The Sacramento Kings have had a rough go of it in the NBA draft. They struck gold on DeMarcus Cousins while Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum both seem to be solid picks. The jury is out on Nik Stauskas, and guys like Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, and Hassan Whiteside aren’t even on the team anymore. In fact the only players still with the Kings, other than Cousins and their three most recent picks, are Jason Thompson and Omri Cassipi1. When you throw in the fact that the Kings haven’t made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season the franchise is seemingly stuck in a rut. They can’t find success in the draft or the playoffs. But how far away are the Kings from success? They hired an experienced coach in George Karl late in the season, have a star in Cousins, solid pieces in Rudy Gay and Darren Collison, and some potential in McLemore, McCallum, and Stauskas. They lead the league in free throw attempts and makes.
They also have a few things they really need to work on. They ranked 28th in three point makes, 26th in assists, 27th in turnovers, 26th in steals, and 28th in blocks. Certain things you can live with, for example the turnover number. The Houston Rockets actually ranked 28th in turnovers and they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. The main difference is that the Kings are not creating any turnovers, while the Rockets ranked 3rd in turnovers created and 3rd in steals. So really when you look at it the Kings have three things they need to improve: three point shooting/floor spacing in general, playmaking, and defense.
One thing makes the King’s path to success easier than other teams. Most of the time when a team needs to improve they have plenty of role players, but they need to improve their core. I would argue that for the Kings it is the opposite. They have arguably the best scoring center in the League in Cousins, who is also an underrated defender.2 They also have a 20 PPG scorer in Rudy Gay and a point guard who averaged 16.1 points and 5.6 assists albeit in a limited number of games. Even McLemore is a solid starting shooting guard, although a better 3p% would be nice from your supposed three-point specialist.
In my mind that leaves three positions that need improvement, the power forward position, guard depth, and backup center. At power forward they would ideally want a stretch big who can hold his own on defense. At guard they could use a quintessential 3 and D type player and/or a guy who can guard multiple positions at an above average level. At backup center they need a legitimate rim protector, which is something they lacked besides Cousins.
Those are a lot of needs the Kings need to fill and just like every other team in the league they have two main ways to do it: the draft and free agency. Nothing against the Kings but they’re not exactly a free agent destination in their current state, even with the amount of cap space they have. It will be near impossible for them to add someone like LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, or Kawhi Leonard. But they could possibly land someone like Khris Middleton, DeMarre Carroll, or Danny Green who fit the bill of a 3 and D player. They may have to overpay but with the salary cap most likely going up in a big way, a multiyear deal could be much more palatable in a few years. They could even take a risk on a guy like KJ McDaniels, who they could potentially sign cheaply after his recent injury and lack of playing time on the Rockets.
Building through free agency is not a sustainable strategy for a small market team like the Kings however, so they must get value from the draft. The Kings ended up landing the 6th overall pick in this year’s draft. The big four prospects (Towns, Okafor, Russell, and Mudiay) will most likely be gone. That leaves Justise Winslow, Mario Hezonja, Kristaps Porzingis, and Willie Cauley-Stein as the likely candidates.
So let’s take a quick look at these four guys. Justise Winslow is an athletic wing with long arms who looks to be a plus defensive player. On the other end of the floor he can get to the rim, and is a good passer but his shooting ability is question mark in my mind. He had a very small sample size in terms of three point attempts and while he shot well from three his FT% was only 64.5%. I have my doubts in his ability to be a consistent three-point threat at the next level.
Next up is Mario Hezonja. I’m going to be honest, I love this guy. But he has to be in the right situation. A high flyer with confidence to match, Hezonja is arguably the best shooter in the draft. His defensive ability is a big question mark which is something the Kings honestly can’t settle for. The person they pick 6th overall shouldn’t be a potential liability on one side of the floor.
Third we have the Latvian, Kristaps Porzingis. A true seven footer, Porzingis has the length to play in the NBA, but he may lack the bulk. He appears to be a solid shooter, and an athletic weak side defender, but he needs to land in the right situation. Many are really starting to doubt his value as a top 10 pick as well.3 His lack of strength and toughness makes him the ideal bust candidate, another thing the Kings can’t settle for at number 6.
Last but not least we have Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein has some extra space because I have a little mini-rant to go on. Willie Cauley-Stein is a great player and probably the best defender in the draft. But he doesn’t fit on the Kings. Cousins is a center through and through, and while Cauley-Stein can definitely defend NBA PF his presence on the floor with Boogie would just exacerbate the Kings floor spacing issues. Sure he played with another seven footer in Karl Towns but Towns could thrive in the mid-range, Kentucky had the best shooter in college basketball…and it was college. Just look at the players who Cauley-Stein compares to. Tyson Chandler had his best years playing with the Mavericks who have Dirk and a great offense, and a Knicks team that was loaded with shooters. DeAndre Jordan has come into his own with the Clippers becoming one of the best three point shooting teams in the league, and Blake Griffin moved his game outside more. Forcing Boogie to operate in a lane clogged with Cauley-Stein and his defender could only make the King’s league average offense worse. While the defense could greatly improve the change wouldn’t be worth it. Plus when you consider the fact that the Kings don’t have another draft pick in this year’s draft it isn’t prudent to use the sixth pick on a guy who could cripple your offense.
