Lonzo Ball


No one should be surprised that it was possible for teams led by Devin Booker and Trae Young could make the NBA Finals and Eastern Conference Finals one day, respectively. I don’t think many expected that to happen this previous season, however. But damn it, it did. After years of losing and struggling, brilliant draft maneuvering, sturdy head coaching hires, and slick moves to bring in established veterans to help lead the way, Suns GM James Jones and Hawks GM Travis Schlenk deserve tons of credit for building championship-competitive rosters that fit and maximize the strengths of their superstars. Though it is super hard for even grizzled star-studded teams to advance as far as these two teams did, let alone a team led by young studs, perhaps these two inspired others across the league to follow a similar path. Who could be the next Suns or Hawks?

A team that comes to mind is the New Orleans Pelicans. They already have two players that have been named to All-Star games in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, tantalizing other young pieces surrounding them in Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart (should they be retained in restricted free agency), the rambunctious Nickeil Alexander-Walker (who played a brief stint with the Canadian National Team in their quest to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics), the speedy rookie Kira Lewis Jr., and the bouncy Jaxson Hayes. They have a treasure trove of picks too after they dealt Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to Finals teams in successive seasons (ten first-round pics in the next seven drafts, to be exact). The Pelicans have the start of something special, but they need to clean up some aspects of their team first to get where they want to go eventually. 

Let’s start on the basketball side of things, they have to address their shooting woes. The Pelicans’ three-point shooting during the 2020-21 season was reminiscent of a stormtrooper. After they finished 26th in the entire league in three-point percentage. Advanced numbers don’t do the Pelicans many favors. The site bball-index.com tracks how great spacing a player is surrounded by. According to their data, neither Brandon Ingram nor Zion Williamson cracked above the 41st percentile for spacing around them. Just watch this play and see how many defenders are packed in the paint when New Orleans is trying to get their offense going. Luckily, Brandon Ingram is a supreme shot-maker and bailed the Pelicans out of this wretched possession, but these types of possessions were far too common and a nightly routine when Zion and Ingram were mostly surrounded by two complete non-shooting entities in Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams. Despite this, Zion Williamson somehow managed to average 27 points a night while shooting 61% from the field and feasting at the rim, while Brandon Ingram put up a robust 46.6/38.1/87.8 shooting split on the season. The Pelicans’ priority has to be finding more shooting to make life easier on these two stars. It is wholly on the Pelicans’ Front Office (more on them in a bit) to get the shooting required for Zion and Ingram. It was neglected the last offseason and cannot be again.

Defense ailed the Pelicans for much of the 2020-21 season too. New, now former, head coach Stan Van Gundy noted the previous trends of top defenses canceling the paint in exchange for opposing teams to unleash from three at will, and decided to implement that strategy. Let’s just say it took some time for his new young players to get used to. Last season, the Pelicans allowed the fourth most amount of possessions by their opponents to conclude with a three-point shot, according to NBA.com. Those Pelicans opponents shot 38% on those threes, tied for the fifth-best (or worst, whichever way you want to look at it) mark in the league. Oftentimes, it felt like the Pelicans were either overdoing it with their strategy or were too young to properly execute it the way more experienced teams did by leaving certain shooters open and running off the more dangerous ones. Plenty of New Orleans defensive possessions ended like this: 

There were more defensive issues aside from their overall structure. Their stars just have to be better, plain and simple. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are capable of being very good defensive players, at least I think so. Zion looked every bit the part of a modern-day small-ball center at Duke, using his freakish athleticism to protect the rim while also staying in front of his man. We’ve seen glimpses of it in the NBA, but it has been far too fleeting. More times than not, unfortunately, possessions with Zion at center have tended to look like this. Oftentimes, he looks as if his feet are in quicksand, or he doesn’t put himself in the right positions to make the correct plays. Williamson only played 86 minutes all season long playing without another big man, according to NBA.com. He just wasn’t ready yet for that type of role. To be fair to Zion too, he played in a zone defense a lot while at Duke, hasn’t had a ton of top-notch coaching before enrolling at Duke, and big men tend to struggle defensively their first couple of seasons (look at none other than Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns). Those growing pains will help Zion in the long run. He still is more than capable of being a devastating defensive force, in my opinion, but he needs to improve defensively to get there.

Brandon Ingram has to be better defensively too. We know he can be a positive defender from his days in Los Angeles, but he hasn’t brought that part of his game to New Orleans quite yet. Sure, you can still beat Ingram with bulk, but too many times Ingram lacked tenacity, focus, or feistiness on defense.

