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 350 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 five dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:
James McKern: NBA Australia, contributor
Shameek Mohile: BBall Index, Pistons writer
Isaiah De los Santos: Blazers Edge, deputy editor
Ryan Ward: Clutch Points, senior editor
Justin Wilson: LA Clippers Film, analyst
Sherrod Blakely reported that the New York Knicks would strongly pursue Kyrie Irving next offseason. If you had to speculate blindly, what percentage chance is there that Irving leaves the Celtics next summer and why?
Wilson: I’d probably pit it at 20 percent. In September of 2018, there’s no real reason why you’d think he would want to leave Boston. Front office, coaching and youth that can compete for rings for the next decade—there’s no real reason why one would think Irving would leave. However, we have no idea what his values are or what he wants. If he wants to play closer to home that badly, or if the Jimmy Butler thing has legs, then the who knows. I think it’s far more likely the Celtics trade him instead of him leaving via free agency, though. If he gets hurt again, or if the C’s don’t get off to the start we all think they’ll get off to, or if the chatter about Irving leaving in free agency grows and he’s ambiguous about his desires to return, the C’s may be inclined to move on from him. He’s had some serious injuries already at 26, so the idea of committing $189 million dollars to him could be frightening.
McKern: The Celtic in me wants to say there is a zero percent chance Kyrie ever leaves Boston for New York, I mean why would he? But the better part of me knows this isn’t the case and while this may seem like I’m taking the easy way out, I’m going with Irving’s departure as being a 50 percent chance. Irving himself has already stated an extension “doesn’t make sense” and that’s sure to keep the rumor mill churning along all season long.
The Knicks will enter free agency with cash to splash and will have a loaded class to chase with Irving as their top target. Boston’s front office will be hoping they can show Irving that his best chance for continued success in the League is to remain in the Celtics green. Let’s not forget though, the NBA is a business and Danny Ainge is an extremely savvy businessman.
Mohile: Less than 5 percent. You never really know what can happen between now and the summer, but there’s no denying that there’s the slightest bit of allure to the idea of playing at Madison Square Garden or Staples Center. This temptation has caught the eye of several free agents over the years, most notably LeBron James this summer. However, Irving is in a really good place for not only his career but also has a personal connection to Boston. Irving grew up in New Jersey—merely a hop, skip, and jump away from Boston. His father played at Boston University and Irving spent considerable time at BU camps and skills camps in the Boston area. Personal life aside, the Boston Celtics are a perennial playoff team with a trove of young talent to keep them competitive for the foreseeable future (thanks Nets). Why would he leave for a dumpster fire of a franchise in the Knicks? He can contend for a few more rings while still accruing the “oohs and ahhs” of a historic franchise in a sizable basketball market. Going elsewhere makes little to no sense.
De los Santos: Forty percent. Irving has had various lower-body injuries since his Duke days. Sprinkle in recurring knee problems since 2015 and he’s a risk for the Celtics, who have a budding core destined for a Finals appearance sooner rather than later. I could see Boston being the ones that let Irving walk versus him spurning them for a new destination.
But a star guard is also what makes most NBA teams really rev nowadays, and without a real Irving replacement it’s hard to see them just letting him go IF he proves to be healthy this entire season.
Ward: This is a tough one. It’s hard to see where Irving’s mindset is at these days let alone what it would take for any star of his caliber to risk everything by joining the lowly Knicks.
However, pairing with Kristaps Porzingis and having the opportunity to thrive under the bright lights of New York might be very appealing to the perennial All-Star. The real question is whether the East will be the Celtics for the taking and if Irving is willing to give that up to compete with them for the foreseeable future.
Right now, I’d say there’s a 50 percent chance of Irving leaving Boston for New York. Jimmy Butler’s situation with the Timberwolves might make this that much more interesting if he and Irving do intend to play alongside one another.
Ethan Strauss of the The Athletic wrote an excellent piece on scouting in the NBA. He referred to it as the toughest profession in the NBA. What do you think is the toughest NBA related job and why?
Ward: Ethan is probably right on the money. Judging talent is no easy task. The travel, stress, and accountability that comes with this profession is enough to drive anyone crazy. Not to mention the fact there’s no guarantees in terms of knowing which players will succeed from what they see at distinct levels of the game.
Being a head coach in the NBA is another job that could be in the running for this distinction. The fact coaches take the majority of the blame for a team’s shortcomings and rarely have long-term futures with their teams is a high-pressure occupation with the odds against them right out of the gate.
