I like to think of myself as a reasonably objective observer of the sport of basketball. Sure, I have my biases—I am an unrepentant stan for the Pacers and a believer in the Bill Simmons school of sportswriting where it’s OK to root for your team in national media—but for the most part, Sheed’s Law is the first rule of my writing here.
But let’s face it. Basketball isn’t any fun without the ability to watch it as a fan, to root for guys, to make certain League Pass choices based not on what national trends say makes the best story but on the pure “if I’m going to watch this much basketball for my job, I want to enjoy it” entertainment value of it.
And with that in mind, I’m going to lay my cards on the table and debut the Guys Fox Likes Team, a starting lineup and some reserves of dudes who, if they were all on the same team, I’d find myself instantly inclined to root for that team (unless it was against the Pacers.)
PG: De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Besides having acquired the nickname of “The Namesake” on Twitter, Fox was my guy in the 2017 draft. I insisted the Lakers were fools for taking Lonzo Ball, whom Fox had clowned in college, over the kid out of Kentucky.
In Year 1, Fox was one of the worst players in the league. It was hard to watch him learn how to play NBA ball while posting a -1.2 VORP. How bad is -1.2 VORP? The Kings would’ve won three or four more games if they’d swapped the rook out with a decent player out of the G-League.
And maybe the kid could’ve used some seasoning in Stockton.
But in Year 2, the Namesake is +1.0 for VORP, posting a 19.0 PER after 11.2 a year ago, has gone from an atrocious defender to a merely below-average one, gone from negative Win Shares (-0.014 per 48) to the right side of the Starter’s Mendoza Line (at .109 this year), and just generally made such a massive leap in Year 2 that he should be garnering serious consideration for Most Improved Player.
Lonzo, meanwhile, has regressed, every major advanced stat except True Shooting (.486 vs. .444, both of which numbers suck) and Win Shares/48 (.056 after .053 last year, thanks in no small part to playing with LeBron James but still way below the Mendoza Line) on the decline. Zo is a much better defender than is Fox, but offensively he’s a train wreck, and his value to the Lakers is far lower as a result.
Namesake’s making me look smart, and he’s even getting some All-Star buzz.
SG: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
And not just because he’s on my favorite team.
Dude’s a stone cold killer late in ballgames, shooting 71.4 percent (10-of-14) in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime when shooting to tie or take the lead.
After years of watching Paul George‘s attempts at hero ball go wrong (PG13 shot 31.3 percent in 2015-16 on those clutch shots and 44.1 percent in 2016-17, and he’s just 5-of-30 on those shots in Oklahoma City since being traded for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis), and worrying about all but the biggest leads, having a guy who’s as good as Oladipo is with the game on the line makes it so much more fun to be a Pacers fan.
When Oladipo shoots in a clutch situation, I’m genuinely surprised when he misses. I love having a guy like that on my favorite team. I just love watching guys like that, period.
Sadly, Basketball Reference’s Shot Finder database only stretches back to the 2000-01 season, so I don’t have numbers for Michael Jordan, but I’d bet that His Airness was the last guy I remember being this good late in games who has stats to prove it.
SF: T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns
Warren just plain makes shots. On those extremely rare occasions the Suns win and I need highlights for the Breakfast Special, it’s either Warren or Devin Booker who provides them, and when I watch the Suns play, Warren’s shooting makes me think that not since Julius Randle (more on him in a minute) has a guy so thoroughly put me into “get him onto a good team, he’s too good for this rotten outfit!” mode.
Warren is shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from three this year with a jump shot so wet that even the scorching sun of the Arizona desert can’t dry it out.
Sure, he can’t guard my dead grandmother, but that doesn’t matter when I’m not there to watch him guide his team to a win, I’m there to watch him make shots and score points.
Hard not to root for a guy like that.
PF: Julius Randle, New Orleans Pelicans
I go back-and-forth between Randle and Marcus Morris Sr. of the Celtics (more on Morris in the bench-player writeups) for the starter at the 4.
Randle has a game like he’s Anthony Davis Lite, averaging 19.9 points and 9.3 rebounds in just 29.2 minutes a game.
Sure, he’s nowhere near the equal of Davis as a rim protector (Randle blocks just 0.6 shots a game and scares nobody with his 1.6 block percentage), and his defense is decent but not great (see a defensive BPM hovering a half a point either side of zero for most of his career), but again, this is guys who are just fun to watch.
And Randle’s nose for the ball getting the rebound combined with his finishing ability at the rim (70.4 percent from three feet and in) makes him a ton of fun to watch when he has the ball in the low post or when the other team’s not shooting the ball well.
C: Boban Marjanovic, Los Angeles Clippers
Just type HERO OF SERBIA into this site’s search function. If you don’t know why I love Boban, that will be your “you must be new here” primer.
Sixth Man: Marcus Morris Sr., Boston Celtics
Morris recently welcomed a son into the world when his girlfriend Amber Soulds gave birth on July 20, 2018.
To honor the boy, Marcus Thomas Morris Jr., the elder Morris added “Sr.” to the back of his Celtics jersey.
And personally, I’m a sucker for a great story like that. I don’t have kids, but if I did, you bet your ass I’d be proudly calling myself Fox Doucette Sr.
When a guy does that, I just plain like the guy, which makes Morris perfect for this team.
Seventh Man: Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
I never thought I’d see the day that I had a new favorite Foreign White Guy Who Wears No. 11 for the Pacers, but move over, Detlef Schrempf.
Domas is a fantastic rebounder, and before Myles Turner figured out how to grab boards on the regular, I was one of the voices calling for potentially trading Turner to free up the starting center spot and making Sabonis the center of the future.
He also runs this play where whenever Tyreke Evans drives the lane for a layup, Sabonis trails him, knowing full well that Evans is one of the worst at-the-rim finishers in the league, knowing full well that an offensive rebound and a putback dunk are no doubt following right behind.
It is simultaneously an indictment of Evans and almost comically smart basketball by Domas, like “don’t worry guys, let him have his fun, I’ll clean up after him” from a beleaguered parent of a Ralph Wiggum-esque kid.
Oh, and he’s shooting 83.3 percent from three. 5-of-6, but still.
Eighth Man: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
For the same reason the rest of the NBA fan set loves him. He’s the heir apparent to Dirk Nowitzki‘s place as the foreign player who’s going to anchor another great run in Dallas.
And he’s shooting 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) on shots in the last five minutes of regulation or overtime when the shot is to tie or take the lead. Rookies aren’t supposed to be that clutch.
I’m looking forward to watching Doncic for a very long time and think the Hawks were beyond dumb trading him away for Trae Young on draft night.
Ninth Man: Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
Trezz cracked the list after it was his turn for Is He Any Good this week. Go read that piece for why I’m such a huge fan of him now. He’s the newest addition to this team.
Tenth Man: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
Allen has the potential to evolve into the same kind of monster around the rim defensively that Myles Turner is turning into, and if that means I get to watch those guys duke it out for Defensive Player of the Year for the next decade, I’m completely here for it.
Besides, anyone with an Afro that belongs in the ABA automatically gets huge bonus points to their likability in my world. I love big Afros and envy the heck out of black and Jewish folks’ ability to grow them when I look more like Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell from the eyebrows upward these days.
That whole Nets team is fun to watch, and Allen’s going to be a star.
Sure, the bench is big man-heavy on my Guys Fox Likes Team, but I’m a fan, not a GM. If you want to beef with me about my choices, head on over to Twitter and follow @RealFoxD. Thanks for reading!