NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: Most underrated player? Early In-Season Tournament takeaways?

20-year NBA veteran Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on Anthony Edwards, the In-Season Tournament and more.

Kevin Durant currently ranks 4th in the NBA this season with 30 ppg.

The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2023-24 season! Have a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag. 

Which player is the most underrated in the NBA right now?

– Aaron in Bergamo, Italy

Kevin Durant is having an underrated season right now. I don’t hear a lot of people talk about what he’s doing individually. But he’s scoring almost 30 a night, his shooting splits are crazy and he’s doing it with Bradley Beal just coming back and Devin Booker out at the moment.

Do you think the Eastern Conference is better than the West this year?

– from Laurent in Quebec, Canada

No, I won’t go that far yet. The East is doing well. But until somebody knocks off the Nuggets, the West still has to reign supreme.

Who do you think will be on top of the West standings by the end of December?

– from Aiden in Jamaica

The Nuggets.

What makes NBA players have inconsistent numbers in the first month of the season?

– from Rilo in Virginia

It depends on who we’re talking about and their role. But if all things are relative, it’s mostly players just getting back into the flow of the season. For myself, coming into a season I would try to feel things out the first couple weeks before I started being more aggressive. I got better each month of the season and I’m sure other players took a similar approach.

What do you think of the In-Season Tournament so far?

from Zach in Brecksville, Ohio

I like it! The courts make it feel different. It seems the fans in the arena actually feel different about it as well. They get into that playoff kind of mode, which is really cool because the fans in the arena help drive games.

Can Anthony Edwards carry Minnesota to the West semifinals or beyond in the playoffs this season?

from Adem in Istanbul, Turkey

I could easily see it happening. He has all the qualities and the makeup of a true superstar. I love his competitiveness. I love that he’s unafraid. And I love that he’s a leader already at such a young age.

What can the Clippers do to get the team on the same page and get wins?

from Drew in New Zealand

From my viewpoint, someone has to go to the bench. It’s just too many perimeter players. Even though their hearts are all in the right place, it’s diminished the impact of Kawhi Leonard, who I would play through more than anyone else if I were the Clippers.

Paul George can play off the ball to catch and shoot. Russell Westbrook has a good dynamic with Kawhi. And James Harden plays better with the ball in his hands, obviously. So I think one of those guys has to go to the bench to give balance to the team. I would choose the player who fits the least best with Kawhi. And I think that’s Harden because he’s so dominant with the ball in his hands.

If you could start your own franchise right now and had the option to draft a rookie LeBron James or rookie Victor Wembanyama, which would you choose and why?

from Kristian in Sydney, Australia

I love Wemby to death and he has the potential to be an all-time great. But I’m going with LeBron on this one. He’s already an all-time great.

Who do you think is the most talented between Chet Holmgren and Wemby? They seem to both have the same skill set but Wemby is touted more the Chet in this regard.

from Doc in Los Angeles

Which fruit is better – apples or oranges? You can’t go wrong with either one.

Is Adrian Griffin in over his head in Milwaukee or is it the players not adapting to new schemes and designs?

from Harvey in Minneapolis

No, he’s not. I think he’s very prepared, has a great demeanor and knows that team inside and out. But when you have a major move right before the season starts, sometimes it just takes time. Eventually, we’ll look back and laugh at how they struggled in November because they’ll be so good when the season ends.

Do you think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be considered as a top 5 MVP candidate even though it’s still the beginning of the season?

from Zerrick in Oklahoma City

His MVP candidacy will be contingent on wins. It won’t be his numbers, which will always be there. It will be about how he impacts winning and if the Thunder have enough wins to validate his candidacy. If they do, then,  yes, he’ll be in the top 5 of the MVP conversation.

What’s the perfect number of players for a regular season rotation and what do you think about Thibodeau’s 9-man rotation — pros and cons? Aren’t the players going to be worn up by playoff time?

from Simeon in Bulgaria

I coach kids and I’ve had 12- and 11-player rotations, and to me, that was too many. I have nine this year and I feel like it’s the perfect number to get guys into a rhythm while not wearing them out.

Thibs notoriously plays his starters heavily. On the other end of that, bench guys like me didn’t get as many minutes. But one thing I’m never going to do is question Thibs. Out of all the coaches I ever played for, there was nobody more prepared than him. So he has his beliefs and philosophies. But you just roll with it and support him if you’re a player.

Do you think that Jayson Tatum can get the MVP this year and the Boston Celtics can win the championship?

– from John in Poland

Yes, they’re both very possible. Of all the players who haven’t won an MVP yet, I think Tatum is at the top of the list. So if the Celtics have the wins and Tatum is being Tatum, then he absolutely should be right in the thick of things for MVP this season.

