2018-19 Sacramento Kings
Projected Record: 22-60 (15th in West)
2016: 27-55 (12th in West)
- Marvin Bagley III (Pick #2)
- Nemanja Bjelica (Free Agency)
- Yogi Ferrell (Free Agency)
- Deyonta Davis (Trade)
- Ben McLemore (Trade)
- Vince Carter
- Garrett Temple
- Tons of youth
- Interesting frontcourt depth
- Tons of youth
- Recent top draft picks may have been bad bets
- Can’t trust management
It’s honestly hard to find new ways to write about the Sacramento Kings.
Over the past decade, few teams have better embodied the concept of NBA futility. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Kings have managed exactly one season with a win percentage of better than 40% — a 2015 season that saw them win a whopping 33 games and claim the lofty 10th seed in the Western Conference.
The star at the core of that modest peak, DeMarcus Cousins, is long gone now, and the Kings have been operating in his shadow ever since. Despite living in the NBA Draft Lottery, the Kings have failed spectacularly to find a franchise player even close to Cousins’ level. Their best draft pick since has been 2011’s 60th overall pick, Isaiah Thomas, whom they dealt for a Traded Player Exception that would go unused. Among the lottery picks, only Willie Cauley-Stein has provided some form of positive value, and a modest form at that.
This offseason has given little reason to think the next great Kings team is currently in the making. Stealing Nemanja Bjelica from the 76ers at a nice salary was a solid move, as was scooping up the Mavericks’ Yogi Ferrell, but these are the kinds of deals you make to augment a solid existing roster, not to alter the trajectory of one. The Kings have bet the house on their mishmash of young talents, and it’s far from certain that the ideas behind their roster construction have been sound.
Almost every young Kings player is a collection of “Yeah, buts” at this point in time. Apart from one incredible highlight, De’Aaron Fox struggled to have an impact as a rookie. Skal Labissiere is a collection of interesting tools that have so far failed to coalesce into into NBA production. Bogdan Bogdanovic had a stellar rookie campaign, but is already 26 years old and may already be close to a finished product. Buddy Hield can shoot the lights out, but may not be able to defend an inanimate object. Willie Cauley-Stein looks like an impact defender, but is limited offensively and continues to inexplicably lose minutes to veterans like Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos who don’t remotely fit this team’s timetable.
Then there’s Marvin Bagley III, a talented foward who may well prove to be the latest unfortunate victim of the Kings’ stubborn refusal to be anything other than themselves. Bagley is a fine prospect, a deserving lottery pick with real potential to become an exciting offensive forward. Second overall, though? With players like Luca Dončić, Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba, and Wendell Carter Jr. on the board? It feels like an extreme reach. How quick they were to zero in on him makes the decision feel all that much more Kings, as does their reported interest in giving him minutes on the wing or Bagley’s struggles to have an impact in Summer League. I would love to see Bagley succeed, but this has “looming disaster” written all over it.
This is undoubtedly the worst roster in the Western Conference this season, but, to be fair, there are worse NBA fates than a system full of young players with bankable skills and upside. The potential certainly exists for this group to come together and form a cohesive future for this franchise. But… this is the Kings we’re talking about. Do you feel any more confident than I do? How could you?
Most Valuable Player: De’Aaron Fox
With younger teams like Sacramento, you have to really emphasize the “value” aspect of the “Most Valuable Player” title. The most unenviable aspect of the Kings’ roster, though, may be that their most valuable players are sort of questionably valuable. For that reason, I’m going with Fox here; even though he wasn’t particularly good as a rookie, he’s extremely young, flashed some potential at the NBA level already, and would probably garner a pretty good amount of interest in a trade. Who else am I supposed to pick? Zach Randolph?
