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Keon Ellis is determined to contribute to winning basketball, whatever that looks like

Sacramento's newest two-way brings a promising skillset and mindset to the Kings.
By | 54 Comments | Jul 7, 2022

Jul 3, 2022; San Francisco, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Keon Ellis (34) drives against Miami Heat guard Kyle Allman Jr. (50) during the second quarter at the California Summer League at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Keon Ellis, Sacramento’s newest Two-Way, spent the first two years of his college career playing at Florida SouthWestern State College. Prior to his debut at the California Classic Summer League this past weekend, Ellis’s former FSW Head Coach, Eric Murphy, spoke with me and explained where his consistent impact lies.

“He’s a system guy, so I don’t want fans to be like, ‘Man, he only scored four or six points in a Summer League game.’ He’s just a system guy, he’s always been a winner and he’s not all about shooting the basketball. He does little things that help you win,” Coach Eric Murphy told me. “I think, winning plays is what when people really watch him, that’s what they’ll really value out of his game.”

The Alabama product knocked down just two free throws in his debut game, but, to Coach Murphy’s point, his former player still managed to positively contribute to Sacramento’s win. Deflections, rebounds, rotations, unselfishness, and hustle are all evident on a nightly basis. So while he missed every shot he took in game one, he also ended with six rebounds, two assists, three steals, one block, and countless intangibles that go beyond the box score.

That’s not to say that Ellis can’t score the ball — as he showed in game two where he logged 17 points, five rebounds, one assist, and one block while shooting a much improved 6/8 from the field — it’s just not his priority out there. It’s telling that following that type of performance Sacramento Summer League Head Coach Jordi Fernandez still chose to highlight Ellis’s defense.

“To me, what’s most impressive about Keon is his defense. He guards really hard, he keeps bodies in front of bodies, he’s long, he has a good feel for not getting hit on screens and that’s who we want to be. That’s who the Sacramento Kings want to be,” Fernandez said. “Defense is going to be very important. If you want to be really good you have to defend and keep it simple offensively. So, you find a role and you’re a star in your role. And so far, Keon, I know he scored but to me, his impact defensively is really impressive.”

Ellis is a remarkably disruptive defender, which should bode well for him on a team looking to get out in transition as often as possible to utilize De’Aaron Fox’s outlier speed. When Ellis is on the floor, he’s often seen picking up full court, his hands are active, and he maintains a constant awareness of both his man and the ball. More than anything, he’s really aiming to contribute to a win, no matter what that looks like.

“I just take it day by day, just try to go out there and help the team win and just play hard,” Ellis said. “Go out there with a play-hard mentality and if the team’s winning I think every situation will take care of itself.”

Ellis is certainly not without his flaws, he managed just 59 assists to 51 turnovers his senior season at Alabama. But with his unselfish mindset, disruptive defense, ability to hit open shots, and finish at the rim, it wouldn’t have been surprising for him to be drafted. He shared with the media that he expected to hear his name called that night but that, “going undrafted just motivates me more.”

Keon Ellis’s value seemed to drop when he measured in at 6’3.5” without shoes at the NBA Combine after being listed at 6’6” his entire senior season at Alabama. When I spoke with Ellis about this after his final game of the California Classic, he shared his perspective on that process.

“Honestly, I don’t think it was (my measurements). I think it was more so how I played at the combine. Because when I went to interviews teams would ask, ‘How do you feel about how you played at the combine?’ But, I mean, I personally hate events like that,” Ellis told me. “It’s not really showing how impactful someone can be. It’s all about who’s gonna score. So, I didn’t really care for the combine like that but, it happened. I still got an opportunity here, as I said, it’s just not really an event for me to showcase what I can do.”

Through two scrimmages at the combine, Ellis scored just nine points. That sort of setting is a prime example of what his JUCO Coach pointed out previously. At the combine there are plenty of guys desperately trying to showcase what they can do in limited touches and the team aspect almost always gets lost as a result. It’s easy to see why someone like Ellis, who doesn’t care about any number aside from his team’s total wins, could struggle to shine in that type of environment.

