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 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:

Esfandiar Baraheni: Shoot Your Shot Podcast, host

Shaun Geddes: The Knicks Wall, contributor

Joseph Gill: Consultant, mercenary analytics

Molly Morrison: Grizzly Bear Blues, writer

Richard Stayman: Mavsdraft.com, analysis

 

Looking at the All-Star returns, who is the player not listed in the top 40 in voting that should be? Who are the fans snubbing the worst? 

Baraheni: Has Oklahoma City decided not to promote their players for the All-Star Game? The fact that neither Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Danilo Gallinari cracked the top 10 for their positions in votes does a disservice to how well they’ve been playing for the Thunder through the first half of the season. Let’s focus on Chris Paul for now.

Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Paul is a nine-time All-Star but hasn’t appeared in the All-Star Game since 2016. That is partially as a result of injuries, but this season Paul has been far from hobbled. His true shooting percentage this year is the fourth highest in his career (59.9) and through games played up until January 13, Paul had 103 clutch points this season (games within five points in the last five minutes), which is 20 more than the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine at second. Aren’t fans supposed to love clutch players?

This is in addition to the Thunder sitting fairly comfortably in seventh in a stacked Western Conference. Most people thought they would be having a yard sale with their players (including Paul!), so there is really no question that he should be at least in the top 10 in voting. 

Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Geddes: With Alex Caruso and Steph Curry in the top-six, it feels like every guard in the West is being at least slightly snubbed. The worst case of negligence however, would have to be DeMar DeRozan. He is currently leading the Spurs in scoring and assists, averaging 22/5/5 with a true shooting percentage of 60. And the Spurs have been playing much better basketball as of late, due in large part to his performance. 

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Gill: I think it’s a crime that Montrezl Harrel’s nightly high-floor, high-ceiling performances haven’t caught the common fan’s admiration yet, but by that logic, Rudy Gobert not even being included in early returns is a full-on felony. Gobert’s ability to act as the tide that raises all boats on the defensive end is well-known, yet Rudy always seems to get short-changed on the offensive side in the national media narrative due to his low usage rate. However, almost any high-efficiency player is surplus-value in basketball, especially when the attention that player demands on dives and around the rim forces defenders into dilemmas like few players in the league. The Jazz go from a team that shoots 53.4 percent from two when Rudy’s on the court, to 49.4 when he’s on the bench. When factoring out Gobert’s two-point attempts, the other four players he shares the floor with shoot 49.5 percent. One man is the difference between the fifth and 26th best two-point shooting team in the NBA this season. Though their conspicuous height makes it easy for casual fans to discount the technique and intelligence of the elite class of dive men around the rim, but the comparison can be made that dive men in the NBA are still undervalued, similar to players who draw a lot of walks in the pre-Moneyball MLB. While a simplistic analysis would say that the dive man scores his baskets off of defensive breakdowns, high-efficiency dive men demand tags and sags from opposing defenses, and more often than not find themselves on the winning end of a possession-by-possession war of attrition waged on the collective mental sharpness of their opponents when the final buzzer sounds.

Morrison: If I had to pick someone, I’ll say Andrew Wiggins. He’s having a career year by stretching his hand out to the 3-point line, scoring more points and doing it efficiently. 

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Stayman: There’s really only two correct answers, and it’s either of Devonte’ Graham or Malcolm Brogdon. With Brogdon’s injury sidelining him for several games, I will lean toward Graham in this situation. Graham is probably the most improved player in the most literal sense, but at a minimum, he will receive several MIP votes this spring. Brogdon has efficiency on his side, but the Hornets have surpassed season expectations already, even with the recent slump they’ve entered, and Graham is more deserving of recognition for leading the Hornets early on.

 

Assuming only one player from each conference could be an All-Star that hadn’t been one previously, who deserves to make it most from both conferences?

Geddes: West—If Brandon Ingram is not an All-Star this year, I will clone myself and we will riot. He has elevated his play to become a legitimate No. 1 option and a star before our very eyes. Averaging 25/7/4 on 48/41/87, he fully deserves the All-Star nod this year.  

East—Despite the Hawks being a disgrace to Dr. James Naismith on a nightly basis, this has to go to Trae Young. He’s putting up 29 points and 8.4 assists a night and seems to pull off a nutmeg at least once a week. He’ll be tons of fun to watch on Sunday. He may even end up being a starter. 

