The Sacramento Kings have been the laughing stock of the NBA for nearly a decade, but winning the 2017 NBA Draft is a step toward changing that.
The Kings haven’t made the postseason since 2006. That year, Rick Adelman led the team to a 44-38 record, Mike Biddy was the leading scorer at 21.1 points a night and Brad Miller had a team-leading 9.1 win shares. Since then, front office problems and personnel issues from top to bottom have made the franchise a hotbed and one of the worst situations in sports, right up there with the Cleveland Browns and, most recently, the New York Knicks.
Things haven’t looked much better. Last year, en route to 32 wins, Vlade Divac traded franchise center DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans for Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Buddy Hield and a first and a second-round pick in the 2017 draft. At the time, the decision looked egregious. The organization went about it in the worst way possible. Sacramento’s front office was very open about not trading Cousins. And then they traded him. “It was time for a change, and I decided this was the best direction for the organization. Winning begins with culture and character matters,” said Divac. “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.”
Saying that was the right thing to say, but actions speak louder than words. They couldn’t risk screwing up again. After the draft lottery, Sacramento was fortunate enough to have the fifth and 10th overall pick.
With their first choice, they selected Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox, a 19-year-old with the perfect blend of smarts, skill and athleticism. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists and 1.5 steals in his only year with the Wildcats. Fox became a legitimate top-five guy, and the Kings were so enamored with him that Divac said he would’ve taken him first overall if they had that pick. Whether it’s hyperbole or not, the Kings think very highly of their long-term point guard.
Fox is a typical new-school guard. The only thing he’s missing is a jump shot, but his mechanics are solid and the only thing separating him from being a reliable shooter is time. At Kentucky, Fox nailed just 24.6 percent of his threes but still managed to shoot 47.8 percent overall. He knows how to manipulate the pick-and-roll, and all the evidence necessary can be seen in the Sweet 16 game against UCLA when he torched Lonzo Ball and the Bruins to the tune of 39 points. If your point guard can get into the lane, good things will happen. One of the immediate beneficiaries will be Hield, who shot 42.8 percent from three after coming over from New Orleans. The young bigs like Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere will also look great alongside Fox because of how effectively he draws defenders.
On top of being a great scorer, Fox is a tremendous defender and also a great guy to have in the locker room. We always talk about Sacramento being the worst place to go to, but they look serious about destroying that label, and Fox is going to be the guy who leads that charge. He’s so jovial that I couldn’t imagine him ever being upset. If he does, we know the Kings haven’t changed.
After picking Fox, Sacramento traded their 10th pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for the 15th and 20th. At 15, they grabbed ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson from North Carolina. A breakout junior season helped Jackson rocket up draft boards, and he was vital in the Tar Heels bringing home yet another national title. Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige left in 2016, leaving the future in the hands of Jackson and Joel Berry. Both stepped up, but it was Jackson who shouldered a lot of the load on offense while also improving on the other end.
In UNC’s 40 games, Jackson put up 18.3 points on 44.3 percent from the field and showed quite an expansive scoring repertoire. He shot the three at a career-best 37 percent and had one of the best in-between games in college basketball. Jackson developed an array of floaters and jumpers to make up for his lack of explosiveness on offense. We’ve seen players like C.J. McCollum and DeMar DeRozan do tons of damage from mid-range, so Jackson shouldn’t have any problems adjusting to the NBA in that regard. We also can’t overlook how much fun it’s going to be to watch Jackson play off of Fox. Both Berry and Paige were solid guards, but Fox is a potential star.
Aside from an excellent season, versatility is something thing that helped Jackson shoot up draft boards. He measured 6-8.25 at the Draft Combine and boasted an impressive 6-11 wingspan. Theoretically, he could play three positions: shooting guard, small forward and small-ball power forward. The three is his natural spot, and the four would only be possible if he added some weight; currently, he’s 201 pounds with mild athleticism. Shooting guard is also a possibility, but I’d expect that the be a last resort kind of move. Although Jackson’s never been a lockdown defender, he’s good enough to leave out there and not worry.
Also Read: Justin Jackson Is NBA-Ready
With their third and final first-round choice, Sacramento went big and picked Harry Giles. After a brutal ACL injury, Giles played just 300 total minutes in 26 games with the Duke Blue Devils. This was after being a projected lottery pick coming out of high school and, even though he could’ve benefitted from another year in college, Giles still has a ton of upside and will be able to produce if given the time to develop. If all else fails, Giles will be an incredible rebounder. He grabbed 100 boards as a freshman — 59 on defense, 41 on offense. That works out to an average of 13.3 per 40 minutes. Additionally, he’ll be able to evolve into an excellent rim protector once he becomes more disciplined. Giles got whistled for 58 personal fouls while blocking 17 shots, giving him 7.7 and 2.3 per 40 minutes, respectively.
A lot of his issues are because he just wasn’t ready for the quickness of college — especially after a knee injury. That adjustment is going to be even harder in the NBA, but falling to 20th overall alleviates all the pressure to make an immediate impact. Had he gone in the lottery, some wouldn’t hesitate to throw the bust label around after not even one season.
I never thought I’d be able to say that there’s something good about going to the Kings, but Giles lucked out. Since he needs time to develop, the organization that picked him would have to have forwards and centers to throw on the floor. Sacramento has that. Cauley-Stein and Skal are going to get more minutes this season, and guys like Georgios Papagiannis and Kosta Koufos are also going to be on call to log frontcourt minutes.
The Sacramento Kings knocked this draft out of the park, and I want to applaud them sincerely. Picking De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles (and Frank Mason, who was a second-rounder) is a step in the right direction for sure. They know have three young guys to lead them into the future, and all of them have the chance to be standout prospects — Fox is the only one with star potential, but that doesn’t mean the others won’t carve out successful careers.
All we’re waiting to see is if the Kings’ front office can get their act together. They can have all the talent in the world, but turmoil involving the executives and ownership would only trickle down and permeate the locker room. That kind of bad energy could ruin a young player before he pans out, and we wouldn’t want to see any of that happen to these prospects. However, Fox, Jackson and Giles are high character guys who come from great institutions helmed by standup coaches, and they’re perfect to help change the culture from the inside.
Start a conversation with me on Twitter