Jerry West Assesses the Kings
December 5, 2018
I advise the Clippers and generally don’t share my insights publicly but suppose it’s all right to tell you I like the Kings, especially De’Aaron Fox, who speeds past more defenders than anyone in the league. He’s also been hitting his jumpers and threes. Right, I know his outside shooting’s cooled off recently. Last five games he’s hitting about thirty-five percent and just twenty-five from long range. Why? I think it’s a few things. He may be a little tired. I’d recommend the Kings give him a game off once in a while. He doesn’t have to play every game, and shouldn’t. Another thing, and it’s pretty subtle, I think De’Aaron’s not getting the same quality jumpers he was earlier. Part of that is defensive adjustment, of course. Teams know he’s more of an outside threat than last season. But in addition to that, he may be moving into defenders a little and making his shots more difficult. Also, he was shooting about fifty percent overall and forty for threes, and that’s just not sustainable. De’Aaron’s one of those guys who can help you even when his shooting’s off. He’s averaged eight assists and almost two steals in recent games.
I knew you were going to ask: I’m not sure if I’d have advised taking Marvin Bagley or Luka Doncic. I wish we’d had that dilemma. The Kings had a choice between a great prospect at power forward and a more finished backcourt leader. Luka’s played a lot more minutes so his numbers are larger. In the last four games before his back injury, Marvin got about thirty minutes a game and responded really well, averaging about seventeen points and ten rebounds while shooting fifty-one percent, same as his season average. If the Kings can get him thirty minutes a game, he’ll probably continue to produce like that, which is exceptional for a young man still nineteen.
Oh sure, I heard about the Kings’ recent front office showdown. I’ve been involved in a few of those and, frankly, they’re really painful. I’ve written in my autobiography, and been quite open in conversations, that I’ve battled depression and anxiety all my life, and I take medications that give me some relief but I’m still too sensitive. When I read coach Dave Joerger told the assistant general manager, Brandon Williams, to get out of practice, it really shook me because when I was running the Lakers Phil Jackson told me to get the fuck out of the gym. A year or so later I realized he and owner Jerry Buss wanted me out of town. I empathize with Joerger and Williams. And I understand their basketball beef. The front office drafted Marvin Bagley and wants him to have enough minutes to produce like a star. The coach wants to win as many games as possible or he may lose his job. Joerger thinks right now Nemanja Bjelica, who’s played very well, deserves to start. But I do expect Marvin to continue to get significant minutes. He’s the kind of talent that can raise a team, he and Fox.
I’m impressed by Joerger’s recent decision to use a tight three-guard rotation of Fox, Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Fox already has starter’s minutes and Buddy needs them and so does Bogi, and both can have them as long as two of the three are on the court most of the time. I’m not saying they’re the backcourt of the Bad Boys Pistons – Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Vinnie Johnson – but they’re very good players who continue to improve. This is the perceptive kind of move I always liked my coaches to make.
Willie Cauley-Stein? First, let me say he’s a fine athlete, very dynamic at the rim, dunking or finishing alley oops. He’s improved both his scoring and rebounding to fifteen and eight, but he often seems to lack focus and intensity. That’s why a seven-foot center who’s a leaper is only averaging only half a block a game. Three years ago, as a rookie playing several minutes less, he averaged one block. I ask myself what’s going on with this player. He doesn’t have the competitiveness I look for. I think the Kings will try to upgrade here, especially thinking about defense, which the team needs a lot more of. If the Kings can’t find someone who’s better, they can keep Willie and still be good, but I’d still caution them not to spend too much on him. What’s the limit? I’m not telling you all my secrets.
I agree with you and everyone else: small forward is the Kings’ most serious concern. You’d like Tobias Harris. Thank you. And so would we. Small forwards remind me of decathletes. They can do everything well, and they’re also hard to find. It’s unfortunate the Kings don’t have a first round pick in 2019, so it gets down to free agency or a trade. You want my top ten list of small forwards. I bet you do. All the Kings really need to do, in addition to praying Justin Jackson starts to hit better than thirty-one percent on threes, is be patient and wait to see who’s available in free agency. I see Troy Williams is only twenty-three and making about forty-four percent of his threes. Maybe he, Justin, and Iman Shumpert can fill the position by committee. After the season, the Kings’ll know if the players available are better than what they have.
With De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, the Kings are close. They just need one more elite athlete. Don’t blow it. That’s what I’d tell the Kings.