Should it stay, or should it go, a new regular column focusing on some of the Association’s breaking news, rising trends and shining developments. The prior edition can be found here.
Keep: Looking back retroactively at the Sacramento Kings with a smile
For over a decade, we have looked back on the Sacramento Kings and essentially every personnel decision they have made scoffing and jeering across the internet. Every former draft pick looked astonishingly bad, at times, even without hindsight. Every trade looked like an overcorrection pushing to save face and doing the exact opposite. It has been easy to kick the Kings as they rolled across the living room floor the entirety of the social media era but no more. These aren’t your older brothers Sacramento Kings. They’ve started the year at 16-14 but more importantly, they possess a young core with room to grow and a ceiling that isn’t concrete at shoulder height.
It all starts with De’Aaron Fox who was the fifth overall pick in 2017. Drafted behind Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and just in front of Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina, he stands out as the premier point guard of the group. His shot, which was always the worry, has greatly improved. His blazing speed is expeditious rather than excessive and his playmaking has been remarkable as the rest of the core has blossomed into something of positive note.
When we look back on the DeMarcus Cousins trade, it’s easy to make the case Sacramento won the deal. Buddy Hield has found his stride in Sacramento. Justin Jackson, Frank Mason and Harry Giles who are all also byproducts of the move are icing on the cake and should one of them become a stable rotation piece the deal might get ugly for the Pelicans who got a measly 65 games out of Boogie.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Nemanja Bjelica, and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all legitimate players contributing to wins here and now. Even Marvin Bagley, who is most often used as a platform to slap the wrists of the Kings for passing on Luka Doncic looks very good. Bagley isn’t going to be the Rookie of the Year but his contribution of over 12 PPG, 6 RPG and 54 percent shooting in a bench role are noteworthy.
The Kings deserve every bit of the positive attention they’ve received this season.
Swap: Second-year players for Most Improved Player
Keeping in mind, that Fox is playing terrific basketball and has been commended for doing just that, I’d ply you—yes, you—to spare me the second-year push for Most Improved Player.
Yes, Fox has seen a huge jump and no, the reception his rookie year wasn’t sonorous, but he was the No. 5 pick. The hope, often the assumption is that lottery picks are supposed to improve with relative haste in an upward fashion. It’s not fair and it doesn’t always work that way, but guys are being drafted that high because franchises believe just that.
I’d urge you to push for the players that have been forgotten, buried, or are currently at their last projected stop before faith in their abilities disappears entirely—they are outright a better story.
Can I point you in the direction of 28-year-old Nikola Vucevic posting career highs in PPG (20.6), RPG (11.7), APG (3.7) and three-point percentage (40)? He’s doing all of that in under 31 MPG and the Orlando Magic are sitting one game under .500 despite their inkling to draft only fours and fives.
Keep: Derrick Rose returning to prominence
Derrick Rose the basketball player has been a revelation this season. There was legitimate conversation that if Tom Thibodeau didn’t scoop him up, he’d be on his way to China and here he is hooping in 2018. He’s averaging 18.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, shooting a career high 49 percent but most importantly, an implausible shift in his stroke has push him to 48 percent from long range.
Calling Rose’s 48 percent from deep a, “career high,” is underselling it. His previous high was 34 percent and it came in 2013-14 over a 10-game sample. That’s an improvement worthy of award consideration.
His 50-point game this season was a collective wow moment for basketball fans everywhere and while your instinct might be to argue they are solid numbers on a bad team, the Wolves are 5.3 points per 100 possession better when Rose is on the court rather than sitting on the bench.
I’ve often wondered if a Most Improved Player could rise all the way to the top and win the Most Valuable Player Award. Giannis Antetokounmpo has a solid shot, Paul George has an outside one, at one time I truly believed Tracy McGrady would do it, but I never considered the opposite trail to the top. Rose could legitimately do it in reverse order this season.
Swap: The lack of attention Nate McMillan has garnered in Indiana
How on earth, is this guy not getting Coach of the Year hype? Knowing that Coach of the Year is primarily an award based on wins, losses, and the pushing of a narrative, why isn’t McMillan in the conversation?
The Pacers are three games ahead of where they were at the same place last year. Two-way stud, Victor Oladipo has missed 11 games and still, the Pacers are 10 games over .500. Domantas Sabonis is in the Sixth Man of the Year debate, Bojan Bogdanovic is the man on fire and Thaddeus Young just won Player of the Week.
The Pacers have the sixth best net rating in the NBA (+5.5) but the second-best defense in the league. Only Oklahoma City has a lower defensive rating and the Pacers don’t have one, let alone two guys garnering Defensive Player of the Year attention.
The Paul George trade continues to be the best example of a win-win trade in recent memory but would be saying the same if McMillan didn’t have the reins in Indiana?
Keep: MVP discussion as a yearlong conversation starter
NBA MVP used to be the most prestigious award in sports and now it’s just a glorified beauty pageant to fill column inches for six months. The game has gotten so much better but this convo gets worse every year.
— Myles Brown (@mdotbrown) December 17, 2018
This tweet from Myles Brown garnered a fair deal of attention and I empathize because as a global community of NBA fans, I think we’ve overly complicated the award the last few years.
He followed it up with the junky use of the term, “participation trophy.”
Part of what makes this convo so dumb is the insistence that MVP is a regular season award. It is and it aint. Open the books and you'll see foresight in the winners who went on to win or at least compete deep into the playoffs. Now we're just giving out participation trophies.
— Myles Brown (@mdotbrown) December 17, 2018
Let’s come down a bit from that hill, convincing the better part of 101 voters to write your name down in a league where there’s never been more talent is far from a recognition of participation.
Then, there’s the issue of it not being a regular season award, which it absolutely is. Whether you think there’s too many games during the regular season, too few, or you find it overly inconsequential or anything in between, the MVP is a regular season award. Winning matters, of course it matters but if having a legitimate shot at a title is part of the criteria the choices would be Steph Curry or Kevin Durant. Those same two choices would’ve been the only options the last two years as well. Hard to vote for a guy when he could sit the year and his team would still probably win the title.
The Warriors have changed the landscape, we know how this year plays out and we knew how it’d play out the second Durant signed in the Bay. Which is also why the MVP discussion has been so supercharged and exhaustive the last few years.
NBA fans need something uncertain to mull over with encyclopedic focus. Spin and the dreaded galaxy brain are components of a community where every user is trying to show off their all-encompassing intellect through the conduit of basketball debate.
This discourse might be a vomit-inducing affair at times, but it provides an outlet for conversation that the general power rankings and championship projections do not at this time.
The more legitimate gripe might be all of the post-mortem discussion rehashing the virtue of every MVP winner 15 minutes after they won the award. “Yea, I know the Oklahoma City Thunder lost Kevin Durant for nothing and Russell Westbrook responded by carrying the Thunder to the playoffs despite the former MVP winner’s absence, all while averaging the first triple-double season in 50 years, but are we sure he did enough?”
The MVP is still a prestigious award, we wouldn’t talk about it this much if it wasn’t.