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Kevin Knox has signed a multi-year deal with Puma. (Photo via Instagram-  @kknox_23)

Kevin Knox Signs Deal With Puma

(Photo: Instagram | @kknox_23)

Puma continues to take the basketball scene by storm, this time in the form of signing former Kentucky forward and current New York Knicks rookie Kevin Knox.

Knox was the ninth overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft and has reportedly signed a multi-year deal with the brand most famously known for producing soccer apparel.


2018 has seen a marketing revival for Puma, whose recent signees include the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft DeAndre Ayton, No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III, No. 14 overall pick Michael Porter Jr., and No. 16 overall pick Zhaire Smith, along with veteran Rudy Gay and former Louisville guard Terry Rozier.

This signing comes shortly after Los Angeles Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander signed a deal with Nike.

Puma had apparently been recruiting Knox over the past week, even going as far to straight up tweet at him that they wanted to sign him to their brand. Then, Tuesday morning, Knox was invited as a guest on the ESPN program First Take where he was sporting a white Puma t-shirt and shortly after, the deal had officially been announced.


Puma also recently brought in rapper and businessman Jay-Z to help rebrand their basketball division as a “Creative Director”. Puma has been out of the basketball game for the better part of close to two decades now, but they’ve done an excellent job in securing the high-profile names and young talent necessary to build a respectable brand. Knox being drafted to play in New York definitely makes him an easier player to market, no matter how bad the Knicks will be this season. All Puma needs is for one of these rookie signees to sprout into an All-Star and then they can truly begin to make their mark on the sneaker world.

Hopefully, that player will be Kevin Knox.

 

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A new beginning to something GREAT?

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Dakari Johnson invited to USA Basketball Training Camp

(Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

After being cut from the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, Dakari Johnson just received some good news. The former Cat is one of 14 players invited to USA Basketball’s World Cup Qualifying Team training camp, which begins September 6 in Las Vegas.

The camp will determine the 12-man roster for Team USA’s first competition window of FIBA World Cup Qualifying second-round games. Here’s the complete list of attendees:

  • Reggie Hearn (Grand Rapids Drive)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • Bryce Alford (Oklahoma City Blue)
  • Dwayne Bacon (Charlotte Hornets)
  • V.J. Beachem (Free Agent)
  • Jordan Crawford (New Orleans Pelicans)
  • Henry Ellenson (Detroit Pistons)
  • Isaiah Hicks (New York Knicks)
  • Dakari Johnson (Free Agent)
  • Frank Mason III (Sacramento Kings)
  • Ben Moore (Fort Wayne Mad Ants)
  • Chasson Randle (Capital City Go-Go)
  • Travis Trice (Milwaukee Bucks)
  • Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs)

Jeff Van Gundy is the head coach of the squad and Mike Miller and John Thompson III will serve as assistants. Once the roster is complete, Team USA will take on Uruguay on September 14 (7 p.m. PDT) at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion, then meet Panama on September 17 in Panama City.

John Calipari took to Twitter this afternoon to wish his former player good luck.

“Congratulations to Dakari Johnson for earning an invitation to USA Basketball’s training camp for the World Cup Qualifying Team. I’m so proud of how hard Dakari continues to work and I know his best basketball is still ahead of him. Go earn that spot, Dakari!”

[USA Basketball]


Marquis Teague Signs Deal to Play in Korea

Marquis Teague is heading overseas to play in South Korea. (Joe Murphy / NBAE / Getty Images)

Former Kentucky guard Marquis Teague has agreed to a deal with Jeonju KCC in South Korea, according to Sportando.

Teague last played for the Memphis Hustle, the Memphis Grizzlies G League affiliate, and also played three games for the Memphis Grizzlies towards the end of the regular season.

In 47 games for the Hustle in 2017-18, Teague averaged 17.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 6.2 assists in 32.5 minutes per game. Teague played three games with the Grizzlies from March 30 – April 4, averaging 3.7 points and 4.3 assists in 24.6 minutes per game. Teague was also a member of the Toronto Raptors Summer League team this past July.

