September 30, 2022

When the trailer for Adam Sandler’s basketball-centric movie Hustle was released, many fans were skeptical. Sports movies tended to be more random, especially when basketball players are involved. Often it can feel a bit grating, or it just isn’t pleasant at all.

After Hustle premiered on Netflix, NBA and non-NBA fans agreed on one thing: it’s a great movie.

Hustle doesn’t have a groundbreaking story like some of the all-time great basketball movies. Instead, the movie takes the concept of a “feel-good sports movie” and takes it to the next level. Basketball fans may also appreciate the film’s attention to detail to basketball concepts. It’s not a movie that contains basketball: it’s a movie about basketball.

And yet, the most impressive thing about this movie is the cast. Hollywood appearances by professional sports players tend to feel… quirky. Athletes often stand out from an acting point of view compared to non-sports fans. Their lines seem forced, their movements unnatural. This was not the case at all in the movie Hustle. Let’s look at notable NBA appearances in the film and rate them accordingly.

Anthony Edwards Performance Rating, NBA Players in Adam Sandler’s “Hustle”

Honorable Mentions

Before we talk about the big names in “Hustle,” let’s talk about some of the notable cameos by NBA stars in the film.

  • Luka Doncic could very well become the greatest Mavs player of all time. He still has a lot to learn from Dirk Nowitzki, based on their brief appearances in the film.
  • It was weird seeing the Inside the NBA team without Kenny Smith (more on him later). Who replaces him in this universe?
  • AI “Are we talking about practice?” the rant made its way into the film: a fitting cameo for a Philadelphia shoot.
  • Julius Erving had a minor role, but he killed it off in no time on camera.
  • Kudos to Bone Collector, The Professor and Lethal Shooter, who spent their time on camera alongside other notable streetballers.
  • The NBA Combine scene is a treat for many NBA nerds. Mark Cuban, Brad Stevens and many other trainers appeared in this scene.

Boban Marjanovic

Of all the active players who played a role in Hustle, Boban Marjanovic has the most cinematic experience. The Mavs center became a smash hit among the fans for his incredible performance as the guy John Wick killed in the third chapter of this series. Many fans expected him to stand out in the film.

Boban appears in the opening minutes of Hustle as the “Big Serb”, the supposedly 22-year-old prospect with a 10-year-old son and whose birth certificate was destroyed in a “big fire”. Marjanovic’s deadpan delivery and charisma shone again in the film. He even got to greet Trae Young in one of the basketball scenes, which is hilarious.

Grade: B+

Kenny Smith

Kenny Smith plays Sandler’s best friend and gambler agent, Leon Rose, in the movie Hustle. Smith’s first long scene in the film is that he urges Sandler to watch the ladies by the pool in Spain. This is where Kenny Smith’s energy peak is, and nothing can tell me otherwise.

In addition to ribbing Sandler throughout the film, Smith brings a lot of credibility to the film. Smith has a lot of lines in Hustle where he talks about great NBA moments or what it takes to be an NBA player. From any other actor, that might sound a bit cringeworthy. Coming from a guy who actually played in the NBA, these lines add an air of realism to the movie. All in all, fantastic work by Kenny.

Category B

Moritz Wagner

You have to feel Moritz Wagner in this movie. The former Lakers first-round draft pick is picked in Hustle as “Haas,” a highly touted European draft prospect nicknamed “The German MJ.” While the Sixers organization are impressed with him, Sandler has his reservations, citing work ethic issues and a lack of defense.

Despite this, the Sixers take it anyway, only to realize that Sandler’s concerns were valid. Worse still, the Sixers selected him with the first pick in the draft. Long story short… he was billed as the stereotypical European draft bust of this universe. Feels rough man. He at least played his part pretty well, selling the character pretty well.

Category B

Anthony Edwards

Even before Hustle premiered a few days ago, many NBA fans were excited to see Anthony Edwards in a movie. The Timberwolves star is easily one of the friendliest players in the league today. After all, he is charismatic and extremely comfortable in front of the camera (as Sandler himself noted). For this reason, fans expected a lot from Edwards in this film.

Edwards took those expectations and blew them out of the water. The Timberwolves star played movie antagonist Kermit Wilts in “Hustle.” Edwards was a natural in front of the camera. He was very detestable in the film, his trash talk acting being incredibly annoying as a viewer. Watching him get humiliated in the film’s final scene was incredibly satisfying, which is a sign that Edwards did his job as a villain very well.

Rating: A+

Juancho Hernangomez

Juancho, Juancho, Juancho. When NBA fans learned that Hernangomez would co-lead alongside Adam Sandler in the movie “Hustle,” fans were undoubtedly skeptical. There was no reason to believe that the companion in front could be an actor, much less a credible actor.

And yet, here I am talking about the quality of Hernangomez’s performance in “Hustle.” As Bo Cruz, Hernangomez shone a lovable protagonist in the film. Performing with Adam Sandler and Queen Latifah is a monumental task for any beginning actor. Amazingly, Hernangomez held on and more. His facial expressions were precise, his movements felt natural, his delivery was outstanding. It was, in every way, a great start for him.

Juancho Hernangomez made me cry in a basketball movie. It’s a phrase I never thought I’d say, but here we are. He deserves all the props for his work in the film.

Rating: A+

Final Thoughts

What makes Hustle work so well as a basketball movie, in my opinion, is the standout performances by the NBA stars. As I mentioned earlier, NBA stars have a bad habit of standing out in the worst way possible when it comes to cinema. It doesn’t help when the movie seems to put their looks on your face.

In Hustle, NBA players were more “low key”, so to speak. Every time an NBA player was in front of the camera, the movie wasn’t trying to get you to recognize “Hey look, that’s player X!”. Instead, they were background characters, adding a lot of credibility to the movie. There were no ironic references to NBA players, they were just there. Almost as if they had lived in this universe long before the events of this film began.

Of course, the central plot of “Hustle” would have fallen flat if not for the incredible film debuts of Juancho Hernangomez and Anthony Edwards. The duo looked like naturals there, to the point that non-NBA watchers didn’t realize they were NBA players until the credits roll.

Overall, Hustle is a very solid watch for NBA fans and non-NBAs alike.