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Clippers Causing Commotion

The 2019 NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching, yet some franchises have yet to make their move.

However, last night, while most people were probably fast asleep, the Los Angeles Clippers made a HUGE deal with the 76ers. If you follow any of NBA twitter, then you’ve seen the commotion this trade has made.

If not, let me break it down.

The Clippers doled out their beloved duo of Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic as well as Mike Scott, in order to receive Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler and Landry Shamet from Philadelphia. Wait, we’re not done yet.

Los Angeles was also given the Sixers’ 2020 first-round pick, Miami’s unprotected 2021 first round pick and two second round picks.

This trade is insane only because of a few reasons…

The Clippers did the SAME thing last year around this time, trading their star forward, who was then Blake Griffin. Weirdly, there are some interestingly similar coincidences about those trades.

If things weren’t already weird enough, the Clippers are also now among the top contenders to be able to reach for someone like Anthony Davis, which could even be a possibility before the deadline.

This trade freed up a ton of cap space, and if they continue to trade off players, they could reach an amount that’ll be enough to bring a superstar or two in once 2019 free agency rolls around.

In addition to all that Los Angeles received from the 76ers, they also still have the possible No. 1 pick in this years draft, that is, if they miss the playoffs. If not, the Boston Celtics will receive it.

Who knows, maybe Zion Williamson is in their future?

This might’ve been their plan all along- trade some strength to Philadelphia to contend against the Toronto Raptors, which would in turn make Kawhi Leonard’s chances of staying lower, then opt out of playoffs one way or another and keep their No. 1 pick from Boston.

With the Clippers clearing out their cap space for availability for players like Davis, Leonard and even Kevin Durant, there are so many possible acquisitions that this franchise can make happen. All we know at the moment, is that Los Angeles has the potential for an even bigger chess move.

Jerry West and the Clippers are stirring up a storm in the league as of now, and it’s only going to get bigger. Stay tuned.

Should the Kings have drafted Luka Doncic?

NBA history features a few prominent stories of No. 3 draft picks who made teams that owned the No. 2 pick wish they had a do-over.

Of course there’s Michael Jordan, who went third in the 1984 draft right after the Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie second.

Penny Hardaway was the No. 3 pick in 1993 after the Philadelphia 76ers chose Shawn Bradley second.

Carmelo Anthony went third in 2003 after the Detroit Pistons took a chance on Darko Milicic with the No. 2 pick.

James Harden was the No. 3 choice in 2009 following the Memphis Grizzlies’ selection of Hasheem Thabeet.

Noticing a theme? In a lot of instances where the third pick out-shined the second pick, the No. 3 choice was a dynamic and creative perimeter player that was passed over for a big man whose size was just as or more appealing than his skills.

In the 2018 draft, the Sacramento Kings used the No. 2 pick on Marvin Bagley III, a 6-foot-11 power forward who was dominant (21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds per game) in his freshman season at Duke University.

In the early stages of his pro career, Bagley has shown flashes of greatness. The 19-year-old has been sidelined for the last week with a knee injury, but all signs are showing he could very well develop into a star for the Kings.

But there’s another 19-year-old out there who could eventually haunt the Kings in the foreseeable future, as he has recently become the runaway favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year and looks like a lock to be a bona fide superstar.

That would be Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ guard/wing who was the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft — right after the Kings chose Bagley second.

Doncic is averaging 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists through 30 games and is clearly in line to be the face of the Dallas franchise whenever 40-year-old Dirk Nowitzki decides to retire.

Doncic is a 6-foot-7 playmaker and shooter who grew up in Slovenia and played pro ball in Spain before coming to the NBA.

His early-season highlight reel includes a 26-point effort in his second NBA game (a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves), a 31-point showing against the San Antonio Spurs, 24 points in a win over the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, 23 points and 12 assists against the Denver Nuggets, and a 32-point game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But the signature performance of Doncic’s rookie year so far came on Dec. 8 when he scored 11 straight points in the fourth quarter to lead a comeback victory over the Houston Rockets.

Marvin Bagley, meanwhile, has been solid for the Kings. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game even though he’s still coming off the bench and being brought along slowly by Sacramento coach Dave Joerger.

Bagley put up 20 points and 17 boards in a one-point loss to the Warriors. He posted 15-and-13 with three blocks in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had 20-9-5 against the Nuggets. He tallied 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals against the New Orleans Pelicans, going head-to-head at times with their superstar forward Anthony Davis and holding his own.

