Are the King’s For Real?

Written by Max Karr

The Sacramento Kings are off to an uncharacteristically solid start to the 2018-2019 season. Thought to be one of the worst teams in the NBA, the Kings have started off 6-4.

So Far:

The truth is, half of their wins so far have come against non-playoff teams. Those teams consist of the Magic, Hawks, and the Grizzlies.  The Magic and Hawks are among the worst teams in the N.B.A. The Grizzlies are a solid team, but still nothing special. The other 3 wins have come against the Thunder, Wizards, and the Heat. The Thunder and Wizards have shown to be a wreck so far this season. The Thunder started off the year slow, and have only just figured out their woes. The Wizards remain a toxic mess and are off to a 2-7 start. Against the Heat, they genuinely beat them and it was their only quality win.

Successes:

The biggest propellant of the Kings success this season has been their 3rd ranked offense. Last year, they had the 30th ranked offense. Part of their offensive success has been their changing of play style and 3 point shooting. Last year, they played with the slowest pace in the N.B.A. This year, they’ve picked up the pace to 3rd in the N.B.A. The main cause of the quickening of pace has been benching Zach Randolph and removing Vince Carter, allowing the young guys to run. Although they are among the lowest teams in 3-point shots attempted, they are 2nd in 3-point percentage. The Kings don’t shoot a lot of threes but they have been converting them at the 3rd best rate in the league. Part of that high conversion rate is the shooting of three players: Iman Shumpert (43%), Nemanja Bjelica (55%) and Buddy Hield (49%) from three. On the defensive end, they have regressed from 14th last year to 22nd this year. That is a misleading stat; the quickening pace has made the opponents get more possessions. Their defense is not bad and has shown improvement. Willie Cauley-Stein is a great rim protector, De’Aaron Fox is a pest, and their whole team has showed a greater focus on that end.

The Team:

With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Kings are allowing their young guns to play and develop. De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Buddy Hield have shown serious growth. Frank Mason and Justin Jackson have been solid, and rookie Marvin Bagley has been a spark off the bench. Veterans Iman Shumpert and Nemanja Bjelica have been big contributors both on and off the court. Bjelica has provided floor spacing at the 4 position, which has opened up the court for his teammates drives.

The Verdict:

The changes to their style of play and growth of their young players has shown promise in Sacramento. As much as I want to believe the Kings hot start, I believe that it is fools gold. The young guys have improved, but their early success is in part to hot shooting and a weak schedule. Their shooting is unsustainable and their youth won’t know how to handle success. Hield, Bjelica, and Shumpert are all good shooters, but their percentages should all lower with added volume. I like their young nucleus and it should get a boost with Bogdan Bogdanovic returns from injury. The trouble with having one of the youngest teams in the N.B.A. is handling success. The 2017 Lakers, who were one of the youngest teams in the league, started off 10-10. That good start was just a mirage. After that, they had an 8 game losing streak and lost their way. They finished an awful 26-56. I believe the Kings will follow the path of that team. With the Kings, a heartbreaking loss could capsize their whole year. It’s a slippery slope with young teams, as those losses can pile up in a hurry. The Kings are on the right path, but they are just a year or two away from greater things.

Record Prediction: 30-52

How do you think the Kings will do this season?

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Head to Head: Brodie vs. PG

The Oklahoma City Thunder have gotten off to a rocky start this season. With only Russell Westbrook and Paul George to lean on, not much else is to be expected. The Thunder don’t seem to have enough pieces to get themselves out of the middle of the pact.

When Kevin Durant was on the Thunder, the power struggle was between him and Westbrook. While Durant was the more talented of the two, Westbrook was the one with the alpha mentality. This was part of why Kevin Durant left to Golden State. With him gone, the Thunder squad was cemented as Russell Westbrook’s team. Now Westbrook has a new running mate in Paul George. While George is not on the level of Kevin Durant as a basketball player, he is a capable scorer and all star in his own right. He is a better overall shooter than Russell Westbrook, and can put up a ton of points when he gets going.

So the question is: Who takes the final shot for this team? Russell Westbrook or Paul George?