Jayson Tatum talks about his Kia MVP hopes and more with Jamal Crawford.

Who do you think is the best defender in the league right now?

from Jaren in France

Jaden McDaniels continues to impress me. He can guard multiple positions at a high, high level. And he disrupts even some of the best players in the league. He has been key to Minnesota’s strong start.

What coach has a sneaky COTY case this year?

from Steven in Ellensburg, Wash.

Ime Udoka. The culture he set in Houston has been great. It’s a night and day difference between last season and now for their level of play and accountability.

Who’s your early favorite to win Most Improved Player?

from Brandent in North Carolina

Tyrese Maxey. He’s positioned to earn his first All-Star selection as well.

As the season progresses, a lot of veteran free agents could be worth a shot for a lot of teams. Examples like the Hornets could look into unlocking LaMelo’s scoring game a bit more and a guy like Isaiah Thomas would help in my opinion. Who are some vets that you think stick out and should get a contract mid-season?

from Sami in California

Isaiah Thomas is at the very top of my list. TJ Warren. Austin Rivers. Blake Griffin! These guys are proven vets and unbelievable character guys in the locker room. So it’s shocking to me they haven’t gotten the call. But I have faith they will this season.

How do you know a rookie or sophomore will be really great if they don’t get the opportunity to play many minutes? Were there some players like that you saw on your teams who stuck out and became special even when their teams didn’t see it?

from Agilan in Canada

Yes, there were guys like that who you would see in practice on your team or across the league that made you say, “Man, he’s good. Why isn’t he playing?” It could be the team he’s on or the coach not seeing him fit into his scheme, but you just knew the guy was good. He just had to get on the right team or with the right coach. So I’ve seen that a lot, and I went through it myself as a young player. I always say, in the NBA you’re as good or as bad as your coach wants you to be. Situation and fit matter.

If you could build your own dream team from the early 2000s, what would your starting five be with you as sixth man?

– from Cade in Charlotte, N.C.

I’d slide down to seventh man with this roster:

  • Jason Kidd
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Tim Duncan
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Allen Iverson (Sixth Man)

Why is MSG the Mecca and why is it so cool to play there?

from Andre in Rio De Jenairo, Brazil

It’s special because you never know who is going to be in the crowd. Some of your favorite stars and entertainers are there watching you while you’re on stage performing. That, plus the feeling the fans create in that arena is like no other.

How can you exploit a 1-3-1 zone?

from Linwood in Richmond, VA

You need to put perimeter players in the corners and then attack. Usually, the big man is the back side of the 1-3-1, so you force him to either defend the guard attacking or close out on the perimeter shooters in the corners.

What’s your best go-to move in transition?

from Adrian in Hartford, Conn.

Some kind of pro-hop … but before it was actually called a pro-hop. There wasn’t a name for it. But it would be something to do with my feet. And sometimes I’d make it up on accident. For example …

Before you did a move, did you think about what you were going to do, or was it instinctive?

from Edward in USA

99% of it was instinctive. Sometimes I would do a specific move to get a player to react. But then I’d instinctively go where they’re not. For example …

Being considered one of the best ball handlers in the history of the game, who would you consider the best ball handler of this generation?

from Nathan in United Kingdom

Let’s not go with one of the obvious picks like Kyrie, Steph or Chris Paul. A new-generation guy I’d pick is Darius Garland. He’s the leader of the new school when it comes to handling the rock.

If Seattle gets a franchise in the next NBA expansion, will you be open to joining the coaching staff?

from Kev in Chicago

I wouldn’t say joining the coaching staff because I’m coaching my son and having a ball with that. But maybe in some other form? Who knows 😉

What’s your favorite meal to cook yourself?

from Anthony in Norfolk, Va.

Cook?!?! I can’t cook anything. But I can reheat stuff really well. I can reheat anything.

Can you consider accepting Gillie Da Kid’s request for a 1-on-1? It would definitely be entertaining.

from H.B. in Chicago

I already accepted! My full response is here 😆

How do you stay disciplined to keep making shots during practice when you are used to making everything, so you get lazy and develop bad habits on your jumper?

from Ibrahim in London

I look at every shot as its own single shot. I don’t look at it like I shot 1,000 shots today. I want to say I took 1,000 really good shots. I didn’t just shoot 1,000 in bulk.

What do you feel like is the most important skill in basketball?

from Jantsen in Crawfordsville, Ind.

If you can dribble and shoot, then you can have a good run at this thing. That, plus a love of the game. If you love the game, then you want to get better in every facet.

Have A Question For Jamal? Submit It Below!

Check back on Tuesdays throughout the 2023-24 season for more editions of the NBA Mailbag!