Zion Williamson is surrounded by media members after his first preseason game in Atlanta

Southwest Division roundtable: Best interviewees, social media users

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

There’s no basketball for now, so Pelicans.com decided this is a perfect time to catch up with some of our Southwest Division colleagues, to explore some of the more interesting aspects of NBA players’ popularity off the court. Five different media members will be joining us during the hoops hiatus to discuss their teams and the league in general, with a focus on one of the NBA’s most competitive divisions. Our panel includes TV broadcaster Mark Followill (Dallas), radio broadcaster/PA announcer Matt Thomas (Houston), writer Michael Wallace (Memphis), writer Jim Eichenhofer (New Orleans) and writer Michael C. Wright (NBA.com, covering San Antonio for this reoccurring feature). Check back in the near future for Part 2 of our division-wide roundtable feature.

Who are your team’s best interviewees? Which players are go-to guys for the most insight, information and perhaps even entertainment value?

Mark Followill

Mavericks TV

I would say our best interview is Maxi Kleber. His answers to questions are usually thoughtful and detailed and not full of standard clichés. Much like his hometown buddy Dirk he isn’t afraid to use some self-deprecating humor from time to time. I guess it’s a Wurzburg thing! We had him mic’ed up during a game this season and the viewer feedback was tremendously positive because viewers saw what a supportive teammate he is and how well he sees and thinks the game, which was demonstrated in how he communicated with teammates on the floor. I think Kristaps Porzingis is a fine interview as well. He gives honest and introspective answers about his performances including after a loss. Dorian Finney-Smith is an underrated player and underrated interview in my book also. His answers to questions show he is a funny and pleasant guy and his responses can be detailed when necessary but when a short, simple answer is all that is required that’s what he gives.

Matt Thomas

Rockets Radio

It’s nice to be able to say that all the Rockets’ players do a nice job on interviews. Frankly, the biggest obstacle is just trying to get them. It is rare that I get a chance to talk to James Harden or Russell Westbrook because every time the Rockets are victorious, the TNT/ESPN sideline reporters tend to grab them first.

Some of my other favorites are PJ Tucker, Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon. Tuck leaves it all on the court. Moments after a hard-fought win, PJ will come over to the broadcast position dripping of sweat ready to answer my questions while simultaneously trying to get an extra gasp of air. He is truly a 48-minute player. Austin is very open and honest and is always a fun visit after beating his dad and the rest of the Clippers. Eric meanwhile is down home and is a must go-to guy especially after a big night behind the three-point arc.

Michael Wallace

Grind City Media

For the Grizzlies, there are several candidates for this one. But I give the edge to third-year swingman Dillon Brooks. He’s honest. He’s fearless. He answers questions in detail and he doesn’t shy away from tough topics. On top of everything else, Brooks has a great story he’s always eager to share. His journey these last three years has carried him from Pac-12 player of the year to largely overlooked in the draft to starting and playing 82 games as a NBA rookie to being sidelined most of his second season with injuries to bouncing back this season and earning a lucrative, three-year extension.

The Canada native approaches media opportunities with the same swagger and confidence he plays with on the court. One example that stands out is how he was first to step up and defend his locker room when things grew dicey amid the Andre Iguodala trade ordeal. Another example is how Brooks was first on the team to clearly state the playoffs were the goal and that the Grizzlies welcomed the target on their backs in the fight for one of the final playoff seeds.

Jim Eichenhofer

Pelicans.com

For a roster often accurately described by top New Orleans basketball executive David Griffin as “quiet” overall, there are still several New Orleans players who frequently provide introspective sound bites and commentary. JJ Redick has an advantage on some of his teammates in this category, not only because he hosts his own podcast, but because the 35-year-old made his NBA debut while several other Pelicans were in grade school. Redick has vast experience, has been in the playoffs 13 times and knows a range of details and information about many topics, both basketball and otherwise. Meanwhile, No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson immediately impressed media members – both in New Orleans and in road cities – for his thoughtful responses to questions. He has a maturity beyond his 19 years and a humble demeanor that translates extremely well to media sessions.

Two underrated Pelicans interviewees are Italian forward Nicolo Melli – who is hilarious, as people are increasingly realizing during this hiatus – and two-way contract forward Zylan Cheatham, a dynamic personality but unfamiliar to most fans since he spent most of ’19-20 in the G League. Similar to Melli and Cheatham, rookie guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker could be known as an excellent interview as his career progresses and he gains more exposure.

