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 500 unique contributors working at any and every outlet you can think of living all across the globe.

The roundtable runs every Wednesday, 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 four dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:

Brian Goins: Miami Heat Beat, co-founder

Ty Jager: At The Line Pod, host

Kishan Mistry: Yahoo Sports Canada, contributor 

Satbir Singh: Raptors HQ, contributor

Antwan Staley: Athlon Sports, writer

Chris Walton: Lakers Outsiders, contributor 

 

Looking beyond this upcoming season and considering current talent, age and contract, who is the most valuable player in the League?
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

Goins: My answer is not much different than what the majority of GMs around the League felt before the season when prompted about, “Which NBA player they would sign if they were starting a franchise today?” The most valuable player in the League right now and going forward will continue to be Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. His growth and leap into NBA stardom is unprecedented for a 24-year-old, and I would not discount him becoming a more all-around scorer by the time he becomes eligible for his next contract, potentially in 2021 as an unrestricted free agent. Giannis’ combination of size, ballhandling, speed, and feel for the game have already won him one regular season MVP award in 2018-19. If his offseason workout videos on Instagram prove anything, it’s that he’s relentlessly committed to his craft, and I’d bet on him elevating his game even further by developing a more reliable jumpshot than Ben Simmons any day of the week.

Cole Burston/NBAE via Getty Images

Jager: There are two players in this League currently that should be considered the most valuable players in the League. That would be Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Leonard is arguably one of the best players on the court right now, being able to be a great defender and find a way to score anywhere on the floor. Although he’s 28 and about to reach 30 years old so his prime is running out of time, but he’s still the best player right now in the league. Giannis is another valuable player in his skill set, his athleticism, and he’s only 24 years old. Giannis has the highest ceiling of any player in the league right now and can be right behind Kawhi in being the best player in the League. 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Mistry: I think it’s clear cut that Giannis is the future of the League. Giannis is only 24 and coming off his first (of many) MVP seasons. The crazy thing about it, is that Giannis really hasn’t developed a shot yet. We’ve seen some clips over the summer of him working on his mid-range / beyond-the-arc shot. Once he gets that in-game confidence up, it will be very scary to play against. With KD, Kawhi, and James Harden all in the middle of their prime, it’ll be interesting to see how they age in the league. Aside from his playing skill, Giannis is a very likeable person and people can resonate with his story/upbringing. The League will develop more international fans because of Giannis and that’s a W in every column. 

Singh: He’s already got the talent and age with an MVP award, and a big contract coming: Giannis Antetokounmpo. This is the easy and obvious answer, and I’m sticking with it. Giannis is coming off his first MVP season and he hasn’t yet hit his peak. There’s still lots of room to grow for Giannis at 24-years-old, from shooting, passing, defense and getting stronger. He’s also in position for the biggest contract in NBA history. Giannis is and will be the most valuable player in the league for a few more seasons before someone else takes over.

Staley: Hard to go against Joel Embiid considering he is already one of the best players in the League. Embiid is just 25 years old and averaged 27.5 points per game and 13.6 rebounds per game. Now Embiid has been working on his long-range shooting this offseason according to a few videos floating on social media. Last year, he was 30 percent from three-point land. With Philadelphia likely the clear favorite in the Eastern Conference, Embiid could be headed for a monster year in 2019-20. 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Walton: The most valuable player by these considerations is Nikola Jokic. Last year he proved that he’s among the elite of the league at the tender age of 24. Jokic’s shooting and passing sets him apart from most of the league’s bigs. It’s these very parts of his game that are going to raise the game of the Nuggets core. By the time it’s time to ink him again, he’d be entering his prime, which is scary stuff for the league. By then, the Nuggets could very well have been in an NBA Finals or two.

 

