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 week, 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:
Eli Bashi: Piston Powered, contributor
CL Brown: CLBrownHoops, founder. NBA freelance
James Costa: 1130 AM WDFN The Fan, host
Jelani Scott: Blue Man Hoop, contributor
Deyscha Smith: Boston Globe, sports writer
With the first week of the 2019-20 NBA season come and gone, what’s your one big takeaway?
Bashi: The first week of this year has shown, pretty much what all NBA fans were thinking going into this season. Predicting the NBA champion this year is not going to be as easy as it’s been in previous years. There’s no insane super team that’s going to be able to dominate the League. There has never been a time where the NBA has been on a more level playing field like it is at the moment. It’s been on display so far with teams like the Clippers, Lakers and Bucks all showing that they are indeed vulnerable and are able to be beaten. The era of super teams is over, and the era of the dynamic duo has begun. Most every contending team has at least two players you could call a star. LeBron and AD, Kawhi and PG, Simmons and Embiid, etc. This season is going to be an unbelievable ride and may the best duo win.
Brown: The course for Milwaukee and Philadelphia meeting in the Eastern Conference finals isn’t as clear as I thought it would be. I could even make the case the road to win the East still goes through the North. The way Toronto’s Pascal Siakam has played so far, maybe Kawhi Leonard was just holding him back. I’m kidding of course, but Siakam’s 27.5 scoring average has eased a lot of fears of a swift and precipitous fall for the Raptors.
Costa: Trae Young is a bad man and could push Atlanta ahead of schedule. Young started slow last year but he caught on late scoring 23 per game for the final three months. After leading the country in points and assists in college we’re now seeing that translate to the NBA. He dropped 38 points in the opener against the Pistons by droppings six three pointers and getting to the line twelve times. Followed it up with 39 two nights later in the Hawks home opener. He’s second in the NBA in scoring and his game built to sit near the top all year and the Hawks have a cornerstone player that makes them more than a fun League Pass team. Assuming the ankle injury isn’t to serious, is it too early to start thinking All-Star team?
Scott: Don’t look now but Giannis Antetokounmpo is only one more summer away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, making it super important for the Milwaukee Bucks to keep their superhero happy the next two seasons. Adding Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Giannis’ brother Thanasis to the bench mob, in the wake of losing Malcolm Brogdon, might be enough to appease the reigning MVP for now, but when I look at this team I still see a glaring problem in the starting lineup. Once an exciting young player full of hustle and athleticism, Eric Bledsoe has slowly regressed in his two-plus years with the Bucks. Through the first three games this year, Bledsoe is averaging 11.7 points per game, shooting 36 percent from the field (20 percent from 3) and hasn’t displayed the same high two-way IQ that helped him breakout in the League (3.3 fouls a night).
After going 2-of-4 from three in the season opener against the Rockets, Bledsoe has shot 0-6 the last two games, which speaks to the recent trend of him shooting poorly as the season goes on, particularly come playoff time. We all know that rotations shorten greatly in the postseason, and as the team’s arguably third-best player, I’m not so sure if Bledsoe can be relied on in heavy minutes anymore to provide spacing for a slashing Giannis. Couple his shaky shooting with the fact that the Sixers now have the perfect lane-plugging, Giannis-containing frontcourt in Joel Embiid and Al Horford, and the Bucks might need to deal Bledsoe while he still has some value for a guard with a better shooting touch. My idea? Not saying it’d be 100 percent ideal, but I heard Chris Paul (42 FG percent, 50 3-point percent) wanted to play with Giannis; just sayin’.
Smith: It’s going to be a long, 82-game season, but the drama is already here and so far, the underrated teams are putting on a stunner. The Suns beating the Clippers and Booker taking on Patrick Beverley. The Knicks beating the Bulls. Trae Young’s 30-plus point performances. It’s way too early to tell who will keep the momentum going, but it’s been an energetic start and I’m enjoying these teams making a statement.
Unfortunately, for fans everywhere, Zion Williamson is going to miss some serious time but outside of him, this rookie class has already shown a fair deal of promise. Which rookie has impressed you most early?
Scott: The Charlotte Hornets won’t be winning many games—as if they ever have historically, anyway—but watching the development of P.J. Washington should be a treat. In his two years at Kentucky, Washington shot 1.4 3PG and made them at a 38-percent clip, numbers that don’t scream “deep-range threat.” And then, in his first game as a pro against the Bulls, Washington decided to say ‘forget all of that’ and set the NBA record for 3s (6) made in a career debut. The 6-7 rookie power forward is one of nine players in the League—none of which are rooks—who is currently shooting at 50 percent or better from downtown on at least 5.5 attempts per game. Amongst his fellow newbies, Washington ranks first in 3-point makes and attempts (11-of-22), third in minutes (33.3) and rebounds (6.8) per game and sixth in points per game (14.0). In short, the kid is shining for a franchise in need of promising talent for the future and, as a former Charlotte resident, I’m happy to see it.
