In the thirty three years the Kings have called Sacramento home, only once before have they had the luxury of drafting as high as they do in next week’s NBA Draft. After defying the odds in last month’s NBA Draft Lottery, the Kings moved up from the 7th pick to the 2nd pick and are tasked with selecting a game changing, franchise cornerstone type of talent. This is a particularly strong draft class, and there a number of tantalizing prospects available for Sacramento.
The Phoenix Suns are owners of the 1st selection and it has been widely reported they will select Arizona freshman C DeAndre Ayton. Ayton projects as a 20 & 10, elite offensive weapon from day one. He enters the league with an NBA body as well. He’s a multifaceted scorer who can face up, score over either shoulder and has extended range out to the three point line. It’s unrealistic he will be there at two for the Kings so we won’t spend too much time discussing Ayton.
What are the pros, cons, and questions surrounding our top picks? Here’s who we’re looking at and what to consider.
A distinct possibility for Sacramento is Slovenian teenage sensation Luka Doncic. Doncic, who just turned 19 in February, is considered one of the most accomplished European prospects to ever enter the draft. He became a professional at 16, competing in the second best league (behind the NBA) in the world and more than holding his own against grown men twice his age. When their star guard Sergio Llull went down with an injury, the ball went in the hands of Doncic and he responded, leading Real Madrid to the EuroLeague title. He was named EuroLeague MVP and EuroLeague Final Four MVP, adding to his remarkable résumé. Doncic is a 6’8, 230 lb wing who excels with the ball in his hand. Perhaps his greatest talent is court vision and ability to make others better. He is a well rounded, ultra competitive, high basketball IQ prospect who can dribble, pass, shoot, and create his own shot.
Question marks about Doncic include concerns over his lack of elite athleticism and his lack of quickness, and whether that would affect his ability to create against an NBA caliber defender. Can he create his own shot against NBA athletes? Can he hold his own defensively guarding his position in the league?
Marvin Bagley III
Another name certainly bandied about in the Kings’ front office is Duke freshman F Marvin Bagley III. Bagley is an elite athlete, with a 6’11 frame. He comes off of a very impressive frosh season under Coach K. Bagley’s averages of 21 & 11 at the ripe age of 18 display what type of transcendent talent he possesses. Bagley is comfortable scoring on the block, from mid-range and all the way out to the three. He’s a relentless rebounder who attacks the glass and gobbles up rebounds out of his area as well. He is a quick twitch athlete and many bigs at the next level will be hard pressed to keep up with him in transition.
Question marks about Bagley are his frail frame and how effective he’ll be defensively against some of the stronger power forwards and centers in the league. Bagley is very dependent on his left hand at this stage. And in college, his shortcomings as a passer were made clear by his career marks of just 50 assists to go with his 75 turnovers. Can he make others better? Can he apply his elite athleticism on defense as well as offense?
Michael Porter Jr.
A prospect who’s seen his name skyrocket up the mock draft board is Missouri F Michael Porter Jr. Porter is a jaw dropping offensive talent. Coming out of high school it was assumed his name would undoubtedly be the first called whenever he chose to enter the NBA Draft, but a major back injury largely derailed his collegiate career. Porter logged just over 50 minutes at Missouri. Porter is a devastating offensive force. He can score at all 3 levels, is a capable ball handler, and is an effective scorer while playing off ball as well. It should be noted that Porter could’ve just packed it in and prepared for the Draft, but he chose to return for the NCAA tournament while missing essentially the entire season just to help his team. If his medicals clear, it will be very difficult for teams to pass on such a gifted, versatile scorer.
Question marks with Porter Jr. are obviously his back and its current status as well as if he can be effective at anything other than scoring. Will his effort and defense depend on whether or not the ball is going in that given night? Will he be a black hole at the next level, passing up the right basketball play in favor of taking a contested jump shot?
Texas C Mo Bamba is a very intriguing possibility for Vlade Divac and the Kings. With the Kings and their 29th ranked defense from last season, an athlete with an outrageous wingspan like Bamba will certainly get some attention in the Kings’ war room. Bamba registered the biggest wingspan in the history of the draft combine, a remarkable 7’10”. His production at Texas a year ago (12.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.6 bpg) didn’t quite match the otherworldly athletic talent he has on paper, but he just turned 20 last month. Bamba’s offense is largely a work in progress, but the success of Utah’s Rudy Gobert illustrates the ceiling for Bamba in the NBA. A game changing defensive anchor, who can switch on screens, and generally make life very difficult for opposing offenses.
Question marks for Bamba are his limited but evolving offensive game. He can and will rim run, but will he ever be anything more than a Clint Capela/DeAndre Jordan in that regard? Can he consistently bring the effort defensively like Rudy Gobert?
So What Then?
So with just days remaining to evaluate, the Kings are well aware they have to hit big on this draft and add the right piece to this growing young nucleus. Sacramento doesn’t own it’s 2019 first round pick from a prior trade, making this draft selection even more paramount. We’ll learn a lot about what they think of their current roster depending on who is taken with the second pick.
If the Kings call Luka Doncic’s name, what does that mean for De’Aaron Fox? Can Fox, Doncic and Bogdanovic all play together if all three are perhaps best suited to play on ball? Or perhaps they’ll look at it as a position of strength, where the Kings would then boast 3 young playmakers who could all initiate the offense and get shots for themselves as well as a teammate.
If they select Bagley, what does that say for fellow young, athletic bigs Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles and even Willie Cauley-Stein who enters a contract year in 2018-19. Is he that much better or different than Giles? If they take Porter would he slide right in at position of need at small forward and fit right in with the core group? Or would Porter Jr’s ball dominance not jive with the free flowing, offensive system that was implemented a year ago? Would Bamba earn the role as starting center and turn around the Kings’ struggling defense? Or is he still years away from being a dependable contributor in the league?
Personally I would like to see the Kings choose Luka Doncic. I feel he is the rare and glorious situation where he’s the best player available AND he fills a need. Luka would immediately fill a gaping hole at small forward, has the game that would immediately improve and benefit his teammates. Over the last two years the Kings have been one of the most efficient 3 point shooting teams in the league, they just don’t get nearly enough attempts. I believe Luka would unlock a lot of that with his IQ and next level vision finding teammates. I have faith that Fox, Luka and Bogdan could all thrive together as none of them strike me as the selfish, ball dominant type…it wouldn’t be like prying the ball out of the hands of a Russell Westbrook for example.
I have confidence that Bagley is going to be a solid NBA player for a long time, likely even an All-Star caliber player. But with the direction the league is going, with the reliance on the 3 point shot and it becoming a point guard’s league, I think having a 6’8″ point forward like Luka is more valuable than having a 20 & 10 power forward.
Obviously Vlade, Peja and the front office brass has a tremendous amount of pressure on them to nail this draft and put to bed the ‘Kings are the laughingstock’ notion that permeates the league. Here’s hoping they do just that.