Unless they’re named Gregg Popovich or Steve Kerr, most coaches are sent packing in a short amount of time.
Wilson: I think in general the jobs surrounding the NBA are extremely hard. Working within the L.A. Clippers organization for two and half years kind of exposed me to some of the tougher jobs within an NBA organization. I’d probably say anything involving player development. I learned a ton from my guys Natalie Nakase and JP Clark, who works as a player development coach for the Clippers now. The prep work is insane. From being assigned teams that you prep for, to being assigned players that you have to work with throughout the season, it’s a never-ending cycle of preparation and coaching that involves a lot responsibility. The head coach and lead assistants are all really depending on your prep of your assigned teams and the improvement of players for the duration of the season. Often times, the product on the floor is a direct reflection of how you are doing your job, whether that’s fair or not.
McKern: Being a scout wouldn’t be an easy job, with all of the insane travel and having to watch countless games of meaningless basketball, but there’s one job inside the NBA that you’d never get me signing up for. Each and every game the officials are forced to make split second decisions against athletes who are moving at blindingly quick speeds. Sitting and watching the games comes with the luxury of slow motion replays but having to make calls in real time is far too often overlooked.
The hardest part about the role is that no matter the call, you’re going to be dealing with upset players/coaches/fans. It’s a role that comes with zero appreciation and vast amounts of hatred, you’d need to have a thick skin to continually put up with players barking at you over every single whistle. But if we didn’t have them out there keeping things in order, the game would turn into complete and utter chaos.
Mohile: While being an NBA scout is undeniably a difficult profession, being a general manager of one of the 30 NBA teams is absolutely the toughest. GMs are focused on excelling at all aspects of the game: on-court success, limiting off-court issues, cap management, etc. If they falter in one or more of those aspects, they will be Ned Stark-ed (shoutout to those Game of Thrones fans) to please ticket-holders and fans. Often new GMs come into poor situations left behind from a previously failed regime and have to not only install their own regime but are often expected to showcase some positive results right away. While scouts may miss on Donovan Mitchell for Luke Kennard (who is actually a good player no matter how good Mitchell is), it is the GM that makes that ultimately makes that call and receives praise or a thousand lashes depending on how that decision pans out.
De los Santos: Being a coach, especially a head coach, seems like a job only fit for few to really succeed. It requires putting in loads of time in development leagues and as an assistant, all with the goal of taking over your own team; as soon as you do, the team’s problems are yours to solve and fans love to tell you how to run your team. And it always seems like the job isn’t secure, that one player, injury or regime change can turn your standing on a dime.
In an interview with Brandon Robinson, Kevin Garnett said the Minnesota Timberwolves should be starting Derrick Rose. Do you have any faith left in Rose? Is Garnett on to something?
De los Santos: I don’t have much faith left in him. The injury history coupled with his midseason leave from basketball last season doesn’t make you think “wow, that’s an NBA starter right there.” I’m sure working his way back to NBA-level form has been no easy task, and I’m sure he has something left in the tank, but what does he have left to prove? Being tasked as the team’s starter would bring unneeded pressure and undermine his use as a useful reserve in spurts.
Minnesota’s priority this year should be wowing Jimmy Butler with his impending free agency and potential unhappiness. Does Rose as a starter—over the dependable Jeff Teague—really keep Butler from looking elsewhere? Nope. Not to mention the message it sends by demoting Teague, the highlight from Minnesota’s 2017 free agency.
Ward: Personally, Derrick Rose’s days as a starter are over in my opinion. Rose might’ve been best suited for a bench role all along. The reality is he gets hurt often and needs to be coached and used accordingly in Minnesota.
If this was a topic of discussion five years ago, I might’ve agreed with Garnett. Now I believe his impact is limited and coming off the bench may extend his career while giving the Timberwolves a proven veteran to use in that capacity is the best option for Tom Thibodeau.
Wilson: Rose apologists will point to the series he had against the Rockets as evidence that KG is indeed on to something and to be fair, if your back up point gives you 14 a game in 24 minutes on a 59 true shooting percentage, you’d take that. But he’s not close to an NBA starter in 2018, and he’s completely lost on defense, but he did do enough in the playoffs last spring to warrant Minnesota taking an extended look at Rose on a one-year deal.
I do think Thibs at some point is going to lose himself in excitement over coaching the Timberbulls though, so I have no faith in Thibs being responsible with Rose’s minutes and I’m fully prepared for Thibs to overcast Rose in a role that he’s just not fit for at all in 2018.
