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NBA Bleeding Blue: Suns, Kings offer the best options for keeping up with former Wildcats

By Jonathan Coffman
Special to KyForward

As John Calipari continues his reign as the king of the one-and-done era, more NBA teams are beginning to blue tint along with their home colors.

The Phoenix Suns drafted Devin Booker and re-signed Brandon Knight this summer, totaling four UK guards on the roster with Eric Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin. After trying out Josh Harrellson on a Summer League contract, the Suns started to look like a Kentucky pro team.

Despite the Suns’ league leading four UK players, there is one other NBA team worth keeping your eye on for its Kentucky connections: the Sacramento Kings. Depending on your preferences, one of the two teams can best serve any UK basketball fan with plenty of Wildcat nostalgia on the national stage.

Rajon Rondo seeks out a teammate for the pass in a game against the Miami Heat Nov. 19. (NBA.com photo)

Rajon Rondo seeks out a teammate for the pass in a game Nov. 19. (NBA.com photo)

The Demarcus Cousins-led Kings drafted Willie Cauley-Stein to complete their front court and signed point guard Rajon Rondo to a $11 million one-year deal, betting that the former All-Star would return to form.

Following the Kings is not for the faint of heart. The organization drew skepticism for mixing famously bold personalities, but the on-court results have been promising if you are willing to look past their 7-15 record.

After being traded to the Dallas Mavericks last season, Rondo showed little reason to believe he could return to being a max-contract level player. This year Rondo has played his best basketball since tearing his ACL in the 2012-13 season, leading the league with 10.7 assists per game and four triple doubles. His stats show that Rondo still has fuel left in the tank in the right situation.

Still, becoming a Kings’ fan means embracing the good and the bad. Cousins remains a top 10 talent in the league, averaging 25.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, but has already missed eight games, including one due to suspension. Cauley-Stein has posted 4.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game, but will miss 4-6 weeks due to a dislocated finger suffered Dec. 4 in a loss to the Boston Celtics in Mexico City.

Brandon Knight takes on Rajon Rondo in Phoenix. (NBA.com photo)

Brandon Knight takes on Rajon Rondo in Phoenix on Nov. 4. (NBA.com photo)

The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, are the choice for UK fans who put a high value on stability.

Bledsoe and Knight have quietly become one of the league’s most effective backcourts, with Bledsoe leading the team in scoring and assists while Knight is peaking with career-high averages of 21.4 points per game on 44.3 field goal percentage.

Booker is only on the floor 14 minutes per game but averages 6.1 points and 71.4 shooting percentage from the three point line, leading all rookies with more than one attempt by a wide margin. However, Goodwin struggles to find the floor, averaging just 11.6 minutes in his third season while already missing 11 of Phoenix’s 22 games.

Booker may have an undeniable NBA skill set, but UK fans who hop on board with the Suns will mostly be rooting for the starting combo guards.

Phoenix is only two games better than Sacramento, currently at 9-13 and one spot removed from the playoffs in the Western Conference standings, but its health and stability at key positions make them the better choice for UK fans with postseasons aspirations.

Each team provides a unique angle of interest for UK fans. The Suns have found moderate success with their fast paced play in a league with several bad imitations of the undefeated Golden State Warriors. But Sacramento has found real chemistry between their misunderstood stars, showing promise for their future if the point guard re-signs with the team.

Rondo will be feeding Cousins in the post for the long-term if the big man has anything to say about it.

“He ain’t going nowhere. I will kidnap him myself,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports.

In the same report, Rondo was quoted saying he wanted to play with “the best big man in the league” for years before joining Sacramento this offseason. Considering Rondo’s checkered past, it is likely he will decide to stay where he has revitalized his career when the time comes.

Both the Suns and Kings share a connection to the big blue nation, but the BBN can’t go wrong in deciding which team they will support for the foreseeable future. This year’s Wildcats team is primed to send off its latest batch of NBA talent, sure to spawn more “UK pro teams.”

For now, these teams are your best bets for getting your blue fix between games in the UK basketball schedule.

More stats worth pondering

If you are still undecided about which team you’ll follow, consider these key stats:

— Not only is Rondo leading the league in assists per game and triple doubles, but his 7.5 rebounds per game rank him as the second best rebounding point guard in the league, behind Russell Westbrook.

— Knight is shooting 38.8 percent from three, making the league’s sixth most long-range buckets with 57 this season. Bledsoe shoots a nearly identical 38.7 percent, draining 36 as of now.

— Sacramento shares the ball: the Kings are fifth in the league with 24 assists per game.

— Booker’s rookie leading 71.4 three point shooting percentage far exceeds second-best, Charlotte Hornet Frank Kaminsky’s 41.9 three point shooting percentage.

— Phoenix (3rd) and Sacramento (4th) are both top five offenses in the league.

Jonathan Coffman is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a former intern for KyForward.com.

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