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NBA Trade Watch: The Central Division

Spencer Davies takes a look at what teams in the Central Division are going to busy in the trade market.

Spencer Davies

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Basketball Insiders continues its division-by-division trade watch series with the Central Division.

Between the top and bottom, it’s expected that those organizations will be busy in the trade market as the deadline approaches.

Here’s a look at the group of five and what teams are expected to be the most involved in the Central.

Note:
*Player Option
**Qualifying Offer
***Team Option

Cleveland Cavaliers (26-14)

The Cavaliers have lost six out of their last eight games, but they still sit atop the division. They’re a team full of ups and downs due to injuries and re-implementing players into rotations, like what’s most recently gone on with Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson. Soon they’ll have to do the same with Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert.

Regardless of that, Cleveland is a team in need of some type of move. Not only are they an older roster, but their defense has been sub-par to put it politely. A trade doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, but just enough to fill a need, or in this case, needs.

Notable Ending Contracts:

LeBron James* — $33,285,709

Isaiah Thomas — $6,261,395

Iman Shumpert* — $10,337,079

Channing Frye — $7,420,912

Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green — $1,471, 382

Names Worth Talking About:

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers have contemplated trading Tristan Thompson in an effort to move his heavy contract. Iman Shumpert is another player who’s been rumored to be in discussions with other teams for the past two years now.

Thompson would likely net more of a return for Cleveland, but considering his representation is the same as James’ and the fact he’s slowly developed a rapport with Thomas in the pick-and-roll game, it’s probably not going to happen. On the other hand, Shumpert has had a tough time staying healthy this year and his role with the team might suffer due to the abundance of guards on the roster, so he could be on his way out if the Cavs find a taker for his salary.

Based on lack of production on both ends of the floor, J.R. Smith should also be a candidate worth discussing, but Tyronn Lue is known to stick with his guys through thick and thin, so chances are a trade wouldn’t be in the cards.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Defense. Cleveland has had little to no resistance in many areas on that end of the floor. Two types of players would be welcomed—a perimeter defender that can shoot and a rim-protecting big that at the very least can alter shots in the restricted area.

It’s widely known by now that they have kicked the rocks on Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, but that price tag may be too steep. If the Cavs want a rental, there multiple potential targets. Nerlens Noel has a thumb injury at the moment, but if he’s healthy by deadline time it’d be a no-brainer for the sheer fact that he’s no longer used by the Dallas Mavericks at all. Another big from the same team who actually gets some playing time, Salah Mejri, could also be had for a lesser return. It wouldn’t be bad idea to explore the availability of Robin Lopez in Chicago, either.

As far the two-way guard is concerned, the perfect target is Courtney Lee. He’s been sensational from both a leadership and production standpoint for the New York Knicks and has plenty of experience. Slot him into the Cavs’ starting lineup and watch the energy level increase. Other options could include Tyreke Evans, who is having a career year with the Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, whom Mike Zavagno of Fear The Sword suggested this past week.

Milwaukee Bucks (22-18)

Over the last week and a half, the Bucks have been on a seesaw. They’ve been on a win-loss, win-loss, win-loss pattern since the New Year came about. There has to be some semblance of consistency shown in the near future.

Milwaukee needs to start taking (and making) more threes. With Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell on the outside, that should be a dependable trio to knock those three-balls down. Crashing the boards has been an issue that’s held this team back in the past and is affecting them right now, but we’ll get into that more in-depth.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Jabari Parker** — $6,782,392

Names Worth Talking About:

The Bucks already made their blockbuster deal in November when they acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns. Greg Monroe was whom they sent out, and other than him, there really are no players to pay attention to that may get shipped away.

What Milwaukee is waiting on is the impending return of Jabari Parker, which will pretty much act as a mid-season acquisition when he rejoins the team.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Rebounding. It’s been what’s held the Bucks back this year from being a true contender. It doesn’t help that they lost their best big man in the deal for Bledsoe, but it was a splash where the pros outweighed the cons. Still, Milwaukee’s dependence on John Henson is the X-factor of how far they can go.

Reports suggested Milwaukee threw their name in the hat in the DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes, but similar to the Cavs situation, the return L.A. is asking for may not be worth it. If the Bucks are involved in the deadline talks though, it should be for a big.

Detroit Pistons (22-18)

To the surprise of many, though not including this writer, the Pistons are a real player in the East. Unfortunately, injuries have restricted them from achieving their true potential, but the growth of Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris has really put this team in a great position.