Clutch Time Stats:

Westbrook: 3.7 PTS, 41% FG, 20% 3PG, 65% FT

George: 2.1 PTS, 38% FG, 39% 3PG, 83% FT

Debating for Westbrook: Scoops 🏀

Debating for George: Max Karr 🍤

Case for Paul George: ⚡️

Max Karr

The question of who takes the crunch time shots for a team is often associated with being the man of a team. The early 2000’s Lakers were Shaquille O’Neal’s team, but during crunch time the ball was in the hands of Kobe Bryant. The 2010’s Miami Heat were Dwyane Wade’s team, but often the ball was in LeBron James’ hands. Paul George was brought in to be the Robin to Russell Westbrook’s Batman. The Thunder are Westbrook’s team, that isn’t up for debate. However, when it’s time for crucial shots, the ball should be in the hands of your best offensive player. For the Thunder that player is Paul George.

Standing at 6’9 with a wingspan of 6’11, George has the size and length to get his shot off on most defenders. As athletic as Westbrook is, he can never match the superior size and length Paul George has. For being as tall as he is, George is a great ball-handler. He is able to take his defenders off the dribble resulting in a pull-up jump shot, step back jumpshot, or a shot at the rim. At the free throw line Westbrook has shown to be a liability, shooting 73% compared to George’s 82%. In each one of these categories, George shows a higher rate of success of Westbrook. Last year, George was behind Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony in shots attempted in crunch time. As a point guard Westbrook’s job is not only to score, but also to distribute the ball to his teammates. Westbrook lives up to the reputation of scorer, but leaves much to be desired in ball distribution. It is an absolute travesty that George shot less than Anthony and the blame falls on Westbrook. I understand Westbrook is going to control the ball a majority of the game, but his lack of ball skills is hampering the Thunder’s ability to compete. Off-ball he is not a threat to shoot, cut, or anything else. This allows defenses to cheat off him as they dare him to shoot a three.

I along with others have questioned George’s willingness to be the guy to take those shots, but he has shown he can take them and make them. In Indiana, George took the big shots and even called out teammates for not giving up the ball. My choice for Paul George taking the last shot is more than just numbers and statistics. This is a guy who even before his prime was going shot for shot with Lebron James and the Miami Heat. George and the upstart Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink in consecutive playoff runs. On the court, George shows a laid back demeanor, but he has that inner fire to take those shots. We’ve seen how Westbrook shooting the last shots played out; it might be good in the regular season but the last two playoffs have been disappointing. Westbrook should cede the late game shots to George, thus allowing the more superior, efficient scorer to take the shots and allow the Thunder to take a leap as a team.

All Numbers from 2017-2018 Season

Pull-up Jumpshot Comparisons

George: 88 for 146, 60% FG

Westbrook: 201 for 435, 46% FG

3 Point Jumpshot Comparisons

George: 244 for 609, 40% 3FG

Westbrook: 112 for 368, 30% 3FG

Step Back Jumpshot Comparisons

George: 32 for 66, 48% FG

Westbrook: 7 for 24, 29% FG

At Rim Finishing Comparisons

George: 190 for 285, 66% FG

Westbrook: 408 for 672, 60% FG

Case for Russell Westbrook: 🏃‍♂️

Scoops 🏀

The face of the Thunder organization is Russell Westbrook. He is this basketball team. He’s the kind of player that goes out there and plays every game like it’s his last. The franchise has gotten behind him because of it. Many NBA fans think Westbrook is dragging his organization down. They believe not many people would want to play with him, and that he’s a detriment to the team. In their defense, he has stumbled before. An early exit in last year’s playoffs to the Utah Jazz being the Thunder’s latest blunder. Westbrook shot an atrocious percentage in the elimination game, and the highly anticipated Thunder squad was sent packing. Westbrook is not perfect. No player that plays with that kind of passion and ferocity is. But you know he will never leave the court without giving it 110%. Whether you like him or not, he is an elite point guard in this league, and one of the most exciting talents to watch in basketball. Thunder fans are behind him, and when you watch him play it’s easy to see why. Westbrook doesn’t play to make friends. He steps on the court and is ready to destroy whoever is in front of him. Not many superstars have that dog mentality anymore.