But Bagley has not made the impact or captured the public’s attention like Doncic. Bagley has been good, but Doncic has been great.

Which brings us back to the 2018 NBA Draft, and which makes people start to ask: Should the Kings have taken Doncic instead of Bagley? (Should the Phoenix Suns, who had the No. 1 overall pick and used it on 7-foot-1 center DeAndre Ayton, have taken Doncic?)

At the time, the Bagley pick made perfect sense for Sacramento.

The Kings appeared to have their backcourt of the future in place with youngsters De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, plus a couple of solid young guards coming off the bench in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Frank Mason III. Nobody would have objected to Sacramento taking a small forward, though, which Doncic can play. But the team had an obvious need for another big.

Plus, there was plenty of talk in basketball circles that Doncic and/or his people didn’t want to go to the Kings, whereas Bagley said prior to the draft that he was excited at the possibility of starting his NBA career in Sacramento.

For what it’s worth, Kings general manager Vlade Divac said the decision to pick Bagley over Doncic was an easy one.

There’s no need to say Divac was right or wrong at this point in the season.

It would still be too early at the end of this season to make that call. There have been plenty of players who had great rookie seasons, only to either peak there or decline. (Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Miller, Larry Johnson, to name a few.) Just as there have been plenty of players who became all-time greats after a less-than-amazing rookie season. (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, to name a few.)

Bagley could still turn out to be a superstar that the Kings would have zero regrets of drafting. Doncic could still turn out to be lower on the NBA totem pole than Bagley when this draft class is ultimately graded for prosperity.

But with the NBA’s unofficial mainstream reveal approaching on Christmas Day, the early returns say that Doncic is the best player from this group of rookies, and teams that had a chance to get him and didn’t — a.k.a. the Kings — will come to regret that decision.

Los Angeles Clippers Sneakily Leading the West

When the NBA’s power rankings for Week 6 came out, some were shocked to say the least. While flying under the radar, the Los Angeles Clippers have been ranked No. 1.

It’s easy to reminisce about the old Clippers squad that included their (former) face of the franchise Blake Griffin, and the rest of their front runners- Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Those three combined with the skills of JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and a hefty bench, it was long expected that the Clippers would rise to the top. Obviously, that never happened.

Today, Los Angeles is turning into the dark horse of the league. Not many have been paying too much attention to them, that is, until now.

The Clippers roster is young, and eccentric. It’s definitely full of names you wouldn’t likely make a team out of, and I think that’s why it’s working. This young LA team is currently on a five-game winning streak and looking to make it six tonight against the Washington Wizards. Clippers are already favored the win by 54.7%.

Doc Rivers has found a solid rotation and a hard-to-beat starting five including Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marcin Gortat and Tobias Harris. Their last game against the Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley started for Gallinari who’s currently listed day-to-day with an illness.

Rookie Gilgeous-Alexander came into the league playing like he’s been here for a couple years. He was comfortable and aggressive, and he’s continued that trend. In his last 10 games he’s averaged 10.8 points and about three assists per game while shooting 46% from the field. The rookie teamed up alongside a vet like Beverley has been a great dynamic for the team. Also, Gilgeous-Alexander is getting the chance to learn the ways of the game from one of the most aggressive point guards in the league. It’ll be exciting to watch him grow as a player. Especially if he becomes the new face of the franchise, which it seems like he’s already on the road to doing so.

In the month of November, Harris has proved how important he is to this team. He’s averaging 20.9 points and 8.8 boards per game. He also has an active streak of 15+ points in 16 straight games.

However, it’s not just the starters. If you’ve watched even one Clippers game this season, then you saw the strength of their players off the bench. The days of one player being the only solid sixth man are gone. Lou Williams is always dependable, but the Clippers also have the advantage of Mike Scott and the monster himself- Montrezl Harrell. There’s several other power houses coming off the bench for LA as well, like the friendly giant Boban Marjanovic.

Both Harrell and Williams have scored double digits in their last five games. Against Golden State, Harrell dropped 23 while Williams dropped 25.

In just November, Harrell has been averaging 17 points per game while shooting 68% from the field. Some starters in the NBA don’t even make stats like that.

