After a rather inauspicious Summer League performance, the general consensus was that Trent Lockett was headed overseas. The Marquette senior, who spent his first three seasons at Arizona State, played in five games for the Sacramento Kings, averaging 7.0 points on a respectable 46/38/55 percent slash in 20 minutes per game. He even garnered a start, and scored 12 points (two 3-pointers) in one outing. His numbers were solid but again, many presumed — including this publication — that his performance in Las Vegas was the last time anyone would put his name and the NBA together in a sentence.
That, of course, was off-base. Last week Lockett signed a contract with the Kings and will fight for a roster spot when the team opens training camp this month. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the first year is guaranteed — in all likelihood Lockett is a training camp invite with a real chance to earn the roster, but with nothing promised, despite the one year of locked in money.
It marks Buzz Williams’ eighth recruit to earn an NBA contract and, simply put, the most unlikely one. Though he dominated the Pac-10(12) for three seasons in Tempe, Ari., as the Sun Devils’ go-to scorer, the Big East at times seemed to overwhelm the 6-foot-5 guard. He didn’t have a poor season, but this is the NBA we’re talking about. Even some of the best collegiate athletes (see: Blue, Vander) don’t make it to the League.
So how did Lockett, who wasn’t even invited to the NBA Combine and had just one pre-draft workout with the local Milwaukee Bucks, find himself with an NBA contract? Defense, defense, defense.
There’s no getting around Lockett’s offensive struggles. Whether it was a rough go for him acclimating to a new system, or learning to be the third or fourth option on offense after being the top dog for three seasons, his numbers were below-average. Lockett averaged 7.0 points on 41.5 percent shooting and turned the ball over more times (65) than he handed out assists (63). His best performance came in the NCAA Tournament’s third round against Butler (13 points on 4-of-7 shooting), yet he only scored in double digits six times after doing so 19 times the prior year (and that included him missing six games with an injury).
But when Paint Touches looked at the stats further, what was on the surface a sub-par season for the Golden Valley, Minn., native was actually one of the better defensive seasons under Williams’ Golden Eagles.
As we documented in this piece, Lockett was Marquette’s second most efficient defender last season, and his 1.3 defensive win shares were tied for best on the team. Going further, opponents scored 0.646 points per possession against Lockett, the best number of any perimeter defender in Williams’ tenure; Wes Matthews’ stellar senior season only yielded 0.728 PPP-against. Lockett’s 1.9 block percentage was also the highest mark for a guard under Williams, and his 1.7 steal percentage matched Todd Mayo’s freshman season, showing the versatility Lockett displayed as a senior.
That’s what the Kings saw, too.
King assistant and director of player development Dee Brown recently spoke with Cowbell Kingdom, a website covering the Kings, and reiterated just how good Lockett can be on the defensive end, comparing him to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha. Assistant Chris Jent also gave rave reviews of who Lockett is on the court.
“Every systematic thing that you do, he knows it,” Jent told Cowbell Kingdom in July. “He knows your terminology. He applies what he learns in your system on the floor.”
Those comments shouldn’t surprise everyone. For his limitations, Lockett made more smart plays on the defensive end than any other player. Whether it was cutting off a passing lane, knowing when to crash the boards and knowing when to run out on the break or taking a well-timed charge, Lockett was there. The player who graduated from Arizona State in three years with a 3.2 GPA has always been a heady player, something his new team’s assistant coach agreed with.
What Lockett’s signing also proves is that the Marquette brand is alive and well. Time will tell if Blue receives a training camp offer — it’s unknown right now, but seems likely given his upside — but Lockett fits the mold, albeit a borderline cliche, of a hardworking defender who makes winning plays. Chances are the Kings have seen Wes Matthews and Jimmy Butler play from time-to-time, and while Lockett offers far less upside he’s still built in the same mold and has the same coaching from a certain Van Alstyne, Tex., native.
The Kings’ roster is depleted — seven years out of the postseason proves that without further analysis — meaning Lockett stands as good a chance as anyone to make the roster. But at the very least, Lockett brings another physical defender with above-average athleticism to camp to push the Kings’ backcourt starters and rotation players. He’s already accomplished more than anyone — again, this publication included — thought he would.
He’ll have his name in the Al McGuire Center forever, thanks in large part to the ongoing Marquette narrative of tough athletes who get after it on the defensive end and make winning plays that won’t necessarily show up in the box score.