Paul George proved he is not ready for the big moment when he passed on joining the Lakers last off season. If he wasn’t ready for the bright lights and the big team, he shouldn’t be the one taking the big shot. The pressure that comes with playing next to Lebron James is as high as it gets. I don’t think Paul George was ready for that. And believe me when I say this: if Lebron James went to play with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, you better believe Russell Westbrook would’ve been ready. Westbrook wants to win now. He wants to win his way, on his team.

When it comes down to it, PG is the Robin to Westbrook’s Batman. Not to say PG isn’t a good player, because he is. He is as good a Robin as you can get. But at this point in his career, that’s all he can be. And Robin doesn’t save the day, Batman does.

Westbrook’s team, Westbrook’s shot.

Simple.

4th quarter and OT buckets:

1. Russell Westbrook 168/361 46.537%

2. Paul George 92/240 38.333%

Who do you think should take the shot for the Thunder?

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Jimmy Butler: Houston Bound?

Scoops 🏀

It is clear that Jimmy Butler is not happy in Minnesota. It is also clear that the Houston Rockets are not as strong as they were a season ago. If anyone needs Jimmy Butler to fulfill their plans, it’s the Rockets. And if anyone can give the Timberwolves something decent in return, it’s the Rockets. (I know what you’re thinking. We get it, you think this should work). In theory, these teams should get on the same page to work something out. That is much easier said than done. Let’s talk about the struggles first.

Jimmy Butler: 🐺 🔒

Jimmy Butler, also known as Jimmy G. Buckets, has had some trouble getting along with his teammates in Minnesota. He seems to have a different mentality than his younger co-stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. He was recently reported calling them out and the front office out in a practice before the start of the season. He has stated the organization needs him to win, and this may be true. Jimmy Butler wants out of Minnesota, and wants to win. Houston sounds like a desirable destination if that’s the case. Playing next to a pit bull like Chris Paul and the reigning MVP James Harden? It could definitely work.

Either way, Jimmy Butler is a free agent at the end of the season. Any team trading for him is gambling away assets for a talent that may leave next year. Some see that as a necessary risk. Speaking of teams that may need to take that risk..

The Rockets: 🚀

The Rockets are weaker on the defensive end this year. James Harden and Carmelo Anthony are known for not playing the best defense. Can you imagine a lineup of Paul, Harden, Butler, P.J. Tucker, and Clint Capela? That sounds like it could be one of the best defensive lineups in the league. It would also be very versatile on offense. The Rockets are not going to give up too much for Butler, but they can’t offer scraps either. They need to make the trade as even as possible, as they are getting the best player in the deal. (The team that gets the best player usually wins the trade.)

The Trade:

The Rockets offered 4 future picks and one C list player (Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight) for Jimmy Butler. The Timberwolves did not think this as enough for arguably their best player.

What should happen:

The Timberwolves are well aware Butler is worth more than what the Rockets are offering them. They want Eric Gordon in the trade, and if I’m Houston, that trade doesn’t sound too unreasonable. Maybe take out a pick or even two to even it out, but Eric Gordon is a good basketball player. He’s been an important asset to the Rockets, so it’s understandable why they want to hold onto him. But there’s nothing he does for them that Jimmy Butler can’t do and then some. Yes, Gordon can spread the floor from way downtown, but Jimmy can shoot the ball as well. Not to mention the defense Butler provides. The Rockets lost two of their best defenders in Ariza and Mbah a Moute during the off season. This makes acquiring Jimmy Butler even more enticing. Many believe as time goes on, the pressure is on the Timberwolves to try and get something back for Jimmy before the trade deadline and before Jimmy’s contract is up. But if I’m the Rockets, I feel the pressure as well. An opportunity like this may not come around for them again. They are fully aware their chances of beating the Warriors are worse than last season, and they need to do something fast. Chris Paul isn’t getting any younger.