As a team, the Clippers are averaging 117.9 points and 46.8 total rebounds per game, while their opponents are averaging 112.8 points and 45.9 boards per game. The team is also shooting just below 40% from the three-point line and slightly above 50% from the field. They’re also shooting 82% from the free-throw line, while their opponents are shooting 77% from the stripe.

Los Angeles is currently leading the West, tied up with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies who all hold the same record of 11-5. The Golden State Warriors are just under them with a 12-6 record.

As much as we all foresaw the Clippers making a legit title run while they had stars on their roster, it just never really clicked. Only two months into this season and things are already clicking for this squad. It was great to have superstars on the team, but with a roster like this one, full of young and hungry players, success is more likely than ever now.

Is there a Lonzo trade out there?

(photo cred Sportsnewsinstant.com)

Immediate follow up question: Should the Lakers even consider trading Lonzo?

Do yourself a favor and search “Lonzo Trade” on Twitter. Grab a coffee, maybe a snack wrap from McDonalds, and settle in somewhere cozy. Then look at all the angry tweets from Lakers fans, urging Magic and Pelinka to ship away their young point guard for a whichever talented guard exploded for their team that night. Last night, it was Kemba Walker (more on him to come.)

There is a case to be made for trading Lonzo, despite him still possessing a high ceiling. On the other hand, a case can be made that Los Angeles might be one of the worst fits for Lonzo regarding his development; he may never reach that high ceiling next to LeBron.

Therefore, this will be a blog of five parts: two quick arguments on why and why not Lonzo should be traded, two possible trade destinations and a final statement. Buckle up, folks.

1. Taking my Ball and going home

When the UCLA product was in his pre-draft process, it was easy to see how scouts fell in love with his ability to pass the ball. People were comparing Ball to Jason Kidd, and saying that his floor would be someone like Ricky Rubio, but with the potential to be a better shooter and better defender.

I cannot emphasize his extraordinary vision enough. Ball simply sees reads more quickly than other guards; some guards don’t even see them at all. Take this clip below, for example. Ball starts passing the ball to a cutting Kyle Kuzma before Kuz even leaves from his spot in the corner.

The majority of NBA guards either won’t see this read, or when they do, it is a step late which will force the cutter to either adjust for the score, or allow the defense to catch up. Ball’s feel for the game is innate, and it shows in his passing ability.

Ball’s defense has been encouraging as well. He has good lateral quickness, is a smooth athlete, and has a decent wingspan to match that 6’6″ frame. At times, his defensive IQ is just as good as his offensive IQ, and when the effort is there, Ball shows the potential to be a plus defender who is capable of guarding multiple positions. See for yourself.

At the end of the day, Ball has been both frustrating and tantalizing at times. His rookie season stats, however, put him in historic standing. Take a peak at home many players averaged at least 10 points, 7 assists and 1.5 steals their rookie year.

Query Results Table
Crit Crit Crit Crit
Rk Player Season Age Tm Lg PTS AST STL WS
1 Magic Johnson 1979-80 20 LAL NBA 18.0 7.3 2.4 10.5
2 Chris Paul 2005-06 20 NOK NBA 16.1 7.8 2.2 10.4
3 Ben Simmons 2017-18 21 PHI NBA 15.8 8.2 1.7 9.2
4 Mark Jackson 1987-88 22 NYK NBA 13.6 10.6 2.5 7.6
5 Phil Ford 1978-79 22 KCK NBA 15.9 8.6 2.2 5.7
6 Sherman Douglas 1989-90 23 MIA NBA 14.3 7.6 1.8 4.4
7 Allen Iverson 1996-97 21 PHI NBA 23.5 7.5 2.1 4.1
8 Jason Kidd 1994-95 21 DAL NBA 11.7 7.7 1.9 3.7
9 Tim Hardaway 1989-90 23 GSW NBA 14.7 8.7 2.1 3.3
10 Isiah Thomas 1981-82 20 DET NBA 17.0 7.8 2.1 2.3
11 Kenny Smith 1987-88 22 SAC NBA 13.8 7.1 1.5 2.2
12 John Wall 2010-11 20 WAS NBA 16.4 8.3 1.8 2.2
13 Lonzo Ball 2017-18 20 LAL NBA 10.2 7.2 1.7 2.0
14 Ricky Rubio 2011-12 21 MIN NBA 10.6 8.2 2.2 2.0
15 Gary Grant 1988-89 23 LAC NBA 11.9 7.1 2.0 -0.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2018.

