During the 2017 NBA All-Star weekend, the hoops world will honor more than just the All-Stars themselves. They’ll also recognize the NBA’s best three-point shooters, dunkers and young rising stars. The coaches with the top records also make the trip, and there’s even a game for the top celebrity ballers.
Why not give some love to the best television announcers as well? The league’s national broadcasts feature some of the top media talent in all of sports, let alone the NBA.
Across ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV, there are more than 60 personalities who are doing play-by-play, pregame/halftime coverage and sideline reporting in 2016-17. I tabbed the absolute best from each role to form the 2017 NBA Announcing All-Star squad. The selections are based on who adds the best blend of information, insight, and excitement to the broadcast.
The All-Star crew consists of one play-by-play announcer, two color commentators, one sideline reporter, one studio host and three studio analysts.
Play-by-play: Mike Breen, ESPN/ABC
This was perhaps the toughest choice to make. There aren’t any bad play-by-play guys on the national NBA circuit, and you could easily argue Kevin Harlan or the legendary Marv Albert deserve the top spot as well.
Breen has a knack for capturing the unique meaning of big games. He lends terrific perspective and context surrounding each matchup, as well as the nuances and new developments in each contest. Breen paints a vivid picture of the flow of the game and which players have overachieved or underachieved. During the most exciting plays, he delivers a brilliant mixture of signature calls (like “Bang!” on three-pointers) and new, creative descriptions:
Like all the best play-by-play announcers in sports, he brings out the best in his color commentators. He often asks them questions to help the audience learn the finer points of the game or broader themes.
Alternate: Kevin Harlan, TNT- Harlan is as exciting a broadcaster as you’ll find, and he makes late-November games feel like late-June.
Color Commentator: Brent Barry, TNT/NBA TV
Barry actually spends more time as an NBA TV studio analyst, but he crushes his TNT appearances. The former NBA journeyman and son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry brings a wealth of insight to every game he covers.
Although Barry isn’t the most animated personality, he brings a great balance of levity and analysis. He’s adept at getting to the bottom of why teams are having success or struggling. Barry is exceptionally articulate when it comes to breaking down team schemes and individual player maneuvers. He’s not the most well-established color commentator out there, but Barry is one of the most versatile on-air talents.
Alternate: Doris Burke, ESPN/ABC- One of the most underrated commentators in all of basketball. She dissects the game with great passion and is always well-prepared for any situation.
Color Commentator: Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN/ABC
This is a polarizing pick. You either love or hate Van Gundy, whose old-school, no-nonsense style separates him from most color commentators.
Sometimes he gives off a get-off-my-lawn vibe, but he always backs up his arguments with reasons and examples. Van Gundy is well-informed about the league, its on-court trends and tendencies. As a former coach who’s seen countless big games and handled a host of idiosyncratic characters, he offers an important perspective.
Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated explained that Van Gundy stands out partially because he discusses uncomfortable topics in a candid manner:
Van Gundy has become the best game analyst in the sport thanks to his willingness to go to places most analysts would not when it comes to league-wide issues.
His style isn’t everyone’s favorite. Even I would like him to embrace advanced metrics more fully. But it’s easy to appreciate his preparation, authenticity and charisma.
Alternates: Hubie Brown, ESPN/ABC and Doug Collins TNT/NBA TV- Brown is a bit beyond his broadcasting prime, but he still has a magnificent on-air presence. Both he and Collins exude their passion for the game and have a mountain of experience to draw from.
Sideline Reporter: David Aldridge, TNT
There are a bunch of talented reporters to choose from. Although titans of sports media like Tom Rinaldi and Adam Schefter are doing some NBA work this season, I chose someone who does regular assignments and covers the league more extensively.
Aldridge is one of the most well-connected, well-researched NBA journalists, and it shows during broadcasts. He packs his sideline reports and interviews with pertinent facts and context to enhance TNT’s coverage.
He also knows when to be analytical and when to ride the wave of emotions from a game:
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) February 4, 2017
Alternates: J.A. Adande/Israel Gutierrez, ESPN- Both Adande and Gutierrez execute their duties smoothly and ask some creative questions during mid-game and post-game interviews.
Studio Host: Ernie Johnson, TNT/NBA TV
As conductor of TNT’s pregame, halftime and Inside the NBA coverage, Ernie is a master at empowering the voices of others. He allows his high-profile studio analysts to be themselves and fosters a healthy mix of game analysis and big-picture debate.
Lately, the show has featured more gimmicks and fruitless banter than I prefer. But Johnson still handles himself like a Hall of Famer. He’s as classy a broadcaster as you’ll find, and when the show turns to more serious topics, his personable voice resonates with casual and die-hard fans alike. His narration of this Craig Sager tribute was spectacular:
Alternate: Michelle Beadle, ESPN- Her laid-back approach has brought the fun back to ESPN’s studio. Hopefully, she’ll remain ESPN’s featured host for a long time.
Studio Analyst: Kenny Smith, TNT
Smith is an insightful and articulate presence amid Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley’s frequent buffoonery. The Jet likes to be goofy as well, which is great. However, he balances the jokes with a few more Xs and Os than his colleagues.
The “Kenny’s Pictures” segments at halftime are a simple, yet creative way to break down the sport. He goes up to the big board and explains the current game’s trends in a way that’s digestible for fans:
— TurnerSportsPR (@TurnerSportsPR) February 7, 2017
Smith is also adept at bringing fans into the mindset of a player. He draws from his experience as a 10-year pro and two-time NBA champion. The Jet often explains what it’s like for a player to guard a superstar scorer, attack an elite defense or face an adverse situation.
Alternate: Shaquille O’Neal, TNT- We had to include him as an alternate based on Shaqtin’ A Fool alone. He’s also more insightful than Barkley on a nightly basis.
Studio Analyst: Dennis Scott, NBA TV
Much like Smith, Dennis “3D” Scott brings a superb mix of levity and analysis to his studio. While he’s made sporadic appearances on TNT in the past, he does most of his work on NBA TV these days.
You can tell Scott’s not just there to pick up a paycheck. He truly enjoys discussing the sport, analyzing the top players and interacting with the other members of the studio. His engaging personality is perfect for pregame and post-game shows, and he also puts together some creative supplementary segments.
Even though the video below isn’t necessarily pregame or halftime material, Scott’s chat with Stephen Curry is awesome. He did a phenomenal job getting Curry to talk about his preparation, techniques and mindset as a shooter:
Alternate: Tim Legler, ESPN- Legler doesn’t do many pregame/halftime appearances (he’s mostly on Sportscenter). But when he does, he dishes elite knowledge about team tactics and player tendencies.
Studio Analyst: Greg Anthony, NBA TV
Anthony clearly does his homework and watches plenty of game film. He understands the varying playing styles of teams across the league, and he’s particularly adept at explaining how each squad’s chemistry is built.
Some national studio analysts are well-versed in the ways of the marquee teams, but not on the small-market clubs. That’s understandable considering how much the major-market teams drive the league’s revenue and media attention. However, Anthony is versatile enough to talk in-depth and passionately about the lower-profile clubs.
Anthony provides valuable context surrounding a given player’s role. He keeps close tabs on how players evolve. Here he smartly and succinctly explained why Isaiah Thomas has reached a new level of stardom this season:
— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 2, 2017
Alternate: Kevin McHale, TNT/NBA TV- McHale has done both color commentary and studio work this season, and he deserves credit one way or another. What he lacks in flash he makes up for with substantive analysis.
Who did we snub? Which selections did you disagree with? Sound off in the comment section below and on Twitter: