Here are a few players — just a few! — who have caught my eye
The Stats: 13.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists (1.4
turnovers), 2.8 steals over last five games
The Skill: Downhill Comfort
It's been a hectic start for Killian Hayes, a high-upside guard
project who's had his career derailed by injury woes to this point.
Young ball-handlers need live reps to work out the kinks of their
game; Hayes hasn't consistently been able to do that, which make
his flaws look even worse when he's been on the floor.
Hayes is in the midst of finding himself though. He's one of the
most underrated guard defenders in the sport already, boasting
off-ball prowess and a knack for getting over
or ducking under picks and remaining
Offensively, there's been a bit of a chicken-or-egg ordeal with
him. He's shown legit passing chops from the jump, but his ability
to create advantages — via explosive drives or out of fear of his
jumper — hasn't been there. Putting him off-ball has led to teams
ignoring him as a threat.
That's what makes Hayes' recent aggression worth paying
attention to. This is probably the most I've seen him generate
How about this: Hayes is converting over 68% of his shots
via drive over this five-game stretch. That's wildly impressive,
and likely unsustainable. The rising drive volume is the key here.
After averaging 6.0 drives per game before the All-Star break, that
number has risen to 7.1. Over the last five, it's up again to
If Hayes can get downhill more consistently, that should open up
more passing windows for him. If you want to zoom out a bit, that
should unlock some off-ball opportunities for Cade Cunningham so he
doesn't have to create all the time (even though he's probably good
enough to do so.)
Don't sell your Hayes stock, folks.
The Stats: 14.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 8.0 assists (2.8
turnovers), 1.6 steals over last five games
The Skill: Pick-and-Roll Passing
The Blazers are an absolute mess right now, but that's mostly
fine. They're playing for lotto odds and hoping to make some "keep
Damian Lillard" splashes in the offseason.
In the meantime, can I just say I've oddly enjoyed the dynamic
between Brandon Williams and Drew Eubanks? Also, did you know
Eubanks was averaging nearly 18 points and 12 rebounds over his
last five games? You do now!
But seriously, Williams has a real feel for pocket passing.
There's a pace to him that allows him to operate with slower
rollers. I've also seen enough skips in his film to say he can make
most of the reads you want from him.
The question becomes: What level of a shooter is he going to be?
The three-point shooting has fluctuated in both directions since
he's been given more reps, and the pull-up middy hasn't been great either.
There's enough craft there to be excited about though. I'm curious
to see what he looks like in a more defined role next season.
The Stats: 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists (1.5
turnovers), 1.8 blocks over last six games
The Skill: Playmaking
Damian Jones had stops with Golden State, Atlanta, Phoenix and
the Los Angeles Lakers before landing in Sacramento. Go down the
line; you don't think the Dubs could use a vertical spacer like
this? Think the Suns would rather have Bismack Biyombo than Jones?
Would the Lakers turn down young talent to... well actually,
Jones has really been balling since newbie
Domantas Sabonis has been out of the lineup. Averaging 17 and 8 is
nothing to sneeze at, and he's predictably getting busy as a roll
man and glass-cleaner.
What's been interesting — the Kings are putting the ball in his
hands a little. You won't confuse him with Sabonis, but he's been
allowed to be a handoff hub in Delay sets. And when the Kings are
able to draw two to the ball, Jones hasn't looked entirely out of
place as a short-roll decision-maker.
Expectations of "traditional" centers are changing. If you
aren't good enough to build the boat around, you'll need to
complement stars with something. Some bigs have attempted to expand
their range to the three-point line — something Jones has dabbled
with on occasion this season — while others are becoming more adept
as initiators. That Jones is showing flashes in the latter should
add to his value moving forward.
The Stats: 14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists (4.3
turnovers), 0.8 steals over last four games
The Skill: Decision-Making
Let's start right here, because what the heck.
That is Aleksej Pokusevski getting Chris freakin'
Paul on a rip-through foul. After that, you get
Pokusevski running a pick-and-roll and freezing Cam Johnson with a
jump pass to the corner. The pass accuracy was off, but it's hard
not to appreciate the level of manipulation.
It's easy to point to the recent triple-double, but the
overarching thing is that Pokusevski looks more comfortable on both
ends as of late. The shot is falling for him at nearly a 48% clip —
wildly impressive considering the amount of movement attempts he
fires. He's made some real strides on the ball too. He's still
trying some wild stuff, but the chaos is more controlled.
Pre-break, Pokusevski had an assist rate of 11.6 and a turnover
rate of 16.2. Since then, he's been firmly in the positive (22.0 to
16.7). Both numbers have shot up during this four-game stretch
(35.1, 26.2) but, he's still largely been a plus-playmaker
Skipping steps in pick-and-roll. No-looks in transition. Timely
"one more" passes when the ball gets to swinging. The level of ball
placement with some of his interior reads should not be possible
for a guy his size.
I have been, I am and I will continue to be intrigued by
- What Houston Rockets forward KJ Martin brings to the table as a
(violent) dunker and weak-side shot-blocker should be well
documented at this point. I think he's also firmly proving you
can't leave him completely open. I'm not buying him being a 48%
shooter from deep like he has been since the All-Star break (on
"meh" volume), but the form and touch are to the point where he
should be accounted for as a spot-up option.
- I'd keep an eye on Markelle Fultz (13.8 points, 5.4 assists,
2.0 steals over his last five) if I were you. The burst looks
solid, as does the defense. So much focus has (understandably) been
on his injury history and whatever the heck happened with his
jumper, but that's one crafty dude with the ball in his hands.
- Nothing deep here, just want to say I'm glad Goga Bitadze is
showing some signs of life in a weird context. Related: I have no
idea what Indiana's big man room is going to look like next