If you could hop in a DeLorean and go back to February 20, 2017, you’d return to a not so distance period of time when the Sacramento Kings were the laughingstock of the NBA. They had just dealt three time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans. The vast majority of their fans were disgusted they would trade the team’s best player at all, let alone for what was perceived to be a minimal and underwhelming assortment of assets in return. Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadive were the three ring circus of the league, cycling through coaches and front office personnel at an alarming rate and this was just the latest example of dysfunction and negligence in Sacramento.
After the Cousins trade, Vlade Divac was quoted as saying, “It was time for a change and I decided this was the best direction for the organization. Winning begins with culture and character matters. With the upcoming draft class set to be one of the strongest in a decade, this trade will allow us to build the depth needed for a talented and developing roster moving forward.” A not so subtle jab at DeMarcus Cousins, the all world talent but moody, mercurial big man who was as known for his technical fouls as his double doubles on the court. As it has played out, Vlade Divac is looking increasingly clairvoyant.
After dealing Cousins away, the Kings predictably took their lumps and finished the 2016-17 season 32-50, extending their playoff drought to 11 consecutive years. Yes, the Kings struggled the last two months of the season without Boogie’s services, but there were some net positives. Rookie SG Buddy Hield, the primary asset received from New Orleans, shined in Sactown. In 25 games with the club, Hield averaged 15.2 ppg while shooting a blistering 42.8% from three. The three young bigs Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis, 23, 20 and 19 years old respectively, showed flashes of brilliance with their new found opportunities as well.
In addition to Buddy Hield, the other prized possession attained in the trade was the Pelicans first round pick in 2017. Through some good fortune at the NBA Draft Lottery in May, Sacramento avoided losing their draft pick to the Bulls from a trade several years prior, then watched their pick jump from 8 to 5 thanks to some lucky lottery ping pong balls. The 2017 NBA Draft has been considered the strongest in a decade or more by many analysts, and the Kings found themselves in the very enviable position of possessing two top ten picks.
This time last year, the Kings couldn’t even get a top 15 pick in their building for a workout. This year, the majority of the top prospects chose to come to Sacramento for an evaluation, and De’Aaron Fox was very outspoken about his willingness and desire to land with the Kings.
With their first pick, the Kings selected Kentucky freshman PG De’Aaron Fox. Fox is a highly touted, athletic marvel at the point guard position. Known for his devastating downhill speed, his unselfishness and intensity on the defensive end, he projects as an eventual franchise cornerstone and major building block in the Kings’ youth movement. The 6’3″ guard’s one knock is his outside shooting, as he hit just 24% of his threes in college. De’Aaron is very reminiscent of Memphis PG Mike Conley.
Sacramento traded away the #10 pick (from New Orleans) for Portland’s #15 and #20, looking to improve the club’s depth. At #15, the organization called on North Carolina junior SF Justin Jackson. Jackson immediately addresses a major positional need at small forward. Fresh off of a national championship at UNC, Jackson’s strengths are his versatility, basketball IQ, his motor defensively and his more than adequate three in his offensive arsenal. Justin Jackson compares favorably to a Danny Green.
Vlade Divac selected Duke freshman C Harry Giles at #20. Giles screams steal of the draft potential, as he is easily a top pick if not for the misfortune of having two major knee injuries. Giles has recovered from an ACL, MCL & meniscus in his left knee in 2013 then an ACL in his right knee in 2015. Harry, who just turned 19 last month, was the #1 rated prospect in his high school class for a reason. He is an elite level athlete, with a relentless motor who ferociously blocks shots and rebounds very effectively. If Harry Giles can stay healthy, everyone will look back dumbfounded at how he lasted until pick #20.
With their final pick, #34 overall, Sacramento pegged Kansas senior PG Frank Mason. Mason completes his decorated collegiate career with basically every National Player of the Year awards to his credit, including the Wooden, Naismith, USA Today, Robertson, Associated Press, NABC, The Sporting News and also earned the prestigious Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard. Mason’s checks all the boxes as a prospect, but wasn’t taken until the 2nd round for two reasons. One, he’s just 5’11”, considered too small by NBA standards (though in his defense, there have been many guards under 6 feet who have made it in the league). And two, because he’s 23 and there are questions about how much better he can get. Right or wrong, the NBA has shifted it’s opinion and value placed on experience and maturity, as juniors and seniors coming out of college are critiqued based on how high of a ceiling these prospects have. Many similarities to Jameer Nelson. Like Giles, Mason has the potential to be one of the steal’s of the 2017 draft and a productive NBA player.
Today has been a day of glowing reviews for Sacramento, as publications and analysts across the country consider the Kings the runaway winners of the 2017 draft.
Vlade Divac and his newly assembled front office have constructed the league’s youngest roster, under the tutelage and watchful eye of coach Dave Joerger and his staff. The organization practiced what it preached by drafting four prospects who bring character and winning mentalities from their NCAA teams. The Kings have no bad contracts, with enormous cap flexibility going forward (most in the league). They call home to the NBA’s best and most innovative arena in the Golden One Center. It’s a new day in Sacramento, and the future looks incredibly bright for a franchise and fan base who so richly deserve it.
Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings