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:
Tobias Bass: The Raider 88.1, host
Chris Crouse: SLAM, contributor
Anthony Halkias: Sports Illustrated WVU, contributor
Adam Papageorgiou: Penny and Pops Podcast, host
Josh Weinstein: The Score, NBA editor
Looking around the League, which team currently has the worst franchise player?
Bass: For me, I would say the New York Knicks, simply because they don’t have a franchise player. Many fans would say Julius Randle or RJ Barrett, but are they really franchise players that make your team better? The answer is no. Rumors have been circulating that the Knicks would be open to trading Randle, franchise players don’t get traded at 25 years old. As for Barrett, he does some things well, but I’m not totally sure what he is. He’s very inefficient, currently shooting 39.3 percent from the field, 32.9 from behind the arc, and a whopping 60.3 percent at the charity stripe. I also wonder what is his ceiling? How much better will he get and will that translate to winning or will he be the king of empty stats.
Halkias: Oh man, that’s difficult because you could spin this in so many ways. I’d have to lean with Julius Randle of the Knicks. The Knicks are a train wreck and he’s the current “franchise star.” It’s going to be R.J. Barrett’s team soon enough, but for now, Randle holds the reins as the worst franchise player in the League.
Papageorgiou: That’s tricky to interpret because some teams don’t have a ‘franchise’ player. My initial thought was the Knicks and R.J. Barrett. Even though he’s shooting under 40 percent midway through the season, Barrett is still only a rookie and Knicks fans deserve hope. My pick is Detroit and Blake Griffin. Griffin’s body is unfortunately failing him at only 30 years old. Griffin was an All-Star last season. He got Detroit into the playoffs as the eighth seed and Griffin’s body paid the price. Detroit at a minimum thought they’d be a playoff team again this season. Griffin has only played 18 games this campaign, averaging 15.5 PPG on a career-worst 35.2 field goal percentage. He is coming off knee surgery last April, only to still experience issues with that same knee all of this season. That’s scary when looking at the remainder of his career. Now it appears the Pistons may be ready to tear the team down (trades could be coming for Drummond and Rose) and start from scratch.
Crouse: You can put an earring on a pig in Charlotte and call it a franchise player, but the Hornets simply don’t have one. Devonte’ Graham is having an explosive, yet inefficient season. P.J Washington has outperformed his draft status and Miles Bridges has improved from his rookie campaign. Yet, none of these options are near true franchise guys, so by default, Charlotte has the worst situation.
Weinstein: A franchise player is someone who’s considered the best player on their team and someone an organization feels comfortable building their future around. By that definition, Nikola Vucevic on the Magic fits the bill. Orlando isn’t exactly a hotbed for free agents, which is surely why the team elected to lock him up on a long-term deal this past offseason. But they can’t actually believe Vucevic leading the way is going to bring them anywhere close to legitimate playoff contention. Essentially, the future Orlando has locked itself into is one of mediocrity with the big man leading the charge.
After a very tumultuous week, it appears Kyrie Irving is on a hot streak of sorts. Who was the last player you remember causing this level of outrage on a quote-to-quote basis?
Bass: I think the past 12 months has been one of the most interesting/quotable moments for athletes. We started off the summer with Antonio Brown’s feet issues that led him to forfeit over $40 million due to his antics. Soon after, he gets released which led to even more insanity via social media and music videos he created. Heck even enrolled in college. A few months later Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield starts to chirp about former teammate Duke Johnson: “You’re either on this train or you’re not.” This is the same guy who has more commercials than he does touchdown passes. He also was seen on video cursing out fans and criticizing refs for his bad play.
Papageorgiou: Ron Artest? Allen Iverson? Dennis Rodman? I think Kyrie Irving still wins. The consistency is remarkable, and the subject matter comes out of nowhere almost each time. I don’t know if any NBA player has ever triggered this much uproar on this many occasions as Kyrie has these past few years. Social media plays an enormous role in this as well, and Kyrie isn’t doing himself any favors there as well. I hope he’s doing this just to spark a reaction from the public rather than it being a serious reason such as from a mental health perspective. The Nets should be concerned. On the court, Brooklyn is a worse team than last season. Yes, they have Kevin Durant potentially being ready next season, but Brooklyn probably didn’t expect that they’d be the eighth seed in the East with the chance of completely missing the playoffs. Is Kyrie getting along with his teammates? If not, those issues won’t go away when Durant returns.
