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 300 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 six dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:
David Astramskas: Ballislife, content developer
Colin Connors: Raptors Republic, writer
Farbod Esnaashari: The Sports Daily, contributor
Bryan Fonseca: Nets Daily, contributor
Jeff Johnson: Bleacher Report, video producer
TJ Macias: D210 Sports, reporter
Dirk Nowitzki made some interesting comments about Kevin Durant’s constant interaction and objection with the average social media user. Nowitzki, who has always been incredibly light-hearted and has had no problem making or enjoying a joke at his own expense, is likely being quite genuine in his sentiment. However, Nowitzki came up in a different era and doesn’t get the same barrage of knuckleheads knocking on his virtual door night-after-night. What do you think about Durant’s continued concern with the commentary surrounding his career and specifically, him taking issue with CJ McCollum’s gang metaphor?
Astramskas: For better or worse, Durant seems to care a little more than most about everything. I think his high sensitivity is what made his MVP speech so memorable and why he has been so generous with donations to schools, programs and disaster recovery efforts over the years. It’s the reason why he was just named the NBA Community Assist Award recipient. I also think that sensitivity is what made his 2015 All-Star rant about the media (You guys don’t know [expletive]. Y’all not my friends, etc.) so memorable and why he sounds so defensive or like an ass on recent podcasts appearances, like Bill Simmons (What’s up Blog boys?) and CJ McCollum’s Pull Up.
But I don’t believe there’s any issue or beef between CJ and KD. KD recently raved about CJ on Simmons’ podcast, was having fun throughout CJ’s podcast (that most people didn’t bother listening to) and will be appearing on another one in the near future. For what it’s worth, I posted a recap of the “beef” and said people were overreacting to it and got a “Like” from CJ too.
Like Dirk and most people born in the ’70s, I wouldn’t spend a second of my spare time arguing with kids and online “tough guys” via Twitter, IG DMs and especially burner accounts. But, I also wouldn’t drink Scarlett Johansson’s bath water, which is something KD once tweeted he would do. He also once tweeted, “Twitter is better than goin to da club.” And this is why I don’t take anything he says on Twitter seriously.
Connors: Considering Kobe Bryant’s twitter discourse with journalists and fans alike this past year, I don’t think this topic can entirely be chalked up to era. It’s more of a case by case situation, and Nowitzki is a special one, to say the least. There likely hasn’t been a player since Bill Walton who visibly loves the game more. However, Nowitzki is unique in that despite all his accolades, and the criticism that comes with it, he is as affable as a golden retriever. As for Durant, he is nothing if he isn’t authentic. In an era where everyone—and not just athletes—wears a false cloak of invincibility on their social media, Durant is never afraid to show his insecurities. Optics aside, that’s refreshing. In the holy Lee Jenkins feature on Durant post-finals this year, Durant touched on his struggle to find the fulfillment he anticipated a championship bringing, his love to debate hoops, and how he grew up in a household where good-natured, insult-ridden discussion is the norm. I’m no psychologist, but that conflicting combination is likely at the root of his social media happenings. The McCollum interaction is a non-story, in my opinion. If you listen to the whole podcast it’s clear they are simply friends having a good time, and their comments since the twitter back and forth suggest that as well. Durant is human and doesn’t hide it. I think basketball fans should try to appreciate that more.
Esnaashari: It’s funny because Kevin Durant reminds me of a lot of my immature friends. The ones who say “I don’t care about this argument,” but in actuality they care a lot. Personally I think whoever has to proclaim that they don’t care about something, or talk about their accomplishments, are the ones who care the most, or are the most insecure. In 10-20 years from now I can see Kevin Durant realizing he was handling the situation wrong. I think he should let his game and continued amazing charity work do the talking on his haters, unless he wants to willingly be “the bad guy” of the NBA and admit it, instead of saying statements like “I took the hardest road.”
Also, in regard to the different eras, Dirk just grew up in a harder era. When I say harder I don’t mean in the physicality of basketball, I mean mentally. Durant is born in the same generation as me, where people are softer and care too much about every little thing. Dirk is from an older era where he understands how to take things on the cheek, accept the situation for what it is, and move on.