Despite that unfortunate circumstance, Keon Ellis was determined to find a spot in the NBA. He shared with me that he somehow managed to work out for about 20 different teams throughout the short but tiring draft process. He clearly left a good impression with the Kings, as they were the ones to most quickly display their interest after pick 58 wrapped up and Ellis jumped at the opportunity.

“I think Sacramento was the first team to call, Ellis said. “So, kind of just wanted to play it safe and I had a great work out there. They loved what I brought to the table.”

It can be understated how much value he clearly places on contributing to winning basketball games. That’s undoubtedly the priority for Ellis and has been for a while now. With that in mind, it was surprising to find out that he was not always someone who necessarily enjoyed the defensive end of the floor. 

“(I started enjoying defense) when I got to Alabama. At Junior College, I played a little defense but it wasn’t my thing. I was in more of a scoring role and kind of got to Alabama, they had some guys there already, so I just found my place by playing defense and just got noticed and it’s got me here. So, that’s kind of where that started from,” Ellis said. “I think once you’re playing great defense and you’re talking and everyone’s connected it just motivates everyone else to be on the same page and bring that same intensity.”

As seen at the combine, context and role are key to optimizing Keon Ellis. Luckily for him, the ideal complementary pieces to Domantas Sabonis and Fox are plus defenders who can star in their role as player finishers on the offensive end. Keon Ellis has shown promise in that aspect and, more importantly, the ability to adapt to whatever is needed from him for the purpose of winning games.

The fact that he was not always a stellar defender is somewhat stunning, given how instinctual he looks on that end. But, it’s encouraging to hear his willingness to adapt to whatever a team needs in various scenarios for the sake of winning at every level.

“I feel like (the California Classic) went great. It’s always good to win. 3-0. That’s really all you can ask for, to go out there and win,” Ellis said. “Everyone’s on the same page, so definitely loved coming out here and going 3-0.”

Next up is the Las Vegas Summer League, where Ellis will get a continued opportunity to showcase his intangibles against a wider variety of opponents and hopefully contribute to winning basketball.

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54 Comments
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Jack
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July 8, 2022 2:04 pm

I like the guy. I like his attitude. For me as an old coach he plays defense. Kings made a wise choice.

macdoogs
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July 8, 2022 2:11 pm

I love a player that knows his calling card is defense and the effort on that end shows. I really like what I’ve seen so far from him. Ideally he’s not out there trying to score as much as he has been in SL but if his catch and shoot 3 works out he has a place in the league and a solid prospect for our team for the future

murraytant
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July 8, 2022 2:22 pm

Got him for “free”. Did not give up any value (i.e. #37 pick)
I would like to see him used sparingly but like the LAC used Terrance Mann in his first year- he came in on the last possession of a quarter or half- often less than 20 seconds, just to guard and opponent’s shooter. Mann used this opportunity to get more minutes.
One job, one simple role. like the Giants in the days with Javier Lopez- one batter.
His strength is on the ball defense.
Then see what happens.

keith_kar
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July 8, 2022 2:27 pm

The Kings definitely need a stopper, so however Ellis can be utilized can be a plus for a team desperate for some defense.

andy_sims
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July 8, 2022 2:37 pm

If I recall, his wingspan is 80 or 81 inches, which certainly contributes to his effectiveness on defense. I really think that in spite of his shorter stature, he’s going to be able to offer effective minutes at small forward. The fact that he’s a very good shooter makes it all the easier to plug him in.

TheGrantNapear
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July 8, 2022 2:39 pm

So we have two potential defensive stoppers, both of whom are on the shorter side.