Crouse: This is a tough one. Maybe Metta World Peace, though he didn’t inspire as much outrage as he did sheer awe. You might have to go to the NFL to find a recent example of a player with the combo of Kyrie’s following and PR gaffes: Odell Beckham Jr.
Weinstein: I’d say Dwight Howard back in his Orlando days. It got pretty awkward with Stan Van Gundy towards the end, culminating with that cringe-worthy media session that’s hard to forget. Fortunately for Howard, he’s worked hard to restore his image this season in his second stint with the Lakers.
Halkias: I’d have to go with Kevin Durant or LeBron James, when they both left their drafted teams. Irving is still a game changer in this League and I’m looking forward to watching them run it back in Brooklyn next year with a healthy Durant.
Of the three Boston Celtics in the running for All-Star—Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Kemba Walker—who is most deserving of a slot?
Bass: Jaylen Brown is the most deserving of the slot, he won’t make it as a starter because how the NBA struggles to label players at the right position when voting and won’t get enough popular votes from fans. However, Brown is having a great season averaging 20 PPG, 6.8 RPG, while shooting 49 percent from the field, and 39 percent from three. Most players after they get their first big contract usually fall back to the pack as far as their production, but Brown has improved in every statistical category and needs to be recognized.
Crouse: All three deserve consideration but Kemba Walker has had the best season to date. He’s putting up his usual numbers while showcasing efficiency and more importantly, the ability to play top-notch, winning basketball.
Papageorgiou: I’m going to guess that this coming after the Kyrie Irving question just now is not a coincidence. It’s floor general Kemba Walker. Walker is averaging the most points per game of that Boston trio, and it seems that anyone affiliated with the Celtics prefers Kemba over Kyrie as this franchise’s point guard. Walker’s style of play benefits the entire Celtics roster, and is a big reason why Tatum and Brown are back to playing the way folks expected them to after the 2017-18 campaign. Kemba is shooting as well or better than his career bests in field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.
Weinstein: I’m going with Kemba Walker. Jaylen Brown is certainly in the running for Most Improved Player, while Jayson Tatum has taken another step forward in his own right. But Walker’s presence has noticeably changed the culture of this Celtics team, as it appears from the eye test and players’ comments throughout the season that this group is far more of a cohesive unit than they were last season with a certain someone leading the charge. Walker is also producing impressive numbers and serves as the team’s best individual offensive creator.
Halkias: This is difficult, I’d lean with Jayson Tatum. I’ve watched a lot of the Celtics this season and Tatum is the guy down the stretch, he’s a difference maker. The other two, Brown and Walker, are fantastic. For my team, if you gave me a choice, I’d want it to be randomized because I don’t want to have to make that decision. They are all three so unique.
On a panic scale of 1-10, where are you on the Sacramento Kings young core a year after they thought they’d turned the corner?
Bass: Right now I’d say a 7 or 8. They have had key players injured all year, De’Aaron Fox goes down twice, Marvin Bagley has only played 13 games due to injury and Bogdan Bogdanovic has been battling injuries for the past two weeks. Not to mention his name has been circulating around trade rumors. They haven’t been able to find an identity, the Dewayne Demond signing has fallen short and will likely be traded soon. They just traded Trevor Ariza, young assets, and picks for Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver. They seem to be stuck in neutral trying to figure out who they are and who to play in certain moments. They have the talent to make a run for the eighth seed but so far it has been a rough year and they can’t seem to win a few games in a row consistently.
Crouse: Nine on the panic scale. What’s the best-case scenario for this group long-term? The De’Aaron Fox-Buddy Hield backcourt has been a disaster this season and through two years in the League, Marvin Bagley has been an inconsistent cocktail of injuries and flashes of All-Star potential. If it hadn’t been for Richaun Holmes this season, we might be looking at a Sacramento team with a league-worst record.
Halkias: I don’t really know what to make of them. I feel like De’AaronFox has turned that corner and even Buddy Hield looks solid. They will just take some time, I’m not really worried about them. I still think they could be good in the next couple of seasons.