Fonseca: You would think (even hope) that once you’d reach a certain point of achievement, you’d very easily grow an ability to not give a (expletive) what others think. Unfortunately, in the case of Kevin Durant, regarding whether or not he has developed such an ability, it is a resounding “nah!”
It’s cool, he simply can’t let go. But in doing so he’s revealed to all of the many internet trolls, a large percentage of whom seemingly live on social media, that he still pays mind to what peons believe of him at an alarming rate.
Evidently, Durant is as great as he is insecure, and that’s okay. He’s human, he has feelings and even he isn’t above engaging with Twitter eggs on a regular basis, or private accounts on an Instagram comment section, even from that of a burner account, which we’ve learned. I’m all for a good clapback, y’all deserve it on occasion, but sometimes, especially in the position of KD, you’ve just got put your phone down and let your game do the talking. And what, one other dude on the planet has more game than him?
Although, in his defense, as sure as I’d like to think many of us would be quick to disregard faceless commentary catapulted in our direction if we were ever fortunate to reach 10 percent of KD’s status, I can’t guarantee that. KD was born in 1988, he’s a millennial from my generation (though older), and his actions are an exact representation of what many others do on a far lighter scale. The difference, though, is that he’s Kevin Durant. Hell, he might be reading this for all we know…
Johnson: In this age of instant communication and social media, you have to ensure that your words get misconstrued. These athletes have distractions and scrutiny unlike any other athletes in any era. So, I get why KD would overstress contextual accuracy for his comments, but he can’t have it both ways. When you create burner accounts and comment frequently on social media chatter, you leave yourself open to more criticism. The first rule of Twitter is don’t react and he breaks it with ease. Then again, he might be trolling and genuinely enjoys the back and forth. Who knows!
Macias: While I believe Durant’s constant concern with his image is actually hurting it, I won’t complain about the outlet he uses to release tension revolving around his sensitive ego. I mean, c’mon, the man has given us gold when it comes to his seemingly delicate nature–I’m pretty sure I said “I just did your f***in podcast” at least three times this past week. And once to my own dog for the hell of it after she went to the bathroom in the house. KD claims he scrolls through social media comments because he “enjoys interacting with fans” when in truth, it all comes down to him satisfying his own egotistical demons by attempting to squash them in order to make himself feel better. The man had burner accounts to boost his own ego, for f***s sake.
Nowitzki did come up in a different era, but I don’t believe that has anything to do with it. Nowitzki takes criticism with a grain of salt these days and is absolutely sure of who he is on and off the court. While no one doubts that Durant is a basketball force of nature, psychologically he appears to be swimming in a shallow pool of insecurity, which is why he plays right into average internet trolls’ hands.
With Clint Capela safely secured and Carmelo Anthony on the way, are the Rockets in a better position to beat Golden State than they were last year?
Macias: All the pieces seem to be falling into place with Houston in terms of re-signing Capela and getting Anthony and this will also be Harden and Paul’s second year together after a season of figuring each other out. The Rockets went 42-3 when the trio of Harden, Paul, and Capela were on the floor together. But the Warriors have already planted themselves firmly inside the heads of the Rockets and it has festered into a full-blown obsession which doesn’t really leave them in a good place mentally. The Dubs are the Rockets’ white whale and while Houston has strengthened their pantheon, they will still continue to play the doomed role of Captain Ahab.
And we all know how that story ends.
Astramskas: Mike D’Antoni said, “The worst we are going to be is great.”
FS1’s Rob Parker said, “Too many cooks can spoil the ham hocks.”
I think Melo is going to spoil the ham hocks in Houston. I also think the Rockets best chance to beat the Warriors was last year, when Harden and Chris Paul were on a honeymoon, Clint was playing for a contract, Gerald Green had his usual “why was I not on a roster” streak, and Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute were on the roster. Even though Ariza ended last season by missing 28 of his last 36 shots against the Warriors, I rather have him and Luc on this team than the man who made Mike D’Antoni leave New York.
