DEVONPORT, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 21: Mojave King of the 36ers and Sam McDaniel of the Jack Jumpers during the NBL Blitz match between Adelaide 36ers and Tasmania Jackjumpers at Ulverstone Sports & Leisure Centre on November 21, 2021, in Devonport, [COUNTRY}. (Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)

Even at just 19-years old, Mojave King has been on NBA radars for a while now.

In 2019 the 195cm guard out of Queensland, who models his game on Phoenix Suns superstar Devin Booker, joined the NBA Global Academy based at Basketball Australia‘s Centre of Excellence in Canberra.

With the Global Academy, King burst onto NBA draft boards. In their first 2021 NBA mock draft, ESPN had King placed 31st — projected as the first pick of the second round.

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To solidify his status as a legitimate NBA prospect King, along with fellow NBA Global Academy product Josh Giddey, joined the NBL’s ‘Next Stars’ program. After inking a deal with the Cairns Taipans, King was looking to traverse the same path that LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton followed to the NBA only a year earlier.

By signing with Cairns, King turned down scholarship offers from huge American college basketball programs, such as Arizona and 2021 national champions Baylor.

However, while Giddey converted his Next Stars contract into his NBA dream, King struggled for opportunity with the Taipans, and interest in him consequently waned.

Speaking with foxsports.com.au King admits that he “was ranked pretty high” but didn’t really get the opportunity throughout the season to raise his stock.

“Last year, I didn’t really feel like me out there,” he said.

Despite clamouring from fans, King struggled for consistent game time with the Taipans. Only when the Taipans threw in the towel during their woeful season did King’s minute totals increase.

When given a little more leash toward the end of the season, King flashed the potential that had NBA scouts salivating. During his final game with the Taipans, King dropped 25 points, making 9 of his 15 field goal attempts, including four of his nine threes.

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Despite that late season surge, King averaged just 16 minutes per night last season — half of the minutes per game that were available to Giddey in Adelaide.

King, however, recognises that his lack of minutes with the Taipans was also self-inflicted.

“I wasn’t really making the absolute most of the opportunities I was given last year at times,” King said.

“I was kind of happy to let the game pass me by a little bit.”

After signing as a Next Star at 17-years old and playing his first game in the NBL at 18, King now admits: “I said I was ready for it, but I don’t know if I was really ready for it at the time”.

A year wiser, and after having a full off-season to digest everything that went wrong during the 2020/21 season, King believes he’s primed to take the next step. Nevertheless, after seeing his draft stock plummet, King knew he had to make some changes during the off-season.

The first was changing teams and finding a situation that would give him the opportunity he was craving. He believes he has that after signing with the Adelaide 36ers during the off-season.

Adelaide 36ers legend Brett Maher with players Sunday Dech, Mojave King and Daniel Johnson model the new uniforms for the upcoming season.Source: News Corp Australia

King admitted that he considered leaving the NBL altogether and going overseas.

“There were some other opportunities overseas that looked attractive at the time but nothing really more than what Adelaide had to offer.”

In signing with the Sixers, King is now, incidentally, on Giddey’s old team. He hopes to obtain the same opportunity Giddey received last season.

He should get it — Adelaide’s perimeter rotation isn’t particularly deep after pouring resources into shoring up their frontcourt during the off-season.

With Mitch McCarron, Sunday Dech, and import Dusty Hannahs, Adelaide undoubtedly have talent on the perimeter. But they could still use an explosive, versatile scoring threat to round out that rotation.

King appears to be their answer. If the Sixers are going to be competitive this season, they’ll likely need King to fulfil the potential that made him such a sought after prospect in the first place. They’ll need him to be the scoring force he showed at every level until he reached the NBL.

For King, that added reliance is what he seems to be craving.

After flying up to Brisbane to recruit King during the off-season, Adelaide’s brass laid out their vision for King and detailed the opportunity they’re willing to provide him.

“Their vision for me aligned with what I wanted out of the season,” said King.

“This year, with the role I’m going to have on this team, I feel likely I’m going to be able to show a lot more.”

Mojave King says he is ready to prove the doubters wrong.Source: Supplied

However, his team isn’t the only thing that’ll be different about King headed into the 2021/22 NBL season.

“The biggest thing I needed to change was just my mindset. I feel like I had the skill set,” noted King.

The King who let the game pass him by last year is gone. Instead, after a year in the league, King understands that as a pro, “you have to earn everything”.

“When people’s jobs and livelihoods are on the line, nothing’s going to be given to you.”

That change in mentality is allowing King to enter this season hungrier than ever, noting that he’s got “a chip” on shoulder and something to prove.

Expect to see that added hunger translate itself into a visibly different playing style. Last year, King was essentially a pure scorer with the Taipans, who struggled to contribute in other areas of the game.

With the Sixers, King’s putting an emphasis on staying involved even if he doesn’t have the ball, keeping pressure on the defence with his off-ball movement, crashing the offensive glass, and not making his defender’s life easy.

On top of that, King identified his defence and playmaking as two areas of the game he needed to spend a significant amount of time working on. After spending a chunk of the off-season training in Los Angeles and Phoenix, King feels like he‘s ready to take positive steps in both those areas.

With the Taipans, King was often targeted by nimble guards who got past him with relative ease. After an off-season honing in on his defence, with a particular emphasis on his on-ball defence, King is now “taking a lot of pride in defence,” these days.

When the ball’s in his hands this season, King wants to become a significantly better playmaker for himself and his teammates. Across 30 games, the Queenslander racked up just 14 assists last season and did most of his damage scoring the ball in catch and shoot situations.

Expect that to change heading into this season.

“I don’t want to pigeonhole myself by not being able to handle the ball and play off on-balls and actions like that,” said King.

Not only do the Sixers provide King with the opportunity he needs to show off those unheralded parts of his game, but Adelaide provides him with an excellent learning environment to continue his development.

King committed to the Sixers when Conner Henry was still signed on as head coach. Henry was controversially relieved of his duties in August, but his replacement, NBL legend CJ Bruton, may be an even better fit for King going forward.

CJ Bruton Head Coach of the during 36ers addresses the players.Source: Getty Images

After growing up in Brisbane while Bruton spent time as an assistant coach with the Bullets, King already had a relationship with Bruton prior to his hiring.

“I’ve known CJ for a while. I knew him back up in Brisbane. I had a lot of respect for him before he even signed to come to Adelaide.

“It was a bit of a dream come true when I found out that he signed to be the new head coach. I couldn’t have really hoped for a better guy.”

King believes Bruton’s ‘player’s mentality’ and experience will significantly benefit his development and help him see and understand the game at a higher level. That ‘player’s mentality’ is reflected by Bruton — a six-time NBL champion — still jumping into shooting drills every so often, beating King and his teammates more often than you’d think, even at 45-years old.

Outside of just coaching, King has got a raft of experience around him to aid his development. In Isaac Humphries and Dusty Hannahs, King has got two teammates who have played in the NBA. In Daniel Johnson and Mitch McCarron, he’s got two NBL veterans who have an NBL championship and seven All-NBL team honours between them.

King is “taking little things from each of them,” and is slowly learning “how to be a leader from those older guys”.

ESPN currently have King ranked 79th in their 2022 NBA Draft rankings — a far cry from the 31st position he found himself in at this point last year.

Although it’s hard for King to avoid draft boards and mock drafts popping onto his radar, he doesn’t put much stock into early season rankings.

“I see that sort of stuff, but I don’t really read much into it. I don’t think this far out it’s reflective of anything at all.”

Instead, King knows he’s got more than enough time to join his good mate Giddey in the NBA next year. He knows that draft boards can change rapidly and that one good season with Adelaide is all he needs to shoot back up the rankings.

When asked if seeing Giddey’s success in the NBA to date gave him confidence that he could do the same, King was hesitant to say yes.

“I feel like I was already pretty confident that I could play at that level and compete at that level.”

This season, King will have his opportunity to prove it.

Follow Brad Winter on Twitter @BradWinter12



Soruce: https://www.foxsports.com.au/basketball/nbl/he-went-from-nba-prospect-to-afterthought-now-this-teen-hopes-giddey-path-can-revive-his-dream/news-story/e9c28022dc5219da37d02d52f144c2f4

By Malvi

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