The clock is ticking for both teams. Throw in Eric Gordon, make the trade happen, and do your best to contend for a title.

I wouldn’t pass this up.

Would you?

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Scoops🏀

Do You Believe in Derrick Rose?

This week Derrick Rose hit a new career high of 50 points versus the Utah Jazz. It was an inspiring performance put on by a player the entire NBA universe has come to respect. He showed us his game in the epic eastern conference final battles that took place versus Lebron and the Heat in Chicago. He showed us his never-say-die spirit fighting injury after injury during his career. And Wednesday, he showed us he still may have something left in the tank. Whether he does or not, it’s no question that everyone is rooting for him. Was this game a one time thing? Is it possible he has the best season since his first injury thanks to some of the new NBA rules? Can he win 6th man of the year, or possibly Most Improved Player?

Let’s dive into that.

First thing is first. Was this game a one time thing? Most likely. 50 points is a lot for anybody to score. Most people will argue he had himself a good shooting night, and that’ll be the end of it. It’s a long NBA season. I can see him having multiple 20 point games. Maybe even a couple 30 or 40 point games. Chances of him scoring close to 50 again are slim at best.

But I would not be surprised.

Second, as we all know the NBA has made some rule changes this season. They have instituted a rule called Freedom of Movement. For those of you who do not know what freedom of movement is, it means the defender cannot impede the motion or progress of any off ball player on offense. Meaning, if a player wants to get to a certain spot on the court, pushing him away from it will be called a foul much faster than in past seasons. Another change made is the shot clock being reset to 14 seconds on offensive rebounds rather than 24. This will mean more offense and faster offense. More offense for players means more chances for them to have big games (like Derrick Rose scoring 50). As stated before, with a long NBA season Derrick Rose will have plenty of opportunities to show he is back in any sort of way.

Assuming he’s healthy, of course.

Lastly, can he win an award or two by the end of the season? Again, assuming he’s healthy he has a real shot. Staying on the court and staying consistent are Rose’s biggest hurdles right now. In my opinion, if Derrick Rose begins to show he’s having a break out season you start him. If he keeps playing hard and shows no sign of fatigue or injury, you have to start the man. And if he starts enough games, he will not be eligible for 6th man of the year. If he stays on the bench, and keeps producing like this of course he will be in the chase for this award. Rose is sitting at 18 points per game right now. If he can get that to 20+ a game, and keep it steady, he’ll have a good shot for both awards.

All of this depends on Derrick Rose staying healthy! Every basketball fan is rooting for him to stay healthy and have himself a great season. We all know the skill is there, it hasn’t gone anywhere. Rose is a true baller, and a tough individual. Most players would’ve retired by now. He refused to give up on himself, and I’m sure he believes some of his most memorable seasons are still ahead of him. If anything, his 50 point game gave everyone (including himself) one thing:

Hope.

If you can’t believe in Derrick Rose, at least be hopeful for him.

Do you think Derrick Rose can win 6th man of the Year or Most Improved Player?

Can he have a season to remember?

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Scoops🏀

Blake Griffin Unleashed

By Max Karr 🏀

When Blake Griffin was traded from the Clippers to the Pistons, it was seen more as a marooning of Blake in Detroit. Last year in a limited sample size, the front-court pairing of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond had solid results. This year in the early part of the season the Pistons are off to a 4-0 start, and Point Blake has been unleashed.

Playing in new head coach Dwayne Casey’s system, Blake has taken a huge role in ball handling and playmaking. Out of the 4 wins the Pistons have, Blake has led the Pistons in assists in half of them. So far, Blake has been used more in pick and rolls with Andre Drummond. These plays have been positive for both players; Drummond has shown to slip the screen resulting in many easy baskets and Griffin has show to be unselfish with the basketball. In half court sets, the Pistons have allowed Griffin to isolate not only at the block but also at the top of the three-point line. Blake has shown that he is able to use his above average handle to get by bigger defenders, and his great strength to go by smaller defenders. Last year, Blake added to his range by upping his three-point shooting in efficiency and volume. To start off this year, he is shooting a blistering 55% from three; there is no way this will continue but it shows a promising sign of an improvement from the arc. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Griffin is able to push the ball in transition himself. This puts pressure on the defense and results in easy baskets. Lastly, Blake is going to the free throw line 7.4 times a game. If this continues it will be his most trips to the charity stripe since 2014.

