2016-17 record: 32-50. 12th in the Western Conference.
Transactions: The Sacramento Kings have long been a league wide laughing stock.
The current era of the team under owner Vivek Ranadive has been mostly disastrous thus far. There was the firing of Mike Malone, the hiring and subsequent circus surrounding George Karl before he was mercifully shown the door, trading Isaiah Thomas to Phoenix for Alex Oriakhi and hiring inexperienced Kings legend Vlade Divac as GM stand out as a few of the more notable blunders in Sacramento under Ranadive.
Everything came to a head at the all-star weekend last season when it seemed as though the Kings had untruly and irreparably hit rock bottom when they traded one of the most talented big men in the entire NBA and a player they should have been building contending teams around in DeMarcus Cousins along with Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and the Pelicans first and second round picks in the 2017 Draft.
That is pennies on the dollar for a superstar like Boogie Cousins in his prime.
To make matters worse Ranadive then christened Buddy Hield as the next Steph Curry. Talk about putting unrealistic expectations on a young player.
In the wake of such a potentially franchise-destroying move, it would take a miraculously good off-season to give the Kings any hope of returning to respectability and also to restore Ranadive and Divac’s tarnished reputations.
That’s exactly what this off-season was for the Sacramento Kings.
After an excellent draft (see next section for details), Divac and company went to work on completely overhauling the Kings roster. Galloway and Evans departed in free agency as did Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore, which meant that the team had a lot of holes in the roster to fill.
The team started the process of retooling their roster by bringing over 25 year old Serbian swingman Bogdon Bogdanovic whose rights they’d acquired in a trade with the Phoenix Suns at last year’s draft. The Kings brought him over on the most expensive rookie deal in NBA history at $27 million over three years and he brings his career 37.6% – including 43% last season – three point shooting over to the North America in hopes of bolstering Sacramento’s long range attack.
Bogdanovic has a beautiful jumper and can also hit off screens and dribble hand-offs. He also offers Sacramento a great deal of skill off the pick-and-roll where he can create opportunities for himself or for his teammates as a ball-handler. The Serbian has elite court vision and can hit shooters, cutters, and the roll man for quality looks and give the Kings a lot of line-up versatility with his ability to run the offense.
Defensively, Bogdanovic is an intelligent defender who uses his physical tools well and constantly guarded the opposing team’s best player in Euroleague play. Lacking explosive speed or athleticism, he relies on positioning to contain opposing players which he generally does very well.
I’m very excited to see how Bogdanovic adjusts to the NBA game and where he fits into Dave Joerger’s system next season. He’s got a lot to offer as either a shooting guard or at the three so he should get a lot of play in different sets and can be an asset stretching the floor when the Kings go small.
Sacramento signed veteran point guard George Hill on a bargain three year, $57 million deal. The Kings were looking for a veteran point guard to give the team stability while De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason III develop and they got a good one due to a rather weak market for point guards due to a loaded drafted class at that position and also Chris Paul and Steph Curry taking themselves out of the running early on in the game.
The 31 year old is a high quality point guard whose stock has somewhat fallen because of significant time lost to injuries over his career including appearing in just 49 games for the Utah Jazz last season. He is still highly productive though and when healthy last season averaged a career high 16.9 points per game on 47.7% shooting including 40.3% from three point range and added 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and a steal.
More importantly he can offer valuable veteran leadership and stability at the point guard position in addition to his all purpose play. Hill can mentor Fox and Mason and even if his health falters, it’s a role he will still be able to play very effectively. In my view, a bigger concern for the Kings is that having a player like Hill in the back-court will cut into the two rookie point guards playing time and could make the Kings too good to get a high lottery pick and continue the rebuild that they’ve started.
Being concerned that adding a player makes your team too competitive is probably a good problem to have though and the Kings added an elite-level point guard who is generally undervalued because of his injury history to a very team friendly deal. That has to be seen as a big win for them.
The Kings added another quality vet in reuniting Zach Randolph with his former Memphis coach Dave Joerger in Sacramento on a rather pricey two year, $24 million deal but one that will be well worth it if he can impart his grit and wisdom onto Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and the other young Kings big men.
Z-Bo offers a similar problem to George Hill in that even at 36 years old, he’s still effective enough that he can take minutes away from younger players as evidenced by his excellent performance in the Grizzlies first round series against the San Antonio Spurs last season which saw him put up 13.2 points and 8.2 boards and help make the series far more competitive than most thought it would be. Randolph did take on a bench role in Memphis last season so should be willing to defer to younger players when appropriate, especially given his rapport with Joerger.
