It’s time to stop kicking the word ‘superstar’ around the NBA like it’s a game of hacky sack

Basketball Superstars for Shaq

You won’t find many people that disagree with the Hall of Famers’ statement. I might add one or two names to that list, but it certainly isn’t as long as some folks would have you believe. Luka Dončić was crowned by some two years ago as a superstar. I needed to see him lead the Mavs past the first round of the playoffs before I could even consider it. Luka went a step further and carried Dallas to the western conference finals. So, I’m okay with adding Dončić to the list.

Advertisement

Borderline (Madonna voice)

It feels like I’m going to lose my mind over all these supposed superstars. After about four or five players, we get into murky water in this debate. Can we still consider Kawhi Leonard a superstar? How about Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić? Embiid and Jokic were the frontrunners for league MVP most of the season, with the latter winning. That made Jokić a back-to-back MVP.

Advertisement

For most people, that’s enough. Winning two MVP awards in a row is one hell of an accomplishment. Including Jokić, only 14 players in the history of the NBA have won consecutive MVP awards. Three of those guys did it a third time. So, it’s hard not to include Jokić on the superstar list, but when you follow up a great season by getting bounced in the first round of the postseason, that decision becomes much easier.

Before you denounce everything I’ve said, think about this. Go back a decade-plus and think about current Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash. He won back-to-back MVP awards in the mid-2000s. Nash was a great player but never considered a superstar. That’s how I see Jokić right now. He’s a darling among the analytics community, but what did all those pretty numbers accomplish when it was “show me” time? Nikola and the Nuggets went home early.

Advertisement

Embiid is another one that I think many of us want to be included in the superstar conversation. Joel had his best year in ‘21-22, winning a scoring title, averaging over 30 ppg, and he played in 68 games. That’s the most games Embiid has played in a season since he entered the league. Ultimately, two things are keeping Embiid on the borderline of the superstar/star discussion: 1.) Availability 2.) He’s yet to lead the Sixers to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Others

With the level of talent in the NBA today, just about everyone is capable of posting gaudy statistics based on their role with a team. DeMar DeRozan averaged nearly 28ppg for Chicago this year after falling off the map in San Antonio the previous two seasons. No one is mistaking DeRozan for a superstar despite the fantastic season he just finished. Most people felt Embiid should’ve won MVP anyway.

Advertisement

I think it’s close for Embiid and Jokić, but I’ve got both big men on the outside looking in. Yes, in the Orlando bubble a couple of years ago, Jokić got the Nuggets to the conference finals. But since that WCF appearance, the Nuggets haven’t gone past the semi-finals, and Jokić won his MVPs in those two campaigns. It’s splitting hairs, but I’ve got Embiid and Jokić on the cusp of superstardom.

Then we’ve got a player like Leonard, who was viewed as a bonafide superstar at one point. But if availability is part of the formula that keeps Embidd out of the club, then we’ve got to show some consistency. When healthy, Kawhi is one of the five best players in the NBA because of what he brings offensively and defensively. Although he’s no longer the defender he was a few years ago, he was still considered a top two-way player before his ACL injury in the 2021 playoffs. Until Kawhi proves he’s still one of the top five players in the league, he’s coming off the list.

Advertisement

James Harden is another player that was included in this conversation for years, and now he’s more of an afterthought. Anthony Davis has been called a top-five talent since he entered the NBA but hasn’t been able to creep into that superstar category.

Davis played great in 2020 when the Lakers won it all in the bubble, but LeBron was the main driving force on that team like he’s always been. The following year when James was ready to hand over the keys to Davis, he wasn’t prepared for the transition. The most significant issues with Davis have been health and not stepping up and leading when it’s been his time.

Advertisement

Jayson Tatum flirted with the superstar label this year but ultimately was too inconsistent during their playoff run to plant his flag on that mountain. Trae Young is another young star who could be next in line to become a superstar, but he’s not there yet. I’ve heard Donovan Mitchell’s name mentioned as a superstar over the last couple of years, and I just can’t agree. He’s an outstanding player. Not a superstar.