McKern: Kevin Garnett is hands-down my all-time favorite NBA player, but on this occasion, I simply cannot agree with The Big Ticket. Despite Rose showing flashes of brilliance at times during the Timberwolves first round playoff exit (Game 4 in particular), the significant number that stands out to me is 23.4. That’s the average minutes Rose played throughout the five-game series against the Houston Rockets. I would love to see Rose recapture his stellar 2010-2012 form, but the injuries have taken far too great of a toll and he simply cannot be relied upon to be a starting point guard. Teague is a much better floor manager for this Timberwolves squad with Rose providing a nice spark off of the bench.
Mohile: I’ll be honest. I’m not the biggest fan of Jeff Teague but starting Derrick Rose (or whatever’s left of him) is a terrible idea. Rose is incredibly limited offensively as he cannot shoot even close to a respectable level from three. Basketball Index’s grading system graded his perimeter shooting as an “F” putting Rose in the 9th percentile among PGs. Rose is also limited defensively. The Timberwolves were 2.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Rose was off the court versus on. Rose can be serviceable backup for the Wolves as he is decent in limited minutes with most of his work coming in transition and at the rim. Allow him to handle the ball for an extended amount of time and spacing becomes an issue.
Last year’s rookie class was widely celebrated but looking forward to this year, which sophomore takes the biggest leap?
Mohile: He’s no Donovan Mitchell, but Luke Kennard had a more than respectable rookie season and is in line to compound that with another good season in 2018-19. The Pistons’ sharpshooter posted a 44/41/85 split in his rookie season and is in line for a significant increase in minutes under new coach Dwane Casey. To get perspective on how great of a feat this is, here’s a comprehensive list of all the other rookies in NBA history who’ve posted at least those splits with minimum 70 games played: Stephen Curry. If Kennard doesn’t start right away in lieu of a Reggie Bullock-Stanley Johnson wing tandem, he will likely get 20+ minutes coming off the bench with literal jitterbug, Ish Smith, where Kennard’s offensive rating improves 9 points.
De los Santos: I’d bet on a big year from Lauri Markkanen. Although he already put in 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season, I’d look for those numbers to go up on a Bulls team that could be sneaky if they choose to chase an Eastern Conference playoff spot. With the signing of Jabari Parker and re-signing of Zach LaVine this offseason, that seems to signal as much.
Markkanen already shows promise as one of the best young shooters in the League—36.2 percent from three-point land and 84.3 percent from the free throw line—and even gradual improvement on those numbers would make you think he could reach 20-plus points a game this season. Getting more games in during 2018-19 (only 68 in 2017-18) should only help his rise as well.
Ward: That’s another tough question. There were so many impressive rookies last year. Kyle. Kuzma, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, and Donovan Mitchell were the cream of the crop and will definitely show improvement this year.
However, Mitchell might be the one to take it to another level due to his situation in Utah. He has already become the star attraction for the Jazz and may have the best opportunity to take that leap because of his situation.
Unlike the other players mentioned, Mitchell doesn’t have to share the spotlight. That’ll likely be the difference compared to all the sophomore stars in the NBA.
Although I think Mitchell will be the guy, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz might also be poised for giant leaps in 2018-19. If both players can stay healthy and get the minutes, they could put on a show in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Wilson: This answer may be cheating a bit, but Markelle Fultz. Even in the limited amount of time that we’ve seen him on the floor, he jumped off the page with his grace and athleticism. He got his Philadelphia redshirt year under his belt, he’s been working with Drew Hanlen for most of the summer, and his issues were between the ears seemingly, and not with his tangible basketball skills. (I count his shot as being the product of his mental being as well).
He’s on a playoff team that needs his skillset which means he’ll play real minutes and contribute to winning, and depending on how good Markelle ends up being, he raises Philly’s playoff profile tremendously. I’m all in on Fultz and I can’t fathom a way that he isn’t much closer to the player we expected him to be coming out of Washington (I liked Jonathan Isaac here, too).
McKern: There’s another easy option here and that’s to go with Markelle Fultz. The point guard was taken with the top overall pick for a reason and he’ll show why as he helps the 76ers push even deeper into the playoffs. Instead of picking Fultz I’m going with another point guard, the New York Knicks’ eighth pick in the draft, Frank Ntilikina.
Ntilikina only started nine games during his rookie season, but with the Knicks expected to endure a tough 2018-19 season the keys to the starting point guard role should well and truly be sent his way. The 6-5 “French Prince” is an elite perimeter defender, thanks to his insane 7-1 wingspan and that helped him to lead the League in pick and roll defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name end up on an All-Defensive squad after this season as he shows why the Knicks used their top pick in 2017 on him.