Ingram gets caught ball-watching and loses sight of his man in the corner (Andrew Wiggins). Two of his teammates are already up with Steph Curry, so he has to momentarily cover Draymond Green and Wiggins. However, Ingram is in no man’s land and doesn’t really guard either, letting Wiggins sneak along the baseline for a dunk. Ingram is way better than that. Until he and Zion catch up on that end of the floor, the Pelicans’ chances of competing will hover around where it is now. With the talent of those two players themselves, let alone the rest of the roster, the Pelicans should not be finishing with the eighth-worst defense in the NBA. Once the Pelicans’ defense catches up, then things could get serious in the near future.

The most important job the Pelicans need to do, however, is gain organizational stability. GM David Griffin has done a great job of hoarding draft picks for the future, but his moves and actions other than that have been less than stellar. Drafting a center with the eighth overall pick (Jaxson Hayes) in the 2019 NBA Draft didn’t feel like the best allocation of its value and only looks worse after De’Andre Hunter (who they could’ve had with the fourth pick of the draft as part of the Anthony Davis trade and was eventually flipped to Atlanta for the eighth and seventeenth picks), Rui Hachimura, Cam Reddish, Cam Johnson, and Tyler Herro, all of whom the Pelicans could have drafted and all but Hunter being drafted after the Hawks took Hayes, have had moments of brilliance in the postseason and fit the roster better than Hayes does. Griffin acquired George Hill in the Jrue Holiday trade, yet flipped the sharpshooting (career 38.1% three-point shooter) guard to Oklahoma City for plodding big man Steven Adams, then gave Adams a two-year, $35 million extension! This was disastrous on numerous levels. Adams does not look like the same athlete he was years ago defensively and makes life much more difficult for the Pelicans’ offense.

On top of all that, Adams eats up a ton of the Pelicans’ salary cap. He and Bledsoe combined to make over $35 million next season heading into this offseason. Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are scheduled to be restricted free agents. Zion Williamson will be eligible for a contract extension after next season and Ingram is already on a max deal. Adams and Bledsoe both have contracts that bleed until the 2022-2023 season, though Bledsoe’s money that season is not guaranteed. Though Adams nor Bledsoe are in New Orleans’ long-term plans, they could potentially cost the Pelicans Ball, who likely will get a lucrative deal in restricted free agency, or some of the picks they acquired via the Lakers or the Bucks to try to get more cap space to improve the team around Zion and Ingram. There isn’t really anyone but Griffin to blame for not maneuvering that as cleanly as he did.

David Griffin also hasn’t been the best at maintaining relationships while in New Orleans, both from the player and coaching side of things. Months ago, JJ Redick blasted Griffin on his ‘The Old Man and the Three’ podcast for allegedly lying to Redick about sending Redick to somewhere he’d want to go that would be in close proximity to his family in New York after the trade deadline. Instead, he got shipped to Dallas. Granted, JJ Redick doesn’t have the luxury or leverage a star does, but this stuff matters a lot to players. It didn’t stop there with Griffin either. After firing Stan Van Gundy after hiring him less than a year ago, Van Gundy appeared on the ‘STUpodity’ podcast hosted by Stugotz of the ‘Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz.’ Among many notable grievances Van Gundy aired, the most notable was the fact that he flat-out said that he and the front office weren’t on the same page. That is inexcusable. Sure, some blame can be aimed at both sides, but I’d pin most of that onto Griffin. Griffin is a long-time, experienced general manager. He helped lead a team to a championship for Christ’s sake. He knows how to do this, but he has to be better more so than anyone in that organization to get the Pelicans where they want to go. He has to hire the right coach now for the second time in less than 365 days. He has to be more upfront with his players. He has to value shooting. If he doesn’t this video of Zion Williamson swooning over the lore of Madison Square Garden will loom over the Pelicans like a rain cloud. The Pelicans have pressure. It’s up to Griffin to shoo it away.

David Griffin has done a fine job remedying both fronts so far. The Pelicans recently hired former Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns assistant coach and 12 year NBA veteran Willie Green as his new head coach. With how he just helped the Suns recognize their renaissance run this year with a fairly young and inexperienced team, you’d think he knows what it takes to steer this franchise in the right direction. Griffin also executed one of the first trades of the offseason, dealing Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, the 10th and 40th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and a 2022 first-round pick from the Lakers (while placing a top ten protection over it) to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jonas Valanciunas and their 17th and 51st selections in the 2021 Draft. While the fit between Valanciunas and Zion seems clunky on both ends of the floor, he still represents a massive upgrade over Adams. Though trading that 2022 first and moving down from 10 to 17 is hardly ideal, it allows the Pelicans to possibly keep both Hart and Ball, or sign another point guard in Lonzo’s place should he walk (Kyle Lowry has long been rumored to be the Pelicans’ target, but Lowry may foil their plans by taking his talents to South Beach). Speaking of the 17th selection, drafting Virginia’s Trey Murphy III should immediately boost New Orleans’ shooting and spacing, as he shot 40.1% from deep during his three-year college career and 81.9% from the free-throw line. The Pelicans need to do more, but this offseason has gone off to a good start to finally get the Pelicans back into the playoffs.