So as you can see I am not particularly enthused by any of these guys for the King’s. Not that they would necessarily be bad picks, I feel as the though the Kings could get a lot more value. That’s why I propose the King’s trade back in the draft, particularly with the Boston Celtics. In my mind the core of the deal would look like this:
Kings Receive: 2015 16th overall, 2015 28th overall (from Clippers), 2015 33rd overall (From Philadelphia via Miami)
Celtics Receive: 2015 6th Overall, Jason Thompson
This is something that could work out great for both teams. This puts the Kings in the position to gain a potential starter at 16 and role players at 28 and 33 (more on that later). Like I said earlier the Kings have a solid core, but not very good role players. Meanwhile the Celtics are in the opposite position in my opinion. They don’t really have anyone (except for Isaiah Thomas) who looks like they could be a primary scoring option on a playoff team. The Celtics are also severely lacking in rim protection and their two primary power forwards (Brandon Bass and Jonas Jerebeko) are free agents. This trade kills two birds with one stone for the Celtics. Jason Thompson would give them power forward depth, and the options at 6th overall would fit much better in Boston than in Sacramento. Winslow would have much more room to shine in Boston without Rudy Gay taking his shots. Mario Hezonja could develop into a star shooter whose defense could be hidden behind the likes of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. And the ideal option is Cauley-Stein who would immediately give them the rim protection they need and could be an interesting option next to a stretch big like Kelly Olynyk
If such a deal does happen I kind of doubt that this is what it exactly looks like. The Kings would almost certainly ask for another draft pick. Looking at the trades from last season they would have a good chance of receiving it as well. For example the Chicago Bulls traded the 16th and 19th picks last year to the Nuggets for the 11th pick. Maybe they end with a future Celtics picks or receive one of the many Brooklyn Nets picks the Celtics have. In any case an additional pick would just sweeten the deal for the Kings. Even so we’ll just focus on this year’s draft, so let’s look at what the Kings could do with the16th, 28th, and 33rd picks.
At the 16th pick I would target a power forward if I were the Kings, particularly Arkansas Sophomore Bobby Portis. Measured at 6’10.5” with a 7’2” wingspan and 246lbs Portis has great length and size for an NBA power forward. While Portis has a great body he is not an explosive athlete. Don’t expect him to get a lot of blocks at the next level but something like one a game is a reasonable expectation if he gets good minutes. He also is lacking in the defensive rebounding department, largely in part to not putting a body on his man. He seems to focus more on being able to get into transition offense than crashing the defensive glass. Now these two things may make it seem like he is a bad defender but he is far from it. He is a solid post defender and doesn’t let himself get backed down easily. In addition, he is a better perimeter defender than what stat websites like synergy give him credit for.
Arkansas’s defense was what I would call average last season. The biggest issue, especially for Portis, was their ball screen defense. Arkansas defended ball screens in a manner that prevented easy drives, but could give the ball handler or the screener an easy jump shot. In addition Arkansas switched A LOT, often times with bigs like Portis ending up on guards. While Portis could keep with them more often than not, guarding a perimeter player is almost never advantageous for a big man. All in all Portis is a solid defender, and while he most likely will never be on an NBA All-Defensive team, he will be far from a liability on that side of the floor.
On offense he’s a very versatile player. He has solid post moves but definitely has room for improvement in that department. He is a good off the ball player as well. Despite having a pretty ugly shot in my opinion he is a good shooter and knocked down 43.8% of his jump shots from beyond 17 feet.4 Not to mention he also shot 73.7% on his free throws. While most of his outside shots came from inside the three point line, it seems like Portis could make the jump and become a three point shooter á la LaMarcus Aldridge this past season. Another unheralded part of his game is his potential driving ability. According to synergy he only drove 23 times last season and while he only got .417 PPP5 when driving to his right, he got 1.273 PPP when driving to his left, good enough to put him in the 98th percentile (albeit a limited sample). While driving to the basket isn’t a huge part of his game right now he can definitely work at it.
Arguably the best part about his game is his energy. He is always trying, whether it be running the floor, finding post position, cutting to the basket, or getting an offensive board. His particular strength at offensive rebounding will serve him well on the Kings. What Portis lacks in the defensive rebounding department, Cousins would more than make up for. And while Cousins isn’t a slouch on the offensive glass adding Portis could never hurt.