Last week we talked about the guard most likely to make their first appearance on an All-NBA team. Which forward who has never made it before but you think could sneak in this year? 
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Goins: I absolutely think the Dallas Mavericks’ forward Kristaps Porzingis could sneak into his first All-NBA appearance next season, rehabbing back from a torn ACL that has sidelined him for the past 17-plus months. Before his injury, Porzingis was on pace to becoming only the sixth player in NBA history to average 22 points, six rebounds, and two blocks before his age-23 season as a New York Knick. The other five names on the list? Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis, Bob McAdoo, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hakeem Olajuwan. Each of those players have wound up to make at least two All-NBA teams in their career. For Kristaps, being the co-lead man in Dallas with Luka Doncic, along with a brand new max contract, should give him the edge to return to form. Keep a close eye on him.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Jager: There are a few good young names like Porzingis, but I think the guy with the biggest chance is Pascal Siakam. With Leonard leaving for the Clippers, it leaves a hole in that Raptors team of who’s going to be the face of the team. Siakam is that guy and I think he’s going to make an even bigger push this upcoming season with the bigger role in place for him now. He’s only gotten better in each of his three seasons in the League and is just under 60 percent efficient field goal percentage with 17 points per game last season. Add on the extra minutes he’ll earn to replace Kawhi, and you have yourself a player that can slide his way into one of the best young forwards in the league.

Mistry: I think it’s a given to write down Pascal Siakam as an All-Star this year. He was essentially on the cusp of being one last year, and I think with a few players moving out of the East and injuries to KD and Victor Oladipo open up spots for a player like Pascal Siakam. In addition to P Skills, I think Tobias Harris will finally be awarded an All-Star appearance. Playing in the East now and building more chemistry with his Sixers squad should boost his case for an All-Star nod. I hope the Sixers find a way to integrate him more into their offense and hope we see more scoring out of him this season. 

Singh: It’s going to be Pascal Siakam, Luka Doncic or Kristaps Porzingis. For the sake of having to pick one, I’ll go with Siakam. The Toronto Raptors will be a playoff team—in a weaker conference—and Siakam will be the focal point of the entire offense. If Siakam continues to improve as he has each of his first three seasons so far, he’ll make a good case for himself. This upcoming season defenses will focus in on Siakam, with Kawhi Leonard out of the picture, so for the fourth year forward to take the next step he’ll need to be ready to adjust his game. This past season Siakam’s effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage both dropped off by about 3 percent when Leonard was off the court compared to when he was on the court. So his play without Leonard was never a concern. If Siakam can improve his 3-point shooting those numbers could improve with more weapons to his offense, making it tougher on defenses. He’ll also need to be a consistent rebounder to become All-NBA. The important thing for Siakam is to be ready for a lot of double-teams.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Staley: Kristaps Porzingis, who is now in Dallas could have a breakout season for the Mavericks. Teaming up with Luka Doncic should help take pressure off of Porzingis as he never played with someone of that talent. Before tearing his ACL in 2017-18, Porzingis was averaging career-highs in points (22.7), rebounds (6.6) along with blocks in 48 games as he was an 2018 NBA All-Star. If he can return to that form, he can definitely be named to one of the All-NBA teams

Walton: With the departure of Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam is the name I’m leaning towards. He made a hefty jump last season and is poised to be the focal point of the Raptors attack as Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol add more mileage to their meters. To end the year, he continued to sew up his most improved campaign. Siakam averaged a little over six points per game and ticked up to 19 points on 47 percent shooting from last year to this year’s championship run.

 

The bottom of the West is looking like a dogfight. If we look at the current over/under projections from DraftKings, none of Dallas, New Orleans or Sacramento are currently projected to make the playoffs. Which of those three do you think has the best chance to surprise with a playoff berth? 

Goins: This is so tough because I really like the youth movement with all three teams, but if I’m forced to choose just one, I would lean towards with the New Orleans Pelicans. I honestly believe they had one of the best offseasons out of any NBA team under the helm of new executive vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin. Despite losing Anthony Davis this offseason in a megatrade with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pelicans’ roster is among the deepest in terms of raw talent development. Combining key veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Reddick, and Derrick Favors to help lead a youth-driven roster of Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart will instantly make a fan favorite for must-watch NBA League Pass team. If Zion believes the ceiling of his roster is a championship, then the floor must be at least an eight-seed by his logic, right?

Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Walton: Despite losing Anthony Davis, I’m loving the energy of the Pelicans. The trio of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart proved, when healthy, that they play hard enough not to be taken lightly when they’re in your arena. The additions of Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick make up a good group of playoff-tested veterans to round out everything around Zion Williamson. Also, don’t count out  David Griffin and Alvin Gentry continuing to upgrade their roster as the season goes on. 