I’m also not a fan of CP3’s contract and don’t think Clint is happy about his.
Connors: Over the years, Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey has built up enough goodwill to earn the benefit of the doubt in virtually every scenario. But on this occasion, he may have “upped his risk profile” a tad too much. With Mike D’Antoni and two Hall of Fame point guards at the helm, they’ll be elite offensively regardless of the supporting cast, but against Golden State, you need to be better than elite—you need to be all-time. While they were historically great last season, it doesn’t seem as certain this year based on their offseason moves. Anthony’s innate need to score threatens to disrupt the delicate hierarchy they’ve so eloquently built. Considering many of Anthony’s struggles last season stemmed from his inability to create against stagnated defenses (a stagnation he oft creates) and he is going from the team that was second lowest in passes per game to the only team that was worse in that category, then it’s probable this season’s iteration will be much the same.
Additionally, the loss of Trevor Ariza’s shooting and instincts, while slightly overblown, will be felt. His chameleon-like ability to camouflage himself into any lineup was borderline essential to how they play. Perhaps more troubling is the defensive end as the Rockets run a switch-everything style that tempts the Warriors into attacking perceived mismatches. This brings their egalitarian offense to a screeching halt in favor of low-pass contested isolations. In this past year’s series, in the games they lost, the Warriors isolation possessions more than tripled their season’s average, and their passes per game nearly fell below their coveted 300. They didn’t look—or play—like the Warriors. That defensive style is contingent on elite long-armed wing defenders, which they lost two of in Luc Mbah a Moute and the aforementioned Ariza.
While the newly acquired James Ennis III is no slouch on that end, he isn’t elite, and Golden State’s knack for targeting poor defenders would make Anthony almost unplayable in a series. Unless multiple players take leaps defensively, Chris Paul becomes the Carmelo-whisperer and Ennis turns into a marksman overnight, it seems inevitable they take a step back. For NBA fans’ sake, I hope I’m wrong.
Esnaashari: I don’t think they’re in a better position to beat Golden State this year. In my opinion, they had Golden State’s number last year. If Chris Paul didn’t get that injury, I truly believe they would have beaten Golden State in six games. Offensively they’ve always been a great team, last year was the first time they were also defensively great. It’s not that adding Carmelo hurts the team, it’s that losing Ariza and Mbah a Moute hurts a lot defensively. Those two both did one specific role and they were terrific at that 3-and-D role. There’s a reason why Vegas reported Houston to have a worse chance at winning the championship now. If the team can figure out a way to flip the Ryan Anderson contract and get more defensive players, then they’ll be in an equal position to last year.
Fonseca: I’m somewhere between, “I guess” and “they’d better.” I say “I guess” because they missed a million consecutive threes at the end of Game 7 and although the now departed Ariza missed about 75 percent of those on his own, the Houston Rockets were still a Chris Paul hamstring injury away from perhaps earning an NBA Finals berth, with an odds on shot at becoming the 2018 Champions.
I say “they’d better” because, well, if not this year, then when? Paul may have signed a max deal, but he’s another injury away from becoming a trade piece in NBA circles over the next two years. You would think that Anthony would help but he’s reuniting with Mike D’Antoni. He’s already withholding an insatiable desire to be in the starting lineup—even though he’s better served as a sixth man at best at this point. And furthermore, what’s really going to be demonstratively different about his role in Houston in comparison to his one with Oklahoma City?
I think Houston has as good a shot as they did a year ago, but that may come at the expense of a disgruntled Melo somewhere down the line, at least as it appears on the surface.
Also, while Golden State looks primed to return, I’m not sleeping on the Lakers, man. I just can’t. Not with that dude on their team.
Johnson: It’s weird, because for what they’ve gained or retained (Melo, Capela), they’ve lost key pieces too (Ariza, Mbah a Moute). So, in a funny way, I think they’re in the same position as last year. They still have the reigning MVP and a HOF point guard, and a HOF scorer eager to rewrite the narrative that’s besmirched his career as of late. Let’s not forget they had the Dubs dead to rights last year, but ironically, died by the same offense that knighted them with the No. 1 seed. If they return to the WCF, and hit those threes, they have great chance to beat Golden State.
