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Season Review: Justin James

The 2nd year forward from Wyoming struggled to find consistent minutes this year, but did he show enough to earn another season with the Kings?

Consistent, legitimate NBA playing time is never guaranteed for a 2nd round pick, and Wyoming forward Justin James can certainly sympathize with that observation. Through two season in Sacramento, James has appeared in just 72 games, averaging 7.5 minutes per game in those appearances, with most of his run coming in inconsequential garbage time.

Despite limited opportunities, James increased his efficiency across the board this season. He bumped his FG% from .417 in his rookie season to .468 in 2020-21, his 3P% increased from .310 on 0.8 attempts to .368 on 1.1 attempts, and consequently his eFG% jumped from .470 to .532. That is some decent offensive efficiency for a theoretical 3-and-D forward with great athleticism, but it's hard to say if those numbers would hold with a bigger role and more playing time.

I wouldn't count on per36 numbers being Justin James' reality if he actually played that much, but let's drop them in here anyway:

Per36, Justin James averaged 16.1 points on .468 shooting from the field, and .368 shooting from 3 on 4.4 3PA with 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 0.9 steals per game in 2020-21.

Defensive metrics are hard to parse, particularly when the sample size is as small as it is with a player like James, but according to Cleaning The Glass, the Kings have been a significantly better defensive team when he's on the floor. Opponents score 4.7 less points per 100 possessions when he's out there defending, which puts James in the 86th percentile among NBA forwards. Grains of salt, etc.

The truth is, I probably could have avoided all statistical analysis in a season review article about Justin James, but I wanted to have something behind what I'm about to say: I kinda like Justin James, and I wouldn't mind seeing more.

Justin James is technically under contract with the Kings for next season, but his $1,782,621 minimum salary is not guaranteed, meaning the Kings could dump James this summer without any cap ramifications to worry about. I'd vote for keeping James in Sacramento for another year, but I wouldn't fault Monte McNair for feeling differently.

Justin James had one game this season where he showed you the peak of his powers – a 31-point, career-high explosion against the Memphis Grizzlies, but beyond that there just isn't a ton here to grade or review.


You could argue that at 25 years old next season, McNair should opt for different, younger fringe NBA players to fill out the end of his roster, and let James go, but I'm rooting for JJ. His efficiency improvements this season remain promising, and for whatever this is worth, he is always the first bench player up celebrating and cheering his teammates on when he isn't in the game. I don't have the evidence necessary to prove it with any level of certainty, but I still believe there could be an NBA player here.

James has shown some toughness and skill on defense to go along with encouraging 3-point shooting and crazy athleticism. As the NBA pundits say, he has all the tools, but when you rarely play and don't jump off the screen when you do, everyone knows your NBA career is in jeopardy.

I don't want to get overly-complainy in a blog about Justin James' season, but he is a perfect example of someone I would have liked to see play over a veteran like Moe Harkless who was OK for his role at the end of the season in Sacramento, but provided little long-term value for a team that still lost a ton of games. It was essentially 25 minutes per game of empty calories that could have gone to one of the younger wings like James, Robert Woodard, or DaQuan Jeffries while he was still with the team, but it is what it is.

If James gets another season here, I hope Luke Walton gives him a bigger opportunity at some point, and if he's gone, I'll be rooting for him to figure his career out elsewhere.


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May 28, 2021 10:16 am

There is no way keeping JJ for another year.

– He is not a consistent 3pts shooter and cannot create his own shot.
He is undersized to play SF
He is not drafted by McNair

i think with Davis staying, there simply no minutes for JJ at all, so no surprise he will not be on the roster very soon.

May 28, 2021 6:10 pm

cannot create his own shot

I disagree with this completely. It ignores his entire college career where was the lone playmaker and there is a 2 min video in the article that shows at least 10 shot attempts he put together for himself, that was just one game.

He also shot 37% from 3 this year, 34% last year and he shot 34% in college, fairly consistent if you ignore the improvement this year. That, plus you get solid defense and high effort every time he touches the court.

