De'Aaron Fox

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

He showed why in playoffs, Toronto’s Pascal Siakam wins NBA Most Improved Player

2 Comments

Even before the NBA pushed the release of its regular-season awards back until after the playoffs (so TNT can give us Shaq dancing and NBA players reading from teleprompters), there have been times when one player won a regular season award only to have another player step up in the playoffs and look like he deserved it.

Not this season — Pascal Siakam was the Most Improved Player in the regular season and Spicy P was a force for the Raptors in the playoffs.

Siakam has officially won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Siakam broadened his game this season, doing a little bit of everything better. He averaged 16.9 points per game, shot 36.9 percent from three, grabbed 6.9 rebounds a game, and became an important part of the Raptors’ defensive plans.

Siakam stepped up his game and averaged 19 a night in the playoffs. Now he’s got a ring to show for it.

Brooklyn’s D'Angelo Russell, who had a breakout season, finished second, with Sacramento’s De'Aaron Fox third, his teammate Buddy Hield fourth, and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic fifth. Here are the full voting results.

Sacramento adds Joe Dumars as advisor go GM Vlade Divac

Associated Press
1 Comment

Joe Dumars got a bad wrap as the GM of the Detroit Pistons. He certainly made some mistakes at the end (hello Darko Milicic) but he also built a roster that went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals and won the title in 2004.

The Sacramento Kings — a young team with promise entering a few critical years in their development — are bringing Dumars in as an advisor to GM Vlade Divac. Sam Amick of The Athletic first reported the story, and Friday the Kings confirmed it.

“Joe and I played together in the league and is a legend in our sport,” Divac said in a statement. “As an experienced and talented basketball executive, I’m excited to have him serve as a special advisor and expert resource for our incredible front office team.”

“I’ve known Vlade for decades, and I’m thrilled to work with him and the Sacramento Kings at such an exciting time for the franchise,” Dumars said.

This has the potential to be a good thing — in the best front offices it’s not a dictatorship and more of a collaboration. The Warriors are famed for debating everything internally and letting everyone have a voice. The Clippers poached Jerry West from Golden State to be part of their brain trust that includes future GMs such as Michael Winger and Trent Redden, Doc Rivers, and Steve Ballmer encouraging the discussion. David Griffin got hired in New Orleans and instantly brought in people such as Trajan Langdon to build a smart front office. Those are just three examples of an NBA that is moving more toward a collaborative front office model.

Dumars knows the game and has an eye for talent. Adding his voice to Divac, assistant GM Peja Stojakovic, now coach Luke Walton and others has the potential to be a good thing. Plus, Dumars may be able to talk to owner Vivek Ranadive in a way others cannot (in Los Angeles, West can be the Ballmer whisperer).

The Kings won 39 games last season as De'Aaron Fox exploded on the scene, Marvin Bagley impressed as a rookie, Buddy Hield knocked down shots, and players like Harrison Barnes and Bogdan Bodanovic found a comfort level. The Kings found an identity in pace and became one of the most entertaining teams in the league.

But the next steps in development, and adding the right players to the mix, will be tricky. The Kings want to work out a long-term deal with Barnes (who just opted out as a free agent) and bring in some free agents that fit their mix. How to spend that money will be an interesting decision for the Kings.

Having another bright basketball mind in the mix to discuss it makes a lot of sense.

Harrison Barnes declining $25,102,512 player option with Kings

Rob Carr/Getty Images
6 Comments

Harrison Barnes‘ salary was so high, he became a talking point in the debate about WNBA salaries.

But he’s so confident he’ll get a better deal, he’s leaving $25,102,512 on the table with the Kings.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Kings project to have about $60 million in cap space – likely more than they know what do with.

They could re-sign Barnes. By trading for him last year, they indicated they value him more than the rest of the league does.

Even if he settles for a lower salary next season than his player option called for, this could be the 27-year-old Barnes’ opportunity to secure a long-term deal. He’s a solid outside shooter and, even if he’s better at power forward, capable of playing small forward in a league thirsty for wings.

