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.

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The most untouchable player for every Western Conference team

Kevin Durant and Steph Curry

Well, the doldrums of the NBA offseason did not last too long. The NBA world was rocked as Kawhi Leonard got shipped to Toronto. Conversely, DeMar DeRozan is now headed to San Antonio. Still, we must strive forward and continue on with the untouchables list.

If you missed the Eastern Conference list, then click here.

 

1. Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic

This is a no brainer. The Mavs just surrendered a future pick for the Slovenian point-forward. Doncic has the potential to be a transcendent NBA player. This pick and roll maestro will enter the league as one of its premier passers. If you need a reminder on just how good Doncic is, I dug up his ProCity Hoops profile for you.

 

2. Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic

What gave this one away? Jokic just signed a 5 yr/$147 million deal. The center finished last season with a better field goal percentage that Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. Plus, he is one of the best passers in the game, regardless of position. Jokic finished 15th in assists per game last year, and 12th for total assists. Wow. This kid isn’t going anywhere.

 

3. Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry

Let’s get this out of the way. No one on this roster is getting traded anytime soon. This team has a few more finals appearances on the horizon, despite any players that LeBron guy lands in LA. While I do not expect a trade, I still chose Steph here. Trading him would be detrimental to the team’s fan base. You simply cannot throw away a home grown kid like Steph and expect everything to be okay.

 

4. Houston Rockets – James Harden

Did you expect anyone else? Here is a clip of every stepback J Harden hit last season.

5. Los Angeles Clippers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Although it is merely summer league, this rookie has looked awesome. His octopus tentacles doubles as arms nowadays, and he used them for stealing basketballs. Offensively, he has the potential to play both guard positions. Jerry West has a steal on his hands.

Jerome Robinson was considered but, he does not have SGA’s ceiling. Tobias Harris was also in competition here, but his trade value is high enough to warrant being available. Check out SGA’s scouting report.

 

6. Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Moving on.

 

7. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr.

This was an easy selection. Triple J has looked like he will immediately be an elite rim protector in this league. On the other side of the ball he has shown promise by draining 8 thress during his first summer league game. His full report is here.

More importantly, however, it seems as though Memphis is looking to make the playoffs. They added Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple this offseason and drafted NBA ready Jevon Carter. In a loaded Western Conference, is this feasible? Memphis should be looking to unload Conley and Gasol instead of making the postseason.

 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns

Kat is my most underrated player in this league. He put up statistics last year that have never been done before. Not one player in league history has put up a stat line of 54 percent FG%, 42 percent 3P% on at least 14 field goal attempts and 3.5 three-point attempts.

Offensively, he is the best scoring center in the league and it is not even as close as we think. Check out how his numbers from last season rank against the premier offensive centers in the league last year.

Per Game Table
Rk Player Season G FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FTA FT% TRB AST PF PTS
1 DeMarcus Cousins 2017-18 48 8.5 18.0 .470 2.2 6.1 .354 6.3 11.9 .530 .530 8.2 .746 12.9 5.4 3.8 25.2
2 Joel Embiid 2017-18 63 8.1 16.8 .483 1.0 3.4 .308 7.0 13.4 .527 .514 7.4 .769 11.0 3.2 3.3 22.9
3 Al Horford 2017-18 72 5.1 10.5 .489 1.3 3.1 .429 3.8 7.3 .514 .553 1.7 .783 7.4 4.7 1.9 12.9
4 Nikola Jokic 2017-18 75 6.7 13.5 .499 1.5 3.7 .396 5.2 9.7 .538 .554 4.2 .850 10.7 6.1 2.8 18.5
5 Karl-Anthony Towns 2017-18 82 7.8 14.3 .545 1.5 3.5 .421 6.3 10.8 .585 .596 4.9 .858 12.3 2.4 3.5 21.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2018.
If you considered Andrew Wiggins for this list, seek help. Take a “me” day. With Jimmy Butler a free agent flight risk, KAT is the selection to go with.

9. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis

The Brow is the future of the NBA. A 6’11” power forward (who should be playing center) who can shoot from all three levels and has DPOY potential? Sign me up. Davis was only 22-years-old when he led the NBA in both blocks and PER. He has an MVP season in him somewhere, hopefully the Pelicans can unlock it for him.

 

10. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook

I debated Paul George here for a second. Why? A big name free agent signing like that in OKC will be rare going forward. What message would it send to the league if OKC just shipped him off? Despite this, Westbrook gets the nod. Not only is he an MVP player, but he is the heart and soul of Oklahoma basketball.