I actually think Fox had a better rookie season than most people give him credit for, such as it is. He wasn’t a total trainwreck, accounting for how much of a mess the Kings were around him. Fox is a plus athlete with good size for his position, and he’s a willing and capable passer who should also be a standout perimeter defender once he has a few years’ experience under his belt. He shot poorly — as you’d expect — but he was also asked to carry the offense as a scorer more than you’d ideally want to see. His 34.6% assist rate, though, was quite nice.
Fox is very much confined to the “point guards with questionable jumpers” archetype at this point in time, and that’s a categorization that really limits his upside. John Wall is the standout, of course, but Wall compensates for that drawback by being incredibly good at almost everything else — and even then, his best years have come when he hovered around league average from behind the arc, at the least. After him, it’s a slippery slope down to the Rajon Rondos and Elfrid Paytons of the world — useful players, for what they are, but not exactly franchise linchpins. The Kings will need more than that from the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft.
Fox’s 30% mark from behind the arc leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s still a fair bit less ugly than I would have expected — and at least he attempted them with some regularity, unlike a certain 6’10” prodigy in Philadelphia. He also shot a healthy enough 72% from the charity stripe, so his release doesn’t seem to be entirely broken. If he can inch his way closer to league average as a shooter while limiting his turnovers and growing as a defender (things that come with experience), he could very soon be reminding us why he was so highly regarded as a prospect.
X Factor: Buddy Hield
Any number of players could be reasonably tabbed as an “X Factor” on this roster, considering how many young players will be playing significant minutes. I’m tabbing Hield here because he’s the closest to reaching his peak as an NBA player, at 25 years old. What that peak is, though, is still not clear.
Being “the guy DeMarcus Cousins was traded for” is a rough burden for a young NBA player, but Buddy Hield is making the most of his situation — since arriving in Sacramento during the 2016-17 season, he’s made a blistering 43% of his three-pointers. That’s something to work with, and as I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions throughout this preview, I have a soft-spot in my heart for guards who shoot a ton of threes. Wayne Ellington, for instance, had the greenest of lights from behind the arc last year. I love that shit.
If that’s all Buddy Hield is, I don’t think that’s really a bad thing. That’s enough to make him an NBA regular for years to come. But the Kings would like to see more. This roster lacks a go-to scorer right now; unless you’re VERY bullish on Marvin Bagley III, their best options are Fox (who, as we discussed, is miscast as such), Bogdan Bogdanovic (a very nice player, but seemingly more of a complementary piece), and Hield. He’s arguably the closest they have to a legitimate high-volume scorer, and if he can make that last leap and assume a greater share of the overall scoring load, it could ease the pressure on the Kings’ younger prospects.
Don’t Forget About: Harry Giles
Harry Giles might be the player whose NBA debut I’ve been anticipating the most. You know his history by now: formerly the top overall prospect of his graduating class, but felled by ACL surgeries and underwhelming performance once he returned to the court for Duke, Giles was scooped up by Sacramento all the way down at the 20th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Kings played the long game with Giles last season, holding him out for the entire year, but now he’s finally arrived. So what should we expect?
In terms of injury history, the most comparable player to Giles might be DeJuan Blair, who had two ACL surgeries in high school. That sounds like a bad thing, and perhaps it is, but people forget that Blair carved out a nice little seven-year NBA career for himself. Blair also never had the pedigree Giles did as a prospect, ranking 30th in the ESPN 100 for his high school class — solid, but a different league than Giles’ top overall ranking. Blair also had other issues that limited his productivity as an NBA player, notably that he was a ground-bound 6’6″ center who wasn’t particularly athletic.
Making his return to the court is the first step of what remains a long journey for Harry Giles. In Summer League and preseason, Giles has looked rusty but active. He’s made some eyebrow-raising defensive plays, and his scoring has been rough but developing. By and large, things at least look promising for the comeback story. If the smooth jumper he’s displayed on a few occasions proves to be the real deal, even better.
Talent as never been the issue. More than anything else, Harry Giles just needs to be healthy. If he can put his knee troubles behind him, the Kings could be looking at the franchise heir to Cousins they’ve been so desperately searching for.