With all that said, there is plenty to be excited about in New Orleans. They have two great young players and ample resources to improve the roster around them. There’s no reason to think the Pelicans can’t find the right supporting cast the same way the Suns and Hawks did. Those two teams proved is that one big and correct offseason can drastically change the outcome of a franchise. Let’s see if the Pelicans can follow in their footsteps and be the next team to surprise with a deep playoff run.

Before we start up this draft profile, I want to give you all a blind resume of two players’ stat line per 40 minutes.


Per-40 Pts Asts TOs Rebs Stls FG% 3pt% FT% FTA FGA
A 30.9 9.8 5.9 4.4 1.9 42.2% 36% 86.1% 9.7 21.8
B 24.4 9.8 5 5.1 1.2 39.1% 22.8% 82.5% 10.4 18.5

Pretty similar, right? One would think stat lines that close to each other would mean both players are of comparable caliber, huh? Well, Player A is what Atlanta Hawks’ superstar Trae Young pulled off during his lone season at Oklahoma. Who is player B? Don’t worry, I got you. The answer to that question would be… Auburn’s Sharife Cooper.

Granted, Trae Young played a full season at Oklahoma, while Sharife Cooper only played 12 games this season for the Auburn Tigers. but I think it is important to bring Trae Young up and what he did in these playoffs when assessing Cooper’s potential. Now, I’m not saying that Cooper is for sure going to be ‘the next Trae Young,’ but both play with similar styles. I think it is important to bring Trae Young up though and what he did in these playoffs when assessing Sharife Cooper’s potential. In a pick-and-roll-centric league, Young dominated each and every one of his NBA opponents with his supreme blend of playmaking and scoring in that regard. Cooper could possibly be the best pick-and-roll playmaker in this draft outside of Cade Cunningham, but he needs to improve as a shooter to maximize his potential. We’ll talk about that later. But what may be stood out the most to me watching Trae in the playoffs was how he was able to survive on the defensive end of the floor.

I think this is the most important piece of this conversation. The expectation from many, including myself, was for Trae Young to get massacred on the defensive end of the floor. That simply did not happen. Young was mostly able to hide on spot-up shooters, hedge when forced to come up in ball-screens and fight to not relinquish his plush defensive duties while the Hawks’ primary defender fought to get back to his man. On top of that, even when the offense won this power struggle, Young was adequate enough to be far from bbq chicken. This stop on Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will forever ring in my mind to give Young his respect as a defender in the postseason because he stepped up to the challenge, despite his diminutive size at 6’1” 180 pounds.

As luck would have it, Sharife Cooper’s size is comparable to Young’s at… 6’1” 180 pounds! On top of that, the times I’ve seen Cooper play, he gets after it defensively. Cooper moves his feet well and has good hands to get steals and deflections. Cooper is not afraid of withstanding contact either. This play is a great example.

Cooper is right there with Devontae Shuler of Ole Miss, a talented scorer in his own right, matching Shuler stride for stride to give him a solid contest at the rim. This was not an isolated incident, either. No one is going to mistake Cooper for Marcus Smart or Jrue Holiday as a defender, but to me, he showed more often than not he’s up to the task defensively and could stay on the floor in pressured situations, especially if he’s asked to hide on lesser offensive players the way Young was.

Where Sharife Cooper needs to make up ground, however, is his shooting. We all knew Young could scorch the earth from distance while at Norman and uses that to his advantage in the NBA to get to his patented floater. Cooper does not have that same luxury. He shot just 22.8% from deep at Auburn this past season. The advanced numbers don’t paint a rosy picture either. According to Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman, Cooper generated less than 0.7 points per possession when shooting off the dribble this season. Whether his defenders would get caught on screens or they’d go under, Cooper simply didn’t make defenses pay when he got cut off from the paint. 

I think Sharife Cooper can improve as a shooter and finisher, though. Cooper did shoot 82.5% from the free-throw line this season, which has been a better indicator of shooting success over the years than three-point percentages. Though floaters are not there in his bag quite yet, he’s shown he does have soft touch around the rim.