 

11. Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker

Because, duh. Devin Only two players have put up 24 point per game, 4 assists per game on 38 percent 3P shooting during their first 5 seasons in the league. One of them is Devin Booker. The other…Steph Curry.

DeAndre Ayton was never seriously considered here. He is a heck of a talent but, it is easier to find a rim protecting, three point shooting big than it is someone with Booker’s talent and ceiling. Josh Jackson was never truly in consideration.

 

12. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard

I struggled with this pick. Half of me thinks that Portland should just blow it up. The West has gotten even harder and they look to be a team with a second round ceiling. Why pursue the same result every year, if that result is not winning a title?

The other half of me thinks that Portland may have just enough assets to acquire a third star. Zach Collins still has a ton of potential and Portland is very high on him. Anfernee Simons balled out during summer league and turned the heads of many executives. Gm Neil Oshey should certainly consider bringing Kevin Love back to his home state. Send a package of prospects and picks over to Cleveland. Buddy up Love with McCollum and Dame, go all in.

 

13. Sacramento Kings – De’Aaron Fox

This selection was harder than it looked. Marvin Bagley is the Kings new toy. The 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft was not ranked as the #2 overall prospect by many scouts. Yet, the Kings loved Bagley and his desire to actually want to play in NoCal. I had Bagley ranked behind duke teammate Wendell Carter, and through summer league is appeared that I was right to do so.

Fox is a different story. He will help rebuild a culture in Sac’Town. Fox may possibly be the quickest end to end player in the league, and he has a developing jumper. Having already shown leadership and clutchness, I would be willing to trade Bagley before Fox.

De'Aaron Fox
USA Today Sports

14. San Antonio Spurs – DeMar DeRozan

Aw. So sad, DeMar.

Yesterday I wrote that no one on the Raptors should be untouchable, and apparently GM Masai Ujiri agreed with me. San Antonio clearly wants to take advantage of the remaining years that they have with Pop (bad decision.) So, they went out and traded Kawhi for DeMar. Shipping him off now would only would blow my mind, literally. GM R.C Buford had made brilliant moves for the Spurs for almost two decades now, but this move was horrendous.

 

15. Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell

Spida Mitchell made a bunch of GMs look dumb last year. He looks like a modern day D Wade. Mitchell has an All-NBA ceiling and I cannot wait to watch him develop. Gobert was never truly in contention here. In fact, I would consider trading the big man at his peak value.

During last year’s playoffs, we saw how stretch bigs can draw rim protectors away from, well, the rim. Ask Joel Embiid to explain what Al Horford did to him. Gobert will be less and less effective in the playoffs as teams play smaller. For now though, rejoice in having one of the most exciting players in the game back in Utah.

 

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Free Agent Deep Dive: Boogie Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins

With all this LeBron and Kawhi drama going on, Boogie Cousins is sitting somewhere like “Uh Guys, remember me? I’m pretty good and also a free agent…”

Cousins’ next deal (and injury recovery) would be the biggest story of the summer if it weren’t for those two pesky forwards. I know some are worried about Boogie’s achilles tear. After all, it has been well reported that people do not usually return to their former self after an injury like this. Check out what The Ringer had to say about it:

ringer achilles.PNG

Do not fret, I have done some research and am here to reassure you that signing Cousins to the max will be a good deal. In fact, I have five good reasons.

1. The Pre-Injury Season Was Unbelievable 

Allow me to roll off some statistics that were all career highs for Boogie:

eFG% (53%)

RBs     (12.9)

2P%     (53%)

Stocks (3.2, tied)

TS%    (58%)

Asts     (5.4)

There was some legitimate MVP talk for Cousins before he went down with injury. The Pelicans were doing just fine in the West and starting to click. Not only did it seem as though Boogie learned to coexist with AD but, it appeared as though he was reaching peak form. His efficiency was the highest we have ever seen.

Pretend Cousins returns as only 85% of the player he once was, it would still be an excellent player. Look at the stats and feel encouraged that he was trending north towards more efficient basketball.

boogie season stats.PNG

2. Aging Well

While he is still only 27-years-old, Boogie has been aging the way you would want a monstrosity of a center to age.

This is important to monitor as his achilles tear will certainly impact part of his game. Still, this year’s stats show that an achilles tear may not have as large as an impact as once thought. Boogie has relied less on his burst than ever before, and his shot selection shows it.

boogie good stats.PNG

Woah. Look at all the lines and arrows and highlighting. Let me explain this to you. This year Boogie took 37% of his shots from 0-3 feet and 34% of his shots from three. More importantly; however, is how he has taken less mid-range and short-range shots. Cousins takes only 4.1% of his shots from 10-16 feet6.9% of his shots from 16 ❤ feet, and 17% of his shots from 3-10 feet. Overall, Cousins is spending more time right at the rim or behind the arc, and less time shooting from spots that provide the least value.

