Suns second-round pick George King plotting rare lengthy NBA career
PHOENIX — Kim English knows the fate of many second-round NBA draft picks all too well.
The 44th overall pick in the 2012 draft, English’s time in the NBA was brief. He appeared in 41 games his rookie season before flaming out. Like many players selected near the end of the draft, English had a cup of coffee in the league, then was done.
“I adopted a mentality of ‘I’ve arrived,’” English said. “That was a fatal mistake on my part.”
Five years later, English is now an assistant coach at Colorado. He’s confident his newest protege, George King, a second-round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns in June, will navigate the pitfalls that buried his career almost as soon as it started.
“George is not going to let that happen,” English said. “I’ll guarantee you that.”
King, a 6-foot-6 wing who can produce on either end of the floor, was drafted by the Suns at No. 59 after a four-year career at Colorado, the last of which with English as a coach. In Boulder, King cracked the program’s all-time top-10 in three-point percentage (40.1), three-point makes (181) and games played (127). In his senior season, King was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection and a tenacious defender on a young Buffaloes squad that won 17 games and upset a pair of top 15 teams, including Deandre Ayton’s Arizona Wildcats.
Still, at the beginning of the summer, King was considered a long-shot to be drafted. But once he started working one-on-one with English, he flashed during a “pivotal” offseason.
Leading up to the draft, King impressed at the NABC College All-Star Game and Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and earned an NBA Combine invitation. His workouts with teams, especially the Suns, were equally eye-catching. His stock soared.
“If I didn’t attack (the offseason) the way I did, I would have never got drafted,” King said. “I mean, shoot, I attacked the offseason, raised my stock and I still went 59th overall.”
But getting drafted is the easy part, as English can attest. For late picks, a lengthy NBA career rarely follows.
Since the 2010 Draft, the 80 players selected in the drafts’ final 10 picks (51-60 overall) have averaged less than 35 career NBA games. Just 18 have lasted more than one season and only a dozen have logged 50 or more games. Over half have failed to play a single minute of competitive basketball.
The numbers are more encouraging for draftees who played four years of college ball, like King. Of the 80 late second-rounders since 2010, 37 were NCAA seniors, a group that has averaged 53 career games and includes NBA starters Isaiah Thomas and E’Twaun Moore. But even in that collection, 14 players never made it on the floor in a regular season game.
English learned the hard way.
“I think the challenge is small and the odds are in your favor as a second-round pick,” he said. “You just have to take the bull by the horns and keep a level of hunger and work ethic and tenacity to stick.”
English admits he didn’t. After a four-year career at Missouri, he played nearly 10 minutes per game while appearing 41 times in his 2012-13 rookie season with the Detroit Pistons. But the following summer, the 6-foot-6 wing, who was supposed to be a 3-and-D weapon, was waived. After a season in Europe, English came back to the states and participated in a preseason training camp with the Chicago Bulls in 2014 but was cut again. He got into coaching in May 2015, less than three years after his draft night.
The regret still stings.
“My mistake was fatal,” he said. “It cost me my career.”
In King, English sees the type of prospect he wishes he could have been, the basketball equivalent of a “five-tool” athlete in baseball, a player with few holes in his game or his attitude.
“He might not have the flashy ball skills or elite level bucket-getting ability, but his size, his wingspan, he has huge hands, he’s freakishly athletic, he can guard multiple positions and he’s a big-time shooter. He’s an NBA player without a doubt,” English said.
And his work ethic.
“He is going to operate with a tremendous amount of hunger and desire,” English said.
During the Suns’ pre-Summer League mini-camp, King was the last player on the floor one day. The next, he was asked if he’d yet had a “welcome to the NBA moment” after signing his first professional contract. For example, had he splurged on a new car?
“No, I ain’t got no car,” he said laughing. Asked how he had been getting to practice, the pragmatic 24-year-old looked down. “The ‘old faithfuls,’ these two feet I’m standing on.”
In a way, it was an early microcosm of how he can to succeed in the NBA, by relying on himself — and his faithful two feet — to carry him to a long career.
His first step was a modest one in last week’s NBA Summer League. King averaged less than 10 minutes per game in the team’s five-game tournament, shooting over 50 percent from the field but averaging just 3.6 points.
Signed to a two-way contract this year, King won’t be allowed to spend more than 45 days with on the Suns’ NBA roster. He’ll instead be with the franchise’s G-League affiliate in Prescott Valley for the bulk of his rookie season, playing a position for the organization that has plenty of depth. There will only be so many minutes to go around.
Nevertheless, internal expectations have been built high.
On draft night, general manager Ryan McDonough said, “(He’s) a talented two-way wing, has a 7-foot wingspan. He fits the 3-and-D mold. Probably projects more as a shooting guard than a small forward but we think with his length and strength, he’ll be able to play either spot.”
“He’s a combo, he’s a versatile player,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said before the trip to Las Vegas. “He’s going to bring energy.”
King accepts the challenge, not afraid of being a “role player” if it means a chance to crack an NBA rotation. After all, the Suns could have traded their fourth and final pick in the 2018 draft or taken a flyer on a draft-and-stash European prospect. Instead, they took a gamble on a two-way weapon with plenty of collegiate experience.
“I am a rookie but I think I can use my age to my advantage,” he said. “That’s one of my goals. There’s been some things I’ve been through in college that some guys haven’t seen.”
From afar, English is betting that King will succeed, likening his potential to that of 14-year veteran and new Suns’ signee Trevor Ariza — another 3-and-D wing who was picked in the second round back in 2004.
“NBA teams will be more patient with a guy that’s a little rough around the edge but if he works extremely hard,” English said.
“He can have as good of a career as he wants.”