We’ve also seen plenty of instances where guys enter the league not known as shooters only to improve once they’re coached up and have more time to focus solely on basketball. Guys like Lonzo Ball, Kawhi Leonard, Jaylen Brown, and plenty others are just a few examples. Cooper is not a great shooter right now, but it certainly is an area where others have improved, and Cooper has a baseline to get better to be a threat from the outside.

Just because Sharife Cooper’s jumper isn’t up to par yet, that doesn’t mean he can’t score. Cooper has a great handle to match top speed to be able to get by his defender to the rim when he has that runway to get there. Cooper also matches that handle and speed with excellent patience and a change of speeds in the halfcourt to throw off defenders and buy himself extra time and separation to get where he ultimately wants to go. He does all that but also doesn’t mind physicality either. You don’t just luck into 8.6 free throw attempts per game. In fact, Cooper managed to attempt at least 10 free throws in half of his games this season, including a gargantuan 21 attempts in an upset win over Missouri in January. Cooper’s shiftiness matched with his speed and poise to attack once he sees daylight is what allows him to be able to be such an effective scorer without a dependable jumper to rely upon at the moment. Watch how he combines all of those attributes here to earn himself some free throws.

Getting a jumper is important because it can set up his best and most important skill: his passing. In a draft with Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, Josh Giddey, Cooper might be the best of them all when it comes to passing and playmaking. He is an absolute savant of a playmaker who manipulates defenders like a puppet master. He sometimes sees plays so quickly that his own teammates don’t even suspect it.

In the pick and roll, he sees everything. What stands out so much about Cooper running pick and roll is his patience reading the floor. He will hardly ever rush or force a pass. Instead, he lets plays develop and pounces on scrambling defenses. A lot like what guys like Trae Young, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, and others do, when he sees the weakside defender tagging the roll man, Cooper will laser the ball to the player that defender is guarding like it’s nothing. Advanced reads and passes like this are not that common amongst NBA stars, let alone prospects.

His playmaking genius applies against zone defenses as well. What’s great about Cooper’s playmaking is that he sets up his teammates to succeed in situations that won’t always lead him to assists. He’ll rack up a ton of hockey assists as well when defenses send extra attention his way and force him to give it up. This play here is an ultimate example. Ole Miss’ defenders at the top of the zone creep up towards Cooper, so he sets up teammate JT Thor in the middle of the zone, who then zips a pass to another teammate for a layup.

This play right here encapsulates Sharife Cooper and his talent level in a nutshell. He gets a stop on a drive at the rim, gets the outlet pass, and rifles a bounce pass from one end of the court to the other.

Sharife Cooper’s feel and playmaking are not easy to find. He really does look like guards of Trae Young and Ja Morant’s level as a passer and playmaker. We just saw Young absolutely dominate the playoffs and carry his team way sooner than expected to the Eastern Conference Finals and what could have been the NBA Finals had he not turned his foot on the shoe of a referee. Again, I’m not saying that Sharife Cooper is going to be the next Trae Young, but his playmaking and frame make it hard not to think of Young when watching Cooper play. Young showed a guard like him can lead a team to playoff prominence. Wouldn’t more teams want a guy like Trae Young?

The NBA is a pick-and-roll game. Sharife Cooper has all the talent in the world to be a big-time difference-making star for whatever team that drafts him, in my opinion. While I’ve made the comp to Trae Young for Cooper, I’m not expecting him to replicate Young and his outstanding achievements, but Young’s success perhaps opens more doors for Cooper to get the chance to attempt to do the same than otherwise. Cooper has work to do with his shooting to enter that stratosphere, but I firmly believe he has what it takes to get there. I think Sharife Cooper should be at minimum a lottery pick and work his way inside the top ten. I’m all in on the Sharife Cooper bandwagon, and there’s plenty of room and time to hop aboard.

Every year, the NBA Trade Deadline thrills us with plenty of Woj bombs to go around, and this year’s iteration was no different. Also every year, people like to crown certain teams and players winners and losers of the deadline as if this is an exact science when we have no idea how these movements. We here at Brainiac Sports won’t stand for such shenanigans! However, there are plenty of moves that caught my eye, for better or worse. Let’s rattle off a few of them.


Vucevic to the Bulls: The Chicago Bulls have not made the playoffs since Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo snagged the first two games of their 1-8 first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics before dropping the next four. Yeah, it’s been a minute. This season though, they are in the hunt to get back to the postseason, currently sitting 10th in the East but 2.5 games behind of the 4th seed. Fortunately for them, 10 teams are eligible for the postseason in each conference, with teams 7-10 playing for the 7 and 8 seeds. The Bulls likely needed a push to avoid such play-in games and got one from the biggest name to be dealt at the deadline (since Kyle Lowry didn’t get moved). 