This is not Teague’s first trip overseas as he’s had stops in both Israel and Russia before returning to the NBA last season.


Brandon Knight to miss some time following surgery. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

Dissecting the Brandon Knight Trade to Houston

Brandon Knight lands in Houston. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

Former Kentucky guard Brandon Knight has been traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Houston Rockets in a multi-player deal.

Knight, along with the number eight overall draft pick from 2016, Marquese Chriss, have been traded to the Rockets in exchange for Ryan Anderson and his hefty contract along with 2018 second-round draft pick De’Anthony Melton.

The biggest takeaway from the trade was the fact that the Rockets were able to unload the remainder of Anderson’s two-year, $41 million contract, something the front office had been working on since the season ended. Anderson, who averaged 26.1 minutes per game in the regular season last year across 66 total appearances, was essentially wiped out of the playoff rotation. Averaging only 8.7 minutes per game in 11 playoff appearances, Anderson’s inability to switch on defense and limited offensive contributions inside the three-point arc made him a major liability for the Rockets and it has been clear ever since then that the team has little interest in bringing him back into the rotation.

So that brings us to the present and with Knight heading to Houston.

But before we dive into what Knight can bring to the Rockets, let’s take a look at just what in the hell the Phoenix Suns are doing.

What the trade means for Phoenix

In trading Knight, the Suns now officially have zero reliable options for a starting point guard. Whether or not Knight could have returned to his impressive form of three years ago has yet to be seen, but the Suns obviously didn’t want to find out what that might entail. Knight missed all of last season with an ACL injury and has hardly played – at least played well – since 2015. The Suns still have Shaquille Harrison, Isaiah Canaan, and 2018 draft pick Elie Okobo as their potential guards, but none are skilled enough to run an offense, especially for a team that clearly doesn’t want to tank anymore, and Devin Booker’s skillset doesn’t exactly make him a reliably consistent option. Signing veteran forward Trevor Ariza (away from the Rockets, I might add) to a significant one-year deal was an indication that Phoenix doesn’t plan on hunting for a top-5 pick this season. There’s even a good chance the Suns start the 30-year old Anderson at the four next to DeAndre Ayton, which might be a good pairing as Anderson can stretch the floor while letting the rookie work and learn in space.

Where does that leave Phoenix at the lead guard position? ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski believes they are still in the hunt for a starting caliber point guard. Arizona talk show host John Gambadoro says they’ve already tried to make that move.


While names like Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker might be a bit far-fetched, other players such as Patrick Beverley and Spencer Dinwiddie have proven to be capable starting guards and could be options Phoenix monitors.

Until they make that move, however, trading away Knight seems questionable. Anderson did give up $5.4 million in guaranteed money when he was traded to Phoenix in order to match Knight’s contract value and it could make for a more valuable and reasonable trade piece moving forward in search of that starting point guard (with multiple draft picks likely to be attached). This saves Phoenix some money moving forward into future offseasons, as well.

The other piece the Suns picked up, De’Anthony Melton, might actually be the most intriguing prospect out of this entire trade. A second-round pick in last year’s draft, Melton is a six-foot-four, one-and-done guard out of USC on a cheap contract that will be able to earn more reps in Phoenix than in Houston.

And no, keeping Tyler Ulis would not have made this situation any more favorable for Phoenix. Although it would be hilarious if he somehow ended up back in a Suns’ uniform.

What the trade means for Houston

Now let’s talk about Brandon Knight.

In Phoenix, Knight had the responsibility of being the starting point guard on a team looking to bring themselves up and out of the trenches. In Houston, Knight will be the backup point guard on a team that was one game away from beating the eventual NBA Finals winning Golden State Warriors in last season’s playoffs.