Not saying he is an NBA starter, but you could do much worse for $1.7MM for your 3rd-4th SG.

May 28, 2021 10:42 am

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May 28, 2021 11:50 am
Reply to  WizsSox

I didn’t watch Friends, but is this supposed to be Dr. McCoy with a slow thyroid?

May 28, 2021 1:17 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

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Last edited 21 days ago by WizsSox
May 28, 2021 10:52 am

I mentioned this in our site Slack channel the other day, but I imagine if JJ had spent this past year getting regular minutes for, like, the Thunder, he’d be a guy we all had our eye on in free agency.

May 28, 2021 11:09 am
Reply to  Greg


Nostradumbass 14
Nostradumbass 14
May 28, 2021 11:37 am

Anyone know his guaranteed deal date? I’d definitely like to see him come back for camp and see if has improved, but It all comes down to what else happens in free agency.

May 28, 2021 11:47 am

He’s fine roster filler on a cheap deal and easy to cut if necessary.

Last edited 21 days ago by BestHyperboleEver
May 28, 2021 11:49 am

I agree with you that James seems like a guy who could work himself onto a roster, but I have a feeling he may get squeezed out this summer, either as a trade piece, or just to free up his cap room. He’d be an attractive throw-in, since a team can just choose to not guarantee his deal, or see what he can do for a low cost.

I looked it up when you were talking about his minutes at forward, and was surprised to see that he’s listed at 6’7″. I honestly thought that he was 6’2″, 6’3″ tops. He just looks small when I watch him on TV. He’s a gamer though, and I really hope he can create a job for himself in the NBA.

May 28, 2021 11:55 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Yeah, I usually don’t quibble with listed heights, but I think he is clearly shorter than his listed height. Enough so that he should really be classified as more of a SG/Combo guard than a SF. Since he didn’t get measured at his combine, we don’t really have an official measurement.

May 28, 2021 12:47 pm


So it really seems like they are shuffling positions internally without spending money by bringing in new people.

In the meantime Monte is suggesting that he has all the tools at his disposal… Right.

May 28, 2021 12:58 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

At least it puts someone new in as head of player development. That has not been a strong suit in Sacramento since I don’t know when.

May 28, 2021 1:00 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

Yeah, we’ll see.

I wonder how big the scouting department is at the moment.

May 28, 2021 2:05 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Roughly Tom Hanks-sized.

May 28, 2021 2:19 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

That “Big”!

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Nostradumbass 21
Nostradumbass 21
May 28, 2021 2:45 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Their scouting department is Google.

Nostradumbass 21
Nostradumbass 21
May 28, 2021 4:00 pm
Reply to  Yakshi

Best available Center for $5m/yr.

May 28, 2021 5:59 pm
Reply to  Yakshi

…and YouTube

Last edited 21 days ago by Hamlet1989
May 28, 2021 5:37 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Heh heh, you said tool…

May 29, 2021 2:24 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Ehhh, there are plenty of other things to be skeptical about. Most other organisations are operating this manner. Not uncommon for roles to be changed, and increase in multi-tasking roles. Especially post Pandemic where many are struggling to keep their jobs. Heck, in my workplace, I have gone from a team of 4, to a team of 2 to support over 2k employees.

I agree in the perfect world to have more credible resources at hand, however I do understand for the need to be resourceful too. I can’t imagine the Kings be too finanicially successful during times where little fans can attend home games (I am not suggesting Vivek and org. has the right to cry poor either).

May 29, 2021 6:29 am
Reply to  J-Fresh

They’d be more financially successful if they made the playoffs.

May 30, 2021 5:25 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Internal promotions mean you’re giving someone additional responsibility and a pay increase. If they were pinching pennies they’d just be making people do more work for the same pay.

Last edited 19 days ago by Greg Wissinger
May 28, 2021 5:38 pm

Grade: Incomplete. Small sample size.