Nikola Vucevic isn’t a big-time name but he’s been a solid performer for many years in the morass of mediocrity that is the Orlando Magic. Vucevic has been tasked with carrying a load associated with one a superstar is asked to burden with the numerous injuries that have befallen the Magic this year. Amongst players who have played at least 25 games this season, Vucevic’s usage rate ranks 15th in the league, just behind now teammate Zach LaVine. Vucevic’s arrival should be welcomed by both parties. Big Vooch has never had a pick and roll threat the caliber of even Coby White, let alone a near 50/40/90 scoring dynamo like LaVine. Vucevic should get much easier looks around the rim to boost his efficiency around the rim (he had the 10th worst FG% amongst centers from 0-8 feet, per NBA.com), which should, in turn, boost his efficiency as a whole (per ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Vucevic’s True Shooting Percentage of 56.5% is below the league average for centers at 60.7%). However, for a team that wasn’t getting much out of its centers and could use an infusion of playmaking, Vucevic should help plenty offensively. Vooch and LaVine can replicate a lite version of the dynamic Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have in Denver (from where the Bulls current GM previously worked for). Vucevic is averaging a career-high 3.8 assists per game, a career-high 6.5 attempts from three per game, and hitting a career-high 40.6% of those shots per game. He can open up the floor for White and LaVine to drive, create deadly mismatches with his shooting, and can be a fulcrum to run their offense.

Defense isn’t the strength of Vucevic nor the Bulls as a whole (the Bulls’ defense is currently and literally the middle of the pack of the league) but he does make them better. Having their pick only being Top 4 protected with the possibility they can still miss the playoffs could certainly come to bite them, but I don’t expect it to. I’ve never really been a Zach LaVine believer, but I like that the Bulls are and gave him more help to make a playoff push. Vucevic’s salary isn’t crippling either, as he’ll make $24 million and $22 million the next two years. I also liked moves they made on the edges as well, getting Troy Brown Jr. and Daniel Theis for Chandler Hutchinson and Daniel Gafford, getting some more defense and playmaking on the floor. The Bulls will have to make the playoffs this year and beyond for this deal to be a success. I’m expecting they will.

The Miami Heat: Pat Riley you dastardly dog. The Godfather did it again, creating value out of thin air. In the summer of 2019, he turned Josh Richardson into Jimmy Butler. At the deadline this year, he turned Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, and Chris Silva into Victor Oladipo, Nemanja Bjelica, Trevor Ariza, and possibly LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s a heist. Oladipo and Aldridge have not played up to the All-Star form we’ve been accustomed to seeing them perform at, but the Heat are neither asking or requiring them to do so. They kept all of Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn, which wouldn’t have been the case had they traded for Kyle Lowry, who they can sign this summer along with re-signing Victor Oladipo, whose bird rights now belong to the Heat. At worst, neither of these additions pan out and the Heat ride a team that is currently surging after a start filled with injuries and COVID; at best, Oladipo returns to form, Bjelica and Ariza bring the shooting they need and they go toe-to-toe with the Nets and Bucks. There’s no downside here for the Heat with the upside to win a title. Not bad!

John Collins and Lonzo Ball staying put: I always like when teams reward their homegrown stars rather than look for reasons to trade them. John Collins is the perfect pick and roll dance partner for Trae Young. Sure, his fit has been muddied a little bit with Clint Capela occupying the paint, but when you can also be effective from the outside, that mitigates that clutter a little bit. In more than a normal NBA season’s worth of games (85) games the last two seasons, Collins is shooting 38.6% from three on nearly 3.5 attempts per game. Admittedly, I haven’t been able to watch many Hawks games this season, but by many accounts, Collins has improved on that end, and the numbers back it up. Collins ranks ninth amongst power forwards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric. Though the Hawks’ defense is better when Clint Capela plays alongside Collins (and puts Collins at the 4 more than the 5 where he can be his most lethal self offensively), they’ve been better when Collins plays without Capela this season than they’ve been in years prior. Pay John Collins!

Lonzo Ball is the perfect fit next to Pelicans stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. He doesn’t need the ball and accentuates the strengths of those other two. Last season, the Pelicans’ Net Rating skyrocketed to +11.3 points per 100 possessions when Lonzo shared the floor with Zion and Ingram. This season, that Net Rating sits at just +1.6, but jumps back up to +11.5 when starters Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams watch those three from the bench. Those three work as a trio and should be playing with each other for years to come. This current Pelicans regime has drafted multiple guards already in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. It seems more than possible that the Pelicans opt not to pay what Lonzo could get in restricted free agency, but at least they now have more time to assess the fit. Here’s hoping they keep Lonzo for the long haul.

