for the Eastern Conference title, and Boston will take it in 7.

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Dalal: If the playoffs started today, I would certainly think that Boston and Toronto would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals assuming seedings worked out as such. Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum is a scary, scary lineup and that does not even touch on their depth. Most importantly though, Brad Stevens is a wizard and you will not convince me otherwise. For the Raptors, LeBron is gone, and we will see if their poor performance in the playoffs can be rewritten. Kawhi Leonard may already be back to looking like a top 5 player in the NBA and they still have tons of depth. There is talent in the rest of the East to compete but the 76ers are still a little too young for me to buy into yet, the Pacers are still missing a piece, the Bucks do not have enough talent around Giannis, and the Wizards might never reach their true potential. Assuming there are no major injuries to either the Celtics or Raptors, I will be looking forward to a seven-game series between those two foes in the ECF.

Ellis: Toronto and Boston are definitely ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the 2018-19 Eastern Conference title.  Ben Simmons continues to be hampered by back tightness, and there is nothing to suggest that Markelle Fultz can take his game to the next level quickly enough to help his team in the abensce of Marco Bellinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. The 76ers have extended their depth with Wilson Chandler and Landry Shamet, but the team with perhaps two of the best players in the East struggled to dispatch the Orlando Magic just this past Saturday night, needing a career performance from JJ Redick.

The 76ers will continue their evolution and will soon challenge for the game’s greatest crown, but if they sought to do that this year, they would then need to deal Fultz and Robert Covington for Jimmy Butler.

 

Fantasy sports continue to grow. It feels as if there are almost as many NFL fantasy fans as there are general football fans. Have you started to get that vibe from the NBA? How far away is basketball from entering that realm?

Ellis: Forgive me, but I do not expect NBA Fantasy sports to directly oppose NFL Fantasy at any given time, because frankly, the NFL is easier.  There are but 16 games to focus on, and after the initial draft the only necessary actions needed happen but once a week when parties give their game day roster the once over on Thursday mornings.

NBA fantasy points are accrued in many leagues through ROTO scoring, an overly complicated system that does not offer the satisfaction of simply judging yards and touchdowns in non-PPO NFL leagues.  In addition, nearly all NFL games happen at the same time, giving its fans the satisfaction of participating in leagues at the same time, and continuing conversation. Simply put, the NFL Fantasy system is easier, and more convenient.

Katti: Even though the NFL has been under enormous amounts of scrutiny over the last few years, it seems as if the popularity of fantasy football is as large as it has ever been. In my opinion, fantasy football is so prevalent even among the most casual of fans because people are clinging to reasons to watch the game. I find football games to be quite boring due to the number of commercial breaks and slow pace of play, but the culture of fantasy football has made fans want to pay attention to every single play of every game. As the sport becomes less and less appealing to watch, individuals are paying more attention to their fantasy teams as a reason to keep watching the sport that they cherish.

This may seem weird, but it’s almost a good thing that fantasy basketball has not taken off to the level that fantasy football has reached. Basketball is such a more engaging sort than football, so fans have less reason to find other ways of enjoying the product that the NBA produces. Even the legalization of sports betting has produced a way for those who enjoy the potential monetary gains from fantasy football to reap the same rewards from NBA games. So to answer the question, I think fantasy basketball is quite far away having the same reach as fantasy football, but that may not be a bad thing.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

King: Fantasy sports continue to grow. It feels as if there are almost as many NFL fantasy fans as there are general football fans. Have you started to get that vibe from the NBA? How far away is basketball from entering that realm?

I try to stay as far away from fantasy basketball as I can. To me, watching and learning and trying to understand the game is more than enough to keep me occupied without having to worry about how many points Jayson Tatum is getting me.

Patel: Fantasy football is nuts. I don’t see that happening with the NBA. The allure of fantasy sports is that you don’t have to watch or really know much at all to play. I don’t watch a lot of football and the minute I tell anyone that I want to start, everyone suggests playing fantasy to really get into it.