Brown: I think Ja Morant had possibly the most impressive single game against Brooklyn with a clutch, game-tying shot in regulation and then coming up with the game-clinching blocked shot on Kyrie Irving. Those two moments were huge statements. But I kind of expected Morant to make a splash in the League. I did not see Kendrick Nunn having this kind of impact for Miami. Small sample size, yes, but he’s shooting over 50 percent from the floor, over 40 percent from 3-point range and his 22.3 points per game is likely making the clock tick faster on Dion Waiters’ remaining time with the Heat.
Costa: Barrett and Morant are going to the big names to watch but how is this answer anything but Kendrick Nunn? What’s more impressive than an undrafted player leading all rookies in scoring? For the record he’s also 4th among rookies in assists per game. It says a lot that Spo trusts him to be a starter right out of the gate. He’s making the most of the minutes available with Jimmy Butler out of the lineup.
Smith: The Zion news definitely hurt. As far as most impressive rookie so far, I’m torn between Ja Morant’s electricity and Kendrick Nunn setting a scoring record as a rookie on the Heat. When Morant stuffed Kyrie Irving and lifted the Grizzlies into overtime, finishing with a 30-point performance and nine assists, that was a statement game. The way he attacks the rim is so fun to watch, along with his competitive energy and seeing him talk back to Kyrie during the game.
Meanwhile, Nunn is breaking records. He has 67 points in 3 games, which has been unreal to watch. He dazzled in the preseason with his preseason-record-breaking 40 point game against the Rockets, and he’s currently ranked 22nd in the League in scoring this regular season. Nunn is a certified bucket.
Bashi: I expect the common answer to be Ja Morant or Coby White, but I’m going to stray from those just because they were expected to be contributors this season. I’m going to go a different route and show love to a guy who I think has the potential and is already showing signs to be an elite defender in this league, Matisse Thybulle. This guy is an absolute pest on defense and I witnessed it first hand against my Pistons. He gave the Pistons’ guards fits trying to score on him. His length, motor, and IQ on the defensive end of the ball give him the ability to lock down any guard or wing. As for on the offensive side, he needs to work on his shot and becoming a better finisher, but his defensive stats will jump out at you and make you say “wow.” On a Sixers team that, in my opinion, lacks depth at the wings, if he can develop his offensive game, he has the chance to be a special two-way player in this league.
Andre Drummond started the year off right, the highlight being a 32-point and 23-rebound game in a win against Indiana. Where does Drummond figure in to the current landscape? He can opt out after this season and his contract seems like a tough gauge. Is he a top-25ish player worth offering a max contract?
Costa: Drummond’s game is prehistoric. We talk a lot about the Pistons on the show and there is this perception that I hate Andre. I don’t. He’s an elite rebounder. Since he was drafted he has 33 20-20 games. DeMarcus Cousins is second in that time frame with 15. He’s dominant but it’s in an era where that has never mattered less.
The biggest problem the Pistons (or any other team that pays him) will be floor spacing. He can’t shoot even a little. It’s hard to justify spending a max on a guy who doesn’t complement Blake and clogs the paint for others. While other bigs have evolved, Drummond has not. Good player for 1999; not 2019. Additionally, I don’t think you can win a title giving him the max.
Scott: For years, I’ve been of the belief that, even with the overwhelming demand for floor-spacing bigs in today’s game, there’s still a need for the “dinosaurs.” Drummond is perhaps the League’s best and truest example of a throwback-era big man who can impact the game inside the 3-point line. He’s agile, smart, strong, persistent and he can run the floor, a tantalizing package of skills for a 6-11, 280 pounds center, and still just 26 years old. With that said, do I think he’s worth the full-max for the Pistons? Yes, because he’s been their best player—outside of a healthy Blake Griffin—and they are not a destination so you have to keep a guy like Drummond around. However, I don’t believe any other team should offer him the max because, given how limited his offensive skills still are, I don’t think he’s the first or second-best player on a contending team and those are the guys that command big dollars.