Portis is a guy who will probably never be a star, but you can only ask for so much out of a mid-round pick. He has a lot of room for improvement, namely driving, increasing his range, and like all players, defense. While he can improve, he could help the Kings immediately giving them a great player to pair with Cousins. His versatility on offense, energy on both sides of the court, and offensive rebounding will be immediate assets to the Kings. He would help Cousins immensely by stretching the floor, and if Cousins still gets doubled, Portis does a great job cutting to open spots in the lane. He’s a guy who can do big things, but his effort to do the little things is what sets him apart. Even if he doesn’t grow into being an above average starter, he should be a versatile asset off the bench.
If the worst happens and Portis is picked before the Kings selection they have many other options to choose from. Kevon Looney is another versatile power forward with a very similar skill set to Portis. He wasn’t amazing his freshman year, and his biggest knock was his motor, but many think he could develop into something special. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is arguably the best defender in the draft (but really it’s Cauley-Stein), and should be able to lock guys down at the 1 through 4. His shooting his horrid, and unless he makes a serious overhaul he will likely be just a role player. The value the additional picks add outweigh his lack of offense however. Another option could be Devin Booker who could be just as good as Mario Hezonja, with no qualms about settling in as a spot up shooter. Hopefully in this scenario Sacramento would end up with Portis, but as you can see, there are plenty of options at 16.
Moving on to picks 28 and 33, the King’s obviously would have tons of options here. If they miss out on Portis and Looney at 16 they could take Christian Wood if he falls or Richaun Holmes who would almost be over drafted if they take him at 33. Both are very athletic power forwards who look like they could develop into good shooters. Wood is a lot younger, but the less polished of the two. Wood is all about upside and some are saying he could be an All-Star in five years or he could be out of the league. Richaun Holmes while likely never be more than a bit player, but is a high energy guy who can make an impact on both sides of the floor.
Let’s keep thinking that Sacramento will end up with Portis. A particularly intriguing player to join him as a rookie is Utah Senior Delon Wright. At 6’6” Wright has great height for a point guard and can likely guard NBA shooting guards as well. A great defender Wright averaged 2.1 steals and a block per game in his final college season. His ability to defend two positions would give the King’s the ability to experiment with lineups. Offensively he is severely limited as a shooter, and while he improved a lot between his junior and senior years, it is still far from convincing. While his jump shot is ugly, he is a career 81.4% free throw shooter and his 2P% is 59.4%. There may be the possibility that he could consistently hit threes. Arguably his biggest strength on offense is his playmaking. An excellent passer, his AST/TO is 2.62. His improvement might be limited because he is 23 years old, but you know what you are going to get. Passing and Defense both of which Sacramento is in dire need of.
Just like the selection at 16 the King’s would have tons of options at 28 and 31. Rashad Vaughan could be an intriguing shooter and Robert Upshaw would be a great guy to anchor the defense when Cousins is sitting. They could even go the Euro route and take a guy like Timothe Luwawu.
In the end it really doesn’t matter who the Kings pick. Whether it’s the 6th, 16th, or 60th pick the Kings need to get value out of this year’s draft. With the potential to lose out on their first round pick, Sacramento needs to improve enough that losing that pick doesn’t hurt as much.
Again for the sake of being an armchair GM let’s say they make that trade with the Celtics. They end with Bobby Portis, Delon Wright, and let’s say Timothe Luwawu. Right there they end up with a stretch four who at the very least can contribute this season, a PG/SG who can defend and create turnovers, and an athletically gifted 3 and D player with tons of potential. They just increased their depth incredibly without sacrificing any of core pieces, and leaving enough cap room to make a splash in free agency. That’s why in the case of the Sacramento Kings drafting for need may be the best bet.
Often times when teams are drafting, be it in the NBA, NFL, or any other sport, some people say it is best to draft the best player available (especially for teams with high draft picks). With the King’s having the 6th overall pick they should have lots of potential best players available to choose from. However, in my opinion, the Kings need to look at fit more than just talent. They have some great players who excel at putting the ball through the hoop. What they seemingly lack are role players who can do the same thing and make it easier on the stars. When you throw in the fact that they lack quality defenders, who at the very least are average, the Kings have the recipe for wasting a franchise player’s prime. That’s why finding guys later in the draft who fit into the mold of a good all-around role player should be important to Sacramento. Be it trading with the Celtics, some other team, or maybe simply buying a second round pick, the Kings have many avenues from which to choose. With Vlade Divac apparently at the helm of the front office, hopefully they can make the right move. Whatever choice they make they need to find value in the draft, because the Kings may not be as far from success as some think.
who actually spent the last three years with the Cavs and Rockets ↩
He had a lower OPP FG% at the rim than Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, and DeAndre Jordan among others ↩
Synergy Stats ↩
points per possession ↩