When the young bigs are struggling, it will be hard not to rely on Z-Bo and he’s still effective enough to impact the game. It’s an expensive deal but Randolph has a lot to offer the Kings as both a veteran mentor and a force on the court.
The final veteran addition also filled an immediate need on the wing when the Kings brought in another former Grizzly in half-man, half-amazing Vince Carter, himself. At 40 years old he’s proved time and time again that even at his age he can still be a key contributor to a team and will prove an invaluable mentor to the young talent in Sacramento.
Expect to see the odd flash of that old Vinsanity as well as he can still bust out those old Air Canada dunks and offer quality minutes off the bench. Unlike Hill or Z-Bo, Vince won’t potentially get in the way of any of the younger Kings development with the quality 15-20 minutes he offers and at $8 million for one year is a comparative bargain for Sacramento.
Adding quality vets and having an incredible draft allowed Divac and Ranadive to do the impossible – restore respectability and credibility to Sacramento and totally redeem themselves after the terrible Boogie Cousins trade last season. That’s no small feat considering the low point that the franchise was in heading into the off-season.
2017 NBA Draft: With the fifth pick in the NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings drafted De’Aaron Fox out of Kentucky. The 19 year old point guard averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game in his one and done freshman year but most memorably outplayed number two pick Lonzo Ball in the Wildcats win over UCLA in the Sweet 16 as he put up 39 points on 13 for 20 shooting and hitting 13 of 15 at the free throw line.
Fox stands at 6’4” with a 6’6” reach which is excellent size for a point guard. He’s incredibly quick as well with an explosive first step and speed that made it impossible for opposing guards to stay in front of him at the collegiate level with the ball in his hands. With the Wildcats, Fox generated 31% of his points in transition and 5.9 points per game on the fast break. 55% of his shots came around the basket even though opposing defenses loaded up on him – they just weren’t fast enough to stop him. Generally, Fox is able to put the ball on the floor and blow by defenders without need for a screen.
When he gets a clear path to the basket, Fox is able to finish above the rim or use his soft touch on step backs and floaters. He’s got remarkable agility on drives and is able to finish around the rim in half-court and transition situations – weaving around defenders all the way. Fox is also an excellent play-maker and can use different angles to find the open man or connect with bigs on lobs. He’s got work to do as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations but that should get better in time. Another area of concern, offensively, is his jump shot and while that’s much more of a consistency issue than a result of poor shooting mechanics, he’s got to work on it and get better than the 24.6% three point shooting he had in Kentucky.
On the back-end, Fox is a menace to opposing guards. On the back-end, Fox is an absolute menace to opposing guards. His lateral quickness allows him to apply constant pressure on the ball handler. He’s got high-level defensive instincts and and has good anticipation and is active with his hands while hounding opposing ball-handlers.
It’s entirely possible that Fox could develop into the top point guard in this class. Even with Fultz and Ball in front of him, he’s got that kind of superstar potential and his intangibles really give him the makings of a high-level point guard who immediately impacts his team. He’s a driven competitor and brings that level of commitment and intensity to a team’s culture. Fox is an unselfish and supportive teammate who looks to make a great play as much as he takes it in on his own. He will make those around him better and he will be a driving force behind turning a once hapless Kings organization into a competitor.
The Kings traded their 10th overall selection – acquired in the DeMarcus Cousins trade – to the Portland Trail Blazers for their 15th and 20th picks. With the 15th overall selection, Sacramento selected Justin Jackson of the national champion North Carolina Tar Heels. Jackson had an excellent junior year with the Tar Heels as the forward averaged 18.4 while shooting 51% and 36.8% from downtown. He made significant contributions on both sides of the floor during the tournament and averaged 19.5 points en route to a national championship.
The reigning ACC Player of the Year stands at 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan, but at just 201 pounds is going to need to add some size and strength to hang in there with most NBA level wings. He’s not a particularly gifted athlete either as he lacks a degree of speed and explosiveness and gets by more on effective decision making than athleticism.
On the back-end he makes up for any deficits in lateral quickness with a high compete level. When engaged he moves his feet well and can use his natural length to contest shots on the perimeter. His defense, however, is impact by his generally poor rebounding ability as he averaged just 4 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes as his lack of size makes it hard for him to throw his body around to fight for boards and easy for opposing players to move him around on the floor. Still he is a great communicator on the back-end and his instincts for the game will allow him to pick up on pro level defensive schemes.