Sacramento could definitely use a player like him.

Can the Kings lure someone better, either this summer or – if they keep their books clean – a future year? Unless way overpaid, free agents have tended to avoid Sacramento. But the rapidly improving De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are leading a turnaround.

Barnes’ free agency could be a good litmus test for the Kings’ reputation now. Can they convince him to continue his role on a rising team? Will they have to pay a premium to keep him? Or does he just want to leave?

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Ja Morant is the future of the point guard position

5 Comments

Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Ja Morant.

Previous draft profiles:

The trajectory that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant have taken to get to the point where they are projected to be the top two picks in the NBA draft could not be more different.

Four years ago, they were playing on the same, small AAU team out of South Carolina. From there, Zion blew up, becoming a viral sensation thanks to his athletic exploits, having his jersey get worn by Drake when he was still a high school junior and spending the majority of his time in the high school ranks as a top-five talent in his recruiting class.

Morant, on the other hand, was more or less a no-name prospect into the summer before his senior year. He eventually became a popular mid-major target, and he even received a scholarship offer from in-state South Carolina. He was hardly unknown, but he was miles away from being someone considered to be a potential franchise-changing talent at the NBA level.

As it stands today, the thing that both Zion and Ja have in common — besides the two most recognizable first names — is an otherworldly level of explosiveness that has both ratcheted up their hype and buried the lede. The reason Williamson is the most exciting prospect to come out of the college ranks since Anthony Davis is because of his ability to play the point and the five, all at the same time. He’s Draymond Green, only if he was injected with NOS from Dominic Toretto.

Morant’s athleticism rivals Williamson’s. Blessed with a 44 inch vertical, Morant’s motto this season was “jump with me if you want to go viral,” and that couldn’t have been more accurate. He spent more time on SportsCenter this season than every Ohio Valley Conference player before him combined, something that was highlighted by this dunk:

And that explosiveness matters, I would never try to say otherwise. Dunking over weakside defenders in the NBA is going to be more difficult than when playing at UT Martin, but being able to elevate the way Morant elevates will help him transition to the next level. His quick-twitch athleticism also manifests in his ability to make plays in the halfcourt, where his ability to change speeds — and to go from a standstill to top speed — is what allows scouts to be able to project Morant as a player that can create offense against set NBA defenses. For a player who did so much of his damage at the college level in transition, that’s a big deal.

Morant’s physical tools makes it very easy to see him as another De'Aaron Fox. They’re both about 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds with a 6-foot-6 wingspan, and Fox just wrapped up his second season in the NBA with averages of 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 boards.

But simply focusing on Morant’s athletic ability is to ignore what he does best: Pass.

Because while Morant did average 24.5 points and 5.7 boards while shooting 36 percent from three, perhaps what is most impressive about his sophomore season with the Racers is that he led all of college basketball in assists at 10.0 per game, just like Lonzo Ball led the nation in assists in 2017 and Trae Young did in 2018.

I mention both of those guys for a reason. Morant does not have the same hit-ahead ability in transition that Ball does, but Morant’s vision in the open floor and ability to make long, accurate passes in the open floor is one of the things that he does best. He also thrives in early-offense, where his And-1 Mixtape handle allows him to keep his dribble alive and probe opposing defenses. Because he is such a threat as a scorer, defenses would then collapse, which is when Morant’s ability as a dump-off passer and a lob-thrower comes into effect.

And that’s not even what he does best as a passer, because where he really shines is in the halfcourt and working off of ball-screens. Morant’s basketball IQ is the most underrated part of his game. He knows how defenses are going to defend him. He knows how to use his eyes to move weakside defenders. He knows where the tag is coming from, and whether the shooter in the far side corner or the roll-man will be open. This is where that Trae Young comparison comes into play, because reading defenses is where Young thrived while at Oklahoma.