2. It’s your Ball now

Sometimes, we have a tendency to overthink the game.

Lonzo Ball’s best skill is his ability to create for others. In order to do this, he must have the ball in his hands often. Playing alongside LeBron James, Brandon Ingram and Kuzma, Ball does not have the ball often enough to maximize his impact on the game. Logic.

Specifically, I compared Ball’s average second per touch to other players who either were among the league leaders in assists or had a similar playing style to Ball. John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Ben Simmons, as well as a plethora of other creators, all averaged more seconds per touch than Ball (NBA.com) What’s more, they led Ball by considerable margins as well, as Lonzo averaged a mediocre 3.82 seconds per touch.

Yet, Ball finished the league 13th in total touches per game last season. There is conflicting data here. How can Ball get so many touches while not keeping the ball in his hands for too long?

The answer lies in the Lakers’ pace. They are 3rd in the league in pace, which means they get up and down the court a lot. They are 2nd in the league in fast break points and also 2nd in total possessions per game. These dudes fly up and down the court, and Lonzo is often the creator. His grab and go ability allows him to do this.

So what do we make of this?

Lonzo is a beast at finding people in transition. He makes full court outlet passes reminiscent of Kevin Love. Yet, Lonzo struggles in the pick and roll. In order to reach his ceiling, Lonzo has to improve this area, something of which he is surely capable of doing. Ball finished in the 17th percentile for pick and roll ball handlers last year, and despite improving to the 45th percentile so far this year, Lonzo still hasn’t mastered this part of his game.

With LeBron and other creators on the Lakers, Lonzo will not get the chance to develop fully into a complete NBA playmaker. If Magic and co. want Lonzo to be a transition god who takes 57 percent of his field goals from 3-point land, then so be it. But they would be wasting an entire area of his game which if developed correctly, could see Lonzo become one of the best point guards in the league.

As of right now, the Lakers are using him as a 3&D, grab and go fastbreak leader, although he can be so much more. If that is their plan for Lonzo, why not trade him for an established star who is a better fit besides LeBron? Speaking of which…

3. Charlotte, an old trading partner

We all remember how the Hornets gave Kobe Bryant to the Lakers, right? Perhaps now is a time for karma to swing back Charlotte’s way.

Kemba Walker is one of the most underrated stars in this game. His pick and roll game is elite. Kemba finished in the 92nd percentile as a PnR ball handler last year for a dismal Hornets team. The dude’s lack of team success probably leads to him being overlooked as one of the league’s premier guards. But let’s see how his last last season compares to the 2017-18 season of other stars such as Kyrie Irving, Dame Lillard, Kyle Lowry and John Wall.

Per Game Table
Rk Player Season Age G FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
1 Kyrie Irving 2017-18 25 60 8.9 18.1 .491 2.8 6.8 .408 .568 3.9 4.4 .889 3.8 5.1 1.1 2.3 24.4
2 Damian Lillard 2017-18 27 73 8.5 19.4 .439 3.1 8.6 .361 .519 6.8 7.4 .916 4.5 6.6 1.1 2.8 26.9
3 Kyle Lowry 2017-18 31 78 5.2 12.1 .427 3.1 7.6 .399 .553 2.9 3.3 .854 5.6 6.9 1.1 2.3 16.2
4 Kemba Walker 2017-18 27 80 7.4 17.0 .431 2.9 7.5 .384 .516 4.5 5.3 .864 3.1 5.6 1.1 2.2 22.1
5 John Wall 2017-18 27 41 6.8 16.3 .420 1.5 4.1 .371 .466 4.3 5.9 .726 3.7 9.6 1.4 3.9 19.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2018.

Kemba is right on pace with his colleagues. This year, he is putting up a crazy 28.7/6.1/4.5 stat line while taking 10.3 triples per game and making a wild 37 percent of them. He is wonderful fit next to LeBron too.

Not only does Kemba have the intangibles to play with LeBron, his on-court style meshes well with what the King needs. For instance, Kemba is more than a ball-dominant point guard. This season, he is taking 4.5 3-pointers per game on catch and shoot opportunities, and sinking 38 percent of them. Wow.  This shows that Kemba can move around on off-ball action when LeBron is handling the rock.