Recently, Detroit pummeled the Nets in Brooklyn, but they’ve still dropped three out of five. They’re combating missing pieces and giving young guys like Luke Kennard and Dwight Buycks significant playing time while they wait for others to get healthy. That’s a reason they’ll be heavily involved come deadline time.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Avery Bradley — $8,808,989

Names Worth Talking About:

Despite having a solid season, Reggie Jackson is always somebody to pay attention to when it comes to trade chatter. Whether it’s because of his trouble staying on the court or his hefty contract, the Pistons have floated him around in deal discussions for the past two years. Luke Kennard’s flashes of talent in his rookie season have reportedly made him an interesting target for teams, but it will depend on what direction the organization wants to go. The same goes for Stanley Johnson.

It’s very unlikely, but the expiring deal of Avery Bradley makes him an attractive option for teams in need of a starting guard. Anthony Tolliver could also make for an intriguing rotational player and has a cheap expiring contract.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Depth. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Detroit has been “one of the most aggressive” players on the market looking for talent. Injuries have sidelined Jackson and Jon Leuer, so those positions could use either an upgrade or some extra bodies.

So what names have the Pistons been linked to? Earlier this season, Orlando Magic swingman Evan Fournier was apparently in the mix. Chicago Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic and Brooklyn Nets wing DeMarre Carroll are two names that have come up in rumblings as well.

Indiana Pacers (21-20)

Remember when people were laughing at the Pacers for trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis? Those people are awfully silent right now. Outside of a rough end to December, the supposedly rebuilding squad is above .500 and in a real conversation to make the postseason.

Defense is still an area of concern for Indiana, but their dynamite offensive onslaughts are overpowering enough to beat some teams. We’ll see if it can sustain throughout the season, and if it does, Nate McMillan will have quite the case for a Coach of The Year argument.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Thaddeus Young* — $14,796,348

Glenn Robinson III — 1,525,305

Cory Joseph* — $7,630,000

Lance Stephenson*** — $4,180,000

Names Worth Talking About:

Not too many. The Pacers are in good shape and really don’t need to ship anybody out necessarily.

Maybe with the return of Glenn Robinson III from injury, there may be less playing time for somebody, but it’s not necessarily enough of a change to make a move. If they weren’t contending for a potential postseason appearance, it’d make sense to try and find a deal for Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison, but they’ve been paramount to the team’s success.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

One more superstar. If Indiana chooses to make a move at the deadline, why not go for a home run? Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post cooked up an interesting thought about chasing Kemba Walker away from the struggling Charlotte Hornets. While point guard is a position set at the moment, you can’t equate to the production that an All-Star could potentially give you. It’s a grand idea and could make what was intended to be a rebuild into a contending season.

That might be the key to sending this Pacers team over the top as a real threat in the Eastern Conference, but it could also mess with the current flow they have right now with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis leading the charge. Only time will tell if they attempt something that drastic, but it could pay dividends if they try.

Chicago Bulls (15-27)

It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s been a lot prettier than most of us expected. After a 3-20 start, the Bulls are scratching and clawing with 15 wins already. The development of Kris Dunn as a legitimate starting point guard has been promising. Lauri Markannen is doing everything in his power to prove he’s a future star in this league. Nikola Mirotic is having a career year. Zach LaVine is coming back on Saturday.

Chicago’s probably going to finish in the bottom half of the conference, but it might not be as far deep as some predicted before the season started. They’ll definitely be players in the trade market to get their younger talent some more chances to develop.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Nikola Mirotic*** — $12,500,000

Zach LaVine** — $3,202,218

Names Worth Talking About:

Nikola Mirotic wants out of the Windy City. Regardless of how well the Bulls have competed over the last few weeks, he has no desire to stay for multiple reasons. Reports say that the 26-year-old has interest in the Utah Jazz to play under Quin Snyder. Outside of his personal preferences, the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, and Portland Trail Blazers have had discussions with Chicago. The asking price for Mirotic is a first-round pick. He can be shipped out as soon as January 15, so expect talks to pick up fast.

Another player to keep an eye on is Robin Lopez, who is a veteran center lost on a team going towards a youth movement. With Cristiano Felicio recently earning a payday and getting so little time on the court, that could ultimately push management to make a trade. Lopez could probably yield a decent return, too.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Size and youth. Say Chicago does get rid of Mirotic or Lopez, or even both—they’re left with one center and no bigs to back up Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen. Some guards on their roster should be expendable when Zach LaVine returns from his injury on Saturday, so maybe start there.

