The Sacramento Kings are 3-3, good for 9th place in the Western Conference. While that pace won’t continue, there have been several positive developments.
First and foremost is De’Aaron Fox. The sophomore guard is making the leap, averaging 17.7 points and 7.0 assists through six games. He isn’t perfect, but for someone who ended last season with lingering question marks, this has been an overwhelmingly positive start to the season.
Marvin Bagley has also put together a quietly effective two weeks. After tallying just 12 minutes on opening night, Coach Joerger has leaned on Bagley more often, giving him 26.8 minutes per game.
There are still some flaws in Bagley’s approach on both ends, but he’s a dynamic athlete who can attack off the bounce, hit the occasional jump shot and provide energy on the glass. His defense has been better than expected as well.
While Luka Doncic, Trae Young and DeAndre Ayton are early Rookie of the Year frontrunners, Bagley is looking like a 1st team All-Rookie candidate. Despite the criticism, he was the No. 2 pick for a reason. The kid’s talented.
Buddy Heild, Nemanja Bjelica, Iman Shumpert and Willie Cauley-Stein have all had their own promising starts to the season as well. The Kings are a difficult opponent right now, playing high-energy basketball on both ends.
Regression is inevitable, but the young core is moving in the right direction. For a team that has been stuck at the bottom in recent seasons, some positive momentum is a good sign. That’s especially true for a team that doesn’t own its 1st-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
JIMMY BUTLER NEEDS TO GO
The Wolves are a mess that even Jimmy Butler can’t fix. Karl-Anthony Towns has looked dejected and ineffective at times, struggling to find his groove on offense. As their long-term cornerstone, his development should be priority No. 1 — not winning a few more games before Butler walks in free agency.
The Rockets, Heat and Sixers are all teams to watch. Other struggling franchises — the Wizards come to mind — should also join the market. Expect Butler to get dealt at some point if Thibs has any awareness whatsoever.
TRAE YOUNG AND LUKA DONCIC ARE BOTH GOOD
After spending the summer lamenting the Hawks’ decision to trade Doncic, NBA fans are coming to the realization that both Doncic and Young are quality basketball players. Young putting up historic numbers in his lone collegiate season wasn’t a fluke.
In the long run, Doncic is the better prospect. The Hawks might have made a mistake. With that said, Young is already producing for a team that will add another high-profile draft pick (possibly two, due to the Doncic trade) next summer. Atlanta is far from hopeless.
THE LAKERS WILL BE FINE
L.A. is 2-4 after dropping their second matchup with the Spurs this season. The supporting cast around LeBron James is laughably bad at times, both in terms of talent and fit. That doesn’t mean the Lakers are a lost cause.
LeBron alone guarantees a playoff spot if healthy. Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball have also shown massive promise next to James in the starting lineup, a combination Luke Walton would be wise to continue.
As the season progresses, the Lakers will also have opportunities to add to their supporting cast. If the defense ever catches up, their offense (and LeBron) will make them a dangerous playoff opponent.
THE RAPTORS AND BUCKS ARE LEGIT
Kawhi Leonard is rusty and still looks the part of a top-5 NBA player. The Raptors are benefitting from an upgrade on both ends, looking like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics will eventually figure things out, but Toronto has the depth, versatility and talent to beat them in a seven-game series. Leonard is the best player in that series, and that will hold significant weight when the time comes (which it will).
Also, the Bucks might join them in the East’s elite tier. Through six games, Milwaukee is leading the league in point differential (16.0), comfortably outpacing Golden State (12.8) and Toronto (10.8).
Mike Budenholzer’s offense has maximized the Bucks’ shooting, which opens up space for Giannis Antetokounmpo to attack inside. If their current pace continues, the Bucks will be a top-3 team in the Eastern Conference. That isn’t far-fetched.