(Random 80s player, probably flopping.)
With all due reverence to the Clinton-Dix family, Ha-Ha Danny Ainge!
It’s almost time to nail down Thanksgiving reservations, but Ainge’s Celtics and the 76ers are already locked in for the 2019 NBA Draft next summer. Boston and Philly already have their knives and forks out at the table of the Sacramento Kings, who are tired of being everybody’s turkey.
The Sixers had already swindled the pick out of Vlade Divac. The newly-hired GM’s team, in 2015, was desperate to clear cap space for veteran free agents (Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, and “RONDOOOO!”) to pair with Boogie Cousins and coach George Karl, but he had a roster and a payroll congested with ne’er-do-wells. Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson were sent packing to Philly, along with annual pick swaps and a protected 1st-rounder.
Sacramento’s top-10-protected pick didn’t convey (obvsly) after last season. It’s now unprotected for next summer’s draft, having Philadelphia licking their lips at the prospect of being rewarded by the Kings watching the playoffs from home for the 13th consecutive year.
But Ainge got cute, and as the 2017 Draft approached, the draft pick whore decided to pull off a bit of a heist to outsmart his division rival. With his 53-win team having won the Draft Lottery (thanks, Brooklyn!), Danny Boy collared the Colangelos, “gifting” them the top draft slot so Boston could “settle” for Jayson Tatum.
In return, the Celts were allowed a chance at the Lakers’ 2018 pick, if it fell between spots #2 - #5 (NARRATOR: IT DID NOT), or either of the Sixers’ and the Kings’ picks in 2019, depending in part on whether the more favorable of the picks winds up first-overall (NARRATOR: THE SIXERS’ PICK WILL NOT).
Taken altogether, the Kings’ 2019 pick looked quite appetizing from afar, and either the Sixers or the Celtics will get to chow down on it, unless they manage to leverage the pick to swindle somebody else.
What if (gasp!) the Sixers’ pick winds up the more favorable of the two? What if (double gasp!) neither of those picks are of lottery quality after all? It’s early in the 2018-19 season, but the Kings (5-3) are doing all they can to stick it to both of those teams. They could claim their fifth-consecutive victory today at State Farm Arena against the Atlanta Hawks (7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL; NBC Sports California in SAC), a team that’s not quite ready for primetime.
The Kings have been treated like royalty on the road lately, sweeping back-to-back games at Miami and Orlando before leaving the Peninsula for the ATL. Like the heat that will arrive here at the Deductible Dome on Saturday, coach Dave Joerger’s Kings were provided ample time and rest to prep for today’s meeting.
Clash of the Titans! Besides a 2 Fast, 2 Spurious track meet between the league’s highest-tempo teams being a probable theme, keyed by young guards De’Aaron Fox (17.5 PPG, 6.9 APG; listed probable with a back strain) and Trae Young (19.1 PPG, 6.6 APG), raise your hand if you anticipated a head-to-head between Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Len as key to the outcome of any NBA contest.
It was just the Cavs again, but Len had another smooth offensive outing at The Q on Tuesday. He posted a perfect day from the field (9-for-9 FGs, incl. one 3FG), and contributed pairs of blocks and steals plus nine rebounds to go with his 22 points.
Finishing shots at and near the rim remains a problem for the Hawks (10th in FGAs per game within 5 feet of the basket, 18th in FG% on those shots), but it’s hard to blame Len (72.2 FG% at-rim, 20.0 FG% elsewhere). Three of Young’s four dimes in Atlanta’s 136-114 defeat came from dishes to Len at the hoop, the final pair threatening to make the final score a single-digit affair in the final quarter.
Cauley-Stein (17.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG) has grown more consistent, a regular double-double machine of late. Willie hasn’t been much of a deterrent around the rim, but now he’s got lottery stud Marvin Bagley (team-high 1.3 BPG) around to help him out. Kings leading scorer Buddy Hield (18.9 PPG, 44.7 3FG%, 6.1 RPG), Bagley and recent arrival Nemanja Bjelica (career-high 15.1 PPG and 6.5 RPG) are all helping Sacramento terminate opponent possessions as well as they have since the days when Boogie was trying to plug the dam by himself.
If there has been a chink in the Kings’ armor in the early going, it has been abysmal free throw shooting, a league-worst 64.3 FT% that was only marginally better in their five away games (64.8 road FT%). They’ll get ample opportunity to improve that mark tonight at The Farm, where they have lost 11 straight games as a franchise, especially if a swingman hydra continues to play as it has.
Kentean Princemore (7.3 personals per game; Taurean’s 3.9 ranking 5th in NBA after fouling out Tuesday for the second time this season) hasn’t been shy about hacking. But Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce will want Princemore to be more judicious and strategic about who and when it’s fouling, as it often disrupts the desired flow of Atlanta’s fastbreak and transition offense.
Getting Princemore (6.3 TOs per game) to cut down on turnovers committed on drives (Atlanta’s 10.5 TO% on drives a league-worst) may not solve all of the Hawks’ offensive woes, but it can go a long way in keeping opponent leads from getting out of hand.
More spot-up jumpers or, better yet, swinging the ball around the horn for hockey assists, are often better options for Atlanta’s starting two-headed wingman (4 assists, 9 TOs and 11 personal fouls @ CLE). Until Princemore figures things out, look for more net-positive contributions from reserves DeAndre’ Bembry (3-for-6 FGs, 4 assists, 1 TO @ CLE) and Kevin Huerter (3-for-4 3FGs).
Having feasted lately on Dirty South Division opponents like the Hawks, Sacramento’s schedule gets much tougher after today, including a visit to unbeaten Milwaukee this weekend. On the other hand, the Kings’ most-efficient offensive player, second-year guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (out, arthroscopic knee surgery), is likely to return to action soon. Might Ainge get denied a juicy draft pick? It couldn’t happen to a nastier guy.
Ainge, himself a former King back when the Celtics elected to enter the 1990s with Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney, was seething in the summer of 2017 when a pre-draft workout in Norcal was canceled by Josh Jackson, while he and the Celtics staff were in mid-flight. “Flew across the country, are you kidding me?”, whined Beantown’s GM. “I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.” When asked what he did with his suddenly free time, Ainge sneered. “There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.” Stay classy, Boston front office.
Sacramento doesn’t yet have the look of a winning NBA team, but in the cutthroat Western Conference, hovering anywhere near the .500 line could mean teasing for a playoff spot by season’s end. I doubt anyone in the East, outside of Philly or New England, would terribly mind that, especially if it means some lottery whore has to settle for a pick in the teens or twenties next summer, if at all. How’s your finger feeling these days, Danny? If you like, we have another finger we can offer you.
Let’s Go Hawks!