Apr
17
2021

Upcoming Western NBA Stars Deserving Of More Media Attention

With only so many superstars in the NBA today, that leaves roughly 470-475 other NBA players unaccounted for. In this three-part series, I will mention players around the league I believe should become household names very soon:

Sacramento Kings PG De’Aaron Fox (23)

Sacramento’s young franchise point guard will be the player most well-known on this list. However, Fox gets nowhere near the amount of attention his play should yield from media members and NBA fans alike. Sacramento, the franchise itself plays a big, if not the most prominent role in the lack of Fox’s buzz around the league. Having said that, however, the Kings wasted no time showing Fox how much they value him as a franchise.

This offseason the Kings splurged and offered Fox the most lucrative contract extension in franchise history. Fox inked the deal, which was a max extension worth $163 million. It is hard as a 23-year-old to turn down $163 million to play the sport you know and love. Fair enough, but the main issue with this deal is that it ties Fox to SAC through the 2025-26 NBA season.

The Kings have yet to appear in a playoff game since Fox has entered the league, and this year does not seem any more promising. Many things could change in SAC, but one direction you cannot point the finger is towards De’Aaron Fox.

The Franchise PG has proved he is worth every last penny

De’Aaron Fox has enjoyed endless success at every level when it comes to the hardwood. In high school, Fox was the #6 ranked recruit nationally and the #2 PG only behind Lonzo Ball. Fox went onto attend the University of Kentucky, where he went the one-and-done route. Fox’s game was NBA ready and he declared for the 2017 draft.

The NBA has been no different for Fox. Since his average rookie season, Fox has significantly and steadily improved his game all around. Not to mention Fox is one of the most electric athletes in the NBA today. This season despite his more demanding role, especially offensively the PG has enjoyed a career year. Fox is averaging 25 PPG, a new career-high and also creating at a high level for his teammates. Fox is averaging 7.1 APG, which is good for T-12th in the NBA.

His shooting numbers are improving as well even averaging a career-high 19.1 FGA and 7.1 FTA a game. Fox’s current shooting splits are 47.8/32.9/71. Many fans, including myself, believed Fox did enough individually to earn him his first All-Star Game appearance this year. Unfortunately for Fox he did not receive enough votes and is still chasing that first ASG selection.

De’Aaron Fox will be a multi-time All-Star

Even playing in Sacramento I truly believe the above statement to be truthful and very realistic. Team success does play a role in many award selections including ASG selections. Having said that, Fox has an uphill battle on his hands as the Kings have struggled for a majority of the franchise’s existence in SAC. This year the main recipients of the finger-pointing have been HC Luke Walton and the Kings defense as a whole.

Defensively, the Kings rank dead last in the entire league in Opponent’s PPG and Defensive Rating. Defensively, the finger-pointing encompasses the entire team as defense is very much so by the committee in any professional team sport. However, this is one facet of Fox’s game that he could definitely improve individually that in turn would elevate his game to an even higher level. Fox ranks 84th out of 90 qualified PGs this season in DRPM at -2.65, while also individually responsible for a 117.6 Defensive Rating.

The best has yet to be seen of the young, rising star PG. With a new HC and system, which I expect SAC to pursue this offseason, it will be fascinating to see how much more untapped potential Fox possesses.

San Antonio Spurs PG Dejounte Murray, (24)

The young Spurs PG has been coined by many as Tony Parker’s successor, along with the long-time Spurs legend, Tony Parker himself. During the 2017-18 season, Parker even gave up his starting PG duties to the 2nd year Murray because in his words, “it was what was best for the team.” While Murray’s numbers are not the flashiest, he has significantly improved across the board every single season.

Murray has been on the Spurs’ radar for quite some time. Murray has always enjoyed on-the-floor success, even dating back to high school. The PG only needed one year at the University of Washington to impress Popovich and the Spurs. The Spurs drafted the young PG with the 29th pick in the first round (2016). The plan along being to be mentored by Hall of Fame Franchise PG Tony Parker.

Murray refuses to let injury slow his progression

As I mentioned earlier it took little time for the Spurs to increase Murray’s role with the team. Murray earned the starting role in just his sophomore season. Health permitting Murray would have been the starting PG to open the Spurs 2018-19 season. This was not the case, however as Murray was sidelined the whole season due to an injury suffered in a preseason game. Murray returned strong in the 2019-20 season starting 58 of 66 games that year.

Now through 51 games played this season, Murray is averaging career-highs in PPG (15.9), RPG (6.8), and APG (5.2). Not to mention the increased offensive load he has muscled similarly to Fox. Murray is averaging career-highs in FGA, 3PA, and FTA’s while still posting splits of 45.3/32.1/81.4. The three-point facet of his game could use work, but this is a familiar trend of young NBA players. Having said that, do not let this concern you too much.