While Houston signed Michael Carter-Williams to a cheap, one-year, partially guaranteed contract back in July, Knight will likely steal the backup responsibilities right out from underneath him. Carter-Williams will likely try to serve more of the role that was left when Ariza departed, while Knight will backup Chris Paul.

Which means we are going to see a good chunk of Knight’s minutes being shared with the 2017-18 MVP, James Harden.

Last season, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni staggered the minutes of his two All-Star guards, playing Harden and Paul together for an average of 19.8 minutes per game. This ensured that he always had at least one All-Star guard on the floor at all times. In Paul’s place will be Knight, who will technically play the point guard position, but won’t be doing much of the ball handling. Harden is one of the deadliest isolation players the NBA has ever seen and demands a high usage, limiting Knight to more of an off-ball threat, which might be valuable for him in terms of his potential production.

For his career, Knight’s usage rate has been 24.7 percent, but his career field goal percentage is only 41.5 percent. Moderately high volume, relatively low-efficiency. For reference, Paul’s career usage rate is 24.1 percent with a career field goal percentage of 47.2 percent. Now Knight clearly isn’t the future Hall-of-Famer that Paul is, but it’s hard not to mention Knight’s deficiencies at being an efficient scorer while maintaining a high usage rate. Putting the ball in Harden’s hands will open the floor for Knight and allow him to “sneak” in for more buckets and spot up opportunities.

Paul’s injury history – especially in the playoffs – definitely had something to do with bringing in Knight, as well (although Knight may not even be ready for training camp).

The other – and final – piece of the trade is Marquese Chriss. Chriss has been in the league for two full seasons now but shown little signs of being anything short of a bust. Another high draft pick for Phoenix that struggled to develop, a growing trend for the organization outside of players named Devin Booker – but that’s a completely different story.

In Houston, Chriss will have the opportunity to work in similar ways to Clint Capela as a constant screener and high-flying dive man. Chriss was someone I was incredibly optimistic about when he entered the league, but has shown little development since his arrival. Being surrounded by two of the best passing guards in the NBA on an insanely effective offense will surely give Chriss more opportunities than in Phoenix. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to me if the Rockets went ahead and flipped him later in the year for a more reliable wing defender. But I can also say the same thing about Knight, too. Knight’s contract is significantly cheaper than Anderson’s was and could be useful for adding that depth on the wing, which is ultimately what I believe the organization wants to do after bringing in Carmelo Anthony while losing Ariza along with Luc Mbah a Moute.

Odds are Phoenix isn’t finished with their offseason and the same could be said about Houston, even as we enter September, long after the initial free agency frenzy kicked off in early July. One thing is becoming clear, though. If Knight remains in Houston and stays healthy, we’re finally going to see a Calipari product receive significant minutes in late-playoff scenarios. Imagine Knight going head-to-head with Steph Curry in the third quarter of Game 7 at the 2019 Western Conference Finals. Now THAT would be exciting to watch, even as Curry bombs a 30-foot triple right in Knight’s face.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan


How De’Aaron Fox Can Improve in Year Two: Part 1

How De’Aaron Fox Can Improve in Year Two: Part 1

De’Aaron Fox showed plenty of signs of promise as a rookie, but there’s still so much more to work on. (Hector Amezcua The Sacramento Bee)

De’Aaron Fox’s rookie season with the Sacramento Kings was filled to the brim with optimism.

He showed brilliance as a crafty passer, a creatively unique finisher, and has already established himself as one of the quickest players in the league.

But with the well-deserved praise, there were also plenty of areas of concern, ones that he’ll need to clean up in his second NBA season and beyond.

In this piece, I’ll be breaking down the film I’ve watched on Fox from last season and do my best to explain what he was good at, what he can improve on, and how he can do so in order to expand his game into the 2018-19 season. There’s All-Star potential in Fox’s future, here’s how he can take the steps to unlock it.

This is going to be a two-piece article separating his offense and defense. To start, we’re going to take a look at the offensive end of the court.