Damian Lillard is another one who’s right there, and just when it looked like he might have made that crossover into superstar status, he gets hurt and misses more than half the season. Lillard played in about as many games as Kyrie Irving did this season. Lillard was injured, and Irving lives in outer space. But Lillard is much closer to superstar status than Irving will ever be. But due to the rough start last season, then only playing 29 games, Dame is just outside the superstar tier.

Advertisement

So What Defines a Superstar?

All the players mentioned can be deemed exceptional, but I don’t think a few great moments make one a superstar. Doing it as the lead player on a team, year after year, is what does it. Winning awards and accolades are a factor, without a doubt, but team success means just as much, and probably more.

Advertisement

The four players that Shaq mentioned have all won rings, regular-season MVP, and Finals MVP awards. LeBron, Giannis, Steph, and KD are bonafide NBA superstars. There’s no debating that. I added Luka to the group, but I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for leaving him off. Right now, he doesn’t have any of the accolades mentioned above. But I think he’ll get there in time.

Superstar should be reserved for the best of the best; in the same way, the term “great team” should also be preserved. Since 2010 there have only been two truly great teams in the NBA. The Miami Heat of the early 00s with James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Then the Golden State Warriors later in the same decade.

Advertisement

That’s it. Those were the only teams to win more than one championship that decade. And both teams had superstars leading their squads. The same rule applies to the term superstar. If so many superstars exist in the league, then the word’s meaning no longer carries the same effect. 

John Wall got a Brinks truck full of money from a bad team, now he gets to join a contender in LA

Wall’s buyout from the Rockets will pay him nearly $41 million of the $47 million he would’ve gotten to play for Houston in 2022-23. Houston is now done with Wall, free to continue its rebuild, and Wall’s path back to the court is suddenly clear. He gets most of the money he’s owed by Houston, and he gets to sing and play for a contender this year in the LA Clippers. Once he clears waivers, of course.

Advertisement

You couldn’t dream up a much sweeter deal than what Wall’s come across. Wall now joins a Clippers team that was two wins away from playing in the NBA Finals just two seasons ago. If not for injuries to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard this past season, who knows how far the Clippers could’ve gone.

Advertisement

The only mystery about this deal is what’s expected from Wall after missing 40 games last season. It’s been five years since Wall has played anything close to an entire NBA campaign, when he played 78 games for Washington during the ‘16-17 season. Since then, he hasn’t played more than 41 games. Within that time, Wall has missed two full seasons (‘19-20 & ‘21-22) and dealt with multiple leg and foot injuries.

So this situation in Los Angeles with the Clippers might be the best scenario for Wall to make a complete comeback. There won’t be any pressure for him to come in and make a huge impact right away. The Clippers’ top priority is getting Leonard back on the floor and being as close as possible to the player he once was as he returns from an ACL tear suffered two postseasons ago.

Advertisement

With George and Leonard handling the scoring load along with Reggie Jackson, Norman Powell, and others, the Clippers adding Wall rounds out a nice supporting cast for their two stars. If Wall can come in and be the primary ball-handler and playmaker, this could work out for the best. The Clippers won’t need Wall to score 20 ppg, and if he can settle into a lesser scoring role, this team could potentially be the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors in the west next year.

Advertisement

The biggest issue for LA is likely to be one that’s lingered for the last couple of years. Their perceived lack of leadership on the court. We know what kind of leadership the Clippers possess on the bench with head coach Tyronn Lue, but in-game leadership is what they’ve lacked since acquiring Leonard and George. Kawhi has never been too vocal, and George hasn’t always been seen as a leader.

If Wall can be quickly acclimated into this Clippers system plus a healthy Leonard and George for a full season, then we could be looking at the next “big three” in the NBA. There’s still a long way to go before these scenarios play out, but it’s fun to dream. 

How the 2022 NBA Draft will go — Lottery Edition

Last year’s draft is already looking like an all-time great. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems to be had in the 2022 NBA Draft. Analysts have said this is a four-person draft. But with the league experiencing greater parity than it has in the last two decades, the need for high-impact role players is at a…

Read more…