Jager: Dallas is my dark horse for this upcoming season. Luka was a standout rookie last season and I think he’s going to make an even bigger push come this upcoming season. While Kristaps Porzingis is coming off an ACL injury that took him out for over a year of action, I think Porzingis will do perfectly fine with a piece like Luka next to him that compliments his style of play. Another guy to look out for in that Mavs lineup is Dwight Powell. Powell was one of the best pick & roll finishers last season with the Mavs and could easily make a difference for this Mavs team. Overall this team is most likely going to be the most dangerous teams in the pick & roll/pick & pop, but I do think the lack of depth is going to hurt them early on and be the reason they aren’t considered a playoff team. But say they start clicking and some of these other top west teams start dealing with injuries, I see the Mavs finding their way back into the playoffs once again. 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Mistry: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mavericks claimed that 7 or 8 spot in the West. I think most of us have forgotten how good Kristaps is and it will be interesting to see Luka Doncic can do in his somphomore season. They’ve got some good pieces in Dwight Powell, Delon Wright & the reacquisition of Seth Curry, who pretty much proved he could compete as a pretty good guard in the NBA last season, backing up Damian Lillard. It’s going to be interesting to see how the team will operate without Dirk’s presence and experience in the locker-room, but don’t count out Dallas this year. 

Singh: I’m giving the edge to the Dallas Mavericks. Luka Doncic is about to take the next step in his career, which could include an All-NBA team appearance. However, it’s not only Doncic that’s looking to take the next step in his career. There’s a long list of players on the Mavericks roster that are still young and establishing themselves as NBA players. Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, Delon Wright and Jalen Brunson all have the potential to grow into prominent roles within the Mavericks system. Some, specifically Powell, began to do that last year. The question mark for the Mavericks is the health of Kristaps Porzingis. It’s already been said that they’ll manage Porzingis’ load and ease him back, but how much can the Mavericks afford to rest their prized 2019 trade deadline acquisition. The Mavericks can squeak into the playoffs, but they need to be smart when choosing the games they rest Porzingis, specifically early in the season when West teams can fallout of the dog fight quickly. 

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Staley: Sacramento could sneak into the postseason next season because they already have a good, young nucleus to build on. Under the radar, Buddy Hield averaged over 20 points per game. De’Aaron Fox also had a solid year as he averaged 17.3 points per game and 7.3 assists per game. With Harrison Barnes returning and Marvin Bagley continuing to grow, there’s no reason the Kings can’t make the postseason even in a tough Western Conference.

 

There has been a lot of discussion about tampering and how it’s at an all-time high. Recently, Jared Dudley spoke to Ethan Strauss of The Athletic about the issue and though he agreed it’s reached a boiling point, he believes there’s no resolution. Does the League have a, “tampering problem,” and if so, what can be done?

Goins: Yes, tampering in the NBA does exist, but it’s practically impossible to enact any legitimate punishments league-wide when everyone is participating in it at some capacity. For instance, how do you prohibit a team from talking to their own incumbent free agent’s player agent, who just so happens to represent an outside team’s free agent you want to pursue? Or how do you prevent a newly-retired Dwyane Wade, for example, from becoming an all-world pitch man for an NBA organization, which seemed to really help convince Jimmy Butler into forcing the Philadelphia 76ers into a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat? It’d be senseless not to backchannel and gain any sort of inside track prior to the free agency negotiation period being lifted. This is the new age of player recruiting and front offices following suit within the outskirts of the rules. While I’m sure it will be a topic of major discussion during the next CBA negotiations, I don’t see how the NBAPA finds any common-ground that takes away from allowing players the extra freedom to position themselves into better situations.

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Jager: Tampering is indeed a widespread issue currently in the League right now. But I don’t think players coming together to team up would be considered major tampering, cause it’s the players being players. But when teams and their management talking to players in trying to lure them to their team, especially when that player still has multiple years left on their contract with their original team, then does it become a problem (i.e. Anthony Davis and the Lakers). I’m not absolutely sure there is a perfect solution to all of this, but there need to be some adjustments to the rules, especially with free agency. I’ve seen many articles saying how the league should allow teams to talk with players right after the draft or even earlier, which I wouldn’t mind. That would also prevent a hail storm of teams trying to talk with players and signing them as fast as they can in the midst of the chaos (even though us the fans love it). The league is quite aware of the issue and I’m confident they’ll find a solution that will improve the situation throughout the league.

Mistry: The concept of tampering and the issues that come along with it have definitely become more publicized in 2019. It really has become a players league, and players can essentially pick and chose where they want to play now. With AD and PG both moving this summer, it is evident that players can do what they want. Can the League stop tampering? Probably not. At the end of the day, these players are going to operate as per usual. Players are going to talk to one another & the idea of teaming up / joining forces and playing in a city together. If a player doesn’t want to play for the organization you operate, do you really want that player playing for you?