Orlando Turning Up the Tank: The Magic have had their season wrecked by injuries. They currently have the fourth-worst record in the NBA and are 2.5 games ‘behind’ having the second-worst record in the NBA. The NBA Draft is always a bit of a crapshoot (no one needs to remind fans of the Magic), but the top of 2021’s Draft looks loaded with star power, headlined by Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham and USC’s Evan Mobley, amongst others. At the deadline, the Magic got three first-round picks, two second-round picks, and two young players a team in a situation like theirs should surely look at in Chicago’s Wendell Carter Jr and RJ Hampton from the Nuggets for Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Gary Clark Jr. Not a bad haul at all. Perhaps a change in scenery will ignite Carter into the potential two-way force many (including myself) thought he could turn into coming out of Duke. RJ Hampton has only played 25 games but should get plenty of burn with Magic guards Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony currently injured. Many saw Hampton as a possible top 10 pick before he opted to play professionally in Australia. With many teams staying in the fight for the play-in, the Magic (in a season currently being played in a pandemic) picked as good a time as possible to flip the switch into tank mode from a team that would’ve been stuck in mediocrity had they chosen not to. At least we’ll always have those glorious Game 1s from the 2019 and 2020 playoffs.


Houston Rockets: When it came time to trade franchise superstar James Harden, Tilman Fertitta reportedly refused to trade to former GM Daryl Morey, now operating in the Philadelphia 76ers Front Office, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports. Haynes is as good an insider as there is, so I believe that report. Ben Simmons was reportedly offered in a potential Harden trade, along with a multitude of picks. Instead, the Rockets chose to trade him to the Nets in a 4 team that landed them neither Caris LeVert nor Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn’s two promising young players this deal necessitated them part with. Instead, Allen went to Cleveland, and the Rockets flipped LeVert into Victor Oladipo from the Houston Rockets. With hopes (I imagine) of competing for the playoffs, those quickly vanished when injuries to Christian Wood and John Wall led Houston to spiral to a 20 game losing streak and squarely in the Cade Cunningham sweepstakes. After this and Oladipo turned down a two-year extension and little hopes of retaining him, the Rockets traded him again to the Miami Heat for… Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and a 2022 first-round pick swap? No really, that happened. Granted, Oladipo has not been the All-NBA player he was in the 2017-18 season, but the Rockets knew that and his contract was expiring after this season when they traded for him! (They also couldn’t have known LeVert would miss time removing a form of cancer in his kidney, which he has mercifully fought off and returned to the hardwood). They could’ve taken perennial All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons (how fun would he be next to Christian Wood?) along with a ton of picks. Instead, the best player they have to show for James bleeping Harden is Kelly Olynyk. Oh, and if their pick falls outside of the top 4, then the Rockets get stuck with the worst of their pick, the Thunder’s 2021 first or the Heat’s 2021 first… the team they just traded Victor Oladipo to and made better. Houston has done well to collect multiple firsts from the Harden, Robert Covington, and PJ Tucker trades, but missing out on even LeVert is a massive miss no matter how you slice it. They better nail those picks and hope the Nets picks turn into gems years way down the road. Good luck playing that game.

Norman Powell to the Blazers: This trade puzzled me, as does seemingly every move the Blazers make. Norm is having a terrific season, is used to playing with two guards at the same time, and can take the pressure off of Damian Lillard, but I just don’t think he fixes Portland’s defensive issues. Portland’s defense ranks 29th in defensive efficiency in the entire NBA. Remember, the NBA consists of 30 teams, so that doesn’t seem very good. On top of that, Portland traded away arguably their best perimeter defender in Gary Trent Jr. There isn’t all that much of a drop-off between Trent Jr. and Powell defensively, but maybe those assets could’ve gone towards getting a stopper or a rim protector. For example, Daniel Theis got traded for Moritz Wagner. JaVale McGee got dealt for 2 2nd round picks? Maybe you don’t trade Trent Jr. for either of those two, but why not try to get someone like that who can provide a jolt defensively for not as much as you paid for more offense? If their plan is to wait for Zach Collins to return from injury, can they really count on Collins to stay healthy? What is the point of Anfernee Simons (or hell, CJ McCollum) if he’s now even more redundant than he already was with the addition of Norm? Is Portland going to pay Powell in free agency when he’s due for a humongous bag of money? I’m not sure of the answer to any of these questions. 

