Quick Hit Thoughts 12/17/2018

What Were The Lakers Thinking This Past Off-Season?

~ During this past Summer I did a Lakers podcast criticizing their roster moves.  They ended up signing some questionable fits around Lebron James early in the free agency period.  NBA free agency opens up midnight the 1st of July.  Rajon Rondo agreed to a contract on July 6th, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was July 1st, Lance Stephenson and Javale Mcgee were July 10th.  Who were these teams eager to sign Caldwell-Pope and freaking Lance Stephenson?  I understand the Lakers mission was to sign Lebron James, use their remaining cap space on one-year deals and carry over salary for the 2019 free agency class.  Makes perfect sense.  But why were these the one-year deals they hastily sought after?

It was at this point after they made their moves in July I had to talk about what I would’ve done differently.  I said I would’ve signed Trevor Ariza instead of Caldwell-Pope, instead of Rondo I would’ve signed Wayne Ellington and instead of using their exception on Stephenson I would’ve used it on Luc Mbah a Moute.  These weren’t some bold proclamations I made either.  They felt like moves that made them competitive enough to compete against the Warriors this year and give them the flexibility for the 2019 free agency bonanza.  Both Ariza and Ellington signed one-year deals and would’ve given the Lakers shooting and versatility they very much need.  And sure enough the Lakers were reportedly after acquiring Ariza this past week and now that the Suns traded him to the Wizards the Lakers are now turning to plan B: either Terrence Ross of the Orlando Magic or Wayne Ellington of the Miami Heat.  Holy crap what were the Lakers thinking this summer?

 

The 2019 Rookie Class Is Deeper Than What I Originally Thought

~ Most scouting websites thought the 2019 rookie class was not going to be as deep as the 2017 and 2018 draft classes were.  And for good reason.  A lot of players that were projected to enter the 2019 draft tested the waters during the 2018 draft combine and heard enough good feedback to submit their names for the 2018 draft, ex Josh Okogie, Omari Spellman, Donte Divincenzo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Huerter, Zhaire Smith and Justin Jackson just to name a few.  When you take into account how well the 2017 draft has performed it only made sense that the 2019 draft was going to be not as deep.  It was looking as if the 2019 draft was going to be another 2016 draft were there are star prospects (Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram) and the rest is a crapshoot.  The star prospects for the 2019 draft are Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett plus maybe Cam Reddish but after that however it looked like another crapshoot just like 2016 was.  I and others deemed it that way this past summer.

So far into the college basketball season I’m going to have to change my assessment.  The 2019 draft still may end up not as deep as the 2017/2018 draft classes but I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2019 draft becomes stronger than the 2017/2018 class.  Yes the star prospects might be better than originally guessed and Zion Williamson/RJ Barrett could be franchise altering players.  But it’s been the improvement of players such as Ja Morant, De’Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura, Jarrett Culver, Daniel Gafford, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jalen McDaniels, Ty Jerome, Brandon Clarke, Kris Wilkes and Admiral Schofield that is making me rethink my position about this class.  They’ve all improved on flaws that ailed them last season.  And those are the upperclassmen just off the top of my head, there’s more not even mentioned.  There’s also the international players plus other stud freshmen like Bol Bol, Kevin Porter jr, and Luguentz Dort etc.  It’s still early in the college basketball season, conference games still have to take place and some of these players will regress.  But in comparison to where my thinking was just a few months ago the 2019 draft class looks to be deeper than originally thought.

 

De’Aaron Fox Should Be An All-Star (so far)

~ It’s still only December and Fox could end up regressing but if he keeps up this level of play, which there hasn’t be any indication of his declining play yet, then he should be an All-Star.  Yes, the Western Conference is loaded when it comes to guards so picking who gets left off every year is unfortunate.  But if I was to tell you before the season began that De’Aaron Fox will lead the Kings into playoff contention you’d probably laugh at me.  The Kings haven’t made the postseason in 12 years which is currently the longest drought in the NBA.  They are also the butt of every joke and a laughing stock of a franchise who has been poorly mismanaged into the ground.  Every time I listen/read to what people have to say regarding the Western Conference playoff race most everyone anticipates that the Kings will surely fall off and teams like the Rockets or Jazz will eventually overtake them.  As of now the Kings are 16-13 and are presently tied with the 6th best record in the West.

The Kings position in the West is a little bit misleading since they are separated by only 3 games with the 14th worst team in the West.  There are 14 true playoff contenders in the West and having a bad week could send you down from 5 to 12.  So it is logical to think the Kings won’t keep this up and revert back to the benchmark of mediocrity.  It’s December 17th and the Kings are still good, that’s an achievement in itself.  All of what I just said should be a rousing endorsement for Fox making the all-star team or winning the most improved player of the year award.

The Kings have a +3.3 net efficiency when Fox is on-court but when he’s off-court the Kings have a -7.5 net efficiency, that’s a +10.8 swing when he’s on/off court.  Fox is averaging 18.5 points, 7.5 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals on 48% from the floor and 39.6% from three.  The improvement in three point shooting is key because now it gives teams pause when guarding him on pick-and-rolls.  Before it wasn’t even a conversation about how to guard him, just go under every screen.  Teams were daring him to shoot and taking away driving angles.  Now that Fox has improved his outside shot either he’s making teams pay for going under and leaving him open or teams now have to respect his shot, go over screens and closeout airspace quicker.  Even if teams go under screens Fox uses his blaring speed, quickness and change-of-pace moves to get defenders leaning one way before he accelerates to the rim.  He’s so good going downhill and playing in the pick-and-roll.  Fox now has more space to operate with the Kings shooting 38.7% from three and better vertical floor dimensions with Willie Cauley-Stein as the rim-runner.  Last season the Kings played 95.59 possessions per 100 possessions which ranked last in the league, compare that to this seasons scorching pace of 105.28 possessions per 100 possessions which ranks second in the league.  The style of play, the improvement of the supporting cast and the development of skill has given Fox the keys to maintain this level of success this season.  The Kings are honestly fun to watch again and I really hope Fox continues his success.  

 

Monte Morris Should Play Over Isaiah Thomas When He Comes Back Healthy

~ Monte Morris on the season is averaging 24.9 minutes per game but over his last five games is averaging 29.4 minutes per game.  He only played in 3 games his rookie year last season and has become called upon for this season partly due to injuries.  Though that’s not giving Morris nearly enough credit for the progress he’s made improving his game.  He is shooting 44% from three and has a 6.21 assist-to-turnover ratio which is crazy amazing.  Morris is exactly what a backup point guard should be: he doesn’t turn the ball over, plays well off-ball, picks his spots, doesn’t force the action, isn’t a complete liability on defense and takes/makes sensible shots.  Morris is also quickly establishing a nice connection with rim-runner Mason Plumlee off the bench.  Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Isaiah Thomas are all injured right now and I wonder what happens to Morris when they all come back healthy, especially Thomas.  Thomas is a well known high-volume, low-efficiency scorer that is playing on his contract year coming off of a major hip injury at 5’9 about to turn 30 years old.  If the Nuggets are still dealing with injuries to Barton and Harris then most likely both Thomas and Morris will have big roles to play.  Thomas is a better creator and can generate buckets during long stretches of poor team offense but when all their guards are healthy Morris should be the one higher up on the depth chart.  Morris is settling into a nice floor stabilizer and is sporting a +8.0 on-court net efficiency which is best on the team.  Morris has earned first crack at the rotation over Thomas.