The best way to describe Morant’s ability as a passer is that he not only knows when and where his teammates are going to come open, but he has the ability to find a way to make the pass that will get them an open shot. Morant is right-handed, but he will, at times, look like a left-handed player because of how often he makes bullet, live-dribble passes with just his left. He makes reads, and passes, that few point guards in the NBA today can make.

That passing is what makes all the difference, and as much as his athleticism or ability as a scorer, it’s the reason why he can be viewed as a player with the potential to be a franchise-changing point guard in the same stratosphere as the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall.

Now, Morant does have some flaws, and they are quite notable and relevant.

For starters, he is of a slight build, which is less than ideal. He is not going to be able to bounce off of contact in the NBA the same way he did in the OVC, and in a league where switchability is a priority at the highest-level, he is going to be targeted. Opposing coaches are going to target him by trying to force switches the same way that Nick Nurse did with Steph Curry in the finals. That is going to be an issue if he can’t add some weight and strength, particularly because he has not been a consistently great defender to date. Some of that can be attributed to the load that he was asked to carry offensively, and there is reason to believe that Morant’s athleticism, anticipation and quick hands will translate to being an above-average defender in the NBA.

Morant can also be a bit sloppy. He averaged more than five turnovers per game, and while some of that is strictly a result of workload and defensive attention, he also had a habit of trying to force passes that weren’t there.

But the biggest question mark, and what is going to determine his ceiling more than just about anything else, will be how well his jumper comes along. Morant shot 36.3 percent from three this past season, but that number drops to just 33.6 percent if his 7-for-8 shooting from three in the NCAA tournament is factored out.

Put another way, as good as Morant was this past season, there is still plenty of room for him to grow moving forward.

And in a league where ball-dominant lead guards that thrive in ball-screens is the norm, Morant is a player with quite a bit of value in the long-term.

Report: Dave Joerger wanted Luka Doncic over Marvin Bagley III, had disconnect with several Kings

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
5 Comments

Dave Joerger – whom the Kings fired last week – sounded like he wanted Sacramento to draft Luka Doncic over Marvin Bagley III with last year’s No. 2 pick.

Maybe because Joerger actually did.

Jason Jones of The Athletic:

Sources say Joerger also favored drafting Luka Doncic over Bagley

It seems Joerger never got on the same page with Bagley. Or Sacramento rookie Harry Giles.

Jones:

Joerger never seemed to connect with prized rookie Marvin Bagley III, leaving the second overall pick to wonder privately if Joerger even liked him, a source said.

Harry Giles, another player the front office had faith in, couldn’t crack Joerger’s rotation earlier in the season, and sources said Giles was a player the coach did not communicate well with or believe in.

Remember that time Joerger argued with Buddy Hield after the guard made a clutch 3-pointer? Jones:

sources said Hield was bothered by how Joerger undressed him publicly.

Hield had expressed concerns about his role with the Kings last season, and sources said Hield was another player Joerger was not as high on as management was going into this season. Sources also said Joerger would have been in favor of trading Hield before the 2018-19 season.

I suggest reading Jones’ full article for more details of Joerger’s issues in Sacramento.

The key takeaway: Kings general manager Vlade Divac clearly believes in the players he assembled more than Joerger ever did.

And that could have been fine. The coach doesn’t always have to share the exact same perspective as the front office. The coach just must maximize the players he’s given.

And in many ways, Joerger appeared to do that. Under Joerger, Sacramento developed a strong identity of speed. De'Aaron Fox improved at a historically fast rate. Hield improved a lot, too. Even Bagley and Giles progressed through the season as they eased into larger roles. Whatever rifts existed, the team played together. I thought Joerger did one of the very best coaching jobs this season. (He also looks right about Doncic over Bagley.)

That doesn’t mean he was the right coach going forward, though. Just because he kept the team connected enough this season doesn’t mean Joerger would have continued to do so. Fraying was beginning to show.

But Divac definitely puts pressure on himself by, in his first move after a contract extension, firing the coach who just guided the Kings to their best season in 13 years. Divac is not shy about expressing faith in his roster. Firing Joerger is the biggest pronouncement yet.