I envision Drummond as the third best player on a team with the two versatile scorers like the Clippers with Kawhi and PG, Nets with KD and Kyrie, Blazers with Dame and CJ, or even the Celtics with Kemba and Tatum. They can do their thing on the perimeter and Drummond can gobble up the boards, stuff in putbacks and muscle in the occasional hook shot. I actually heard a rumor about the Warriors dealing D’Angelo Russell for Drummond, and I like the idea, but only if Klay returns as close to himself as possible. A Curry-Thompson-Drummond-Green “Big 4” would be scary in all areas of the floor.
Smith: My thoughts on Drummond and where he stands on the team is all about consistency. The win against the Pacers was the boost he needed, and if he continues to perform like that, especially against other teams with dominant centers, then I’ll make an evaluation on his max-player potential. It was just a season opener and I need to see him put up solid numbers to show that he can hang in today’s league. His 32-point performance did that, but let’s keep it going.
Bashi: As a Pistons fan, I can say a lot about Andre Drummond. He’s one of, if not the greatest rebounder of all time. While most casual fans would say that’s all he can do, he has worked himself into becoming one of the NBA’s best defenders at the center position. He was only one of two players to average 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals last season, next to a guy who shares his initials. His instincts for getting steals and his improved rim protection are big reasons why there’s even a discussion about offering him a max contract. He’s likely never going to become a decent shooter from the outside, and the question is, do you want to pay a guy who can’t shoot, over $30 million? While the Pistons have struggled to break from mediocrity, one constant has remained: When Andre Drummond is on his game, he is borderline impossible to keep off the glass and impossible to score on. His biggest knock as a player, coming from someone who’s watched pretty much every game since he came into the League, is definitely his mental fortitude. If you can get into Andre’s head as an opponent or if he gets in foul trouble, it’s usually a long night for both Andre and the Pistons, and so far this year, he’s already had one of those games. The game against Indiana where he had 32 and 23 was Andre in 100 percent focus mode. The Andre against Philly (without Embiid), was Andre in foul trouble who never got into the game mentally, but still put up a respectable 13 and 12. While he’s the best free agent by far in the 2020 summer, unless the Pistons have a great year, it’s hard for me to see a world where Andre gets paid a max contract. He’s a guy who I could see being a third or fourth option on a championship team, if he gets that opportunity. Maybe he could fleece some team for a max deal, just hope he lives up to it if it happens to be my team, but look out this year because Contract Year Dre is coming.
Brown: Drummond is solid and there’s something to be said for that. He may be a bit undervalued in general, but I think he’s overvalued his worth in expressing his desire for a max contract. We’ve seen plenty of players bet on themselves before, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in a different uniform next season. But even in a potentially weak free agent class this summer, I don’t see him getting the big payday he’s after. Sure, he’s led the League in rebounding the past two seasons, but he’s an average scorer who can’t do much away from the basket. In today’s game that just doesn’t merit the type of deal he’s looking to sign.
Kyrie Irving had a sensational performance against Minnesota last week, coming just shy on what would’ve been an all-time game winner. What’s the most memorable missed shot you can think of in NBA history?
Scott: “Curry for 3” has haunted the dreams of many NBA stars over the last five years but the shot from him I always think about is the miss over Kevin Love in the closing seconds of the 2016 NBA Finals. The butterfly effect that shot would have created would have massively shaped the League for the next decade-plus, in my opinion. That shot goes in and that game likely goes to OT, which likely means the Dubs prevail in front of their raucous crowd, leaving the Cavs ring-less and LeBron on the losing end of another Finals. Kevin Durant likely either stays in OKC or goes to the Lakers (maybe to eventually be joined by James or another star?) since the Warriors won without him, the Cavs possibly pull of a complex trade to send away Love and bring in Paul George or Jimmy Butler and Kyrie plays out the rest of contract in Cleveland before becoming a FA in 2019. What could have been, am I right?
Bashi: The moment that popped into my head right away is from the 2016 Cavs-Warriors Finals. Game 7, around 30 seconds left, Steph Curry gets the ball with Kevin Love guarding him and gets absolutely locked up by K Love. Curry created a minuscule amount of space with a few crossovers and let the 3 fly and bricked it badly. This is probably what popped into my head because of the impact of that shot. That shot came right after the Kyrie 3 over Curry to give the Cavs a three-point lead. You’d think that Curry would have been able to shake a big man like Kevin Love and get a quality shot away, but alas, he couldn’t, and the Warriors, if you don’t already know, blew a 3-1 lead. Cleveland, that 3-1 joke was for you.