In 73 games for the Sacramento Kings (including 60 starts), Fox’s per game stat line was as follows:

If you were watching De’Aaron Fox play basketball for the very first time, you would immediately be able to recognize that he’s one of the fastest end-to-end players on the court. His speed with the ball in his hands and a head of steam chugging down the court rivals All-Stars such as Russell Westbrook and John Wall. He has a calm sense of urgency when he grabs the ball on a change of possession and his eyes veer to the other basket as he shoots himself out of a cannon.

He’s always a threat to push the tempo and make defenses work on getting back. Surrounded by young and willing teammates, Fox was able to consistently take off on fastbreaks with a bevy of eager shooters by his side, giving him plenty of options to work with.

In 73 games, Fox averaged 4.4 assists per game, fifth highest amongst rookies. He was relentless when it came to moving the ball ahead whenever possible. If he saw an opportunity for an easy bucket or a mismatch, he was going to take it. The problem was, he’s a bit of a gambler (2.4 turnovers per game to complement those assists).

Transition plays made up 22.8 percent of Fox’s offense his rookie year, tied for the most amongst his teammates with Buddy Hield. With blazing speed and young players surrounding him, it makes sense that Fox is infatuated with getting up the court as quick as possible, however, he was hardly efficient. He ranked in the 26th percentile in transition offense, averaging only 0.98 points per possession (similar numbers to Wall’s 2017-18 season). He can often get too out of control when attacking. Sometimes he would put his head down, already predetermined to get to the rim at all costs and it causes him to miss open teammates or lose the ball. He improved on recognizing when a situation wasn’t going to create itself as the year went on, but still made mistakes.

Fox generally prefers to pass over score, but that tendency doesn’t lean too far in one direction. As with most rookie point guards, Fox struggled to be a reliable game manager. It’s clear he can one day successfully run an NBA offense and he showed more than enough signs of that last season, but with plenty of hiccups along the way.

With a usage rate of 25.7 percent – second-highest on his team, according to Cleaning the Glass – Fox often requires the ball to be effective, which is why low his assist percentage of 24.1 percent (27th percentile among all point guards) and high turnover percentage of 15 percent (39th percentile among all point guards) are hard to ignore.

Whether it be unnecessarily lofting passes to the corner which stalled ball movement, penetrating with no clear plan of what move he was going to make next, playing too loose with the ball (something he desperately needs to clean up next season), or telegraphing simple passes, there are areas of his game that made him somewhat frustrating to watch.

His miscues weren’t limited to transition, either. Learning halfcourt sets and being an effective pick-and-roll ball handler are areas that need improvement.

As a pick-and-roll ball handler, Fox was often predictable. Especially when he was being guarded by a veteran such as Ricky Rubio, Fox would stare down his target and do everything but personally hand the ball over to the other team. He appeared to have two trains of thought in these types of sets; either he’s going to pass shortly after the screen or make a line drive run for the rim. There wasn’t much of an in between.

The third sequence in the clip above against the Philadelphia 76ers shows how Fox doesn’t always make the right decision. He plays the pick-and-roll well, taking the screen from Willie Cauley-Stein, but instead of making the easy lob pass over Amir Johnson’s head for the alley-oop, he almost hesitates and elects for an off-balance runner instead.

Being the pick-and-roll ball handler made up 42.7 percent of Fox’s offense, according to NBA.com. Easily the highest number on the Kings, but his 0.70 points per possession left a ton to be desired. His effective field goal percentage as the ball handler was only 40.2 percent, well below where it should be if he is going to demand that high of a workload. Being a pick-and-roll savant is what can make Fox a deadly offensive weapon, he just has to understand how to properly analyze the situation. If I had a nickel for everytime Fox shot a mid-range pull-up jumper immediately coming around a screen, I’d be able to pay his rookie salary.

But with the bad, there were also signs of promise. Fox truly is a skilled and cunning passer and was adept at making the pocket pass out of the pick-and-roll last season. With his ability to get to the rim, he’s going to draw double teams after he takes the screen and being confident in slipping that pass through is a great quality to have in his arsenal.