Papageorgiou: Six. Injuries play a large factor in this being fairly low. De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley have missed large chunks of this Kings’ season. Their young talent is not the issue. The big problems come with their veterans and some of the unwise acquisition moves that did not pan out (Ariza and Dedmon to name the obvious ones). Their other three big scoring contributors are not so young though. Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all 27 years old, effectively entering or in their primes. If Fox and Bagley can remain healthy the majority of the second half of the season, the bottom half of the West is so sub-par this season that the Kings could still grab that eighth seed. Injuries to Fox and Bagley have made this campaign a wash so far, but the next season they 100 percent have to turn the corner.
Weinstein: Both Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox missed a ton of time this season with injuries, so I’m not hitting the panic button on the Kings just yet. It’d be one thing if the team was struggling when they have with all their core pieces on the floor, but that hasn’t been the case. Give this very young core some more time.
The Milwaukee Bucks are 39-6, with the League’s best net rating (+12) by a large margin (Lakers are second at +8.4). What sort of odds would you need to lay down every dollar in the bank on the Bucks winning the title this season (1-1; 2-1; 10-1)?
Bass: The Bucks are really good, but I wouldn’t bet anything on this team this year. I’m willing to guarantee the Bucks will not win a championship. Yes, they have the Greek Freak and he has improved his perimeter scoring from a year ago, but they are missing something. Kris Middleton is a nice player a former All-Star, but Milwaukee needs another star along with these two. They don’t have enough firepower to beat the Lakers or Clippers four times in seven games. We have seen this story before, young team that overachieves in the regular season, really wants to show the rest of the League they belong until they run into the older more experienced team that rains on their parade. If I were the Bucks, I would try to make a trade for a better point guard like Chris Paul, a veteran guard would give them composure and leadership when things breakdown. Eric Bledsoe is a fine player but is not a championship point guard.
Crouse: All the money? 10-1 at least. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Bucks win it all but despite Milwaukee’s domination this season, this isn’t a perfect team. It’s nitpicking but the wing rotation stands out as an area that could be improved. An upgrade from Wesley Matthews in the starting lineup would make me feel much more confident, though even with Donte DiVincenzo’s expanding his game, there’s no answer on the roster. Sterling Brown isn’t it. Neither is Pat Connaughton with his non-existent range. And should we really trust 38-year-old Kyle Korver or 33-year-old George Hill to carry a sizable load through 16 playoff wins? Again, this team is great but if I’m putting down all of the money, I want a slam dunk and this seems more like a finger role from the foul line albeit one in Giannis’ hands.
Halkias: This is easy, absolutely nothing—how could I put money down on a team I don’t believe is capable of winning a title yet? They are a piece away still, and let’s not forget that Kawhi Leonard is still really good at basketball. I’m not saying that Giannis couldn’t dominate and lead the Bucks to a title, but it’s not what I’m expecting.
Papageorgiou: 25-1. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in basketball. I’m always going to support my Greek guy, but I don’t trust his supporting cast. Losing Malcolm Brogdon has not factored in yet, but they’ll miss him in the playoffs if Eric Bledsoe and George Hill don’t rise to the occasion. Can you rely on Donte DiVincenzo and Wes Matthews? Is Gianni and Khris Middleton enough? I’m not so certain. Milwaukee should cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals. Yes, they don’t have Kawhi Leondard to worry about this time there, but if their ECF opponent is Boston or Philly, I would give one of them the nod to advance to the NBA Finals. If Milwaukee even makes it to the NBA Finals, they’re likely looking at Kawhi’s Clippers or LeBron’s Lakers. Again, I’d trust them over Milwaukee.
Weinstein: I would need at least 50-1 odds to lay down all the money in the bank, and even that’s pushing it considering the unpredictably of this sport we love. Also, I’m a semi-retired betting man after some bad beats, so that certainly factors in. The Bucks will only go as far as Giannis Antetokoumpo can take them, and after seeing how Kawhi Leonard neutralized him last postseason, I have a hard time believing that won’t happen again if the two teams face off. Even if they don’t meet the Clippers, seven-game series are an entirely different animal than the marathon regular season, especially when it comes to scheming against an opponent’s strengths. That makes betting the house on Milwaukee a risky proposition for me.