Which Western Conference team that made the playoffs last year will most likely miss the postseason in 2018-19?
Johnson: The T-Wolves. There’s too much turmoil arising from Minneapolis to give me confidence that they’ll return to the postseason. In-fighting, future uncertainty for long-term deals, and Thibs regimented schedules wearing down players makes betting against the Wolves an interesting one to take.
Macias: I’m going to say OKC even though they had some interesting additions this offseason, including Dennis Schroder, who will be a backup for Russell Westbrook. But what’s that clash of egos going to look like? Not pretty, but hilarious.
And then you have Nerlens Noel who will want to prove that he can produce a phenomenal season and was a steal of the summer (if not the steal of the summer), but the smell of hot dogs coming from the media room during halftime will be entirely too tempting for him.
Connors: For years now analysts have picked them, and over and over they’ve proven them wrong, but I think the year has finally come that Portland misses out. While seemingly every team in the western middle-class improved, Portland lost talent in key bench contributors Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier. Davis could be found in virtually all their best lineups, and his loss limits their frontcourt versatility as most of their remaining big men are slow-footed and redundant. Napier, on the other hand, a forgotten man of sorts, was this season’s Fred VanVleet lite—consistently closing games as one of the League’s top bench guards. Unless multiple young players make a leap (which isn’t unheard of in Rip City) this will likely be the shallowest bench they’ve fielded in years. Furthermore, despite what their No. 3 seed would suggest, they were far from elite from a point differential perspective—which is generally a better predictor than win-loss record of a team’s actual talent. They simply pulled out more games that could have went either way than prior years as their close game winning percentage rose to .500 from .407 in 2016-17 (per TeamRankings.com). If Damian Lillard had hit a few less timely shots, it’s very possible that the Blazers would’ve missed the playoffs entirely. With them losing depth, the West improving, Jusuf Nurkic no longer in a contract year and the natural variance in pulling out tight games, it seems entirely logical that they drop to their usual mid-low 40’s in wins from the inflated 49 this year. I doubt that’s enough in the loaded West.
Esnaashari: If the Timberwolves lose Butler, then they’re going to miss the playoffs. That team relied so heavily on Butler to close out games and barely clawed their way to the eighth seed. I still don’t really believe in that team and feel like they’ve under-accomplished. Maybe they can figure it out next season, but they definitely should be a lot better.
If the Wolves keep Butler, then I’m going to say the Pelicans miss the playoffs this year. Anthony Davis has never played a full season in his entire career, and it’s really going to hurt the Pelicans when he misses time this year. Basketball is such a momentum-based game, that there’s a high chance the Pelicans lose all momentum once AD misses time. Anthony Davis wasn’t the main reason why the team did so well last year, it was the cumulative effort of the team: Jrue, Moore, and Rondo. Davis plays well every year, and they didn’t make the Playoffs the other years. This year is really going to come down to Jrue, Moore, and especially Randle.
Fonseca: If I had to guess (that’s what we’re doing here ain’t it?), I’d have to unfortunately say Portland or Minnesota, more so the latter by virtue of my faith in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as a backcourt. They’ve earned much more of my trust than Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler Andrew Wiggins and a team led by Thibs. I simply think that one or both of these teams may underperform—and somebody has to because the LeBron Angeles Lakers are getting to the playoffs—causing a potential mid-season deal, with a casualty coming in the vein of McCollum for Portland or Butler for Minnesota.
If I gave you a choice of Giannis Antetokounmpo or Anthony Davis to build a team around, who would you choose?
Fonseca: Two years ago I would’ve had a little more trepidation siding with Davis in one of these type of discussions only because of his injury history, but I’m rolling with AD. Ain’t a damn thing he can’t do, and now with DeMarcus Cousins out, we’ll see more of the 30 points, 12 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.0 steals Davis averaged after Boogie suffered his season ending injury. Even before that, Davis had been going nuts.