Do not let Murray’s offensive development distract you from the fact that he is also an elite NBA defender. Despite the increased offensive load and leaps he has taken on that side of the ball, Murray still is tenacious on the defensive side of the ball. This season the PG ranks 4th in DRPM among qualified PGs. The only PGs above Murray are Ben Simmons (DPOY frontrunner), LeBron James, and Chris Paul. That is a pretty prestigious list to be part of as a young player who has still yet to hit their prime.

Murray plays huge role in Spurs future success

Murray has proven to the Spurs that he is a centerpiece to the Spurs’ success moving forward. The Spurs reciprocated this feeling in 2019 when they extended Murray through the 2023-24 season. The extension was worth 4 year, $64 million, and Murray quickly agreed. Seeing how Murray has returned from injury, the $16 million average yearly salaries is a bona fide bargain in today’s NBA.

The Spurs, one of the most highly decorated franchises in NBA history, will lean heavily on Murray moving forward to elevate the team back to the perennial playoff and even NBA Title contenders. Get familiar with the name because Dejounte Murray very well could play a huge role in the rebirth of the San Antonio Spurs.

Oklahoma City Thunder SG/SF Luguentz Dort, (21)

The undrafted Arizona State product is not only the youngest player on this list but quite possibly the best story. The Canadian NBA product in high school was a top-ranked recruit in Canada but did not enjoy the same respect in the states. Following high school ball in his home country, Dort took his talents to Arizona State University. In his only season at ASU, Dort added many awards to his personal trophy case. Dort earned All-PAC-12 second-team honors, along with being named to the all-defensive team and voted the conference’s freshman of the year.

Dort decided to gamble on himself

As a late first to early second-round projected pick, Dort decided to forgo his final three seasons at ASU, declaring for the draft was a dream come true, but his gamble proved unsuccessful at that moment in time. Dort left undrafted until later signing a two-way contract with the OKC Thunder. In his rookie season with the Thunder, Dort enjoyed success in the latter half of the season. Dort was given his chance to showcase his skills, and the young SG/SF did not disappoint.

What really stuck out to NBA fans was Dort’s size at his position. Standing at 6’3″, 215 pounds the young Dort is built like your average NFL LB, not your average NBA SG. This is where Dort really separates himself from other 2/3s in the NBA today.

His size allows him to stifle offensive opponents and assert his dominance at will. This defensive prowess was on full display in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble. Specifically in the Thunder’s 2020 1st Round Playoff series against James Harden and the Houston Rockets. This is where Dort first started making a name for himself.

Dort earned Harden’s respect

The three-time defending NBA scoring champion did not look himself in the Rockets’ first-round matchup against the Thunder. Specifically offensively, and Dort played a big role in Harden’s struggles. Dort was out for bragging rights with Harden, who himself is also an alumnus of ASU. In that 2020 playoff series, Dort had Harden looking lost, even non-existent offensively for numerous long stretches.

For the series, Dort held Harden to a total of 65 points while he was the primary defender. Harden shot at a mediocre 17-54 from the field and 10-38 from deep while guarded by Dort.

The young Dort struggled offensively for most of the series until Game Seven. With the series knotted up at 3-3, the Thunder looked to pull off the impossible upset. Dort did not disappoint leaving everything he had on the floor that night. Dort recorded a Game 7 game-high 30 points while shooting 6-12 from downtown. The 21-year-old made history that night surpassing a prior NBA playoff record held by LeBron James.

Sophomore slump not for Dort

Dort has continued to exceed expectations. The young guard is progressing at an exponential rate with an ever-growing ceiling. Through 43 games this season, Dort is averaging 13.3 PPG/ 3.6 RPG/ 1.6 APG. Offensively there is still much room for improvement, however, we have to remind ourselves Dort is only 21. Not to mention, the Thunder are currently in a rebuilding stage as a franchise meaning offensively they lack the star power who would naturally attract the majority of the attention on a nightly basis.

Just nights ago, Dort recorded a career-high against the West-leading Utah Jazz. Dort stuffed the stat sheet with 42 points (7 3PT), seven rebounds, and four steals. Dort has also improved his three-point shot in general, the main real red flag of Dort’s scouting report coming out of college. This season on 6.0 3PTA per game (double that of last season) Dort is shooting 34.2% compared to 29.7% a year ago.

OKC has found a new fan favorite

Thunder fans have had the opportunity to cheer on quite the talented group of players since KD’s debut in 2007-08. Lu Dort may not strike fans the same as KD, Harden, and Westbrook, but the young upcoming star is determined to make a name for himself. With the Thunder in a rebuilding stage, it is hard to imagine Presti not keeping Dort around as one of the core members moving forward. Personally, I love OKC’s backcourt of Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and think their future is beyond bright.