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Singh: The only resolution to this is allowing teams to speak to free agents as soon as the NBA Finals concludes. Other than that, I see no resolution. Players are going to speak to other players during their day-to-day lives, and conversations about teaming up or future contracts will happen. Organizations and player agents have conversations as well, which can’t be controlled. The key to all this is players know what they want, and they know how to get it. Can the NBA stop that? I don’t think so. This is a player’s league and it isn’t changing anytime soon.

Staley: I’m not sure what the League can do to solve this problem. Agents talk to teams prior to the start of free agency to generate interest and that isn’t going to change. To be quite honest, I’m not sure if there’s anything the league should do about this. Free agency in the NBA was must-see TV as there were a ton of eyes glued to their phones waiting to see where their favorite player may go. 

Walton: The League has always had a tampering problem, but social media has added gas to those flames. The best solution that may help teams and players moving forward is to start free agency right after the playoffs. This will give teams the opportunity to legally do early courting of free agents before the draft. It’d also help teams properly construct their draft boards.

 

Team USA invites continue to fly off the shelves only to land in the family hearth. Why do you think there’s such little interest from players in the FIBA World Cup this year? 

Goins: I believe most fans don’t realize what kind of commitment playing for Team USA actually is. This is the first year that FIBA has pushed the World Cup to take place a year prior to the Summer Olympics. In an offseason where nearly 40 percent of the League was a free agent, it’s difficult to expect the League’s best players to commit six weeks away of their summer in back-to-back offseasons, especially for a tournament that doesn’t have the same stakes in it on as the Summer Olympics. Despite being the weakest Team USA since 2004, the U.S. is still overwhelming favorites to win the World Cup with its stripped-down, young standout roster, which honestly should give this group some much-needed experience. Expect the veterans to return to Tokyo, Japan in 2020.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Jager: I don’t think the FIBA World Cup has the flash and appeal that say the Olympics would have. But I think the biggest reason players would be backing out would be to preserve their athletic health. This upcoming season is looking to be one of the most competitive we’ve seen in a long while, especially with a wide-open race for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, so it doesn’t surprise me that these All-NBA level players are taking a step back to train and preserve their health for the upcoming season. We’ve seen players get injured too during Team USA runs, such as Paul George back in 2014 who was injured during an intrasquad match before the 2014 FIBA World Cup. I don’t blame these players at all and completely understand why they’re declining invites. What does excite me is that there are younger players in the league that will be getting a chance to represent the United States, as well as get to work with great coaches like Gregg Popovich during their development.  

Mistry: I think there’s a big focus on the upcoming season with their being no clear-cut winner to claim the Larry O’Brien. The off chance of getting injured in this tournament can be detrimental in aspirations to winning a championship. Staying home from the tournament means these players are more focused on building more chemistry with their teammates as opposed to representing their country. With the league being shaken up by free-agency, it is important to make sure all players on a team are on the same page before everything starts back up in October.  

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Singh: I think the players are thinking the same as fans and the media in that the NBA hasn’t been this wide-open in a long-time. While the Western Conference will be the tougher of two conferences, there really isn’t a favorite in either the West or East. For that reason, players have turned their attention to preparing for the season rather than the FIBA World Cup. The FIBA tournament being so late in the summer (Aug. 31 – Sept. 15) makes it tough for players who want to be rested, healthy and prepared for their teams training camp. We are heading towards one of the most entertaining NBA seasons in quite some time, and the players know the window of opportunity is there for the taking.

Staley: I think with players changing teams and focusing on trying to get healthy, the interest has gone done a ton. However, I expect several superstar players to still play in the Olympics because it is a huge deal. However, the FIBA World Cup just doesn’t move the needle as much. 

Walton: The interest is waning because they want their performance windows as wide as possible. We’re entering one of the most competitive seasons in quite some time, and everyone wants to be healthy and clicking on all cylinders. These guys have pretty much played basketball since they’ve been walking. The more time they can squeeze off, the better it will be to make deep playoff runs and avoid running out of gas. Guys also understand their contracts and incentives more than they ever have. When you consider that, it’s just more of a priority to reap the benefits of their in-season success compared to what they can achieve with Team USA.