Yet, Kemba can also take some of the offensive load away from LeBron. He is a pick and roll savant who can dish to open teammates or hit a deadly pull-up. I’m not kidding about the “deadly” part. Walker hits 45 percent of his 10 pull-up attempts per game, and 37 percent of his 5 pull-up triples per game. So far this year, those are better numbers than what CP3, Lowry, Irving, Lillard, Wall and that Harden guy have put up. He is a late game closer, for sure.

On a one-year, expiring deal, Los Angeles would have to get a wink-wink deal from Kemba that he would resign. But, the man is an excellent fit next to Lebron. He will turn 29 this season and seems to be getting better as he grows older.

Charlotte has a lot of incentive to make this deal too. They have a promising young core in the much improved Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. They cannot let Kemba walk in free agency for nothing in return. Landing Ball would be a steal. Charlotte could bottom out and pick up a high draft pick this year, giving them four solid players to build around going forward.

I know what you are thinking: “Lonzo Ball has more trade value than Kemba Walker.” Well, not so fast. What are the odds Lonzo Ball turns into a two-time All-Star and ever stars a season the way Kemba has this year? A better question: What are the odds Lonzo Ball ever plays as good as Kemba is playing this year? Of course, we all have differing opinions. But, Magic Johnson and company should seriously consider reaching out to the Michael Jordan and the Hornets.

The Trade:

kemba-trade.png

4. What’s up, Milwaukee

This is the one I will catch a lot of pushback on, I can feel it. Well, pushback from Bucks fans, most likely.

If there is one player who will challenge Walker for most underrated in the league, it is Khris Middleton. The guy can defend four positions and beat you from all three levels offensively. This year, my guy is putting up 19 per game on 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep, on 7 3-point attempts per game, mind you.

A two-way star, Middleton will be receiving a max contract this offseason that likely starts around $30 million per year. Ouch.

The Bucks already have a team payroll of $126 million for this season. Let’s do some projecting here. Next season, if they resign solely Middleton and no one else, their salary will be around $110 million. Keep in mind that they still have to resign at least one of either Eric Bledsoe or Malcolm Brogdon, both of whom will not come cheap. Oh, and given that Brook Lopez is having the most efficient shooting year of his career (62.5 eFG percentage!) the Bucks may want to bring him back too.

Let’s be generous and say that Brogdon, and not Bledsoe, comes back for $12 million per year. That brings their cap up to $122 million. Congrats (sarcasm), you aren’t bringing back Lopez in this scenario, or the rejuvenated Bledsoe.

The Bucks would be cap crunched for years if they resign Middleton. He is a wonderful talent, but does a core of Giannis, Middleton and X take the Bucks to a title? Hmmm. Let me present to you another option.

Send Lonzo Ball to Milwaukee for Khris Middleton. Sell high on the guy and get a guard with All-NBA potential. Replacing Ball for Middleton will see the Bucks salary (before any signings) be at $89 million next year. This gives them the flexibility to bring back both Lopez and either Brogdon or Bledsoe.

Lonzo would be a much better fit next to Giannis than he would next to Lebron. Despite having the Greek Freak on their team, Coach Bud and the Bucks still run a ton of action through Bledsoe, their point guard. In fact, Bledsoe is assisting on 28 percent of their buckets while on the court. Pretty good.

The Bucks play a style of basketball that would allow Lonzo to take advantage of his push-the-pace style. They are 5th in pace this year and 8th in fast break points. A Giannis-Ball fast break connection should give you shivers. Yet, they also run a great combo of free-flowing sets and traditional pick and roll basketball, giving Lonzo a place to develop the PnR game previously discussed.

Calm down Bucks fans, and let me tell you why you should consider this trade. In all likeliness, the Bucks ceiling with Middleton falls somewhere short of an NBA title. In a Eastern conference with a talent-heavy top four teams, you need to take a gamble to acquire top-end talent. That is the way the league has always been and will always be.

Lonzo Ball is not currently top-end talent, but he has the potential to be. If he hits, then the Bucks would be looking at an plus defensive player who is one of the best playmakers in the league and can space the floor too. Plus, he is cheap right now. Locking in Middleton means that the Bucks roster will stay the same for the foreseeable future, for better or for worse. Acquiring Ball gives Milwaukee a dice roll at supreme talent and cap flexibility for the future. Throw in another asset for good measure.

