On the February 27th edition of ESPN’s KIA NBA Countdown, analysts Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose and Michael Wilbon provided insights on several of the NBA’s top storylines, including the Indiana Pacers as a contender, the legacy of Bill Russell and the play of rookie sensation Damian Lillard. KIA NBA Countdown next airs Friday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.
On the Indiana Pacers
Jalen Rose: The Indiana Pacers have distinguished themselves as the second best team in the east.
Bill Simmons: I do like this Indiana team. Paul George has gone up a level. The Pacers have some dudes. I don’t know if you want to mess with the Pacers. Their defense is fantastic, especially the past six or seven weeks. I think they have a chance against Miami in the NBA Playoffs.
Michael Wilbon: If you want to show me how tough you are, show me when you’re up 2-1 on Miami like last year. There’s a lot of pressure in the Hoosier state to play a certain standard of basketball. They’re veteran enough, they’re talented enough, and they should be the second best team in the east.
On Bill Russell and race in the NBA
Simmons: People always associate baseball with race and how it intersects with America. I would argue in basketball there’s just as big of a case. Spending time with Russell, he was somebody who stood for stuff back then. I think this has changed in the past 50 years. The African-American athletes in the 1960’s really fought for stuff and now athletes watch out for their brands.
Rose: I would ask the question: why is someone like Bill Russell, who has 11 championships, as many as Michael and Magic combined, why are we still waiting on his statue? Michael has one. Magic has one.
Wilbon: This speaks to the burden. This speaks to what happened to these gentlemen, like Russell, and how they were outsiders. They sacrificed and gave additional career years to a younger generation. Magic would object to this if he was sitting here, but Magic is perhaps the most important black businessman in the country.
On Damian Lillard
Wilbon: Lillard is the surprise from moment one this year. A lot of people haven’t seen him nationally yet, but he’ll get his chance tonight. He’s a virtual lock to beat out Anthony Davis for NBA Rookie of the Year.
Rose: If you notice, he’s going both ways off these pick n’ rolls. He’s going left and right. He can finish at the hoop, he can make mid-range shots and he can make three-point shots. There’s a difference between being able to dribble and being a handler. He has that thing on a yo-yo.
Simmons: Portland fans should be sending thank you cards to Brooklyn for giving up the sixth pick in the draft for Gerald Wallace. He’s so fast, he can bounce off guys, he can finish shots and finish off weird angles.