5 big questions about former March Madness heroes

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 11: Kemba Walker /

We have questions about the NBA. Luckily, we also have answers. Some of them might be useful. A few might even turn out to be right. This is Five Big Questions and this week we touch on NBA players who were once March Madness heroes. 

Which is more likely, that Kemba Walker starts next season as a Charlotte Hornet or that Kemba Walker makes an All-NBA team in the next four years?

Ben Ladner (@bladner): I think Charlotte will keep him, at least until the start of next season. Ownership seems set on getting all that it can out of this team, and I think it may convince itself of upside that may or may not exist. You could make the argument that with better health, this would have been a playoff team, and I think they want to see if that’s true. At the very least, I think Charlotte will wait until it has some data on next year’s team before making a decision. That, and I don’t see Kemba becoming one of the six best guards in the league.

Bryan Toporek (@btoporek): The former, hands down. To make an All-NBA team, Walker would have to surpass one of Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving or DeMar DeRozan, not to mention the likes of John Wall, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry or Klay Thompson. Even as Paul and Lowry age out of contention, up-and-comers will take their place in the All-NBA hierarchy. Besides, the Hornets don’t strike me as a team proactively looking to trade Walker, even though they absolutely should be. (He’s gone after the 2018-19 season.)

Paul Centopani (@PCentopani): Look, I L-O-V-E love Kemba Walker. This remains as one of my favorite basketball moments ever. But it’s more likely he starts next season as a Hornet. Unless the All-NBA parameters get revamped to be further reflective of the modern game’s positional stylings, cracking the list of the top-six guards in the league is a tall ask. That’s not a knock on Kemba, just a realistic view on how much talent saturates the sport right now.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I don’t think there’s any way that Kemba Walker makes an All-NBA team in the next four years. He’d have to be on a team that allows him to really thrive, and the Hornets look like they’re going to have a difficult time acquiring that kind of talent thanks to the pile of garbage their cap sheet is. Michael Jordan doesn’t seem like he’s willing to consider moving the best player on his team any time soon, so I feel confident saying that he’ll be back with the Hornets next season.

Rory Masterson (@rorymasterson): More likely is key here; I’m not convinced either is especially probable, but if Michael Jordan remains committed to keeping Kemba unless an All-Star on a longer deal becomes available via trade, then Kemba starting next season in Charlotte is the more likely scenario. To echo everyone else, this is not a knock on Kemba, and injuries could always clear a path for him to snake his way onto an All-NBA team. I’d love it if he managed to do that, even without the help, but it isn’t more likely than his remaining in Charlotte through at least the beginning of next season.

If you were able to move CJ McCollum to a team that needs a star, what team would it be and why?

Ladner: San Antonio or New Orleans. CJ’s skill set makes him adaptable to almost any team, and he can play either guard spot. The Spurs badly need shot creation without Kawhi, and they will when he comes back as well. Limited defenders have become serviceable ones in that system before.

The Pelicans could use a touch more shooting, and I’d love to see McCollum or Jrue Holiday running point with second units while the other one sits. CJ would also allow them to play Rajon Rondo less, which is a plus.

Toporek: Philadelphia often gets brought up as a dream destination for McCollum, but given how much the Sixers would have to give up to get him—yes, I still believe Markelle Fultz will eventually remember how to shoot a basketball correctly—I’d pass on that. (Also, the Sixers aren’t exactly lacking in the star department thanks to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.)

Putting McCollum on the Hornets next to Kemba Walker would be fun, even though I doubt he’d dramatically affect their trajectory. The Pistons could also desperately use a reliable backcourt scorer to complement Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Or hell, let’s link him up with Lonzo Ball and the Lakers and watch him drop 30-plus points a night.

Centopani: Bryan pointed out how people keep bringing up the 76ers as a CJ landing spot and wouldn’t ya know, I’m one of those people. McCollum would give Philadelphia the shot creator/additional knock-down shooter they need to ascend among the Eastern Conference elite. He even went to college in the area, getting him back in touch with his roots. It just all makes perfect sense. Cue the “I’m coming home” montage.

Lewis: I’d like to see McCollum with the Miami Heat. They’re a team with a bunch of exciting defenders, and a couple stud big men in Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, and Bam Adebayo. They get a lot of contributions from Goran Dragic, who is a magician at being able to create space for him to get shot attempts off. I’d love to see McCollum run sets designed by Erik Spoelstra and have the Heat grind their way to the playoffs for the next couple of years.

Masterson: Assuming money/assets are not an issue, adding CJ McCollum to the Oklahoma City Thunder would be intriguing. While he wouldn’t solve their hemorrhaging defense, he moves well without the ball on offense and doesn’t need a ton of shots to get going. He is also a good enough ball handler to take some of the pressure off of Raymond Felton in a non-Westbrook bench unit, as well as being able to provide volume scoring with those same units and sans-Paul George or Carmelo Anthony. Speaking of which —

Is Carmelo Anthony done?

Ladner: It depends on whether he’s willing to come to acknowledge what he is. He’s not as good as he used to be, and he plays a style that grows less useful by the year. I still think he can be really effective as a floor-spacing four, but he appears unwilling to adapt to the role that’s best for him.

Toporek: Is he done as a number one option on offense who deserves a max contract moving forward? Zero question. Fading gracefully is difficult for any former star, so if he follows the Allen Iverson path of refusing to accept his declining ability, then he’ll outlive his usefulness in short order. If he takes heart in how former 20-plus-point-per-game scorers like Vince Carter and Joe Johnson have adapted in recent years, he could still have value for a team. Just not at the $27.9 million he’s set to earn in 2018-19. (And he’d be an absolute moron to decline that player option, by the way.)