One rumored deal for Mirotic includes Derrick Favors in exchange, so they’re on the right track.

The trade deadline is shaping up to be a busy one for a lot of teams. Expect the Central Division to be on the phones when it comes to improving their respective rosters.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA Daily: Six Small Sample Size Overreactions

It’s not always healthy to overreact to small sample sizes — but it sure is fun! Ben Nadeau checks in on five of his favorite early season storylines.

Ben Nadeau

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Today is October 20, 2018.

The newest NBA season has been a thing officially for four days. On Monday, Basketball Insiders’ Spencer Davies penned a piece with pointers on how to enjoy the 2018-19 campaign. Naturally, Davies urges that it’s important to not overreact to sample sizes after just two games. It’s sound advice but, on the other hand, it’s definitely not as fun either. Sports were tailor-made for grandiose overreactions, particularly in the volatile realm of professional basketball, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.

In game No. 1 last year, the Indiana Pacers’ Victor Oladipo dropped 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals in a nine-point win over the hapless Nets. Interesting, we thought, but small sample sizes, right? Two games later, Oladipo tossed out 28 points, four rebounds, five assists, four steals and four three-pointers — then 28-, 35- and 23-point lines quickly followed. When the season was all done and dusted, Oladipo’s blisteringly hot start ultimately finished with the guard hoisting the award for Most Improved Player. So, sure, some of this might be hollow, but there’s also a decent chance it isn’t either.

And if it isn’t just a momentary flash in the pan, here’s your cheat sheet for getting ahead of the rest of your friends, family and fantasy leagues.

Luka Dončić and Deandre Ayton: Special Already

It took about 30 seconds to realize that the NBA was blessed with at least two remarkably special rookies this season in Dončić and Ayton. The pair kicked off their respective careers against each other on Wednesday and, generally speaking, neither disappointed. Dončić brought his smooth operating style — the same style that helped him take home EuroLeague MVP last year — right from the opening tip. The Slovenian sensation tallied 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists, including a fantastic behind-the-back dime to a cutting DeAndre Jordan. It wasn’t exactly a coming out party, per se, but this 19-year-old may just meet all of our massive expectations and then some before long.

Then there’s Ayton, the reigning No. 1 overall pick and presumed future star as well. While everybody rightfully gushed over Dončić on opening night, Ayton went and showed out himself. With 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and a block, Ayton went toe-to-toe with the aforementioned Jordan — a center 10 years his senior and an excellent rim protector in his own right — and shot 72.7 percent in his debut. The 7-foot-1 prospect will need to overcome some defensive hurdles, but he’ll put up some serious numbers in this Suns offense — that is nearly guaranteed. The last few years have brought some incredibly talented classes to the league lately and this one, headlined by Dončić and Ayton, appears as if it could be just as good.

Caris LeVert is LeGit

All summer, it was LeVert this and LeVert that. His coaches showered effusive praise on the third-year wing, while teammates — both new and old — touted LeVert as a breakout candidate this fall. Well, so far, it looks like his admirers were right on the money. LeVert, a slasher at heart, talked throughout last season about maturing and growing into his body — now, we’re getting an important taste of that comfort he’s long sought after. Dropping 27 points, four rebounds, four assists and a steal in 34 minutes against the Detroit Pistons, LeVert carefully used every herky-jerky step to mince his opposition to shreds. When the Nets were floundering in another infamously poor third quarter — a tradition like no other, at this point — it was LeVert that helped to claw them out of their self-made deficit. Most of the attention in Brooklyn has been focused on D’Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen, but perhaps it’s now LeVert’s time to shine.

On Friday, he did exactly that. The Nets called on him time and time again against the Knicks and the budding star delivered in spades. Not only did LeVert set a new career-high of 28 points, but 15 of them came in the final 12 minutes, including a tough, game-winning finish with just a second left on the clock. If people simply assumed that Russell or Spencer Dinwiddie would seamlessly resume duties as the crunch-time operators, they’d be dead wrong so far. The Nets have gone to LeVert with the game on the line twice in a row already and there’s a fair chance a star is being born in front of our very eyes.

