ESPN’s NBA play-by-play voice Mark Jones and his analyst Doris Burke called Monday night’s New Orleans-Memphis match, featuring the top two picks in the draft, Zion Williamson and Ja Moran. New Orleans won 109-99 in Orlando at the facility now popularly known as the Bubble .
Rookie Williamson is the highest touted prospect since LeBron James who joined the league in 2003. Many believe Zion will potentially succeed LeBron as the face of the NBA after the Ohio raised superstar hangs up his sneakers.
Grading the broadcasters:
- Burke and Jones could not stop talking about Williamson throughout the telecast and focused way too much time talking just about him. It didn’t matter whether he was on the court or off. The ESPN presentation turned into a Zioncast.
- Jones is generally solid. He’s ESPN’s #2 NBA play-by-player behind Mike Breen. Burke is high on ESPN’s depth chart too. But let it be noted that icon Hubie Brown, 86, isn’t working the rest of this season because of Covid-19 precautions. He’s a fan favorite.
- Mark said that Pelicans’ head coach Alvin Gentry told him Zion would play in four to five-minute spurts as he had done the previous two games. Apparently, the team’s general manager David Griffin is concerned about Zion re-injuring his knee, therein limiting his play.
- Early in the game every time Zion touched the ball he would immediately head to the rim and shoot no matter how many defenders were around him, leading Jones to say, “If I’m going in for five minute bursts I’m going to get my jack ups.” But Burke never addressed whether Zion should pass or continue playing his attacking style. Basic stuff.
- Burke did point out late in the game that Williamson helped turn things around when the game was 97-93 New Orleans. It was then that Williamson went on a tear to seal the deal for the Pelicans. Burke said it was Brandon Ingram (a game high 24) who was doing the scoring but when Williamson was on the court it distracted the Memphis defense.
- Burke also said she felt bad for head coach Alvin Gentry because he could only play his best player about twenty minutes a game. Feel bad? How many millions of dollars has Gentry made? He’s been in the NBA as a head coach or an assistant for over 30 years. He’s guided five teams as the head man on the bench and the furthest he advanced any of his clubs was to one Conference finals, with Phoenix in 2010.
- The game did not start off smoothly for either the teams or the announcers. Play was sloppy and it looked like an early preseason game with all the turnovers. Jones was having a tough time identifying players. In one case, he was tentative deciphering a ref’s call too. When New Orleans’ Jaxson Hayes was called for a charge early in the game, Jones couldn’t interpret charge or block. It took him a moment or two to figure it out. In Mark’s defense, this happens. The announcers were upstairs behind Plexiglas to stay clear of the playing surface. So it required an adjustment from their usual position on the floor.
- Because the NBA is allowing social justice messages to appear at the top of the backs of players’ jerseys, the guys’ names are now on the bottom, making it more difficult for announcers to identify players. As such, when a member of the Grizzlies cashed in on a put back bucket, it prompted Jones to ask, “Who gets credit for that?” Jones got better as the game went on, but he continued to make minor errors, nothing major, but they were still mistakes.
- The two voices didn’t really delve into how the game would be different for players, coaches, referees, and even viewers without fans. The one and only time Jones addressed the lack of fans in the arena came when Brandon Ingram received a technical foul. At that point, he asked his partner Burke if she thought there would be more technical fouls called with less noise in the facility that usual. Doris didn’t seem interested in answering the question, referencing instead her experience seeing WNBA player Candance Parker receive a tech for talking to her opponent Sue Bird. Beside this one sentence, Burke did not say anything else on this topic.
- Neither broadcaster set the tone early, focusing much of the first quarter on stories, not what to expect in the game we’re about to see. She said she voted for Ingram as the Most Improved Player and Jones told the audience how Ja Morant’s dad calls him after every game to discuss how to improve. Human interest stories are great and Jones generally personalizes players well. But timing is everything and early, viewers want to become familiar with the personnel on the floor; strengths, weaknesses and how they’ll impact the outcome.
- Burke is a former collegiate player at Providence and has covered the NBA since 2000. Unfortunately for the avid basketball fan, her comments are generally shallow. For what it’s worth she focuses on the average fan who is less interested in learning the finer points of the game. For fans who aren’t looking for depth, just the basics, she’s fine. For the rabid basketball fan Burke falls short.
- Doris did spew a couple funny lines in the broadcast, saying, “I do like being right, just ask my ex-husband.” When she questioned Jones about sharing a story of the New Orleans’ Josh Hart throwing his monitor after losing a video game, she quipped that she wasn’t sure whether he should share that story on national television.
- I had an issue with sideline reporter Malika Andrews who compared the media spotlights on Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball. Jones said Lonzo’s spotlight was white-hot coming into L.A. Burke believes Ball can be a great mentor to Zion on how to handle the spotlight. I did not like this comparison at all, because the two are not close to getting the same level of attention. Lonzo Ball got quite a bit of media space because his dad Lavar Ball was extremely outspoken and sought the limelight. On the other hand, Zion is heralded as the new generation’s potential G.O.A.T. Everything Zion does is news and basketball reporters have not stopped talking about him since he was at Duke. Even Jones and Burke themselves showed the difference by focusing on Zion alone all night. The Pelicans were on national television all the time due to Zion, not Lonzo.
- One other key point, there’s been much talk recently on Zion being out of shape. Other than a late comment by Burke that he looked winded, the two announcers didn’t address this. Zion is someone considered a budding superstar. Physical preparation is about attitude and work ethic. Does he have it?
Together, Jones and Burke get a generous B-. They just lacked luster.