Welcome to the first edition of the NBA Mailbag! In this weekly post I plan to answer a handful of your topical questions from my inbox and from my Twitter account as well as present a stable of other interactive items.
Let’s get right to this week’s questions:
What Steph has done in his career is amazing. All the focus on his achievement has got me wondering, are there any active players who have a chance to pass Steph some day on the all-time 3-pointers list?
–Zac from Indiana
Steph is going to hold on to this record for quite some time for a few reasons. Steph is still in his prime and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Steph’s contemporaries, including James Harden (No. 4), Damian Lillard (No. 10), LeBron James (No. 11), Paul George (No. 20) and Klay Thompson (No. 21) are also in their primes — or past their primes — with not enough room to play catch up. Atlanta’s Trae Young seems the most likely active player with any chance to surpass Curry. But my guess? Curry slides to No. 2 because of a star basketball player that hasn’t even been born yet. In the meantime, Curry will keep making 3s and enjoy the record as the top all-time 3-point shooter until he has fully grown grandchildren.
Mark, I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that Steph Curry is the best shooter in the NBA today. My question for you is who’s the second-best shooter in the game today?
–Martina, Mesquite, Texas
Curry only has to look across the court for that answer. That answer is Klay Thompson, who routinely held friendly shooting competitions with Steph during their first eight NBA seasons together. For all that Curry has accomplished, Thompson has set an NBA record for most 3-pointers in a game (14 vs. Chicago in 2018-19) and most points scored in a single quarter (37 in the third quarter vs. Sacramento in 2014-15). While Curry has more range and scores at a more prolific rate, Thompson’s shooting outbursts are actually more intense, and he only needs a few dribbles before firing away.
Granted, Thompson has to prove he is that same player after missing the past two years with season-ending injuries to his left knee (2019-20) and right Achilles tendon (2020-21). But even if they anticipate rust with his conditioning, timing and defense, those on the Warriors and outside medical experts all have expressed optimism to me that Thompson won’t miss a beat whatsoever with his shooting touch.
Hi Mark, Lakers fan here. Have followed you for years. What would be the best Christmas gift for the Lakers? This season has had a tumultuous start. Could you see any trades happening at some point?
— Marcus from Los Angeles
Thanks so much for following me over the years! Very honored and flattered. The best Christmas gift for the Lakers: Improved health and chemistry. Their veteran-laden team has spent more time in the trainer’s room than on the actual court. Even with the Lakers boasting four players on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, they are more likely to squeak into the Play-In Tournament than actually contend for an NBA title. At least right now.
I would never rule out Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka seeing what’s possible in deals leading into the Feb. 10 trade deadline. But don’t count on the Lakers dealing Russell Westbrook. One, that would be an admission that they constructed a flawed roster last summer. Two, the Lakers are bullish that Westbrook (and the team) will improve with more time together. And three, Westbrook is hard to trade anyway because of his large contract and the required pieces to make a deal work.
The Lakers did that last summer and received more criticism than praise at the time. Hardly any team will think about doing that now after seeing Westbrook’s start. So for better or for worse, the Lakers’ ability to improve will entail making the best with what they have.
Hey Mark, as a Rockets fan I’ve been impressed by the recent winning streak but know it’s probably not sustainable. Still, do you see any teams that could turn things around the way the Hawks did last season and make a playoff run?
— Pete from Houston
The Hawks didn’t have a sudden turnaround. It started with the Hawks hiring Travis Schlenk as a general manager, continued to stripping their roster and collecting Draft picks that landed top-level players, namely Trae Young. It then continued with strong player development and an abrupt coaching change from Lloyd Pierce to Nate McMillan.
I can see the Timberwolves heading in that direction next season. They have an emerging second-year forward (Anthony Edwards), a versatile center (Karl-Anthony Towns) and a dynamic playmaker (D’Angelo Russell). Amid all the changes to their coaching staffs and front office in the past year, the Timberwolves appear to have the right people in place now. Of course, there are questions about Towns becoming a true franchise cornerstone, Russell’s consistency and Edwards’ ultimate trajectory. But they at least have young assets, which gives them flexibility to develop from within or use in future deals.
Mark, I was saddened to see the latest news on Zion Williamson. I’m a huge Zion fan. After this latest setback, how concerned should I be about his overall health? Is he going to be able to have an actual NBA career? Or is this foot injury going to derail any chance of that?
–Sam Stewart, Rockwell, N.C.
You should be very concerned. Williamson already has had two setbacks in just over a week this season involving his surgically repaired right foot after spending the past two weeks completing contact drills and full-team activities. The Pelicans said that “the volume of and intensity of his training will be reduced for an extended period to help allow for further bone healing.” And Williamson already missed the first 44 games of his rookie season because of his surgically repaired right knee before facing a minutes restriction during his return.
But he still has time to return this season. Before Williamson’s latest setback, Pelicans teammate Brandon Ingram told me two weeks ago that Williamson has maintained sharp work habits despite any presumed frustration he feels with his health. And the Pelicans have handled Williamson with care so that he doesn’t become injury prone.
There’s no other way around it, though. Despite his intriguing potential as a bruising playmaker, Williamson has failed to live up to the old adage that the greatest ability is availability. It appears unclear if he can ever fulfill that job description consistently.
With All-Star weekend approaching, which players do you think will make the All-Star team for the first time this season?
— Feysal Ali, Columbus, Ohio
My money is on Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball.
Even if Morant has missed some games due to a sprained left knee (six) and entering the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols (four), this should not derail Morant’s All-Star candidacy whatsoever. In only his third season, it’s already clear that Morant has become the best player of his rookie class. He ranks fourth in the NBA in points scored in the paint (14.1). And he has an irremovable chip on his shoulder, which both sparks his growth and appeals to the grind-it-out mentality that Memphis embraces.
As for Ball? The Hornets believe he has already built off his Kia Rookie of the Year season. Ball ranks seventh in the NBA in assists (7.3), which ranks second among Eastern Conference guards behind Atlanta’s Trae Young (9.4). Ball is also on pace to improve his scoring numbers from his rookie season (15.7) to his sophomore campaign (20). The Hornets would like Ball to concentrate more on hitting singles and less on always making the home-run play. Yet Ball already has enough style and substance to become an All-Star.
If you were to make a list of active NBA players who deserve (based on their trajectory) to be champs, who would it be? For me:
1. Chris Paul
2. Jimmy Butler
3. Dame Lillard
4. The Beard
5. Russell Westbrook
What do you think?
–David Zabala, Milledgeville, Ga.
That’s a solid list. I think you could add Carmelo Anthony and Blake Griffin to that list as well. But Chris Paul is the overwhelming favorite. Up until appearing in his first NBA Finals with the Phoenix Suns last season, Paul experienced early playoff exits in the first round (five) and second rebound (four). Plenty of those short play-off appearances had to do with an injury happening to him or a key teammate. Had Paul not injured his hamstring with the Houston Rockets in the 2018 Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, they would have had a legitimate chance to upset the defending champs.
Paul isn’t the leading active NBA player most deserving of a league title just because of his injuries. Despite mixed reviews about his demanding leadership style, Paul has had a proven track record in lifting each franchise he’s played for: New Orleans (2005-2011), the LA Clippers (2011-2017), Houston (2017-19), Oklahoma City (2019-20) and Phoenix (2020-21). No doubt, some of the players on your list also have Hall-of-Fame resumes. But Paul has experienced the most heartbreak for reasons outside of his control. He “deserves” to win his first NBA title before any of those other players.
Do you think that Garrison Matthews’ streak of amazing play will continue when Jalen Green is back? Is it even sustainable until then? Totally not asking because I picked him up on Fantasy …
–Gideon, Colorado Springs, Colo.
I don’t know how long the MVP chants will last for Matthews. Or how long the “Garry Bird” nickname will stick. Or how good of a pickup Matthews would be for your fantasy basketball team.
It seems to be a heavy ask to expect a player that experienced a roster cut in Boston and time in the NBA G League to maintain the same numbers he posted during the Rockets’ recent seven-game winning streak (16.1 points on 52.2% shooting, zero turnovers). But I think Matthews has absolutely proven that he will remain a dependable rotation player even when Jalen Green returns to the lineup. I suspect Matthews’ numbers will drop as teams pay more attention to him in their scouting reports. But Matthews will remain a viable scoring threat and an energy player. Those are two needed qualities on a young team eager to accelerate its development.
Hoops Around the World
We all know that the NBA has become a global brand and that basketball has become a global game. But what fuels your basketball fandom?
We’d love to see a photo of the hoop you play on, whether it be in your neighborhood gym or in your backyard or driveway. Got a good image? Send it to me for use in this feature.
What fuels your basketball fandom? Got a good basketball story to tell? Send your best hoops photos/essays to email@example.com The best essays & images will be highlighted in the weekly NBA mailbag throughout the season. https://t.co/tcnRrDWOvb
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 14, 2021
We’re also interested to hear about how you become a basketball fan. Got a good basketball story to tell? Write it up and send it my way. The best essays will be used in this feature throughout the season.
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NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.
How can you participate? Simply email your question to Mark here, or use your Twitter account and get your question to him here.