Offensively, Jackson is really coming into his own as a shooter and can also get to opposing defenses with his smart ball cuts and shiftiness off screens. He’s got a great ability to read opposing defenses and also react quickly which makes him a good catch-and-shoot threat and allows for a more free flowing offense when he’s on the floor. Jackson is also a willing and capable ball-mover who reads the floor well and creates good looks for his teammates. He’s got more work to do with creating his own offense off the dribble, but is starting to peak at the right time and should continue to improve at the pro level.
With the 20th pick in the draft, the Kings took risk in Duke big man Harry Giles who was long considered one of the top prospects in the United States but had torn his meniscus, MCL and ACL twice before his high school career came to an end. The second ACL injury came in his senior year of high school and delayed the start of his collegiate career at Duke and resulted in him being a non-factor for much of the season with just 11.5 minutes per game.
Giles is still only 19 years old and has all the physical tools that made him such a highly regarded prospect in the first place. He stands at 6’11” with a 7’3” wingspan and a 9’1” standing reach which should make him a pro level centre even if his injury history has caused him to lose a step in term of his athleticism.
The former Blue Devil has a fairly limited offensive skill-set. Most of his touches come in transition, as a dive man out of cuts and pick-and-rolls or as second chance opportunities off of an offensive rebound. He can cover a lot of ground really well by setting screens and as a roll man and also has a lot of potential as a rim runner as he’s got a soft touch and can finish easily as he doesn’t have to elevate much due to his impressive vertical reach.
Defensively, Giles has shown flashes of excellent rim protection as he averaged 2.3 blocks per 40 minutes and has shown versatility switching on pick-and-rolls and uses his wingspan to bother jump-shooters on the perimeter. His D is also bolstered by his excellent rebounding ability as he’s got strong hands, long arms and impressive instincts on the glass that will allow him to develop into an elite-level rebounder.
Still, due to injuries there remain a lot of questions about just how much Giles can recover in terms of his athleticism and explosiveness. He’s also got a lot of catching up to do in terms of getting acclimated to different defensive schemes and offensive sets. Giles has shown good instincts on the floor, however, which should help with the steep learning curve coming because of all the time he’s missed due to injury.
With the 34th pick in the NBA draft, the Kings took Frank Mason III out of Kansas who with De’Aaron Fox will form the point guard tandem of the future in Sacramento. Mason was the 2017 Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year in his senior year off a 20.9 points, 5.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game off of 49% including 47.1% from three point range.
At just 6’0” in shoes, Mason makes up for a relative lack of size with pure speed and explosiveness which he can use on end to end drives where he attacks the basket and puts the defense on its heels. His speed is also effective in the half court offense where his explosive first step and ability to quickly change directions allows him to shed defenders without a screen. He’s able to get to the rim and draw contact which brings him to the line frequently.
Mason will give the Kings a nice look as more of a scoring point guard behind Fox. While he can definitely make plays and facilitate particularly out of the pick-and-roll, his instincts are to go to the basket and score. He’s also a very reliable outside shooter and also excels in the catch-and-shoot where he’s able to get the ball off quickly with nice elevation. Mason can also pull up off the dribble in transition or punish teams for going under on ball screens which will keep opposing defenses on their heels.
While his size will limit him as a defender and allow bigger guards to shoot over him at times and fight through him to the rim, Mason still brings a lot of tenacity and commitment on the back-end. He’s willing to take a hit to stay in front of opposing ball-handlers and has the quick hands and strength to be a disruptive force on the perimeter. The former Jayhawk is never going to be a lock-down defender one-on-one but can play a vital role on team defense as he develops.
Outlook: One of the more exciting aspects of this season for the Kings will be what kind of leap Buddy Hield can make in his second NBA season.
After coming to Sacramento as part of the DeMarcus Cousins trade Hield took his stat-line from 8.6 points, 1.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game on 39.3% shooting including 36.9% from three point range on 4.2 attempts per game with the Pelicans to 15.1 points, 4.1 boards and 1.8 assists per game on 48% shooting including 42.8% from three point range on 5.5 attempts per game. His minutes increased as well from 20.4 per night to 29.1 as he took on a bigger role in Dave Joerger’s offense as he thrived being given more opportunities to create his own shot.
Hield could be poised for a break-out campaign with a full season in the Kings. Even though Ranadive’s Steph Curry comparisons are overblown and unfair, they indicate how high the organization is on him and on how big a role he will get on the offense. Sharpshooters often need time to get into rhythm and if Buddy continues to enjoy quality minutes, it should pay off in efficient shooting and a ton of threes. If he can work on getting to the line more, limiting turnovers and also tightening up that defense. With improvement in all of those areas, it could be the year of Buddy in Sacramento.