That said, Giannis developing a consistent jumpshot from three would possibly alter this argument for me, especially with the apparent new muscle he’s packed on this offseason, but until then, it’s Davis for me. He’s the prototype of everything the new NBA big man is supposed to be. If he had Nikola Jokic’s passing, forget it.
Johnson: The Brow. He has the skills of a guard in a center’s body, is a versatile talent on the defensive end, and has improved range from deep. He’s a walking quadruple-double waiting to happen. Giannis is rising in stardom, but his lack of a consistent jumpshot as of now helps sway me to Davis. If Davis can remain healthy, his ceiling will be higher than the roof.
Macias: I was going to be juvenile and say Anthony Davis because I can actually spell his name without looking at it but have you seen Antetokounmpo’s freaking transformation Was he bitten by a freaking radioactive spider during the offseason? Did he go swimming in nuclear waste? Did he eat Mike Bibby in his spare time? It’s insane when you look at the photo of him at the gym with his brothers, but it’s also insane how he manages to improve his performance every season. With the Bucks, he averaged 26.6 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.8 assists this past season and he will only get better.
Astramskas: The sugar rush of seeing that photo of Giannis in the gym with his fellow Antetokounbros makes me want to say him. Besides gaining two inches of height and over 30 pounds of weight since he was drafted, he adds 10 points to his scoring average every two seasons. I’m not saying he’s going to be a 7-1, 300 pound small forward averaging 36 points a game in 2019, but I do think he’s going to continue to rise on NBA Fantasy draft boards and he’s one of the most likable guys in the NBA. He was also Steph Curry’s first pick in the All-Star draft and I think almost every player not named Jabari Parker would love to play with him.
With all that said, I’m taking Anthony Davis, who has gained over 75 pounds since he was a 6-2, 15-year-old point guard. I wish he was happier about playing the center position, but he’s a 25-year-old quadruple-double threat capable of putting up 60 points. And here’s what he recently told Complex about former teammate Boogie Cousins: “He’s the enemy. Anybody who’s not on the Pelicans is an enemy to me. He went from a teammate to an enemy.”
Yep, I’m going with The Brow!
Connors: There really isn’t a wrong answer to this question. Davis is a better rebounder and rim protector, but Antetokounmpo is the superior facilitator and perimeter defender. The advanced stats are essentially a wash, and you’d be lying to yourself if you said one had a physical advantage over the other. It’s like a bonus multiple choice on the final exam where all the answers have to do with enjoying your winter break. However, gun to my head, I’d take Davis. He’s slightly more efficient, he’s only a year older, and his plus/minus was double Antetokounmpo’s this season. Additionally, his ability to stretch the floor means he can fit amongst other star level players more naturally than Antetokounmpo. Many will say that if Antetokounmpo can add a consistent outside shot then he would be virtually unguardable, but there’s no guarantee that ever happens. In contrast, Davis already has a passable three-pointer that improves each year. Antetokounmpo probably has the higher ceiling, but Davis seems more likely to reach his.
Esnaashari: I’m going to have go with Giannis. Based off of pure basketball skills I would choose Anthony Davis. However, I consider availability a skill set, and Giannis has a much better injury history. Giannis has played 393 of 410 (96 percent) games in five seasons; he’s never missed more than seven games in a season. Davis has played 410 of 492 (83 percent) games in six seasons; he’s missed more than 10 games in a season four times. The two are so similar stat-wise that I’m going to have give the edge to Giannis because of his availability, despite Davis being the more complete player.
Also, I believe the 3 is a much more important position than the 4 in the modern NBA. When you look at the best NBA teams in the last eight years, they either have the best 3 in the League or have the best player at defending small forwards. The position is now a Swiss Army knife, they have to: cut, shoot threes, play the point, guard point guards. It’s why the Clippers were never able to get over the hump during their entire Lob City era. They never had an answer for Kevin Durant, LeBron James, etc.
David Astramskas suggested that perhaps Vince Carter chose the Atlanta Hawks in part to be closer to the TNT studios, positioning himself for a full-time TV job following his NBA career. Great take aside, it led me to the following: If you were going to rebuild the TNT Inside the NBA crew for the next era, who would your four-person panel look like?