I do think that the NBA fans are exploring fantasy more often now because of the competitive aspect of it, but there’s just many more things to consider. The NFL has a short season, and three days dedicated to the game. Imagine keeping up with five-plus NBA games a night for 82 games. It’s not for everyone.

Sure, there are a number of NBA fans who love to ramble on the internet and fire off hot takes about who they would have come off the bench and what their starters would look like, and for them, Fantasy is where they can live out these scenarios. But overall, I think fantasy sports is such a commitment and I hardly think there are as many NBA fans willing to put in the time for it to ever become as big as the fantasy football.

Dalal: I do not think fantasy basketball is anywhere close to the fan level that fantasy football currently dominates. I think the fact that most formats (i.e. Yahoo Sports) allows you to change your lineup every single day is too much for people to keep up with in terms of having the greatest number of games played and also keeping up with things. With fantasy football you can set your lineup on Thursday and enjoy Sunday checking in on things. People who love basketball and watch the NBA on a regular basis (more so than the NFL) do not partake in fantasy basketball but do in fantasy football. Until there is a better format set up by sites to make fantasy basketball less time intensive, I think it will struggle to enter the same playing field that fantasy football operates on.

 

Last week on this roundtable we did awards predictions. Is there an award missing from the NBA? If you could add an award, what would it be?

Dalal: The NBA does have a pretty complete set of awards that they give out every year, but there are still some areas in which they could add more. How about Assistant Coach of the Year (maybe only voted on by the League’s 30 NBA head coaches) so that fans can get an idea of who the next hot pick is for teams with a vacancy. The MVP award is often controversial because LeBron James should win it every year because he is the NBA’s best player and he was literally the most valuable player to his team because if you take him away from the 2017-18 Cavs then you go from a team that made the NBA Finals to one that is firmly in the NBA draft lottery. I’m not sure how you fix that (maybe Most Outstanding Player?) because there is a long-standing tradition, but an area I could see improved.

Ellis: I would like to see the NBA celebrate a third NBA All-Defensive Team. In both the NFL and NBA, scoring is at an all-time high and defense is continually becoming an afterthought. More emphasis needs to be placed on the other side of the court.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Katti: Comeback Player of the Year. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, players have dips in performance or do not even play at all. Last season saw the likes of Gordon Hayward, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Roberson, Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, Jabari Parker, Paul Millsap, and many others have hampered or shortened seasons. Would it not be nice to have an award that commends the player who bounced back in the best way and made the best of an unfortunate situation? Aside from injury, the pool of candidates could also include players who just had a poor season or clawed their way back into the league from overseas or the G-League. This award would serve as an inspiring story of redemption, and I’m sure it would be a welcome addition to the already great slate of individual awards.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

King: Best Role Player. I don’t know if that’s the best name for the award. Maybe we can call it the Robert Horry Role Player of the Year or something. But I feel there’s a class of players who are almost completely overlooked at the end of the year but do so much to help their team win a lot of games and win the big games. Trevor Ariza isn’t winning any awards. Andre Iguodala or Aron Baynes, either. But these guys deserve to be appreciated, too.

Ideally, Sixth Man of the Year might suit this purpose, but there are plenty of good role players who start; besides, Sixth Man of the Year almost always just goes to one of the highest scoring guys off the bench and that’s not the spirit of this award.

We want guys who box out, set good screens, dive on the floor, take charges, play great team defense, can be counted on to make the open shot. These guys make good coaches and they make great teammates.

Patel: Honestly, no. The NBA awards are dumb. I think they should cap out at two: the Championship and the MVP.

Everything else seems kind of useless, right? I mean, sure it’s cool to win ROY or DPOY but what does that even matter? A person’s stock value goes up? Dwane Casey was fired and then he won Coach of The Year. I think the League hands out enough participation trophies as it is. Cancel the awards altogether.