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Gill: There’s really no need to reinvent the wheel here: Luka Doncic (sorry Rudy!) and Trae Young are the clear choices here. Even as a serial critic of Luka and counting stats in general, there is no basis to deny a player who is currently averaging 29/10/9 an All-Star bid. The All-Star Game isn’t a place for the level of nitpicking and scrutiny I hold high-usage players to. It’s a time to celebrate the game’s biggest draws and Luka is already among them. As far as for Trae, I hate to once again resort to counting stats, but 29/5/8 is likewise too strong to deny. Yes, the Hawks are 8-32, but their anemic offensive rating of 91 when Trae is out of the game is more than 4 points per 100 possessions worse than the lowest team total of Philly’s The Process Era, and makes the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons (ORtg, 100) look like the Showtime Lakers by comparison. Considering the Rose Rule now gives these All-Star appearances economic weight for rookie extensions, keeping Trae out due to his support casting’s offensive impotence would be cruel.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Morrison: For the West, let’s go with Devin Booker. He hasn’t yet proven himself to be winning player, which is likely why he hasn’t been voted in in years past, but one can easily attribute that to him being a young, improving star surrounded by weak teammates. He’s an elite scorer who’d be fun to watch. For the East, I’d say Pascal Siakam deserves it. He’s taken over a team who lost its best player, stepping into Kawhi’s leading role quickly and powerfully. He’s a dominant two-way player and a league fan favorite. 

Stayman: I understand that winning is important to receiving an All-Star bid, but Trae Young really deserves a spot this year. He’s going to flirt with averaging 30 and 10, but somehow he isn’t an All-Star because of the rest of his teammates not stepping up? That’s unfair to Young, and he’s an exception to this “rule” that has been set. In the West, the answer is much easier: Luka Doncic. I’ve had the privilege of watching just about every game of his this season, and he outdoes his previous outing almost every time, and his stats support that. Before the Mavs began their fall back down to Earth, Luka Doncic was an early candidate for MVP.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Baraheni: There are numerous players that deserve to be first time All-Stars this season but none of them have turned heads quite like the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and the Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam. Although it’s not saying much, the fans know it as well. Doncic is second in votes in the West behind LeBron James and Siakam is third among frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference. 

“Halle-luka” has made a case for being one of the, if not the best 20-year old in League history. He’s broken numerous records this season and has joined the elite company of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Michael Jordan as the only players since the 1983-1984 season with at least four consecutive of 30-plus points and 10-plus assists games. Luka-magic will and should be in All-Star games for the foreseeable future. 

As for Siakam, it was absurd to imagine that a player could make an even bigger leap than he had already made in his career. Spicy P has soared past his trajectory and become a viable number one option on one of the best teams in the East. Siakam missed 11 games for the Raptors, but that actually helps his case. With him out, the Raptors dropped from 5th in offensive rating to 18th. The All-Star game needs some flavour and Spicy P has a way to provide it. 

 

Halfway through the season, who is the Defensive Player of the Year? 
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Gill: Bam Adebayo is the next progression in the changing landscape of what is possible to ask of a defensive center. While already known as a solid perimeter defender, Draymond Green became one of the best defenders in the 2010’s via his ability to defend opposing centers in the post (second-lowest defensive post-up PPP in the League in 2015-16, among players with as many possessions) while not offering much in traditional rim protection. For the 2020’s, Adebayo is quickly emerging as one of the first centers to provide both weakside blocking, a decent amount of traditional rim protection, and the ability to stay with guards and wings on the perimeter in isolation situations. Individual defensive analytics are messy, as the shot clock determines the best two things that can be consistently asked of a defender on a possession-by-possession basis—general offensive deterrence and general denial of a shot attempt, and the tracking data we have on Bam is incredible. Adebayo has been attacked the fourth-most in the NBA in isolation, but has only conceded 0.72 points per possession in those tracked possessions. In his 15 tracked isolation possessions against Harden, Dinwiddie, Lavine, LeBron, Antetokounmpo, or Anthony Davis, he has yet to concede a made basket and only committed one shooting foul. Even though these numbers are less useful than offensive ones, there are few players in the NBA who could hold those six players to without a basket in isolation over even just 15 possessions. The effects of having a big man who can effectively switch against even the best perimeter players in the NBA means Adebayo is a safety blanket for teammates. Bam is one of three Heat players to post a defensive rating of 105 on the year, making him a defensive anchor.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Stayman: Before the injury, I would have said Jonathan Isaac. Isaac flirted with a 5×5 twice in under 35 games while anchoring the Magic defense. Without Isaac in contention, it’s Anthony Davis. He’s anchored an elite defensive team and has shut down some of the best frontcourt players in the league on multiple occasions. AD is also second in blocks per game while also being top 15 in steals per game. It’s Anthony Davis’ award to lose at this point.

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Morrison: There are several players who you could argue (Davis, Gobert) but I’ll play it safe and go with Giannis. He completely dominates on both ends of the court. If he doesn’t get MVP again (which he might), he could easily win DPOY. 

