Writing Switch: Jumping through hoops
Basketball’s offseason season is in full swing, with a number of big trades and free agent signings shaking up the NBA’s landscape. This week we’re doing a throwback to the first topic we did together because, one, we wrote a column of hot takes at the beginning of last season and it would be weird to not give y’all any closure; and two, we couldn’t find the time to sit down long enough to write what we actually wanted to, so we’re heaving up this buzzer beater. We realize nobody in Aspen really wants to hear about basketball, but as our mantra goes, “nobody reads this anyway,” so here ya are.
With that out of the way, Sean, who are your top 10 all-time ballers?
SB: In the spirit of “Chapelle’s Show”: Lillard, Lillard, Lillard, Lillard and Lillard. (Technically it’s a top 10 but ranking players is like ranking bands or food. Everybody’s tastes are different. Also, if I have to spend any more time debating Michael Jordan or LeBron James, I’m going to heave this computer off the Pass.)
I would ask you the same but I’m sure it’s a mix of pre-injury riddled Wizards, so spare the readers your sad fandom that’s featured more years with Ernie Grunfeld than without. Of the players you’ve watched in your life, give me your top 5 least favorite, which will probably just be post-injury Wizards.
BW: My least favorites list only has one Wizard – former No. 5 pick and complete bust Jan Vesely, who I guess actually won MVP in some overseas league. I also have that horseface MFer Kelly Olynyk, Zaza Pachulia and Vlade Divac. For some reason I have it out for the hulking white guys; is that what a Freudian slip is? Better add James Harden because watching him crash to the ground and shoot 28 free throws every game gets pretty obnoxious.
If you could add or change any basketball rule, what would it be?
SB: The rule I would add is open-court continuation. There’s nothing worse than a fast break ending before it even starts with a ticky-tack foul and then is slowed more by the mandatory clear-path review.
Soccer has an advantage rule which allows refs to acknowledge the foul while letting play continue. For example, a defensive player steals the ball and just before the offensive player wraps him up, he throws the ball to a teammate leaking out who finishes (preferably with a dunk). The game continues and the guy who tried to stop the break is assessed a foul. And the threat of flagrant fouls/ejections would keep guys from spear tackling to stop the ball.
How would you end — or marginally disrupt — tampering? Because it’s hard for the rule to be enforced when the players are doing the recruiting instead of management.
BW: In a word, I wouldn’t. Tampering is awesome, and with sports gambling becoming legal and embraced by the league, there’s no way to ensure Kelly Oubre doesn’t miss that free throw on purpose. Which is great because I always take the unders. Now that there’s some parity in the NBA with more dynamic duos instead of a couple superteams, GMs should be able to use anything out of the “Mad Men” playbook to get an advantage. Is that what they do on “Mad Men,” just drink and scheme all day? I’ve never watched it but those are two of my favorite activities. It feels great any time you’re able to pull a sneaky one over your opponent, especially when you know they’re trying it, too. Half the free agents are on a new team one minute after communications are allowed? Surprise!
With all the top Americans bowing out of the FIBA World Championships, do you think you’ll get an invite, and if so, will you accept?
SB: Are you talking about the Irish national team or … ? No, I wouldn’t accept. You do realize that even terrible basketball players are better than any normal person (See: Vesely, Jan; Two-time All-EuroLeague first team). Even though self-proclaimed hater-of-running Nikola Jokic probably couldn’t finish in the top 50th percentile for an Aspen 5K, he would make me look like those sacrificial lambs thrown to Hot Sauce on the AND1 Mixtape Tour. Shit, I wouldn’t even try to run with those guys. No one wants to be on the wrong end of House of Highlights.
We buried the lede, though. The Nuggets came within a couple missed free throws and a C.J. McCollum midrange dagger of the Western Conference Finals. What’s their ceiling overall? Not just next season.
BW: Oh that’s right, you’re not a naturalized citizen yet (or naturalized at anything). This is what my insults sound like when I’m writing sober. Ugh, what a way to live.
The Nuggets are going to be a perennial playoff team for as long as Jokic and Jamal Murray are on the squad, and I can envision that being a long time. Also they hold one of the biggest wild cards in the league in Michael Porter Jr., who was supposed to be a top-three draft pick a couple seasons ago but slipped late to Denver after he became injured. It’ll also be fascinating to see if 7’6” Bol Bol’s knees are already worse than his father’s. I probably would’ve gone for Tacko Fall (who is on the All-Name Team behind Admiral Schofield), though, if I’m dead set on the gigantism factor.
Well, we’ve made it most of the way through (we’re almost done with this, right?) without mentioning Zion Williamson. How many calories do you think the Big Z intakes per day? Are the Pelicans going to sneak into the playoffs this year?
SB: The West is going to be about as loaded as Zion after he figures out what Café Du Monde is. If he (and a couple other phenoms) get in LeBron post-Germany visit shape, the fight for the eight seed is going to be vicious. We’ll see how the Baby Lakers — Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball — do now that they’re real boys, free from the King’s strings. My guess is it’s a Dallas Mavs 2018-19 situation where they’re right about .500 until fading late due to an injury or rookie fatigue.
Of these four players, which one scares you the most if they reach quarter-life crisis Aspenite form: Jokic, Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, Zion?
BW: Doncic is one white European dude I don’t despise, and that’s probably because he’s my new doppleganger. He’s got the same haircut as Gordon Hayward, my ex, but he’s a little fatter and has two working feet. He seems a little more lively, as well. All qualities I search for in a look-alike.
I’m nervous Zion will be too overweight to keep that shoe-explosion knee healthy all season, so my ROY pick is gonna be, hmm, Rui Hachimura.
Who do you have the best chance of beating in a boxing match (or MMA if you’re feeling courageous)?
SB: What? Between Rui and Zion? That’s about as relevant a question as “Who is Rui Hachimura?” As far as who is your doppleganger, it’s clearly Ricky Rubio. Jesus haircut, any excuse to rock a man bun and no jumper. It’s so spot on, I’m surprised Ice Cube hasn’t tried to get you to join the Big 3. And on that note, this is mercifully over (unless Ben feels insulted by the Rubio jab and tacks on a response calling me the Liangelo Ball of the Gasol family).
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