Centopani: Melo’s been done as a top player in the league for a number of seasons now, but perception always lags reality. Can he still turn into a veteran scorer off the bench, capable of uncorking some big games in big spots? Sure. Look at what Paul Pierce did when he was on the Wizards, Joe Johnson with the Jazz, or Vince Carter’s time on the Grizzlies. There’s a final evolution for Melo to hit, it’s just a matter of him wanting to progress into the role.

Lewis: Is he done being an inefficient chucker that doesn’t play defense? That’s what he’s been for most of his career. He can take comfort in his three gold medals, a national championship, and a lot of All-Star game appearances, but he’s had great success doing what he’s been doing for years — why change now? I agree with Paul, there’s an avenue for him to redefine his game and be a contributor, but the question with Melo seems to always fall back to “If only” and “when.”

Masterson: To pick the dead horse up and put it on the truck to the glue factory: “done” is the operative word here, and how you weight it answers the question. I’ve watched a lot – A LOT – of Carmelo Anthony over the past eight years, and seeing his steady decline has been as heartbreaking as it has been completely expected. He hasn’t been a viable number one option on a top-flight NBA offense since 2013, and his defense has rarely approached anything above average despite his size and low center of gravity. At this point, Olympic Melo is a myth, but it’s the best the Thunder can hope for over the rest of this season and into next (unless they trade him, which would be some kind of ride). Before the season, Hoodie Melo laughed at the prospect of coming off the bench, but it’s time he and Billy Donovan have that conversation in earnest. Somebody has to tell him.

What is your favorite Mario Chalmers moment ever?

Ladner: Gotta be either this one or this one.

Toporek: Is anyone going to choose something that doesn’t involve him getting yelled at? I sure won’t take that bait. Joakim Noah trolling him while Chris Bosh lights him up… perfection.

Centopani: It’s definitely the time President Obama had his back when the champion Miami Heat visited the White House. If getting berated by LeBron becomes so much of a trope that Barry O gets in on it, that is your moment.

Lewis: I love game-winners, and I’m going to go with him knocking down that shot in college. While Carmelo could have had more success in the NBA if things had gone differently, I never expected that from Mario Chalmers. Winning a national championship with Kansas? That’s good enough to get you into the Alaska Hall of Fame.

Masterson: I have a friend, Tom, who lost $80 on the 2008 national championship game, and he has always harbored a grudge against Mario Chalmers as a direct result of that, cursing his name upon mention. For that reason, and that reason alone, that is always going to be my favorite Mario Chalmers moment.

Is Kyle O’Quinn good? Should someone be trying to trade for him this summer?

Ladner: I am so glad you asked. Yes, he is. He’s super efficient for a guy who doesn’t take 3s, he’s a solid passer and defender, and he crashes the hell out of the glass. I think he could stretch his range out behind the arc if he were encouraged to, and he’d probably be the second-best center on most playoff teams. I’d love to see him on a good team.

Toporek: Define “good.” Starting-caliber for a playoff team? No. Will he be underpaid if he picks up his $4.25 million player option for 2018-19? Probably. The Knicks have been 5.2 points per 100 possessions better than opponents when O’Quinn is on the floor this year, per NBA.com—the fourth-best mark of any Knicks rotation player—which suggests he’d be a valuable contributor off the bench for a big man-needy team. I wouldn’t go giving up multiple first-round picks to acquire him, but if the Knicks re-sign Enes Kanter and decide to trade O’Quinn before he potentially leaves them as a free agent in 2019, it’d be worth a call to gauge their asking price.

Centopani: *climbs the stairway to the roof of Brooklyn apartment building, stands at the edge closest to Manhattan* YES…KYLE O’QUINN IS GOOD. GOOD TEAMS SHOULD TRY TO TRADE FOR HIM. He’s been underrated his whole career. As a Knicks fan, I very much enjoy having Kyle O’Quinn in my life. He has a tremendous beard and jovial personality. He rebounds well and is a great passer, especially for a big man. Seven of New York’s eight-best 5-man lineups by net rating (min. 25 minutes played) all include O’Quinn. He’s one of those guys who makes things happen when they’re on the court. As an NBA fan, O’Quinn finding a home on a competitor and having his skills utilized to their fullest extent in meaningful games is for the greater good. As a Knicks fan, I’m fully bracing to be disappointed with any trade return this summer. I just hope he ends up in a productive basketball situation.

Lewis: He’s probably one of the best players on the Knicks, but they’re a terrible basketball team with a bunch of terrible players. He’s okay but good? There is none good on that team but Kristaps Porzingis. I think he’s a fine player to have on a team, with his positive attitude, work ethic, and rebounding. But I think he’s capped out at being a third big on a playoff team that won’t have home court in round one.

Next: Five places that can use former March hero Jimmer Fredette

Masterson: Kyle O’Quinn is a personable guy who is as likely to show up at a Bar Mitzvah as in the post, corralling a defensive rebound over somebody taller than he is. His presence with the Knicks has always given the lowly New York City local games watcher something to keep an eye on, and his energy reflects well on the bench units with whom he’s usually marooned. He’s a better-than-average passer for someone his size, and he’s generally a capable defender on a team which hasn’t known defense in half a decade. He’s jolly! Does that make him a *good* NBA player in a vacuum? I’m not so sure, but chemistry is, more often than not, vital to an NBA team’s success, and there is no locker room in the league that wouldn’t benefit from the presence of Kyle O’Quinn.