The Knicks Are Probably Bad… But Absolutely Fun

In the Knicks’ season opener, jokes were flying around social media early about their potential ineptitude, particularly so without Kristaps Porzingis to save the day. Of course, New York then went and dropped 49 points on Hawks’ heads in the second quarter and never looked back. The Hawks are likely destined to be in the cellar this season and the Knicks won’t get 31 points from Tim Hardaway Jr. each night out. Having said all of that, this is an honest-to-goodness fun basketball team and, all of a sudden, there’s a nice collection of youngsters New York can develop moving forward. Kevin Knox, who surprisingly lost his starting spot just before the season began, tossed in 17 points versus Brooklyn on Friday; with newcomer and the perpetually-breaking-out Mario Hezonja helping with 15 points of his own in the opener.

Led by the ever-charismatic Enes Kanter (cue the nipple clip) and Hardaway Jr., it’s way too early to think about the postseason for the Knicks, but there will be plenty of reasons to tune in. Former G-League castaway Trey Burke is still here too, playing side-by-side with the defensive-minded Frank Ntilikina, while preseason standout Allonzo Trier is looking right at home in the rotation. The cherry on the top? Mitchell Robinson, the uber-athletic mystery man from June’s draft, has played just one minute in their first two games — his time will come soon enough. Even if head coach David Fizdale can’t transform the Knicks immediately, they will play hard and stay competitive on most nights — that alone is a better fate than half of the league’s lottery-bound franchises. The Knicks might be bad, but they’ll be a fascinating puzzle to watch come together over the coming months.

Devin Booker: Still Divisive, Still Very Good

Long before Booker brought home a five-year extension worth $158 million, fans and pundits alike were arguing about the sharpshooter’s true impact on the game. Between the Suns’ losing record since his arrival and an open discussion on empty stat-padding, many scorned the Phoenix front office for giving the 21-year-old a max deal. But if the next 81 games are anything like his first outing, Booker will be torching any defender that comes near him. Even a semi-alarming hand surgery in early September couldn’t slow down Booker in the opener. Against Dallas, Booker poured in 35 points, seven assists and four rebounds on 6-for-10 from three-point range — well, then. New head coach Igor Kokoškov promptly called Booker their “anchor” and noted that he will only continue to improve.

In the midst of Booker’s 19-point fourth quarter explosion, he showed off the full arsenal. Certainly, Booker is known from his long-range skills, but the talented scorer is proficient at taking defenders off the dribble as well. Booker has only played once — he’ll face off against the Denver Nuggets later on today — but he just continues to chug along, picking up right where he left off in March of last year. Through injury, rehab and a big money contract, it may just be time to admit that Booker is every bit ready to become a star. With potential-laden assets like Josh Jackson and Ayton surrounding him now, we’re about to find out how good this former Wildcat can be.

For now, the shaken-up Magic Eight Ball says this: “Signs point to yes.”

Kemba Walker: Setting Charlotte Ablaze

It feels like an eternity has gone by since the Walker trade rumors initially began — running the full gamut between certain availability, cautious denial and the point guard’s steadfast desire to stay right at home. Still, Walker will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and Charlotte has their work cut out to even make the postseason in the weaker Eastern Conference at all. While destinations like Cleveland and Phoenix have popped up in accordance, Walker has gone on record that he wants to “create something special” with the Hornets. But when push comes to shove, will Charlotte be willing to take the risk of their star walking away for nothing? As of now, February is a lightyear away, however, and Walker himself has helped the Hornets off to a positive start through two games.

Albeit in a slim one-point loss to Milwaukee, Walker erupted for 41 points, four assists and two steals on 7-for-13 from three-point range. On Friday, the Hornets took home their first win of the campaign on the back of Walker’s 26 points, five assists and five three-pointers. Flanked by standout rookie Miles Bridges, a more confident Malik Monk, plus healthy versions of Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller to boot, Walker looks poised to record his best season yet. Walker, 27, has always been a big-game killer and more than happy to talk down those pesky trade rumors — but this will be an extremely interesting case to check in on in a few months. Walker can’t keep up a 34.5-point per game pace, obviously, but it certainly appears as if a special, fire-breathing effort is brewing down the coastline. Don’t sleep on Kemba, he’ll make you pay.

Julius Randle: Unleashed?

And then there’s Randle: New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins replacement, the formerly renounced Los Angeles Laker and criminally underpaid big man. Under the never-well-hidden guise of LeBron James’ inevitable arrival, Randle seemed like a bit of an afterthought this summer for the purple and gold. Despite improving in every successive season, Randle’s trip to unrestricted free agency was a bit of a dud too, eventually landing him in a fantastic situation alongside Anthony Davis on a two-year deal worth $18 million. Randle is no stranger to impressive performances — his 36-point, 14-rebound, seven-assist onslaught last year against the Cavaliers instantly comes to mind — but he’s been undoubtedly key to the Pelicans’ red-hot start.