Last week on Hot Takes and Shot Fakes we had Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver on to talk the SI Top 100. The list is a fun source of conversation but for obvious reasons, also riles up the fans. Looking at the list, what’s one placement that seems egregious and one placement that seems just right?
McKern: I love and hate this list because it always leads to countless hours of debate, but there’s no denying one pick and that’s LeBron James being No. 1. He’s the greatest basketball player on the planet and will continue to be until he retires. The top three for mine is spot on, after that it starts to get a bit murky.
There are two that stand out the most to me, but I’ll run with LaMarcus Aldridge at spot No. 21. He had a good season in leading the Spurs with his dizzying array of jumpers, unfortunately he’s no longer the top player on his own team with new teammate (DeMar DeRozan) taking that mantle. Somehow DeRozan falls nine spots later in the list. Come seasons end, however, Aldridge won’t be making the top 30.
Mohile: Ben Golliver ought to be ashamed of himself for ranking Blake Griffin at 41. Want to hear who Golliver had at 41 for last season’s list? Joel Embiid. So, it’s important to take his list with a few heaping tablespoons of salt. The NBA world was shocked when Griffin was traded to Detroit, but Pistons fans weren’t shocked when Griffin failed to match or exceed his numbers from his previous team because the trade was intended for 2018-19 success and beyond. Blake Griffin was always meant to be paired with a healthy Reggie Jackson. When those two took the court together, the Pistons posted nearly a 12-point net rating and were roughly 7 points better per 100 possessions. Like Golliver mentioned in his piece, Griffin joined Russell Westbrook and Lebron James as the only players in 2017-18 to post at least 21.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.8 APG.
The placement that seems the most right is Devin Booker. Booker is undeniably a star in this league and is one of the best offensive talents that I have personally ever seen. With that said, Booker’s defense is akin to that of a swaying tree—allowing anything in its path to simply pass right on through with little to no resistance. Unless Booker becomes even a below-average defender (compared to a gag-inducing, forehead slapping, frustratingly bad defender), it’s hard to justify placing him any higher than Golliver has him now.
De los Santos: Kyle Anderson (No. 88) making the list at all seems questionable. He doesn’t scream potential and isn’t much of a proven commodity yet ranks above players like Lonzo Ball (No. 100) and Kent Bazemore (No. 91), and makes it over snubs Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon. I don’t see how a larger role in Memphis will work to make his limited game look better. San Antonio might’ve been his peak.
Donovan Mitchell (No. 34) seems perfect. It speaks to how much he already showed in his rookie season to be placed so high; you have the confidence he’ll keep it up, and you also wouldn’t be surprised if he finds some extra gear to jump into the 20s.
Ward: Since I cover the Lakers beat, I’ll stick with the players in purple and gold when it comes to this list from Sports Illustrated.
Until there is an undisputed best all-around player in the NBA better than LeBron James, the three-time NBA champion has to continue being at the top of this list. I’ve been critical of LeBron in the past and still have my issues with him, but there’s yet to be a player to surpass him convincingly at No. 1.
Kevin Durant is as close as they come and this may be the year he reaches that level, but until then, James reigns supreme as he holds off Father Time while continuing to play at an extremely high level.
As for Lonzo Ball at No. 100, I do believe he deserves slightly better ranking. Ball’s defense is my reasoning for this as he’s one of the few young players in the League that shows effort on that end of the court these days. The UCLA product makes a considerable impact defensively and should be recognized for that contribution to Los Angeles even if his scoring needs some work.
Wilson: I listened to the pod, it was genuinely really good and insightful. Ben is a brilliant basketball mind. I don’t have that many qualms with it. If there’s one placement that to me seems egregious, it’s Lonzo Ball being too high at 100. Lonzo shot 36/30/45 last season for a 35-win team and only played 50 games last season. He also went under the knife this summer. He was great on defense last year and his basketball instincts bled through, but the aforementioned should have taken him out of the top 100. Draymond Green was a candidate here for me as well. His value to the Warriors is obviously noted, but his night to night responsibility on both ends leaves a lot to be desired, relative to the top 13(!) players in the NBA. He also is showing signs of decline, and the shelf life for undersized bigs isn’t the greatest.
One placement that seems just right to me would be Al Horford at 16. Any time he gets the recognition he deserves I smile. He’s so malleable, plays both ends, and he’s on a team with a coach that accentuates his talents. He’s awesome, and 16 is just right.