Esnaashari: Blake Griffin, Draymond Green, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash
Griffin has fantastic comedic timing, and would just make the show hilarious. He can play both the straight man and the sarcastic man.
Green is the guy who would just speak his mind, very similar to Barkley. He could do some great trash talk and be the guy you hate on the show.
Bryant is the very serious guy with championship experience as “The Man.” He looks at the game from a competitive and distinct point of view that pretty much no NBA player other than Michael Jordan does. He has experience being the leader, being the villain, the hero—he can look at the game from so many different perspectives.
Nash is one of the smartest basketball players of all time. He’s able to analyze the game in a way that very few NBA players can. He also has great comedic timing and can play off any of those guys.
The 4 of those guys give a combination of IQ, personality, comedy, championships and different positions.
Fonseca: If we’re going with soon-to-be retirees, I’m keeping Ernie Johnson and putting his three NBA sidekicks: Dirk, Richard Jefferson and Jason Terry. If the Vince Carter story is true, he can take Terry or RJ’s spot. Dirk stays—I need to laugh.
If we’re going with recently retired players, I’ll take Chauncey Billups, Nate Robinson and Al Harrington to come over from the BIG3.
If Ernie Johnson is out, I’ll volunteer myself to take his place. In the event y’all shut me down (likely to happen), then try getting Doris Burke to defect over from ESPN.
To quote Russell Westbrook: “Why not?”
Macias: Dirk Nowitzki, so he can sit there and make old man jokes.
Kenan Thompson playing LaVar Ball cause duh.
Rajon Rondo, so he can challenge guests to a Connect Four fight to the death.
And Doris Burke so she can shut everyone the hell up.
Astramskas: Shaq and Charles Barkley get renewed. As much as some hate the two former unicorns who don’t get called unicorns enough, I love the bickering and acting (Shaq always said the NBA stands for Nothing But Actors) between the two, so I’m keeping them on. They also gave us the classic “San Antonio women eating Churros” and “Nachos are cold at the Phoenix Arena” discussions. If you haven’t seen them, please go to YouTube and watch them because it’s my two all-time favorite moments from Inside The NBA.
Jamal Crawford. All you have to do is name a person, place or thing and he can give you an informative and entertaining five-minute story. Like Vince, he has so many stories because he’s played with or against fathers of current players. The issue with Crawford is he has no plans of retiring anytime soon. So I guess I’ll go with Vince if Crawford is still chasing Nat Hickey’s record of being the oldest guy (45) to ever play in a NBA game.
Gary Payton. I’ve done a few interviews with the current BIG3 coach and he can switch on a dot from hilariously roasting a player to seriously breaking down their game to telling a heartfelt story about their background and ending it with a funny comment that’s usually a variation of “I would shut his ass down.”
Kendrick Perkins. No explanation needed.
Connors: My no-brainer first pick is Jared Dudley. The guy just exudes charisma. Even listening to a monologue about his favorite San Diego restaurants is captivating. He’s never afraid to keep it real and he’s played just about every role in the League, which gives him a unique perspective. Second, I’d need JJ Redick. He’s uber intelligent, well-spoken, and can take things in stride. Any regular listener of his podcast knows he’d make a perfect host/moderator à la Ernie Johnson. For the entertainment factor, I’d have Draymond Green. He’s legitimately a basketball savant and could educate viewers on the intricacies of defensive schemes, while also providing commentary on the league’s biggest personalities from his experience. Plus he’d never be afraid to “stir the pot” and say something that’d get him in trouble. Lastly, every foursome needs someone who can be the butt of every joke and take it all laughing. Every Road Trippin’ podcast listener out there knows that that embodies Channing Frye. Despite being consistently roasted by his co-host Richard Jefferson, he always keeps an intelligent basketball discussion going, but he isn’t afraid to spit out a childish, yet creative, lung-puncturing retort when he sees fit. Frye and Green’s inevitable tension-filled, hilarious dynamic would rival Barkley and O’Neil’s despite not having the same mainstream appeal.