How does this mesh with his ruptured achilles, and therefore presumable lack of burst?

Cousins has maximized his point value by taking shots from the most efficient spots on the court. This will neutralize the physical limitations his achilles tear will have on his game. Boogie also spends a lot of time with the ball in his hands. In fact, Cousins had the ball in his hands for 2.59 seconds on average, second for the center position behind Julius Randle. What does this mean? Cousins does not rely heavily on things that require much burst, such as alley-oops, backdoor cuts, and pindown actions. He is a methodic, ball handling big who has a style of play an achilles tear may not disrupt.

3. Achilles Tear? Boogie Can’t Jump Anyways

Surely, this tear will limit Boogie’s verticality. His ability to elevate may shrink by 3-4 inches. Fortunately, this will not be a big factor for Cousins, as he can’t jump anyways!

Cousins had one of the worst max verts for centers in combine history (27.5) inches. FiveThirtyEight reported that Cousins is always among league leaders in players getting blocked. When asked about it, Cousins responded that it was “because I can’t jump.”

So here is the point. Boogie’s verticality was a negative factor for him before the injury. Will potentially losing a few inches on his vertical really have a major impact on this non-jumper? I think not.

4. Style of Play Mitigates the Impact of an Achilles Tear

Ah, it is finally time to get into the meat and potatoes of this discussion. Who is Demarcus Cousins? What is his style of play?

Boogie has never relied on quickness to score buckets. Contrarily, he has relied on bullying his opponents with his size. What makes him special is not his quick feet but, his nimble feet. Trust me, there is a huge difference. Cousins moves like a ballerina from someone his size. Watch him utilize his strength and nimble feet in this gif.

Boogie nimble and strong.gif

Does he blow by anyone? Nope. Instead, he actually slows down to use a nifty crossover to get past Denzel Valentine. Then he initiates contact with Bobby Portis, which creates the separation he needs to get his shot off, despite having limited lift. The guy is a physical beast who moves like Jerry Rice. An achilles tear will take away from his quickness; however, it won’t stop plays like this from punishing opponents repeatedly.

When he has a favorable mismatch, Cousins will pick on the little guy until he gets a good shot. Check out him flinging around the 210 pound, muscular David Nwaba like he’s a 6th grader. After watching the film, I was surprised at how often Cousins plays bully ball. Yet, he has the soft touch to make opponents pay.

boogie bully.gif

Here is one more for you. Does Cousins simply blow by Nurkic? Negative. He simply bumps him out of the way, ignoring the fact that Nurkic is literally 280 pounds! Would a torn achilles disallow Boogie from doing this against just about every other center in the league?

Boogie Nurkic.gif

As Cousins ages, he will rely more on the DHO (dribble handoff) game. He does this a bunch, as it utilizes his big frame for screen setting. Cousins has turned into a masterful popper on the DHO, and buries sagging defenders from beyond the arc. This part of his game should be unaffected from the injury.

5. What other Options do the Pelicans Have?

I know. I hate this rationale too. But, it is a fair question to ask.

New Orleans has not been known for attracting too many free agents. To acquire talent, they have traded for their other stars or starters (Boogie, Holiday, Mirotic.) As GM Daryl Morey is fond of talking about, teams must up their risk profile to beat the Warriors. The NBA is all about acquiring top-end talent; talent that can take you to the finals. If not Boogie, then who?

At his best, Cousins is an MVP candidate, All-NBA center and top-10 player in this league. He is a matchup nightmare for teams, and when engaged, even plays a little defense. His offense is good enough that it makes up for his defensive deficiencies, allowing coaches to leave him on the court versus small lineups. We will have to wait and see if his leash gets shortened as teams single him out during postseason PnRs.

The injury concern is a reasonable aspect to consider. I get it. Yet, Boogie’s game has never relied heavily on a quick first step and burst, something an achilles tear seems to impact the most. Yes, defensively he will probably get even worse. Thankfully, he has Rondo, Holiday and AD to help him through this part of his game.

The Verdict

Give my man the max. It is a risk, but one that New Orleans has to take. Their window is now. They do not have any promising young assets, picks or future cap space. Place your trust in perhaps the most untrustable man in basketball. He’ll be good for it.

Disagree? Tell me why? @Mattesposito_