The Grizzlies and Spurs Standing Pat: You shouldn’t make a move for the sole sake of making a move. Neither the Grizzlies nor the Spurs had to make a move. Both are firmly in a position to make the play-in games. However, both have too many good players to play all of them. It would’ve been cool to see one of them (mostly the Grizzlies) package some of them to land a player better than any they’d give up, but having too many good players to play is a problem every team would take.

Knicks Doing Mostly Nothing: The Knicks are another team that didn’t *have* to make a move. But with $15 million of cap space at their disposal, they could’ve used it at the deadline, perhaps to take on a bad salary and land an extra first-round pick. It didn’t take a lot to land Victor Oladipo, who reportedly had an interest in the Knicks and that interest was mutual; why not take a shot and see if he can help your long-suffering fan base get back to the playoffs? They did land Terrance Ferguson and the Sixers’ 2nd round pick, but they probably could have done more to improve their position both now and in the future.

The Lou Williams – Lemon Pepper Wing Jokes: Yes, Lou Williams will be playing for his hometown. Yes, that features Magic City, a club that has wings on its menu named after Lou. Since when was eating wings flouting society’s conventions? Let the man eat! (which is also what every guard in existence will do when he and Trae Young share the floor.)

Luke Walton cannot escape the scrutiny of fathers of his current players, apparently. After dealing with the LaVar Ball fiasco in Southern California, this predicament has followed him up to Northern California after Marvin Bagley III’s father, Marvin Bagley Jr., tweeted he wanted the Kings to trade his son during last Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets. Though the tweet has since been deleted, like Luke Skywalker once said: no (tweet) is ever really gone. Since then, this saga has now crescendoed to franchise star De’Aaron Fox’s father also tweeting that he, not his son the basketball star, wants the Kings to trade Bagley III. It’s just the latest in line of mishaps that have befallen the woebegone Sacramento Kings franchise.

Let’s start with Marvin Bagley III. He didn’t ask to be one of the two players taken before already perennial MVP candidate Luka Doncic, already All-Star Trae Young, and future All-Star Jaren Jackson. But through two seasons and six games, it’s been more than fair to say that Bagley III has not lived up to the billing of his draft pedigree. Though last season and this season will not play the custom 82 games of normal NBA seasons, Bagley has yet to even reach that number, playing in just 81 games so far in his career. During the aforementioned game on Saturday against the Houston Rockets, Bagley III wasn’t even on the floor to close the game as the offense sputtered to score just 19 points in the 3rd and 4th quarter of that game, with Richaun Holmes playing in his stead. Though Bagley III starts games, he wasn’t there to close that one. Head Coach Luke Walton instead opting to play smaller with Cory Joseph and Kyle Guy to play more perimeter options. With all due respect to Holmes, Joseph, and Guy, if your second overall pick is not on the floor in the minutes that matter, something is wrong.

Something is wrong, however. Marvin Bagley III has his strengths going back to his days at Duke as an athletic rim runner with a super quick second jump to smash the offensive glass and solid post-up player, he had his limitations back then that has haunted him to this day. He’s a rim-running big that plays alongside another rim-running big in the aforementioned Holmes. See a problem there? That situation could be feasible, however, if Bagley III could stretch the floor, but that isn’t his game. In 81 NBA games he’s only shot 131 threes, and has converted a ghastly 29% of them. Bagley III hit nearly 40% of his threes in Durham, but shot just 62.7% from the free-throw line, a more sticky suggestion of where one is at as a shooter (Bagley III is a career 69.7% free-throw shooter).

His most glaring weakness, in particular, has come on the defensive end of the floor. His offensive shortcomings could be more manageable if he were more stout on this end of the floor, but alas. You’d think an athletic big like him would be able to switch on the perimeter against guards, but he routinely gets dusted off the floor when asked to do so. He isn’t ready yet to anchor a defense whatsoever. With the NBA having teams play opponents twice in a row on certain road trips to better handle travel in the days of COVID-19, the Kings’ played Houston on Thursday before playing them again sans James Harden on Saturday. In both games, they attacked Bagley III mercilessly and got just about anything they wanted. In six games so far this season, the Kings’ defense squanders 12.3 points per 100 possessions more when Bagley III is on the floor as opposed to him off the floor. While the difference hasn’t been as stark in the previous two years, the Kings’ defensive rating with him on the floor has hovered above bad as well. There’s a reason he isn’t on the floor to close games.

