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NBA Trade Watch: The Pacific Division

David Yapkowitz breaks down possible trade deadline moves in the Pacific Division.

David Yapkowitz

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As we reach the end of the week, we also reach the end of our latest series here at Basketball Insiders. With the NBA’s trade deadline on the horizon, chatter has been heating up around the league. With our final installment of this series, we take a look at the Pacific Division.

Golden State Warriors (34-9)

What more needs to be said about the Warriors? They have the best record in the NBA and clearly appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league. They’ve got the best starting lineup in the NBA and one of the best benches; there really isn’t anything that this team needs.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Kevin Durant – $25,000,000(player option)
Nick Young – $5,192,000
Zaza Pachulia – $3,477,600
Kevon Looney – $1,471,382
Pat McCaw – $1,312,611(qualifying offer)

Names Worth Talking About:

Despite the Warriors’ overall dominance, there are a couple of players that could see their names come up in trade rumors. One is backup big man JaVale McGee. McGee played a key role off the bench on last season’s championship team. He came into this season looking to reprise that role. He’s seen his playing time dwindle, however, and veteran David West appears to be the backup center for now.

McGee’s name has already appeared in early trade reports. If he is moved, he’s not going to net the Warriors anything of real value in return. It will most likely be a salary dump to accommodate McGee by having him go to a team with regular minutes available for him.

The other player who might come up in trade chatter is Kevon Looney. Looney’s battled injuries since coming into the NBA, and he’s never been able to really crack the rotation. He has received rotation minutes here and there this season and he’s produced when called upon. It’s unlikely that he has a major role on this team going forward and being young enough, he could draw interest from other teams. Like McGee, a Looney trade likely doesn’t yield anything major for the Warriors.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Honestly, there isn’t anything the Warriors really need at the deadline. Provided the front office can keep this group together, they are set up to contend for championships for the next several years. If the right deal comes along that would make the Warriors even stronger, they should definitely consider it. Otherwise, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Los Angeles Clippers (20-21)

A couple months ago, the Clippers were at a bit of a crossroads. They suffered some major injuries to key starters such as Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverly, Danilo Gallinari, and Milos Teodosic. They were mired in a seven-game losing streak. There was talk abound on whether they should mail it in, trade away their veterans, and hit the reset button. They’ve started to get healthy now, however, and have played their way right back into the playoff picture.

Notable Ending Contracts:

DeAndre Jordan – $24,119,025(player option)
Austin Rivers – $12,650,000(player option)
Lou Williams – $7,000,000
Milos Teodosic – $6,300,000
Patrick Beverly – $5,027,028(non-guaranteed)

Names Worth Talking About:

When the Clippers looked as if the wheels were coming off, DeAndre Jordan’s name was being mentioned as a possible trade candidate. Our own Michael Scotto just reported that the Clippers approached the Minnesota Timberwolves about a trade centered around Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns. Lou Williams is another name that has surfaced recently. Williams is having a career-year and could certainly help a few contenders.

This was a team that, when healthy, started out strong with Griffin playing like an MVP candidate. A lot of the big name trade chatter started gaining momentum when the team was floundering amidst all their injuries and looking like they might fall too far out of the playoff race.

Their front office has an interesting choice to make here. If they keep up their current play, do they stay the course and see how this team fares in the playoffs before making any changes? Or do they get some value for their guys now and start all over? As it stands, they’re only 1.5 games out of fifth place in the Western Conference.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Again, the Clippers could go one of two ways here. If they’re able to overtake a few of the teams ahead of them in the standings, they’ll probably stand pat. If that’s the case, a veteran point guard is probably their most pressing need. Patrick Beverly is out for the year, and Milos Teodosic has been in and out of the lineup due to injury. Rookie Jawun Evans has filled in admirably as a starter, but they’ll need a more seasoned player if they want to compete in the playoffs.

Then there’s the other possible direction. Maybe the Clippers don’t make a move in the standings. Maybe they drop more games and a playoff appearance starts to look bleak. If that happens, trade chatter involving Griffin, Jordan, and Williams will likely reappear. If they’re unable to make something happen record-wise in the next month or so, their biggest area of need likely becomes young players and draft picks.

Phoenix Suns (16-27)

The Suns are where many probably expected them to be. Some of their young talent is finally starting to shine through, but they aren’t really close to becoming a playoff team. They completed their big move of the year when they dealt Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks to accommodate his trade request and to open up playing time for the young guys.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Greg Monroe – $17,844,176
Alex Len – $4,187,599
Tyler Ulis – $1,312,611(non-guaranteed)

Names Worth Talking About:

There are some players on the Suns whose names will likely surface as the trade deadline gets closer. The one guy whose name is probably going to pop up quite a bit is Greg Monroe. Monroe played a big role off the Bucks bench last season, especially in the playoffs. He’s not in the rotation in Phoenix, but he can certainly still help a contending team.