May 28, 2021 6:00 pm

I am a fan of JJ’s. He was his college conference scoring champ and the thing he was noticed for initially was his defense. I love two-way players and we’ve already invested time into his development. I was definitely disappointed in his lack of PT this year.

When he played, he played hard, ran the point most of the time he was in, and has good size for the SG position (even if he gets played out of position at SF, he isn’t completely out-sized). Highly switchable with Tyrese and Davis as well.

JJ should definitely be on the roster next year considering that I think we move Buddy and I don’t know if Davis is coming back (which I would also like to see). I think JJ can outplay his small salary providing value and could even turn into a trade asset (albeit a small one).

May 28, 2021 7:00 pm

Anyone watching Clips/Mavs right now? Lol

May 28, 2021 10:30 pm
Reply to  Timmy_13

watching there was no help from the whole Mavs team to help Doncic ?
(other than J. Bunsion)

There is no future for the staying as a Mavs, as KP sucks

Doncic better leave the Mavs, and join Fox, Tyrese and Barnes as a Kings…this is where helps would come during Playoff…….and win the Champion !!

May 29, 2021 5:43 am

It’s an interesting question; who has better talent surrounding him? Fox or Luka?

PG : Fox – Luka
SG : Hield – J. Richardson
SF : Barnes – Finney Smith
PF : Bagley – Porzingis
C : Holmes – Kleber

Haliburton – Hardaway
Wright – Brunson
Harkless – Powell
Metu – WCS

Last edited 20 days ago by RikSmits
May 29, 2021 6:14 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Kings have more talent except in two key areas ! Top player and head coach !

May 29, 2021 10:52 am
Reply to  rockbottom

The Mavs were 42-30 and the Kings were 31-41. If the Kings have more talent, that means one player and coach add more than an 11 game improvement, single-handedly? And it has to be more than 11 games, since we’re saying that somehow the Kings have more talent. I think we’re stretching here a little bit.

May 29, 2021 11:49 am
Reply to  Carl

If one player AND a coach do it single-handedly, then isn’t it double-handedly?

May 29, 2021 12:35 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

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May 30, 2021 10:40 am
Reply to  Carl

I don’t think it’s out of the question to think a single elite player and a coach could add 11+ wins. This is the NBA where a single top player routinely player 15% of the team’s total available minutes, and a guy like Doncic directly contributes to HUGE portion of the team’s total offense. According to stats that try to measure wins added, 538 puts Doncic’s WAR at 10.3 and RAPM Wins at 10.37. Beyond Fox and Doncic, I’d say the Kings have more talent, but the Mavs have players that fit together better.

May 28, 2021 7:11 pm

If James was going to be back for another season, they would have played him some minutes this season. I expect they will heavily churn through low level players like James, trying to find someone with potential.

May 28, 2021 9:00 pm

For whatever reason the Kings will not give him the opportunity to play.

He might be able to stay in the league. The longer he is on the Kings roster his chance of staying in the league is less. He needs to get a chance with another team.

The Kings have to move beyond a roster dominated by “potential” and get some proven players. Not an ideal situation for James or the Kings.

May 29, 2021 6:15 am

JJ is much better long term NBA prospect than Guy, Ramsey or Woodard !

May 29, 2021 10:35 am
Reply to  rockbottom

Time for Guy and Ramsey to go as well. Kings don’t play them either. Wasted space on the roster.

May 29, 2021 6:30 am

Pretty sure JJ will just be another guy we’ll kind of remember in five years.

May 31, 2021 9:41 am

That was an amazing game he had at the end of the year. He might be worth keeping another season. Decent two-way player on the depth chart.

June 4, 2021 11:59 am
Reply to  eddie41

Some guys just take longer to emerge- Monte Morris, D’Anthony Melton, Poole, Terrance Mann, etc. JJ is on the back end of that. Woodard and Ramsey still have a chance. I root for K. Guy but nope.
Kevin Porter and K J Martin lit it up in Houston- would JJ done the same with the same number of minutes?

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