Smith: Kyrie’s performance against Minnesota was, in my own words, a statement game as well. That missed shot was a bummer but should not sour his performance. With that, the most memorable missed shot that comes to mind would be Larry Bird’s missed 3-pointer in the 1987 NBA Finals loss to the Lakers. I used to watch old NBA tapes growing up, and this shot always stuck with me: Bird nailing a 3 with 13 seconds left to give the Celtics the lead. Kareem Abdul-Jabar missing that free throw. Magic’s skyhook shot and Bird, with two seconds left, going for another 3-pointer and it bouncing off the rim. Legendary rivalry, and Bird’s attempt would have been a legendary shot if he would have made it.
Brown: I should probably go with something like Patrick Ewing’s missed finger roll against the Pacers in 1995, but hear me out. Vince Carter’s missed 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals. I’m choosing this just because if that shot goes in, I think Carter’s trajectory changes and his legacy would be different now. He would be remembered for more than just the Half-Man, Half-Amazing highlights and currently for being the indefatigable ironman. I think believe he would have carried the Raptors past Milwaukee, like Iverson did Philly, and into the 2001 NBA Finals. That hysteria we just witnessed up North could have taken place nearly two decades sooner.
Costa: I’m going back to 2001. Game 7, second round of the NBA playoffs: Vince Carter misses a jumper at the buzzer to send the Raptors past AI and the Sixers. If that shot goes in maybe Vince Carter gets to play in the NBA Finals. That was his final playoff game as a Raptor, too. Ouch. I think Toronto fans are probably over it now.
Last week, ESPN had their staff rank LeBron James’ top 15 all-time teammates. Sticking on that theme, which multiple time All-Star has been most blessed with a competent supporting cast?
Smith: LeBron was definitely the first to come to mind but next, I would say is Steph Curry in all his 3-point shooting superiority. He has had such an ideal supporting cast in my opinion and Kevin Durant should win an Oscar for most supporting role. The Warriors are beatable, the recent loss against the Thunder proved that, but it also showed how reliant they are on personnel. Curry is one of the greatest shooters of all time, but I don’t think he can take on the weight of tallying points all season alone to solidify a wins. Russell is an added bonus and I definitely think without Thompson and Durant, Curry needs backup.
James Harden also came to mind given Chris Paul and now with Russell Westbrook this season. It’ll be interesting to see how those two mesh together personality-wise.
Bashi: This is probably going to make me look like a complete hater after the last question, but Stephen Curry has probably had the best supporting cast that I can think of out of any current NBA stars. In the beginning, he had Monta Ellis and David Lee, before the Warriors became the dynasty they became. All credit to the Warriors for how well they’ve drafted and developed talent over the years to create that dynasty. The guy is the best shooter of all time and he has the second best shooter in the League as his backcourt mate. To add on to that, he had guys like Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston coming off the bench, two guys who could have been starters on other teams. And of course Iggy winning a finals MVP doesn’t hurt his case either. Then you get into Draymond, a DPOY and the heart and soul of the team, and of course, a top 3 player in the League in Kevin Durant. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Warriors do this season, and how Steph performs this season with arguably his worst supporting cast in over six years due to injury and the departure of Kevin Durant.
Brown: I almost feel like this is a trick question. Doesn’t it have to be Stephen Curry? Maybe his rise would have happened on any roster, but the Warriors’ building around him through the draft put Klay Thompson and Draymond Green around him. That’s a combined eight all-star honors between Thompson and Green for those counting at home. I don’t even have to mention the Kevin Durant years with Golden State—although I imagine Durant might also be a candidate for being “most blessed” too.
Costa: First name that pops into my head is Kevin Durant. Made an NBA Finals with two future MVP’s (Westbrook and Harden) and went to the Finals three more times with two time MVP Steph Curry. I can’t imagine many guys have had three different MVP teammates. Throw in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Serge Ibaka and Andre Iguodala. Let’s see somebody beat that.
Scott: You could argue that the “Lob City” Clippers were loaded with enough talent to make (and perhaps win) a Finals but the Warriors added KD to Curry, Klay, Draymond and Iggy for two seasons. Not to short-sell my answer but, if I said this on Twitter right now, I’d finish it with “That’s it, that’s the tweet.” The conglomerate that was that Warriors’ run will likely never be matched again and, when you look at the key names involved, it’s hard not to say that Curry, a six-time All-Star and the 11th player in NBA history to win consecutive MVPs, has had the most help. Piling on Curry and Golden State feels like the “in” thing to do right now but it’s something I’ll never do because I’m a huge fan of his. It’s just that no other current star has added a Durant-type player to their squad and made an already successful situation even more lucrative. Some may disagree but those are the facts.