Around the NBA: Mike Brown shifting culture in Sacramento; Pistons favs in Wembanyama sweepstakes


During training camp last October, a viral video of first-year Kings head coach Mike Brown sprinting down the court spread across Twitter. Brown, who is known for his feisty demeanor at times, was scolding a player for not running hard during practice, according to The Athletic. What we didn’t know at the time was that kind of coaching and leadership would finally lead the Kings to winning basketball and galvanize a fanbase that has been subject to years of losing seasons.

Nearing the midway point of the season, the Kings (20-17) are tied for fifth place in the Western Conference — just 3.5 games back of the Pelicans for the third seed. A week ago, they outlasted the top-seeded Denver Nuggets team — who got a 40-point performance from Nikola Jokic. The Kings secured the victory with Malik Monk’s 33 points and winning free throws.

The most impressive part is the brand of basketball the Kings play and how much the players put it all on the line each night — particularly one big man. The Kings put up 117.9 points per game — second only to the Boston Celtics (118.6). Led by burgeoning star De’Aaron Fox, the Kings rank seventh in the league in fast break points. Fox has become a more effective driver since the front office has put capable shooters — Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray and Monk — around the perimeter.

But what holds it all together is Domantas Sabonis’ willingness to maintain his All-Star role under coach Brown despite playing with a fracture in his right thumb. The avulsion fracture in his non-shooting hand has only caused the ex-Pacer to miss one game. In his first game back, he had to deal with Jokic‘s 40-point barrage, but managed to have 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

“He literally has a broken thumb,” Fox said of Sabonis after the game on Dec 29. “He still went out there and it just shows his toughness. He wants to win. When he came here it wasn’t just for the future, he wants to win games now.”

PISTONS FAVS FOR WEMBANYAMA SWEEPSTAKES

The Detroit Pistons own the third-worst record in the NBA. Their best young player — Cade Cunningham — is already out for the season after undergoing a successful surgery on his left shin. There are two rookies in the starting lineup — Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren — figuring out what NBA life is like.

Things were bad enough as it was, then ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday that forward Marvin Bagley III suffered a right hand injury. The former Blue Devil could get surgery to repair the hand and is expected to miss extended time. The 23-year-old hurt his hand in Monday’s 135-106 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

And things could get much worse, making the Pistons likely favorites for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

Dwayne Casey’s young team will be sellers at the upcoming trade deadline, which is on Feb. 9. Besides Ivey — the No. 5 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft — Alec Burks and Bojan Bogdanovic are the only bright spots on a lowly Pistons squad stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The two will definitely be targeted before the trade deadline as the Pistons would get a chance to collect assets and both players could provide needed offensive production to a playoff contender.

More importantly both players have team-friendly contracts and their current team would like to get value from them as their deals soon expire — Bogdanovic’s deal is up at the end of this season and Burks’ contract will have a club option this summer.

Losing Bogdanovic and Burks — currently averaging a team-leading 20.8 points per game and 14.2 points per game, respectively — surely equates to more loses for the Pistons. Adding their losses to the Pistons’ injuries and young players without much experience, there’s almost no chance the team rises out of the Eastern Conference’s basement.

The Pistons are one game ahead the Charlotte Hornets in the win column, but star LaMelo Ball is available to get his team some wins. The San Antonio Spurs are currently 2.5 games ahead of the Pistons and head coach Gregg Popovich — the NBA’s all-time winningest coach — isn’t known to engage in tanking for draft position.

The only real threat to wear the crown for the league’s worst team is the Houston Rockets, who are a half game behind the Pistons.

The Pistons’ front office have a chance at getting a generational talent, one that nobody in the league has seen before: a 7-4 unicorn that will swat shots, bring the ball up the floor and drain threes. Last time we checked, Wembanyama put up a stellar performance in his French league’s All-Star Game, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. The Pistons have no reason to keep their veterans beyond this season’s trade deadline or rush back their injured young players.

Just take advice from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose younger brother, Kostas, used to play on ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne in France with Wembanyama.

“This kid is going to be a problem. A big problem. I’ve never seen this before in my life,” Antetokounmpo told teammate Serge Ibaka on a Youtube cooking show. “He’s taller than Rudy Gobert. He can block shots like Rudy but shoot like KD. Bro, bro. Crazy, crazy. He has a good attitude. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be really good.”

Does that sound like someone you want to miss out on?

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