The other name who might come up is Tyson Chandler. Chandler has been the starting center for the Suns for most of the year, and he’s played well for them. He may not be the player he once was, but he still provides an interior defensive and rebounding presence. He’d definitely help a contending team. He can come in and still start if need be.

Both Monroe and Chandler have fairly large contracts which might make them a bit difficult to move. It’s likely that the Suns wouldn’t be expecting much in return for either of them. If they’re able to get back any young prospects or picks, that would obviously be ideal. But since those contracts are big, they’re going to need to take back some salary as well.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Firmly out of the playoff race and headed to another lottery finish, the Suns just need to maintain course. Find a way to get their young guys as much playing time as possible. Monroe isn’t in the rotation, so if they can’t move him it doesn’t matter much. He’s an expiring contract anyway. If they can find a taker for Chandler that makes sense, they should do it.

More playing time for the younger big men such as Alex Len and Dragan Bender will likely benefit them. They’ve both shown improvement this season and would stand to benefit most if Chandler is moved. Chandler’s been a positive presence for the Suns but going forward, it’s unlikely he’s in their long-term plans. Len and Bender might not be either, but the Suns won’t know unless they try it out.

Los Angeles Lakers (14-27)

The Lakers are another team that’s right where they should be. They were never going to be a good team this year. They were always going to lose a lot of games. But they’re often times exciting while doing so. They’ve got some intriguing young talent on the team, talent that might be worth developing and worth standing by rather than chasing dreams of LeBron James or Paul George in the purple and gold.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Brook Lopez – $22,642,350
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – $17,745,894
Julius Randle – $4,149,242(qualifying offer)
Corey Brewer – $7,579,366

Names Worth Talking About:

There are a couple guys on the Lakers roster whose names have already been talked about in trade rumors. The most prominent one is probably Luol Deng. As the new front office tries to undo the mistakes of the previous regime, Deng has been on the inactive list since the first game of the season. The Lakers would love to get out from under his contract, but finding a taker is going to be incredibly difficult.

Other than that, they do have a few guys that have been mentioned in trade chatter who probably have some value around the league. Both Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson have seen their names in trade rumors since the offseason. Moving either or both has been seen as a precursor to pursuing James and George in the summer. They’ve both been solid for the Lakers, however, especially Randle, who is having a stellar year despite a decrease in playing time.

Randle, in particular, is someone the Lakers will need to make a decision on soon. He is set to become a restricted free agent this summer and is likely in line for a nice payday. The Lakers have to decide if they want to be the ones to pay him or not.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The Lakers’ biggest need is quite obvious: to ship out Deng. That’s unlikely to happen given his contract situation, so their next biggest area of need is to decide what to do with Randle. If they don’t think he’s part of the team’s future, then it’s best to trade him before the deadline and get something in return, rather than lose him for nothing in the summer when another team will inevitably pay him.

They also have to decide if it’s worth it to go all in for a couple of max contract guys this offseason. If so, they’ll need to look at potential deadline deals that will clear out some salary.

Sacramento Kings (13-28)

The bottom of the Western Conference is probably where you would have expected the Kings to be, and that’s exactly where they are. They did have a solid draft, but it’s going to take some time for that talent to yield on-court results. This is a team that’s been in the lottery forever, it seems, and so far they have nothing to show for it. This upcoming draft is looking very top-heavy so maybe the Kings will get lucky and finally hit the lottery jackpot.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Kosta Koufos – $8,393,000
Vince Carter – $8,000,000
Garrett Temple – $8,000,000

Names Worth Talking About:

The biggest name on the Kings’ roster who will certainly factor into trade rumors is George Hill. It wasn’t too long ago that Hill spoke about his disappointment with how the Kings’ season was going. He was one of the Kings’ prized offseason acquisitions, but he hasn’t panned out as initially hoped.

He’s got quite a hefty contract, so if he’s moved the Kings are going to have to take some salary back in return. He’s still a valuable player who just isn’t fitting that well with the Kings. There are plenty of teams out there, playoff contenders at that, who could use him.

Another name that’s come up is Kosta Koufos. Koufos has a bargain of a contract and is one of the Kings most productive players. He’d definitely help fortify a contending team’s second unit. Should the Kings decide to move him, it would probably be a bit easier than moving Hill. In any potential deal, the Kings should be looking at getting some prospects and/or picks that can help with the rebuild.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Other than finding a taker for Hill, if that’s what they want to do, the Kings should sit this deadline out. They need to use the remainder of the season to evaluate the guys they currently have. It’s been over a decade since the Kings were relevant, but there’s no need to rush.

If they can add any intriguing young players or picks, then, by all means, do it. But that’s all they should be looking to add.

With the trade deadline less than a month away now, look for more and more chatter to pick up. For the teams in the Pacific Division, the teams to look out for are the Clippers and Lakers. The Clippers will need to decide what path they want to take, and the Lakers will need to determine what their offseason goals will be. Those two teams are where most of the talk might come from. Look for the other teams, especially the Warriors, to stay put.

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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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