Willie Cauley-Stein played the best basketball of his young career in the wake of the Boogie Cousins trade as his post all-star game numbers jumped to 12.9 points and 8.1 boards with increased minutes and becoming more of a focal point in the Kings big man rotation. No player reaped the benefit of the trade more than Cauley-Stein as he established himself as the centre of the future in Sacramento.
He also had to give the organization a lot of confidence when he spent the summer working hard to expand his game. The 24 year old now boasts an expanded array of pull up shots and has also shown some ability off the dribble. If he can make use of that repertoire throughout this season, I’d expect big things for the former Kentucky Wildcat. He’s going to benefit from Zach Randolph helping him with his defense intensity and also from being on the receiving end of some nice lobs and running the pick-and-roll with George Hill. I’d expect a big third campaign for a player who many at times were worried would be a lottery bust behind Cousins.
21 year old Haitian power forward Skal Labissiere looks to have added a lot of muscle to his frame coming into his second NBA season which should help him match up with opposing big men much better than he was able to in his rookie season. He’s got incredible agility for a big man and an impressive set of skills offensively which we finally got to see after the DeMarcus Cousins trade when he went from logging about 6 and a half minutes a game to averaging 22.4 and responding with 10.8 points and 6 boards per game on 54% shooting, which included a 32 point break out against the Phoenix Suns.
Labissiere attempted just 8 three point shots last season and hit 3 of them. He hopefully will shoot more this year as he continues to push his range and play the modern day stretch-4 role that he’s able to. With his excellent shooting mechanics, I don’t foresee any issues in him being able to hit with great frequency from the perimeter this season. I’d also expect to see Labissiere be able to show off his excellent ball handling skills this year. When he’s weaving through traffic while handling the ball, you almost forget how big he is and that’s a rare set of skills for a big man to have. With an increased role, he might be talked about as another young “unicorn” type player in the NBA.
There are a lot of question marks around Malachi Richardson’s fit with the team since they’ve got Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic in front of him now and veteran Garret Temple likely more of a priority for minutes because of his excellent defense. Richardson returns from his torn hamstring as somewhat of a forgotten man despite being the Kings 22nd overall selection in the 2016 Draft. He could try and reinvent himself as more of a small forward but Vince Carter and Justin Jackson are going to be taking up a lot of minutes there as well. Hopefully the second year player can find himself a role in the rotation as in the 22 games that he was able to appear in last season, he showed a lot of promise.
20 year old Greek centre Giorgios Papagiannis was a raw talent when the Kings took him last season and it will be interesting to see what strides the 7’2”, 250 pounder is able to make this season. He’s a powerful and imposing presence inside and should be able to offer rim protection and control of the glass when he’s on the floor, but I’d like to see him used as more of a garbage man this season.
Very few teams in the league have overturned their roster as much as Sacramento has. Kosta Koufos is now the longest tenured player on the team and he joined the organization in 2015. It’s a new, young and exciting squad with a lot of promise.
Adding veterans like Vince Carter, George Hill and Zach Randolph will be a huge boost to the young talent and rookies that make up the vast majority of this team. As mentioned earlier there is a risk that these guys are still good enough that they could take minutes from the rookies or even swing the results of games too often to keep the Kings away from a high lottery pick next season, but the mentoring they have to offer and how they’re going to help these young guys develop more than makes up for it.
Sacramento will be a lot of fun to watch this season. But it won’t translate into a huge jump up the rankings. The focus of the team should still be on providing minutes and opportunities for Fox, Jackson, Mason, Giles, Cauley-Stein, Labissiere, Hield and even Papagiannis and Richardson where possible. It’s important for them to see what they’ve got in these young guys and where they could go so that they can make decisions for the team’s long-term future and draft and add in terms of positions of need.
It’s miraculous that the Sacramento Kings are in the position to pull off a successful rebuild given how bleak the state of the organization seemed just this past February in the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins trade. It could have been a potentially franchise-crippling move, but thanks to an excellent draft and some savvy veteran signings in one of the best off-seasons in the entire NBA, the team appears to be undergoing one of the most promising rebuilds in the league.
Now all Divac and Ranadive have to do is stay the course and not screw it up. Which is easier said than done given their recent history.
Outlook: 33-49. 13th in the Western Conference.