The Pistons and Blake Griffin’s resurgence has been a pleasant sight in the new N.B.A. season. Talent has never been in question for Blake Griffin, it has only been his health and focus. His focus has been there the first 5 games, but will he remain healthy? Odds are he will suffer an injury, but the N.B.A. is a better place with a healthy Blake.

How do you see Blake Griffin’s 2019-2020 season playing out?

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NBA: Last Week Today

Scoops 🏀

The last few days of NBA news had some interesting headlines. Head coaches, blown plays, and blown whistles. Many topics, much controversy. Let’s go over them.

#1. Bye-ron Lue: The firing of Cavs HC Ty Lue

The Cavaliers are currently winless in the 2018-2019 NBA season. The immediate absence of a Lebron James tends to do that to organizations. Who would have thought Kevin Love would be the last of the Cavs big 3 standing? Next to him are Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, and a smattering of other role players. This team was destined to perform poorly this season just off of a lack of raw talent on their roster. They have a promising young point guard in Collin Sexton, but he is in no way able to replace what Lebron did for that team (virtually no one can). After starting 0-6, they have decided to let go of Tyronn Lue. He was originally assistant coach to David Blatt, but eventually replaced him as head coach much to the liking of Lebron James. With Lebron James out of the picture, it looks like the Cavs are looking to go in another direction with their head coaching job.

Was this the right call?

Scoops says: Yes. I understand: it’s only been 6 games. That doesn’t mean much if the organization already had their finger on the trigger. Maybe they were just waiting for the right time to pull it, like a winless start to the season. In my opinion, better to make the move now than later on and regret wasting time. No time like the present.

#2. Rondo: Take Two?

At the end of Saturday’s Lakers-Spurs game, The Lakers were down 3 with only seconds left on the clock. Rondo ends up by the basket alone and has the easy shot available. He looks to almost take it, then turns it down in hopes of finding an open shooter. No one is open, so Lebron is forced to shoot a long contested 3. He misses, and that was the game. The topic of debate here:

Should Rondo have taken the layup?

Scoops says: Yes. The time on the clock was 10+ seconds. This is plenty of time to lay the ball up, foul, hope for missed free throws, and get another look for a tie or the win. The Lakers have players that are great at anticipating and picking off passes (Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Rajon Rondo, Lebron James). If Rondo took the layup, they could have had a chance at getting a steal off the inbound. Even if they miss the steal, the Spurs could potentially miss a free throw or two after the foul. Either way, the game could’ve played out differently if Rondo took the easy basket. Maybe he wasn’t aware how much time was left. Maybe he thought he saw a shooter or an open shot if the ball was swung around. This was not the case. Sorry Rondo.

#3 is not only a news story of last week, but is one that will be relevant for the rest of the NBA season.

#3 Refs: Stop Stopping My Basketball Game.

I’m sure many fans are fully aware of how many more fouls are being called this season compared to last. With the new freedom of movement rule, and the league trying to protect its stars every year, the amount of points scored is getting out of hand. Defense is at an all time low in basketball. The Mavs scored 140 points a few games ago. The Mavs. It’s much easier to break 100 points when you can get 30% of those points at the free throw line. The players look visibly frustrated by the amount of calls being made. They’re afraid to play any sort of aggressive defense, because everything is a foul. If you’re an important player to your team, the last thing they need is for you to get into foul trouble. Fans are becoming frustrated by the slower games and the lack of defense played, and we have a right to be. It’s getting a little out of hand.

There are 2 groups of people that benefit from the amount of calls being made and the amount of points being scored.

Group 1: the casual fans. The fans that only watch highlights and look at the box score. When no defense can be played, every game gets to look like an all star game. Monster dunks, long 3’s and cool plays. That takes away from most basketball purists favorite side of the ball: the defensive side. It’s becoming more and more frustrating to watch.