However, I do see the Bagley side of things here as well. Though things haven’t gotten off to the start I bet he imagined coming into the NBA, he still is super young, as the age clock will only tick toward 22 in March for young Marvin. He’s been unlucky when it comes to nagging foot injuries, though surely concerning for a big man. After Sacramento went 39-43 and blitzed the league at a blistering pace in Bagley III’s rookie season, the Kings decided progress was not enough for then-head coach Dave Joerger to retain his job, hiring Luke Walton to map the future of the franchise instead after he was fired as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

That decision was curious at the time (purely from the basketball perspective of things, not even including the sexual assault allegation levied upon Walton at the time) and hasn’t aged much gracefully since. The Kings regressed last year and would’ve finished at a 35 win pace had the world not turned upside down from the fallout of COVID-19. The Kings went from the 3rd-fastest team in the NBA in 2018-19 under Joeger to the 11th-slowest under Walton. I do understand some of this; teams figure others out in the NBA, and learning how to better execute in the halfcourt is beneficial for a young team still figuring the league out. Still, it does seem strange for a coach to step in and fairly drastically change what was working pretty damn well. This same episode we’re seeing now with Marvin Bagley III strangely was on display a year ago with Fox’s backcourt running mate in Buddy Hield after Hield, the current champion of All-Star Weekend’s Three-Point Shootout was spectating watching the offense sputter while trailing by…  three points! This led to frustration from Buddy Hield, taking to social media to voice, or in this case like, his displeasure with the team.

Neither has player development. As a Lakers fan, the talent and potential of all the team’s previous draft picks were always on display, but neither one was groomed into what they are now. There are many reasons for this: almost none of these picks were finished products by any means with the exception of probably Larry Nance Jr., circumstances changed the instant LeBron James walked into the building and were exacerbated once the Anthony Davis trade rumors shot a dart through the confidence levels of the young players. However, it was quite damning that nearly every player has improved even in a short timeframe from leaving Walton’s stewardship. Brandon Ingram literally won an award for it, now personifying the lethal three-level scoring potential we all envisioned him being. D’Angelo Russell became an All-Star (albeit in the Eastern Conference) for the Brooklyn Nets. Lonzo Ball’s jumper from deep improved from the lower 30 percent mark to 37.5% a year ago. Jordan Clarkson went from a daring chucker to useful sparkplug off the bench for two different playoff teams. Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant both have emerged as starting centers, albeit with drastically different strengths and weaknesses. Larry Nance Jr. never averaged above 2.4 assists per-36 minutes as a Laker; he’s never dipped below three the last two seasons as a Cavalier. Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso emerged as pivotal pieces for a championship team, with the latter literally being the difference-maker in the starting lineup of a closeout Game 6 to win the Lakers a title. Others have come and gone Lakerland during Walton’s tenure, but what does it say that a player the Lakers drafted after Walton was let go, Talen Horton-Tucker, has now fought his way into the rotation of a championship contender, was thrown into the fire in the playoffs against the Houston Rockets, and now has scouts (not affiliated with the Lakers, mind you) buzzing that Horton-Tucker could, in their words, average 20+ points per game *right now as a 20-year-old* on a rebuilding team? Neither Ingram nor Russell could manage to do that under Walton’s watch. Walton and his staff are supposed to elevate the games of their players. That didn’t happen in Los Angeles all that often and it isn’t happening right now with Bagley III.

What does this all mean? Are the Kings really going to give up on a guy they just drafted second overall not even three years ago? Unlikely (even if they wanted, his value isn’t at a spot to get what I imagine they’d want back in return), but maybe? Are the Kings going to fire *another* coach? Well, you can’t put anything past them, which is much at the root of what ails the Kings. 

They’ve been the laughing stock of the NBA this side of the New York Knicks with meddling and impatient ownership stepping in the way of incompetent management. Not exactly the combination you want, but get with Vivek Ranadive running the show. This cycle has repeated itself again to where we are now. Luke Walton wasn’t the Head Coach when the Kings drafted Bagley III. Current GM Monte McNair wasn’t in the building when that selection occurred either. Neither of those two owes it Marvin Bagley III or his family to see this thing through. But in order for the team to take the kind of steps the teams of other players in his draft, like the Grizzlies, Suns, Hawks, and Mavericks, have taken the last couple of years, the two sides need each other to help Bagley III become the best version of what he can be. If that happens, perhaps the Kings become what we thought they had a chance of being after the 2018-19 season. If not, they’ll be the same-old’ Kings: churning through another head coach and general manager, another missed draft pick, and perhaps another disgruntled star counting down the days to escape the NBA purgatory Sacramento has found itself to be for nearly the last two decades.