Phoenix terminating Eric Bledsoe’s 2016-17 campaign midway through March has opened up an avenue for Devin Booker. The Suns’ new catalyst’s 70-point performance against Boston Friday provided enthusiasm amidst a six-game losing streak. Booker’s spectacle drew criticism for Earl Watson’s design of it, and the Kentucky product received little aid in the 130-120 loss.
It’s been a Booker and Marquess Chriss showcase since March 15, but no supporting cast has been problematic and will be an issue. With Los Angeles fielding the more developed team, it’s easy to get excited about the Lakers’ prospects to possibly jump the Suns.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers (21-51)
Tankathon.com Ranking: Second
Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018
A team down 13 at home to the Timberwolves Friday and poised to lose their seventh straight game, Luke Walton and his young upstarts fought for overtime and triumphed 130-119. Now just half a game worse than Phoenix, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram have to follow up. Inconsistency has plagued Clarkson in his third professional season, but a 35-point (8-of-10 from deep) outburst could be a vital confidence jolt for the new starting point guard.
Likewise with Randle, he’ll have nights where he’ll put up crazy numbers across the board and others where he’ll be a two-way liability. The Clarkson-Randle two-man game succeeded against Minnesota and there could be a rapport that develops between the pair in Walton’s offense. Clarkson doesn’t have D’Angelo Russell’s playmaking traits, but he makes more apt decisions and doesn’t surrender the ball at Russell’s rate.
While Phoenix will tread throughout the season without an actual playmaker, Clarkson and Randle move the ball and can create for their offensively raw teammates. Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and David Nwaba all welcome playmakers complementing them.
Walton might have found a future viable center in Ivica Zubac. Averaging 13 points (55.8 FG%) and six rebounds over his last four games, you’re just hoping for consistent production from the rook. If he provides enough for L.A. to pass Phoenix in the standings this week and eventually give Philadelphia favorable odds, Zubac could have newfound appreciation here.
His climb of the rookie ladder could be halted, as L.A. faces Portland and Jusuf Nurkic today. With home matchups against the Trail Blazers and Washington Tuesday, plus traveling to Minnesota later in the week, wins are certainly available if the core’s consistency sustains.
Chance of Pick Conveyance: The Lakers felt distant from the No. 3 lottery slot a few weeks ago. Now, you can almost whisper, “53.1 percent chance to convey.”
Team: Sacramento Kings (27-45)
Tankathon.com Ranking: Sixth
Protections: In 2017, Philadelphia has the right to swap first-round picks with Sacramento if the Kings’ pick lands in the top 10 post-lottery.
For those screaming at Shawn Long and Sergio Rodriguez for having their more productive games of the season in a win at Chicago, it’s a waste of energy. Brett Brown could have a depleted roster creating more upsets as the season concludes. Philadelphia and Sacramento have the exact record, heading into Sunday’s slate of games. Hope for the Kings to accumulate Ls.
Their offense has annually been an outlet for wins, but it can’t salvage them now. Sacramento doesn’t have the personnel to enact a turnaround late in the season, and a daunting schedule awaits them (L.A. Clippers, Memphis, and Utah). Friday’s showdown against the Pelicans is intriguing, with DeMarcus Cousins having an incentive to hand his former team a loss.
Buddy Hield’s coming off a career-high 22-point game against Golden State, which might’ve enticed Divac and Ranadive enough to pump the brakes on reaching for Malik Monk in the draft. Rudy Gay’s absence has allowed Hield to be what Devin Booker has become in Phoenix.
Sacramento not properly grooming Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore for meaningful positions this season is an obvious benefit for Philadelphia. Relying on makeshift, stopgap pieces and thrusting rookies into bench roles after reluctant to using them, Sacramento’s paying for it in the box scores.
Chance of Pick Conveyance: They’re a beautiful mess. The Kings holding the No. 4 slot by next weekend and Dario Saric’s stellar play leading to multiple Sixers wins would be ideal.