Daydreamer
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July 8, 2022 2:58 pm
Reply to  TheGrantNapear

Davion makes Ellis look positively lanky, but they both show the quick feet and agility that allows them to stay in front of people. And Keon’s long arms make him even better at getting deflections.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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July 8, 2022 2:41 pm

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say the Keon Ellis will get more minutes with the parent club than Queta will. If he can guard 3 positions on the floor, he will find minutes regardless of who is ahead of him on the depth chart. He potentially brings something that Huerter, Monk, and TD cannot…or at least have not done in the past.

I think I mentioned it in one of the summer league game threads that I’m gonna sit up and take notice when Ellis and Mitchell share the backcourt together. That’s gonna be fun to watch!

SuperShaka
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July 8, 2022 2:43 pm

I’d like to see the Kings keep both their 15th roster spot and remaining MLE money open to sign Keon or Neemias to a long term deal. Try out two way replacements on 10 day contracts.

oswan88
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July 8, 2022 4:33 pm
Reply to  SuperShaka

Neither have shown anything that validates a long term deal. They’re on 2 way contracts for a reason.

SuperShaka
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July 8, 2022 5:12 pm
Reply to  oswan88

They would need to show improvement by February to earn that contract. They may still not be good enough for that contract in six months but it’s a reasonable window to find out.
This is Queta’s last year on a two way. If he can be a third center with his size and athleticism, he’d be worth a mostly guaranteed 4/$8.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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July 8, 2022 2:48 pm
TheGrantNapear
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July 8, 2022 3:05 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Rumors have been flying regarding Barnes and Holmes. Sounding like at least one of the two is moved before the season.
Perhaps we work our way into a KD or Kyrie trade as a third team.

I’m surprised there’s seemingly no takers for Westbrook with a 2027 LAL 1st attached. Five years hence, LeBron (old) and AD (oft injured) are irrelevant and that pick could be juicy. It’s a gamble, but a worthwhile one imo just to take one year of Westbrook on.

Adamsite
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July 8, 2022 3:33 pm
Reply to  TheGrantNapear

I think the Miles Bridges situation threw a monkey wrench into things. I feel the Hornets were prepared to move Hayward with the intention of matching anything on Bridges, but now that is a messy situation. I still feel Barnes and Holmes for Hayward and a pick(s) makes sense.

In the end, I think something happens if and when the Durant deal goes down. My gut tells me other teams and deals are waiting on that big domino to fall.

aplumley
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July 8, 2022 3:44 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

I’ve been off the grid for the past week and just googled Miles Bridges. Holy crap. Hero to zero.

Adamsite
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July 8, 2022 3:54 pm
Reply to  aplumley

Yup. That dude just cost himself well over $100M, but fuck him for beating his wife…and doing it in front of his kid.

My guess is they offer him the QO and his agent tells him to take it. It’s the best he’s gonna get because no team is going to offer him a deal now. He’ll have a year to rebuild his career and character, but that may not even be enough.

aplumley
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July 8, 2022 4:37 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

I agree. F that dude. I have zero tolerance for that crap. I’ve been a kings fan forever, but those Ron Artest, and Matt Barnes years tested my fandom more than all the losing years combined.

AnybodyButBagley
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July 9, 2022 10:33 am
Reply to  aplumley

Seeing Barnes back as a television personality is the worst.

Carl
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July 9, 2022 11:50 am
Reply to  Adamsite

That dude just cost himself well over $100M

Did he? I fully expect that Bridges will get paid, if not this offseason, then next offseason. Have the Browns paid any real price for the DeShaun Watson mess? And the NFL seems to take DV more seriously than the NBA.

If the Kings can move Barnes and Holmes in a sign and trade to acquire Bridges, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they do it, with a perfunctory press conference to “address” the issue.

The longest suspension I could find for DV (on quick look) was 24 games by Jeffrey Taylor of the Magic in 2014, so any suspension for Bridges is likely to be less than a half season at most.