Going back to his jump shot, Fox is enamored with the mid-range jumper. Classified as the least efficient shot in basketball (well, by myself, at least), taking shots from the middle area of the court just isn’t an efficient way to create offense in the modern game. Fox takes more of them than just about anyone.

Last season, 51 percent of Fox’s shots came from the mid-range area, which ranked in the 87th percentile among all point guards. However, he connected on only 35 percent of those shots, which ranked in the 29th percentile among point guards. There can be value in taking long two-pointers, but you have to be able to make them at a LaMarcus Aldridge/DeMar DeRozan-esque rate (Aldridge shot 44 percent from mid-range last season while DeRozan shot 43 percent).

De’Aaron Fox 2017-18 shot chart. (via NBA.com)

In the chart above, we can see that Fox ranked below the league average in most areas of the court. Interestingly enough, for how bad his overall mid-range shooting numbers are, he actually finished above the league average when shooting from around the left elbow. His 72 attempts from that area are by far the most among his shots in the middle of the court and hitting on 44.4 percent of them is a great number to strive for. One of his favorite shots last season was pulling up from that green area after going to his strong hand coming around a screen. If he can expand upon that to the right side of the court (which would be a much more awkward shot for him), it gives him another option coming out of the pick-and-roll.

If he can begin to constantly knock down that shot, then it’s something he should keep in his bag of tricks instead of abandoning altogether. His three-point shot is still a major work in progress (he was a 30.7 percent shooter from deep his rookie season and shot only 31.2 percent on threes considered “wide open”, or where the defender was at least six-feet away), so having that threat off the bounce to pull up uncontested can be valuable. He gets excellent elevation on these shots and can quickly rise up and fire before the defender can even get a hand up. He would sometimes fade away from the basket on these shots or take them while unbalanced, which definitely hurt his composure and his shooting numbers, but that can be fixed with repetition.

What Fox brings to the offense is his ability to get to the rim. He has an endless stream of creative ideas when it comes to getting a shot off at the rim. He can contort his arms in the air and uses his six-foot-six wingspan to get off shots that he has no business tossing up. While not always the most efficient, he has an uncanny ability to work his way into the paint. He has a reliable runner/floater that he can get off with both hands (although he definitely prefers to finish with his left).

He finished first on the Kings in drives per game with 8.4. On those drives, he finished with a points percentage of 45.6 percent (percentage of points scored when driving) and an assist to turnover ratio of 1.0 to 0.6. All respectable numbers, but ones that need to be improved upon.

His isolation numbers made up a small chunk of his offense – only 5.4 percent – but he ranked in the 67th percentile, averaging 0.93 points per possession, a respectable number for a rookie. When put in situations where he had to go get a bucket, he could do so. There aren’t many guards who can contain him from a strictly speed-based point of view and he knows that. He has a euro step move that he likes to use when slicing near the hoop and it has proved to be effective.

He is currently listed at about 170 pounds, which is way too small for someone who is six-foot-three, so he struggles to finish with force. His superior ability to get a shot off doesn’t do him any favors when he’s easily being bumped into a shot fading away from the basket or overthinking a layup when he feels pressure on his hip. When he doubles as a contortionist, he can pull off some unbelievable shots. If he coupled that with a bigger frame, he can take the take the hit and convert even more often. Fox’s and-one percentage last season was 25.5 percent (percentage of shooting fouls drawn that the player also made), ranking in the 60th percentile among point guards.

Fox actually did rather well at getting to the rim, being fouled 11.2 percent of the time he attempted a shot, which ranked in the 74th percentile among point guards. For his size, he actually does quite well as a finisher. Yes, he’s good at drawing fouls, but he also shot 60 percent at the rim, good enough to rank in the 67th percentile among point guards. If he can work on creating the contact instead of avoiding it – something that will come with building his frame – these numbers should see a jump next season. His free-throw percentage of 72.3 isn’t terrible, but it wouldn’t hurt if he got that number into the mid-70s, especially if he’s going to continue to go to the rim as often as he did last season.