Randle is currently stepping confidently into three-pointers — he’s already at three through two games and his career-high in a season is just 17 — and the 6-foot-9 big man has shot 55 percent during their blowout victories over the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings. But what’s been most impressive so far is his continued versatility on the offensive end; smooth enough to stroke from deep, but more than able to post up, spin past a defender and then throw it down. Needless to say, the list of players capable of such flexibility, particularly those at the age of 23, is a short one. For now, he’ll continue to come off the bench behind the floor-stretching Nikola Mirotic — off to an even hotter start than Randle, somehow — but these minutes aren’t going anywhere.

The season is still in its early infancy stages but these storylines seem like sure-fire bets to continue well into the future. Whether these players compete for postseason hopefuls or lottery-bound rebuilders, it’d be wise to watch these storylines unwind and take shape. Most would agree that Dončić and Ayton are special — but how quickly can they find consistent success at the top level? LeVert and Randle are poised for their biggest respective seasons yet, while Walker and Booker look to ready to smash their detractors once again. Tiny sample sizes are admittedly dangerous, that goes without saying, but they can also offer helpful glimpses through the crystal ball at some of the league’s brightest stars. Feel free to sleep on these entries here — but if Oladipo taught us anything last season, it’s that these type of starts can turn into year-long heat checks and a renewed status across the entire league.

Who here has called next?

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NBA Daily: Can The Milwaukee Bucks Be Real Contenders?

Do the Bucks now have the talent and coaching to legitimately contend for this year’s championship?

Shane Rhodes

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The Milwaukee Bucks weren’t very good in 2017.

While they had one of the best players in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the court at almost all times, they struggled to win games under then Head Coach Jason Kidd. While things improved with the transition to Joel Prunty, Milwaukee and its underperforming roster ultimately fell to the Boston Celtics, sans their two best players, in the first round of the postseason.

But with Mike Budenholzer, one-time Coach of the Year award winner and former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, in the fold along with some new personnel, are the Bucks good enough to challenge the top teams in the NBA?

If their 2018 debut is anything to go by, the NBA needs to be on alert.

On the road against the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee looked completely dominant at times with the Greek Freak leading the charge in a 113-112 win. Antetokounmpo was his usual dominant self and finished the game with 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.

The most important take away from their season debut, however, has nothing to do with Antetokounmpo. It’s the fact that he got a sizeable amount of help from his supporting cast.

The Bucks often looked like a one-man show last season, with Antetokounmpo doing his thing while the rest of the team failed to pull their collective weight. They often looked slow and were worse than average, defensively; Milwaukee was just 20th in pace-of-play and 18th in defensive rating last season. And, amidst the NBA’s three-point revolution, the Bucks ranked just 25th in three-point attempts and 22nd in three-point percentage.

In a nutshell, the Bucks system wasn’t an ideal workspace for its star player. Antetokounmpo, who isn’t a great long-range shooter himself, needs all the spacing he can get in order to be the best version of himself. And that is why the 2018 version of the Bucks could be so dangerous.

Going back to the 2013-14 regular season, Budenholzer’s first as the Hawks head coach, here is how Atlanta ranked compared to the rest of the league in three-point attempts: 2nd, 7th, 7th, 16th, 7th. Budenholzer has instilled that same three-point happy offensive system in Milwaukee. Not only have they played faster, but they are shooting more; the Bucks attempted 34 shots from beyond the arc, 10 more than they averaged per game last season.

More importantly, the Bucks have the players to take advantage of that system and clear the interior as much as possible for the multipositional and uber-athletic Antetokounmpo.

Khris Middleton, the often underrated two-way wing, is a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. Eric Bledsoe, who struggled at times last season, has been solid from behind the arc for his career as well. Free agent additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, two big men who have steered into the three-point evolution of the NBA, have both shot 34 percent or better from three-point range over the last two seasons. Even rookie Donte DiVincenzo, who went two-for-four from three-point range against Charlotte, was a long distance specialist at Villanova and shot 37.8 percent from three during his three years with the school. The roster is loaded with more shooters than ever and they are being put in a position to shoot the long-ball, thanks to the gravity that Antetokounmpo has on the floor and Budenholzer’s system.

Now, as with almost everything, there could be some complications.