Over the last ~6 years, the Kings have had or acquired Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, DeMarcus Cousins (though Cousins DV came later, no one should be surprised it did), Josh Jackson, Terence Davis and Luke Walton and all were accused of violence or sexual assault against women. Is there an NBA organization that has acted worse than the Kings organization in regards to DV cases? Maybe they do care about the short term PR hit, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Bridges in a Kings uniform this season, if the Kings can make it happen.

ArcoThunder
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July 9, 2022 1:42 am
Reply to  Adamsite

I get your point on the Hayward thing but I still see it as a perfect situational fit for both teams regardless of what’s going on with bridges. Having Holmes and Barnes I think makes the hornets better. Having Hayward I think makes the Kings better. That is if he can stay on the court for a full season. But that’s the case for all players, staying healthy makes or breaks a players value. The risk reward for Hayward in exchange for Barnes and Holmes seems worth it to me

RobHessing
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July 8, 2022 3:06 pm
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comment image

Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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July 8, 2022 3:30 pm
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comment image

SuperShaka
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July 8, 2022 4:11 pm
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He needs to bring in at least two more players to meet roster requirements so that statement checks out.

aplumley
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July 8, 2022 3:15 pm

This is the most excited I’ve been about a second round plus rookie in my kings fandom. I think he has a real chance to crack the rotation this year.

andy_sims
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July 8, 2022 3:59 pm
Reply to  aplumley

You are in the majority, as you see, there is great agitation in the land at the idea that trading the #49 pick for the rights to a player that may never come to the US is a crushing mistake, for so many players taken in that slot have become Hall of Famers and shoe magnates.

murraytant
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July 8, 2022 4:01 pm
Reply to  aplumley

that would be good and bad. If he cracks the rotation that means he is better than the others and deserves minutes but right now he does have limited skills and if he cracks the rotation that means they all got worse.
Again, I hope he is used like Terrance Mann with the LAC- a minute or 2 at end of quarters. for D only.

oswan88
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July 8, 2022 4:35 pm
Reply to  aplumley

I have a hard time seeing him crack the rotation with Huerter, Monk, and Davis all playing the 2. I like his mentality, but him seeing anything more than garbage time minutes is a stretch.

Last edited 2 years ago by oswan88
Ialmostmissthemaloofs
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July 8, 2022 5:10 pm

Nice read. That is pretty encouraging stuff.

I love a workhorse. A solid roll up the sleeves, blue collar, dive on the floor, take the charge, hard nosed defender. Players like that earn the respect and the fans they get the hard way, and I dig that. I hope this dude makes the rotation and gets some minutes.

Kingsguru21
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July 8, 2022 6:08 pm

Thanks Brenden. Enjoyed the article.

Jack
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July 9, 2022 6:53 am
Reply to  Kingsguru21

Just a strange idea. Laying in bed this morning I was thinking who Monty would go after in one more big deal. Would it be Collins? He is young and would fit the timeline. He doesn’t really play defense. How about Pascal Siakim? Don’t think the Raptors are willing to trade him. How about Tobias Harris. In my mind he is too old. Then I thought what about Ben Simmons? He plays defense. He also could be a third guard if needed. His contract is on the same scale as Siakim or Harris. He is 25 and fits the timeline around what Monty is trying to do. What do you guys think? Give me some opinions.

Adamsite
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July 9, 2022 8:25 am
Reply to  Jack

I don’t see the Kings swinging for anyone big because they just don’t have the assets. Barnes and Holmes are about all I see being worth anything that they are willing to move, maybe Mitchell. The Huerter trade tied up any pick trades so Monte is really just limited to players.

I think they’d need to find a team who is looking to make a jump in the playoffs and see Barnes and/or Holmes as a way to do it. Maybe a team like Cleveland or Memphis? Teams that are young and have tons of assets are who I would target. Maybe the Cavs are willing to move Okoro or the Grizz will cash out on Zaire Williams for an established vet.