Group 2: the 10 year old basketball fan. The people that profit from the NBA’s success realized a while back they needed to get with the program and appeal to the younger crowd. No more fights or arguments in game, not family friendly. Parents of basketball fans won’t let their kids watch that. No emotions shown on the court, because that leads to arguments and fights. Whatever gets the kids to watch. Those kids parents pay for their jerseys, their tickets and their NBA league pass. Then, those kids grow up to buy those things for themselves and their own family. If you market to the kids, they’ll be your loyal customer for the next 50-60 years. It’s just smart business. Unfortunately, most of the “smart business” decisions take away from the actual sport.

Kids have as short an attention span as ever. If it isn’t flashy and fun, they won’t watch. In order to get kids to watch full basketball games, you find a way to make basketball games as flashy as possible. How do you do that you might ask? Make it impossible to play defense, so offense can be as dominant as ever.

Travesty.

Do you agree with Scoops?

1. Should the Cavs have fired Ty Lue?

2. Should Rondo have taken the layup?

3. Are the foul calls becoming too much?

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Scoops🏀

Lakers Starting SG

Scoops 🏀

The starting backcourt for the Lakers is up for grabs for an assortment of Laker guards. Between Lebron, Luke Walton, and the duo of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, the decision of who ultimately starts for them the majority of the season (and the playoffs) will be a tough one. There are 3 viable candidates for the job, all providing unique skill sets. Let’s dive into what makes these guys so special.

Lance Stephenson 💥

The best version of Lance Stephenson to date was Indiana Pacers 6th man Lance. Blowing in Lebron’s ear, going toe to toe with the Heat. Lance has always been an entertaining player to watch. He has been a starter in this league as well, but with the other possible options for the Lakers at the 2, Lance may be best set coming off the bench. His production is spotty at best, and his spark plug style of play is best left for igniting the crowd as a 7th or 8th man.

Josh Hart 💪🏼

Baby Barkley has won over many Laker and all around basketball fans with the growth he has shown as a player. With Kuzma and Ball on the team, Hart’s rookie campaign was under their shadows to start. However, Laker fans that were watching closely saw something in Josh Hart. He played hard, and did what he could for the team. He was really balling towards the end of the year, and has only gotten bigger and stronger coming into this season. He’s been given more responsibility handling the ball and creating offense. The biggest thing Hart has to work on right now is consistently knocking down the long ball and providing floor spacing for a team in desperate need of 3 pointers. The death lineup the Lakers will eventually run could easily include Hart because of his youth and athleticism. The young core + Bron lineup of Lonzo, Hart, Ingram, Lebron and Kuzma is a lineup all Laker fans want to see.

Kentavious Caldwell Pope 🔒

Of the 3 options the Lakers are considering, KCP plays the best defense. Not to say Lance and Hart can’t defend, because they can. However, KCP can do so for longer stretches, while still providing some spot up shooting on the other end. KCP is known as one of the better 3 and D players in the NBA. His production has dropped some since joining the Lakers, but he is still a veteran trusted by his teammates. I’m not sure about offense, but defense wise: the lineup of Rondo/Lonzo, Pope, Lebron, Javale, and a determined Ingram makes for possibly the best defensive lineup the Lakers can offer this season.

Who would Scoops pick?

As stated earlier, the choice is not Lance. I like Lance off the bench. It’s getting close between Hart and KCP. The answer right now is KCP. He’s a proven defender who can shoot better than the other 2 guards being considered. That being said, Hart has all the potential in the world to make a push for the starting spot at some point this season. This season is being seen as somewhat experimental. The Lakers are waiting for the next off season, which will bring a fresh batch of great players to sign to max contracts. This being the case, the Lakers will have multiple lineups in the regular season. When playoffs hit however, I see them going with KCP. If Hart plays at his highest level, then maybe it won’t be as easy a decision. But until then, KCP is the choice for me. (Although the argument for Brandon Ingram is one to be sought out on a later date.)

Who do you think they Lakers should start?

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Scoops 🏀