Michael C. Wright

NBA.com

I’ve got three. Patty Mills is the longest-tenured player on San Antonio’s roster, and he definitely understands the leadership responsibility that comes with that. So, when you ask him a deep question, he’ll pause for a minute just to collect his thoughts so he can give you as insightful an answer as possible. I’d say DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-best interview. There’s a vulnerability that DeMar isn’t afraid to express that I find admirable. I respect the way he sort of searches himself internally to give you a genuine, from-the-heart answer to a question. I’ve asked him questions in the past that have led him to ponder questions he has had of himself internally. Shoot, I need to follow up on some of those. Manu Ginobili isn’t on the roster anymore, but he’s probably the all-time greatest Spurs interview. I’ve never seen a player or a person in any walk of life for that matter that has Manu’s ability to articulate himself the way he does. I honestly believe his fluency in speaking three languages sort of heightens his ability to articulate thoughts.

Who are your team’s best and most active users of social media?

Mark Followill

Mavericks TV

Luka Doncic is the most active player during the season on social media. He posts a lot of pictures on Instagram, especially after wins. He tweets often about Real Madrid basketball or soccer, soccer in general, retweets the Mavs account, and when he missed a few games with injury and didn’t travel, he tweeted a lot during the games. Like a lot of people his social media habits during the pandemic have been a little different than they were during the season. I would say Jalen Brunson has been tweeting more during the pandemic, especially commenting during episodes of The Last Dance. Boban Marjanovic goes for quality over quantity on Instagram. He does not post as often as some but his pics and comments are usually quite funny.

Matt Thomas

Rockets Radio

The Rocket players’ preferred mode of social media is definitely Instagram. It would be easy to fill your account with highlights. However, what you’ll see with most of the players, as Ric Flair would say, is how they “style and profile.” James and Russ are big into what they wear into and out of the arena. PJ also brings his clothing game to the venue. But Tucker’s game is the shoes. I can’t remember a road trip where Tuck hasn’t purchased a new pair of shoes. There is no telling how many pairs he has purchased over the years. It’s also great to see many of the players with posts of team success, their charitable work in the community, and places they go when they are away from the game. 

Michael Wallace

Grind City Media

Considering the Grizzlies boast one of the youngest rosters in the league, there’s no shortage of social media savvy players to go to on this one. But the easy choice here is franchise catalyst Ja Morant, who hasn’t found a platform yet that he can’t dominate with insight, creative silliness and, when necessary, a clap back or two. Morant goes at Twitter like he attacks opposing defenders in the paint. He can be relentless sometimes, almost uncomfortably so.

But he also uses social media for great deeds beyond the basketball court. He’s used the platform to reach impoverished youth, kids battling illnesses and families in need. He’s also rewarded dozens with shoes, game tickets and special access to him beyond team obligations. The home video he shot of his own player introduction when the stay-at-home orders first started was classic. The Twitter exchange with Steph Curry early in the season underscored Ja’s take-no-prisoners competitive edge. And his TikTok skits always keep everything loose.

Jim Eichenhofer

Pelicans.com

Josh Hart is hands-down the team’s most avid participant on social media, relying on an array of platforms, including Twitch (where you can watch him compete in video games), Twitter and Instagram. Last summer, Hart’s social-media embrace of his new NBA city actually made him popular among Crescent City fans before he’d even played a single minute of basketball for the Pelicans.

Hart, rookie Jaxson Hayes and Melli are New Orleans’ most consistent users of Instagram, and during the current break, point guard Lonzo Ball has used the platform to provide a fun look at his family, highlighting the time he spends with his brothers and dog. Ball’s fellow starting guard, Jrue Holiday, also often emphasizes family when he posts on social media – Pelicans fans love the impossibly-adorable videos of Jrue having fun with his young daughter JT, whether they’re inside the Smoothie King Center or on a bike ride through their neighborhood.

Michael C. Wright

NBA.com

Mills is probably San Antonio’s best user of social media because in many ways he mirrors coach Pop’s fascination with world affairs. Obviously, as an Australian, Mills is proud of his Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lineage. So, many times on social media, Mills is shining a light on issues people are dealing with in Australia that many of us would otherwise know nothing about. Mills has also taken up learning to play the guitar as a hobby. So, you’ll see plenty of tweets with Mills playing the latest song he learned. Mills is also a part of the Spurs’ legendary Coffee Gang, a group of players (Ginobili, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw are original members) that likes to get together on off days during road trips for various activities (they visited and took a tour of Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2018), using their love of coffee as the elixir that bonds them. Mills blesses Spurs fans with plenty of glimpses of those trips on various social media platforms.

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