The NBA universe is always expanding. The past decade has driven fan appetite for coverage and analysis to new heights, and gifted us hundreds of NBA podcasts ranging from the listenable to the excellent. As the NBA enters its first post-KD-Warriors regular season this week, we’ve put together a resource of the best, smartest, and loosest programs in the NBA audio world. While most shows on the list follow the familiar sports-radio-style format, a couple have made it clear that NBA listeners are ready for more, from the audio profiles of Breakaway to the unfettered player access of Winging It.
The BS Podcast is of course not-basketball exclusive, but Simmons has always been at his sharpest and most knowledgeable when talking NBA. His partnership with longtime ESPN radio man Ryen Russillo, which began halfway through last season, became the most entertaining weekly NBA breakdown immediately. Simmons and Russillo often spend more time on the narrative of any given NBA week than on the analytics. Russillo’s funny, and the weekly show is proof that multi-decade experience on the air, in both Simmons’ and Russillo’s case, matters.
Including Breakaway on this list may be cheating, as it’s written rather than conversational, and does not run a regular schedule. It’s also the only NBA podcast we’ve written about on this site.
But Breakaway — in which host Rob Mahoney spotlights a single player or coach each episode as a means of understanding the larger function they perform within the league — is essential to understanding the NBA as it is. The audio profiles Mahoney has produced on players like Wayne Ellington, Julius Randle, Robin Lopez, or Andrew Roberson simply wouldn’t exist anywhere else. The show manages both to explain basketball at its most basic Xs-and-Os level, and to celebrate players who never otherwise would be on a national scale. The podcast’s best episode to date, spotlighting Damian Lillard, only becomes more exciting as Lillard’s legacy grows.
3. Dunc’d On
Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux’s podcast ranks as the most serious, unsentimental NBA podcast. This serious unsentimentality has a lot to do with the fact that it’s a rare daily sports podcast, posting game recaps consistently from October-June. It cannot be stressed enough that the two Athletic writers talk about basketball for 90 minutes, five times a week. That’s a level of productivity typically reserved for sports talk radio, and unlike sports talk radio, Dunc’d On is all analytics. This is the show to turn to for the deepest analysis, and for the narrowest focus on the games themselves.
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4. The Jump
The Jump functions as an extension of ESPN’s NBA TV coverage, but is made worthwhile by Rachel Nichols’ hosting. She’s long been one of the league’s best interviewers, and hearing her in a looser format than she’s allowed on TV makes for easy listening. She’s joined by Amin Elhassan and a rotating cast of 2008 Celtics (Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins). ESPN’s non-Countdown NBA analysis is generally pretty good. If you can ignore the main event — the malaised game analysis of Pierce, Jalen Rose, and Chauncey Billups — you get the decent analysis and reporting of Nichols, Elhassan, Windhorst, and of course, Woj and Lowe.
Lowe hosts his ESPN podcast nominally alone, supported by a rotating cast of fellow reporters and occasional player interviews. Lowe’s gift both as a writer and a podcaster is his ability to communicate his deep understanding of the game casually. He can explain a screen or a defensive rotation without a visual aid, and without losing you.
The Lowe Post ultimately strikes an excellent balance between analysis and personality. The show doesn’t stray too far from game talk, but Lowe’s jovial enough to let each episode wander into less-NBA-Head territory as well.
6. Open Floor
Open Floor, Sports Illustrated’s extremely-pleasant twice-a-week NBA show, recently lost its longtime host (and first mic) Andrew Sharp to the publication’s mass layoffs. The friendship between Sharp and his analytically-minded cohost Ben Golliver made the podcast a premier NBA listen. It’s endlessly disheartening to see old media institutions cut staff, and to see the industry-standard sports magazine collapse in on itself. Podcasts aren’t totally free from the destruction of print.
Replacing Sharp is Rob Mahoney, also the host of Breakaway. Mahoney and Golliver spend a little bit less time on jokes and a little bit more time on defense than Sharp and Golliver, but the podcast continues to deserve a listen, if with a heavy heart.
Haynes’ show, which as of writing has not aired since the end of last season, is the best interview show hosted by a major NBA reporter. Over the past several years, Haynes has established himself among the Shams’, Bontemps’, and Shelburne’s of the world as the NBA’s most-trusted, non-Woj sources. The NBA-podcast-interview landscape has become dominated by player-hosted shows, and it’s healthy to have Haynes keeping the journalist-hosted interview format alive.
8. RealGM Radio
Among the defining qualities of Danny Leroux’s weekly show is the fact that it brings together many of the hosts and regular guests who appear elsewhere on this list. RealGM Radio is where a host like Open Floor’s Ben Golliver or a news-breaker like Tim Bontemps can go to have the hyper-focused basketball conversations characteristic of the Dunc’d On/RealGM Radio universe sculpted by Leroux and Duncan.
Ricky is the only team-specific podcast on this list, and certainly the most cultish. Spike Eskin and Mike Levin have been piloting their Sixers ship since the depths of The Process, when the show existed to celebrate the shrewd, many-years-in-the-future-inclined trades of then-GM Sam Hinkie, and the occasional successes of scrappy NBA professionals (the Ish Smiths of the world). Now the Sixers have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris and Al Horford, and are title contenders.
Ricky has always been about fandom, about how to make rooting for a bad team worthwhile. Spike and Mike understand the stories we tell ourselves about sports to keep the joy going as well as anyone.
10. Winging It
Who knows whether or not or in what form Winging It will return this season as Kent Bazemore departs Atlanta for Portland. Regardless, Winging It is the best player-hosted NBA podcast to date, thanks to Vince Carter and Bazemore’s excellent rapport and ability to make playing in the NBA sound in fact quite pleasant. Carter has announced that 2020 will be his final season as a player, and perhaps no player in history has set himself up better for a career in the media.
The combination of Carter and Bazemore, an aging former superstar and an unflashy rotation-player, worked, and may continue to work, beautifully, and set a framework for the unthinkable amount of player-hosted shows to come.
Jake Greenberg is a culture writer based in Brooklyn. He has written for The Guardian and Mac Weekly. Feel free to email him at [email protected]