Fox plays well beyond his years as a cutter. With quick feet and the ability to stop on a dime, Fox is an elusive cutter who always keeps his head up when playing off-ball. When he doesn’t command the offense, he can still make an impact on that end of the court despite not being able to spread the floor. Constantly working in and out of the paint opens up oppurtunities for himself to take advantage of lazy defenses. He has great instincts as a cutter and knows how to find open space.

One of the biggest knocks on Fox is the glaring negative in terms of his impact on his team’s advanced stats. When Fox is in the game, Sacramento is a statistically worse team with him on the floor. Of the seven different lineups that featured Fox and accumulated at least 100 possessions, only three of them registered an average of more than 100 points per 100 possessions. To add a bit more context to that, of the 3,958 possessions that Fox played in, the Kings registered an average of 102.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranked him in the 13th percentile among point guards, according to Cleaning the Glass. Not good numbers by any means.

The Kings’ offensive rating was 103.3 with Fox on the floor spread across 2,027 minutes. The team’s offensive rating jumped to 104.9 with him off the court in a total of 1,924 minutes. The easiest way to clarify why the team does worse with him off the court is that he’s a high usage, low-efficiency player who struggles to shoot from the outside. He’s not a deep threat so he struggles to help space the floor and he was often paired with big men who weren’t knock down threats from deep (WCS, Skal Labissiere, Zach Randolph – although Randolph did have his career-best shooting season from deep in 2017-18). Hopefully, with Marvin Bagley III coming into the fold, he can aid in spacing the floor for Fox and open up more driving lanes (Bagley shot 16-33 from NBA range in his one year at Duke, according to The Stepien).

The numbers don’t favor Fox, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be playing.

The most underrated aspect of Fox’s game is his willingness to win. He’s got the clutch gene flowing throughout his entire body and time and time again last season, he showed that he thrives on being put in pressure situations. It’s hard to find players who want to be in the position to win the game for their team and do so without worrying about making or missing the shot is a dominant character trait in a basketball player. When the clock is being squeezed for time, Fox makes sure he gets everything out of it.

In the last two minutes of a game where teams were within five points of each other, Fox was a force for the Kings. With those parameters, he registered the highest usage rate on the team (30.2 percent) and posted an offensive rating of 122.9 (compared to his overall regular season offensive rating of 100.2). His effective field goal percentage was only 48.4 percent, but he’s not the type of player to get psyched out after missing a shot on the previous possession, at least not with the game on the line.

To sum it all up, there is plenty to love about Fox’s first season on offense, but plenty of reason to raise concern. He’s going to continue to develop and log all the minutes he desires, so there should be a great sense of optimism that he can wall up some of the holes in his game going into year two. He’s only 20 years old and surrounded by the fountain of youth. He’s not going to be able to rely on his teammates to constantly bail him out. If he wants to transform into an All-Star on offense, it’s going to be all on him to get there.

(Statistics via NBA.com, Cleaning the Glass, and The Stepien)

Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan


Dakari Johnson, DeAndre Liggins waived

Dakari Johnson, DeAndre Liggins waived

And now, two bits of unfortunate news to start the holiday weekend: both Dakari Johnson and DeAndre Liggins have been waived, Dakari by the Memphis Grizzlies and DeAndre by the New Orleans Pelicans.

Dakari was traded to the Grizzlies by the Magic back in late July, while DeAndre had been with the Pelicans since January, appearing in 27 games last season and averaging 1.6 points and 1.0 rebounds in 9.0 minutes. Dakari played for the Oklahoma City Blue in the G-League for most of last season, averaging 23.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks. According to Michael Wallace,  his contract will be stretched over three years at a minimum cap hit.

Dakari and DeAndre have excelled in the G-League, so they’ll find their feet, but still, what a bummer.