NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Sacramento Kings
Coach: Dave Joerger (second season)
Last Season: 32-50 (12th in the Western Conference)
Notable Additions: De’Aaron Fox (draft), Justin Jackson (draft), Harry Giles (draft), Frank Mason III (draft), Bogdan Bogdanovic (Europe), Vince Carter (free agency), George Hill (free agency), Zach Randolph (free agency)
Notable Subtractions: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Ben McLemore, Ty Lawson (all in free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 28
Best-Case Scenario: Just look at how many notable additions and subtractions there are for this squad, and think about how those lists don’t include Buddy Hield or DeMarcus Cousins.
There is no reasonable path to the playoffs for a team with this much roster turnover, especially when the team will likely carry over 10 players on rookie contracts into the season. This team will lose by a lot, often, and yet even losing should be fun as hell to watch. This is the start of Sacramento’s new youth movement, full of potential and intrigue. De’Aaron Fox comes in with the most hype of any player on the roster, for good reason. He’s the most athletic point guard the Kings have had since … uh … rookie Tyreke Evans, but appears to have more skill and finesse around the hoop.
The hope for Fox is the same that it’s been since before the draft: If he can add even a league-average shot to his repertoire, he should become a star.
Meanwhile, is it possible that whatever Vivek Ranadivé reportedly saw in Buddy “Steph Curry potential” Hield might be real? Hield was a disappointment in New Orleans, averaging just 8.6 points on a .503 true shooting percentage. Even from beyond the arc—supposedly his calling card—he was hitting on just 36.9 percent of his attempts, only slightly better than league average. Then he came to Sacramento and put up 15.1 points per game on .600 true shooting and 42.8 percent from 3. Funny how that worked out! If he can continue his upward trajectory, Kings fans should be ecstatic.
With so many other young players on the roster, Skal Labissiere has gotten lost in the fold a bit—but he’s still an überathletic big man with a modern skill set and a sky-high ceiling. It’s easy to forget he had games of 32, 25, and 19 points late last season after spending the beginning of his career in the D-League.
If Euro star Bogdan Bogdanovic can look like the player who averaged 20.4 points per game in this year’s EuroBasket tournament, he’ll be a steal for GM Vlade Divac, who called Bogdanovic the best player in Europe. The Ringer’s own Kevin O’Connor identified Bogdanovic as a Rookie of the Year dark horse last month—and if he remains the deep-shooting ace he was in Europe, pairing him with Hield, another shooter, and Fox, an excellent ball handler, could produce electric results.
Harry Giles is the team’s lottery ticket. Though a knee injury derailed his career at Duke—and he’ll be out until at least January—as a player who was once the the top high school recruit in the nation, his ceiling is as high as that of anyone else on the team.
Justin Jackson, Frank Mason III, Willie Cauley-Stein, Malachi Richardson, and Georgios Papagiannis don’t appear to have the superstar potential of the above five, but any one of them could break out. Not all of these guys will become great players. But some of them certainly have to, right? It seems almost impossible for a team to roll the dice this many times and not hit it big at least once—though if any team could do just that, it would be the Kings.
Leaning on this many young players will surely lead to growing pains—and a lot of losses. But that isn’t even bad—the team controls its pick in 2018, the last year under the current lottery rules, while its 2019 selection will be owned by either the Sixers or the Celtics. With a playoff spot out of reach, Sacramento developing its core of young players and adding another early lottery pick next offseason is as good as it gets for the franchise this season.
Worst-Case Scenario: Here’s what the Kings starting lineup looked like in the first game of the preseason:
Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos, Garrett Temple & George Hill are Kings starters for 1st preseason vs Spurs.— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) October 3, 2017
Those players have an average age over 33. This should be every Sacramento fan’s nightmare—that Joerger will stubbornly stick to the veterans on the roster and attempt to squeeze out every win he can to the detriment of the young players’ development. The Kings need to build toward the future. Starting 40-year-old Vince Carter is not how you do it.
TL;DR: The Kings need to give their young players every chance to grow into the future stars the franchise needs, no matter how many growing pains the team experiences along the way.