While shooting more shots per game could equate to more makes and, therefore, more points, it could, by the same logic, yield more missed shots as well. The Bucks aren’t a strong defensive team, nor have they been for the last four seasons or so, and those extra possessions for the opposition could kill the Bucks in the final stretch of games. Likewise, playing quickly can lead to more turnovers, creating further opportunities for opponents and hurting Milwaukee even further.

But, for now, the benefits seem to outeight the risks, and Antetokounmpo can cover up a lot of mistakes with the talent he possesses.

One game may seem like a small sample size to go on, but, if the Bucks can limit their offensive mishaps and defensive blunders, they have the chance to be a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference crown and, perhaps, the NBA title.

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NBA Daily: Kings Starters Show Promise Despite Loss

The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.

Spencer Davies

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The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.

Yes, a 25-9 lead was squandered and the game was lost to the Utah Jazz. Marvin Bagley III confusingly played fewer minutes than 14 of his fellow rookies in his NBA debut. They also forced more miscues than they committed, yet were still outscored 24-13 in points off of turnovers.

All of that makes it seem like Wednesday was the start to a long, frustrating season for the Kings, but don’t be so quick to judge. There was a ton of good to come out of the team’s season opener at the Golden 1 Center.

First off, what a night for Willie Cauley-Stein it was. He had the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Rudy Gobert, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to begin the fourth season of his career. We know that the 25-year-old isn’t necessarily a go-to scoring option, however, you wouldn’t have figured that to be the case if you watched the game.

Finishing with the third-most attempts for Sacramento, Cauley-Stein wasted no time and went right at Gobert when he touched the ball. Not once did he hesitate to put it on the floor, showing an improved, tighter handle on drives to the basket. Likely coming from film study, the 7-foot, 240-pound center excelled at using his body to get his shots up and over the “Stifle Tower” with great timing.

Cauley-Stein was determined to attack the paint all game long and showed no fear. He scored 19 of his 23 points with Gobert on the floor, including a thunderous alley-oop slam over the Frenchman following a screen-and-roll. To put the significance of this in perspective, his eight field goal makes are more than he’s had in each of the previous three seasons with Utah’s big man on the floor.

The Kings’ starters, in general, were especially solid, as all five players scored in double figures and had their squad’s best plus-minus ratings.

De’Aaron Fox swiped three steals, showed his playmaking skills and shared the love with his teammates, recording seven assists in addition to his 21 points. A candidate for a breakout year, Buddy Hield looked like the most comfortable player on the floor despite some lazy passes early, knocking down his signature off the dribble, mid-range fadeaways with ease.

Nemanja Bjelica used the threat of his outside shot to make his way to the basket for better looks and poured in 18 points. Starting at the wing, Yogi Ferrell held his own defensively against Donovan Mitchell and added a couple of threes to the mix as well.

Sacramento gave a double-digit led game away, but the players never gave in. During the fourth quarter, they got stops but just couldn’t seem to take advantage on the other side. It was the recurring theme of the night. The chances were there in transition. Now, they’ve got to work on completing those sequences and turning them into points.

Kings head coach Dave Joerger played essentially a nine-man rotation and got little out of his bench players. Justin Jackson struggled at the four spot and carved out 30 minutes of playing time in spite of it. Other than that, though, everybody in the second unit was on the floor for less than 17 minutes. It’s likely because of how well the starters performed, but they’ll need more out of those guys eventually.

There’s already a topic of discussion on the front of development vs. wins in Sacramento. Joerger’s addressed the matter with Bagley after the game and said it’s going to be hard to allocate minutes for a roster heavy with big men.

The counter-argument to that is simple—he’s the second overall pick of the draft. You have to find time for him, period. There should be no excuse not to regardless of who’s on the team. Don’t forget about Bagley being so talented that he re-classified to play with an age group above his own and still dominated as the ACC Player of the Year at Duke. He was a true freshman!

Aside from that whole debate, the Kings did not roll over and quit when they blew a 16-point lead and trailed by 14 soon after. In a game of runs, their young group hung in there and battled until the clock hit zero. Keep in mind this is a ballclub short of last year’s starting shooting guard still, too.

There may not be a whole lot of winning to come by in Sacramento—what with competing in the Pacific Division and Western Conference—but the season could be easier on the eyes if this is the type of effort they’re going to give on a nightly basis. Of course, we’ve got to be careful here since it’s only one game.

Even so, consider this writer in on “Kings SZN.”

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