Baraheni: If you put Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis in a room, blindfolded someone, and spun them in a circle multiple times before they were forced to point towards one or the other, you would get a player worthy of winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award. This is one of the only years in recent memory where I truly believe the award should be given to two players. Both average over a steal and  block per game with Davis averaging over two blocks per contest. Giannis has been more impactful to the Bucks defense (DRTG of 102 with him off the court and 98 with him on) and has helped them to the No. 1 defense in the NBA, while Davis has helped the Lakers to the fourth best in the League. However, at this point, both players are deserving of the award. 

Geddes: I’d like for this answer to be “The Lakers bigs” because they’ve absolutely overwhelmed their opponents in the paint this season. In a game against Detroit on January 5th, they swatted away a whopping 20 shot attempts. It was actually quite terrifying. Since I can’t nominate the group, I’m going with Anthony Davis. This decision is admittedly due to more than just his individual impact but as the anchor of such a staunch defensive front, he gets the nod here. 

 

Has Philadelphia reached a place where they need to deal one of either Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons? If so, which one do you move on from?

Morrison: It may be time for this duo to split up due to the lack of spacing needed to be a good offense in the halfcourt. It would be best to deal Ben Simmons for a guard that is capable of spacing the floor and is able to utilize Embiid in pick and roll/pop scenarios. However, a concern with Embiid is that he may be too injury-prone.

Oscar Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Stayman: I don’t think it’s a dichotomy of Simmons or Embiid; I think their roster construction is the bigger glaring flaw. Simmons’ lack of a jump shot hurts his case, but he’s an elite defender and does just about everything besides shooting at a very high level. The Sixers need to be active before and around the deadline before deciding the fate of Simmons/Embiid. Additionally, the court tends to shrink come playoff time, and if Simmons has a better postseason than last year, I think this conversation dies down. Get a roster that complements the Sixers stars, then revisit the discussion.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Baraheni: I understand the notion that from a purely basketball point-of-view, an oversized guard who can’t shoot doesn’t pair easily with a big-man who clogs up the paint. I’m not ready to call it quits on Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as a tandem though. I think the problem lies more or less in their supporting cast and the inability to shoot the ball. The Sixers know that; there’s been rumors circulating they’re looking for more perimeter shooting and playmaking on the wings. But if I hypothetically did want to trade one of them, it would be Embiid. Although he’s definitely the more dominant offensive player, he’s shown to be injury prone and wouldn’t fit in the long-term picture of a franchise I’d want to build. I feel like in today’s NBA, it’s easier to surround a player like Simmons with shooters (similar to what Milwaukee has with Giannis) and free up space in the paint for Simmons to hopefully become a dominant presence. 

Geddes: I believe this Sixers team is fully capable of winning the East. However, I’ve said this before. Their defense and length should translate very well in the playoffs this season. Another early exit may force them to shake things up though. Due to obvious health concerns, Embiid may be the one to move. IF Ben Simmons eventually shakes the fear of his shadow and starts shooting jumpers, I remain confident that he can terrorize the League for many years, but let’s say he doesn’t. If you surround him with shooters and play uptempo in space after moving Embiid, he can thrive with a team built around him. He’s also a Swiss Army knife defensively and the ability to play him at multiple positions remains a novelty. 

Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Gill: Sometimes drastic action is necessary, and trading a perennial MVP candidate in Joel Embiid would surely qualify as drastic, but it is the prudent route in this situation. While the narrative has quickly changed as Al Horford’s play at power forward has been underwhelming considering Horford’s $109 million contract he signed this summer, many are quick to forget that Horford was originally lauded as prudently allocated “Embiid Insurance” by many pundits and fans alike. Signings like Horford’s are needed when committed to a player like Embiid for two reasons. First, when building a team around a player who has missed 23 percent (and growing) of his team’s games in the last three regular seasons, insurance isn’t an option, it’s a necessity, and big man insurance is expensive. Second, the archetypes of players Embiid needs to thrive in the post are both expensive and scarce, which taps the cap resources of a team looking to build around a post. In theory, wings who can both shoot and score at a high efficiency while also providing secondary creation are the answer, but those players almost all demand max contracts. Factor in that these players are certain to experience some form of efficiency decline as Embiid’s defender often is able to sag freely at the rim, making shots at the rim both less efficient and more scarce. These combine to make the idea of a platoon system for the offensive scheme the 76ers run that’s predicated on whether Embiid is in or out of the game infeasible in a sport with a salary cap. To commit to space, pace and 3s like Milwaukee has done around Giannis means the sxith, seventh and eighth men on a team need to be able to shoot and defend in the playoffs. By comparison, Philadelphia simply can’t afford both Embiid’s needs and Ben’s, and the bench is where Philadelphia is forced to penny-pinch. The 76ers chose an awful time to shoot 30 percent from 3 over a three-game stretch, but the fact that James Ennis III’s 2 for 4 from 3 supplied the only player to shoot above 31 percent on more than two total attempts off the bench was not helpful either. Back-to-the-basket big men have consistently been a losing bet since the 3-point revolution took over, and the opportunity cost of wasting valuable seconds off the shot clock trying to work in a post-entry, all while clogging up the lane and turning attempts that would otherwise be at the rim into 15-foot and longer pull-ups, is just too great a price to pay for teams these days. Add in the vampiric effect of Embiid’s lane-clogging has on the rate and efficiency of his teammates’ shots at the rim against well-run defenses, and the fact that posting up is far more of a matchup-dependent variable of basketball than a matchup-independent one (such as pick-and-roll actions or shooting open corner 3s), and it’s not hard to see how Joel’s salary could be better allocated. When considering that Embiid’s $27.5 million dollar salary is greater than those of Brook Lopez ($12.1 million), Joe Harris ($7.7 million), and Christian Wood ($1.6 million) combined by more than $6 million dollars, the idea of building a Giannis-esque high pick-and-roll scheme around Simmons (1.06 PPP in PnR actions these last two seasons) would take very little effort. The most impressive part about Simmons’ high pick-and-roll efficiency? Embiid is last in the NBA in PPP in his possessions after receiving a pass as an on-ball roller this season, among 31 players with as many possessions, and was second-to-last among 34 players with the same criteria in last season. Embiid is imposing and puts up a lot of production numbers, but his play-style goes literally against every offensive macro NBA trend of the last decade, and that’s when he’s even healthy. The biggest strike against Simmons is his shooting, but Giannis was one catastrophic cold spell from normally reliable shooters away from going to the Finals while being as poor a shooter as Ben.