Jack
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July 9, 2022 10:14 am
Reply to  Adamsite

Thanks Adam. I tend to agree with your comments. Now one other question. What about trying to bring Jonathan Issac and or Chuma Okeke to the kings? Both play defense. We have the shooters now we need to defend.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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July 9, 2022 11:44 am
Reply to  Jack

I’m a no on Isaac. He’s way too injury prone, hasn’t played in 2 years, and his vocal political leanings I don’t think would sit well in a progressive city like Sacramento.

Okeke doesn’t move the needle for me. He’s no different in role and impact than Metu or Lyles.

I’d also steer clear from PFs. Kings need a legit wing to play the 3 more than any PF.

Kingsguru21
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July 9, 2022 12:28 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

I’m intrigued by Terence Davis because I think he’s better as a 3 than as a 2 personally.

I’m probably the only one, though.

MichaelMack
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July 9, 2022 1:47 pm
Reply to  Kingsguru21

I think there is promise there as well. He seems like he is physical enough as a defender to guard players a bit bigger than him, and would be an interesting option in specific lineups.

Bill2455
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July 9, 2022 1:24 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Jonathan Isaac, a young man who believes in God, country and E Pluribus Unum is not acceptable to progressive Sacramento?

We need fewer “progressives.” They harm the culture.

Adamsite
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July 9, 2022 6:14 pm
Reply to  Bill2455

Or…he’s injury prone and hasn’t played in two years.

You ignored that part and latched onto the later, but whatever…

Bill2455
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July 11, 2022 5:21 am
Reply to  Adamsite

You felt it was important. I responded. That’s how conment boards work. Or does progressive mean you wish to dictate how others respond?

Milkman
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July 9, 2022 12:55 pm

Orlando. Kings.
Banchero. Murray. Not nervous at all. Not haunted by TRob at all….

Klam
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July 9, 2022 1:24 pm

Nice to see the boys watching Summer League.
https://twitter.com/ChrisMWatkins/status/1545865666430791680

oswan88
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July 9, 2022 1:27 pm
Reply to  Klam

Quinn Cook, I was wondering who that was lol. I wouldn’t mind him as a 3rd PG just for his shooting alone.

Klam
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July 9, 2022 1:36 pm
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Carl
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July 9, 2022 3:06 pm
Reply to  Klam

“Remember the time I told Vlade that Luka’s dad was trash talking him, but I completely made it up?”
“Uhhh….what?”

Milkman
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July 9, 2022 1:58 pm

You see Keegan draw that foul on Banchero?
He’s quiet but I like what I’m seeing from Keegan.
Banchero’s game gives me Carmelo/Boogie vibes…and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

oswan88
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July 9, 2022 2:24 pm

Keegan is quietly having a better all around game than Paolo. Not flashy but solid. I was heavy on the Ivey train but Keegan is quickly growing on me!

Milkman
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July 9, 2022 2:32 pm

I don’t even think Banchero is a real 6-10 …it’s that giant Side Show Bob head of his…

Milkman
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July 9, 2022 3:12 pm

Keegan Murray!!!!

Milkman
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July 9, 2022 3:13 pm

Ice Cold!!!!

peyroux
July 9, 2022 3:16 pm
Reply to  Milkman

Incredible last 7.6 seconds!

Milkman
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July 9, 2022 3:19 pm

Keon..bank robber…nah he called that!!!

Last edited 2 years ago by Milkman
Milkman
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July 9, 2022 3:25 pm

Banchero fouled Ellis underneath on that drive…

peyroux
July 9, 2022 3:26 pm

“You weren’t supposed to make that 3”

“You don’t know me bro”

peyroux
July 9, 2022 3:29 pm
Reply to  peyroux

Double OT. This is the most entertaining game of Summer League.

Milkman
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July 9, 2022 3:43 pm

Two things:
1) Banchero doesn’t use that spin move enough (cough)
2) Keegan needs to watch those Steph Curry dribbling drills

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