The Lakers should be all over this deal. In a lineup of Middleton, LeBron, Ingram and Hart, the Lakers would have four plus defenders who are super switchy. Also, a lineup of those four plus Kuzma gives LeBron the coveted “four shooters” lineup we want around him. Can the Lakers get better talent than Middleton, however?

middleton-trade.png

5. Closing statement

Jimmy Butler is resigning in Philadelphia. KD is not coming to LA; if he wants to be better than LeBron then he cannot play with LeBron. Klay Thompson is most likely staying put. Will DeMarcus Cousins recover from his injury, and if so does he sign in LA? Who knows. Kawhi? So far, we have heard nothing further about him coming to LA and if anything, he looks mighty comfortable in Toronto.

What’s the point? The free agency market –  or better yet, pre-agency market –  does not look too promising for the Lakers. Shoot, they couldn’t convince hometown star Paul George to sign. Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers still have a great shot at landing Kawhi. But should LA really put all their eggs in that basket?

If they strike out in free agency, a real possibility, then what does LA do next? Why not trade for Middleton or Kemba and have the leg up on resigning them? Lonzo won’t be the player he was drafted to be there, so send him out for a good return before his trade value plummets even more.

Thoughts? @Mattesposito_

PS. Here is how the rest of NBA Twitter feels about this so far…

https://twitter.com/MattEsposito_/status/1063912269539655682

 

 

Buddy Hield is having a breakout season

The Sacramento Kings have started the 2018-19 season better than anyone outside of California’s capital city would have predicted, and third-year shooting guard Buddy Hield deserves a significant share of the credit.

Hield is tied for the team lead in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 82.9 percent at the free-throw line. His 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game are also career-high numbers.

The Kings are 8-6 following Monday’s win over the Spurs. The franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years is currently in eighth place in the Western Conference.

It’s unlikely Sacramento hangs onto that playoff seed — slow-starting yet star-studded teams like the Rockets, Jazz, Lakers, Pelicans and Timberwolves are all behind the Kings in the standings — but they have noticeably improved from last season, when they finished 27-55.

The Kings are trending in the right direction, with Hield enjoying a breakout season as one of the important pieces of their rebuilding project.

Two years ago, when Hield was crowned college basketball’s national player of the year by a majority of outlets, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t go on to become a star in the NBA.

Hield averaged 25.0 points per game as a senior at Oklahoma, leading the nation in three-pointers and leading the Sooners to the Final Four. He was taken No. 6 in the 2016 draft by the Pelicans.

However, Buddy didn’t exactly take the league by storm. Midway through his rookie season, he was traded to the Kings as part of the DeMarcus Cousins deal.

The history of NBA stars who were discarded during during their first year by their first team is short, but it has happened before. Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson come to mind — both of them were traded by the Celtics as rookies and bounced around for a few years before earning All-Star status.

Hield could follow a similar path. Early into his third season, he is producing at a consistently high level. And more important than his stats, Hield appears to be carrying himself differently. He is playing like he believes he is the best player on the court.

Hield may not be “The Man” in Sacramento (yet). That title could go to point guard De’Aaron Fox, who is tied with Hield for the team lead in scoring at 18.7 points per game. Perhaps it’s being groomed for rookie forward Marvin Bagley III, the No. 2 pick in the most recent draft. The Kings have one thing in common with the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors in that they don’t have a clearly defined No. 1 guy.

But Hield is at least carrying himself like he wants to be the Kings’ top guy. He is calling for the ball in the fourth quarter. He wants it at the end of quarters so he can take the last shot, like many stars do.

Another thing that stars do is respond strongly to a subpar performance.

On Oct. 23, Hield had by far his worst game of the season, scoring just five points in a loss to the Nuggets. He bounced back by scoring 20-plus points in six of his next seven games, including a season-high 27-point effort in a win over the Hawks.

The jump shot — and the range that comes with it — will always be the bread-and-butter of Hield’s game. But this season he is becoming more of a well-rounded scorer instead of a pure shooter. He’s also showing improvement as a ball-handler and passer. His Defensive Rating is even a career-best 100.9 this season, which ranks third-best on the Kings.

Hield is leading the Kings in shot attempts and ranks second in minutes played. Head coach Dave Joerger is keeping Hield on the court when it matters, and Hield wants the ball when it matters. And he’s producing when he gets it.

All-Star nods and having his name at the top of the marquee may still be a few years away for Hield, but this season it looks like he has put himself on a realistic road to what seemed like a certainty when he entered the league.