 

Finally, this feels like a year where we’ve heard a lot of, “X isn’t getting talked about enough”—be it a team, player or storyline. So, with that in mind, what is the No. 1 NBA related topic not getting enough play on social media?

Baraheni: Somehow, the NBA has collectively forgot that Markelle Fultz was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft. To go even further, it seems like they’ve given up any hope that he could be a genuinely productive player in the NBA. In his first full season with the Orlando Magic, Fultz is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists and shooting better than he ever has. While that’s not saying much, it does seem like the hate was louder in Philly than the praise has been so far in Orlando. To top it off, after searching for what seems like a decade, the Magic may have finally found their point guard of the future. Fultz can be special, he only needed time. 

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Stayman: I’ll go back to something I brought up earlier. Jonathan Isaac’s play got virtually no coverage. I get that the Magic don’t receive much national attention unless they are a top four seed like the days with Dwight Howard, but what Isaac was doing before injury was the beginning of a path to greatness on the defensive end. He has fought health issues since entering the League, but once he begins to stay healthy, he’s going to be known for being one of the League’s best on the defensive side. One other Orlando comment to add: Evan Fournier also does not receive enough recognition for his tremendous season. He had a flukey shooting season last year, but his shot has returned to form, and he’s carried the Magic offensively several times this year.

Geddes: Domantas Sabonis is averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds a night and no one is saying a word. The Pacers are top 5 in the East before the return of Victor Oladipo. Maybe Indiana just isn’t fun to talk about? 

Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

Gill: This is a big talker on parts of NBA Twitter, but the fact that Brandon Clarke is producing at the level he is after free-falling to the 21st pick in this summer’s draft should make every team that passed up on him embarrassed. His efficiency is already world-class, as his Points Per Possession clocks in at the borderline-unthinkable-for-a-rookie mark of 1.23. Out of players with at least as many possessions of him this season (337), that number ranks second out of 163 players in the entire League, barely missing out on the No. 1 spot to Duncan Robinson by 0.01. No reasonable person would’ve anticipated that Clarke would be 16 for 39 from 3 so far this season, but after shooting 71 percent from two on the year (and 66 percent during Gonzaga’s Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament), 66 percent against NBA competition was certainly within the cards. On top of all this offensive production, his defensive rating is among the lowest on the Grizzlies among regular rotational players. Sure, front offices can point to his age (turned 23 before the season start), his lack of floor-stretching ability, and his 6-8 height that makes him slightly undersized at power forward as reasons why they passed over him. But, at the end of the day, 16 teams, a number dependent on how you view draft-day trades, directly passed on Clarke, and every other team except Memphis indirectly passed on him when they were unwilling to trade into the late-first round to snag him. A rare prospect that the numbers and the eye test were in complete agreement on, and he wasn’t taken in the top 20, gifting the Grizzlies a perfect complement to their emerging superstar center.

Morrison: As a Grizzlies blogger and lifelong fan, I may be biased, but the Grizzlies scraping their way into playoff contention while being led by two 20-year-olds is pretty spectacular. One hilarious and underrated storyline is that Andre Iguodala literally refused to play for this team because he wanted to be on a playoff team. Now Iggy is sitting on his couch while Memphis fights for a playoff spot. Sure, Ja’s highlights are frequently sprinkled all over social media, but this Grizzlies story itself isn’t being talked about enough.