The last time the Sacramento Kings held the fifth pick in the NBA Draft, they selected the highly-talented Final Four participant and consensus All-American from a traditional powerhouse: Kansas F Thomas Robinson.
I know, not exactly who you were expecting. But, it was the year prior to the Robinson choice that the Kings were able to select DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Sacramento’s troubles since then have been well-documented.
Jimmer Fredette, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas are just a small sample of first-round blunders by the Kings’ management, and the stunning mid-season trade of Cousins this past year shipped away their most recent draft victory. Now with two picks in a stacked lottery, Sacramento has a major chance to speed up the rebuilding process.
Cousins – along with the $16 million he’s due next year – is off the books, and the Kings have been left with zero surefire starters on their roster. Rudy Gay, Darren Collison and Tyreke Evans are all free agents in the summer, and hardly did enough to warrant a hefty extension. Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Skal Labissiere are nice pieces, but all seem more like complementary pieces rather than franchise cornerstones.
Teams hope that their lottery picks are eventually starting caliber, although it doesn’t always work out that way. Luckily for the Kings, the 2017 draft pool in particular is filled with potential starters – especially at the top of the class. With Collison presumably on the way out and the Ty Lawson experiment having gone awry, the Kings are likely to be in the market for a point guard to captain the ship.
They could address the need with either pick they own, but by the 10th pick, four or five of the top point guards could already be off the board. If the Kings decide to use their fifth pick on a lead guard, it’ll be a choice between Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, NC State’s Dennis Smith and France’s Frank Ntilikina.
The front office brass may feel particularly strong about one of these prospects, but the talent level of each is comparable. Fox is the best quarterback, able to orchestrate his teammates with brilliant passing and a quick handle. Smith is an explosive athlete that can take over a game scoring the basketball. Ntilikina is the youngest of the three and projects as a plus-defender thanks to an enormous wingspan. With a strong NCAA Tournament run and impressive measurables, Fox takes the cake by just a smidgen.
Aside from the point guards, the Kings could surely look at a wing with the top pick. Unfortunately, none seem to work out tremendously on paper. If Josh Jackson slips to five, it raises some serious red flags. Jayson Tatum could be a nice fit, but his game is incredibly reminiscent of Rudy Gay’s, and that can’t sit well with the Kings. Malik Monk would be the last likely option, but his game runs too similarly to Hield’s. Addressing this need would be best served in free agency.
If they’re able to snag one of those top point guards with the fifth selection, the playbook opens up as Sacramento can become much more creative in the No. 10 slot. They could go back-to-back point guards a la Minnesota in 2009 when the Timberwolves picked Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the fifth and sixth picks – and skipped Stephen Curry – which is a long way of saying whoever the Kings don’t pick is a lock for the Hall of Fame (kidding… kinda). But if Sacramento plays it more calculated, they should be able to add a solid piece to their young nucleus.
A big man to pair with Cauley-Stein is preferable here, and both Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and Gonzaga’s Zach Collins fit the bill. Markkanen is an excellent outside shooter with size to switch across a few positions. Collins is a high-energy glass cleaner that has shown flashes of a low-post touch. Either would be a solid choice here, but Markkanen’s versatility and range give him a far higher chance of being a star, which is something the Kings are in dire need of at this point.
THE VERDICT: The Kings stand pat with both picks. The fifth pick nets them a starting point guard, and the talent level drops significantly after the 10th overall pick. Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen will give this franchise a much needed boost.
Image Sources: NJ.com