All signs point to the Phoenix Suns selecting Deandre Ayton with the no. 1 pick in next week’s NBA draft. Everyone is saying so, including Ayton himself:
Ayton going no. 1 means that the Sacramento Kings, owners of the draft’s no. 2 pick, are effectively on the clock. And that’s where any consensus about what could happen in the draft unravels. The Kings could select Luka Doncic, The Ringer’s top prospect, or Marvin Bagley III, who is currently the player most mocked to Sacramento. But that’s hardly where the team’s options end. Sacramento could also trade out of the spot. The Kings have traded back in the first round twice in two drafts under general manager Vlade Divac, and as ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported Monday, “a number of teams have also inquired about the possibility of trading into the top three, with an eye on picking Doncic. Those conversations are expected to become more serious in the coming week.”
What the Kings do at no. 2 will set the stage for the rest of the draft. And these are the Kings: the same organization that drafted Georgios Papagiannis with the no. 13 pick of the 2016 draft. The same organization that traded Nik Stauskas, an unprotected first-round pick, and a pick swap for almost nothing other than cap room in return. Divac and owner Vivek Ranadivé have shown the propensity to talk themselves into just about anything. So let’s lay out some of their options with the no. 2 pick, on a scale of realistic to genuinely terrifying:
Stay put at no. 2 and draft Luka Doncic
There is a reason all three of The Ringer’s NBA draftniks have Doncic as their top player. He won MVP honors in the world’s second-most-competitive league at age 19, the youngest player ever to take home the EuroLeague’s top honor. There is no true equivalent at the college level, but imagine a 19-year-old receiving the Naismith Award. The last player to do it was Anthony Davis in 2012. The last player before him? Kevin Durant. Doncic played on Real Madrid, the best team in Europe, which covered up some of his flaws, and Madrid’s point guard, Sergio Llull, went down with a knee injury before the start of the ACB season, which paved the way for Doncic to become the team’s lead playmaker. So he had some luck in getting that MVP award, but no one would overthink Doncic if he had played in the NCAA, and remember: The EuroLeague features a higher level of competition than college.
Doncic’s stock has seemingly taken a hit in recent weeks, but I still think he’s the most likely pick for the Kings. He just makes way too much sense.
Stay put at no. 2 and draft Marvin Bagley III
Bagley is the mock pick du jour for the Kings ever since Givony reported that “the Kings’ front office has been expressing significant skepticism about Doncic’s NBA prospects all year in private conversations, long before they moved up in the draft” on May 24.
Bagley could be Rookie of the Year, with an offensive game that should translate to the NBA right away. But long term, other prospects offer more tantalizing skill sets. Also worrisome: Bagley might be tiny. Here he is standing next to Peja Stojakovic, who was listed at 6-foot-9 when he played:
Bagley is listed at 6-foot-11, but opted out of the combine, so there are no official league measurements on him. To be fair to Bagley, Peja does appear to be closer to the camera in this shot, which may warp the perspective. But he looks no taller than Michael Beasley in that video. Having to be reminded of a past mistake made with the no. 2 pick is the opposite of what Kings fans need right now.
Stay put at no. 2 and draft Michael Porter Jr.
Porter is a borderline Genuinely Terrifying pick (we’ll get to that category in a few), but his selection feels too in-play to move him out of the Realistic category. Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo reported that the organization has been interested in the forward all year. Drafting a player who appeared in just three NCAA games after back surgery would be a huge risk, though the Kings are not shy about gambling in the draft. This is the franchise that selected Papagiannis and Harry Giles, after all.
But Papagiannis and Giles were taken much later than no. 2, and both came after the Kings traded down and picked up other assets. Taking Porter with the second overall pick would be the first time this Kings organization pushed all their chips in on one risky player. Still, it’s a totally plausible selection given their reported love for Porter.
Fun to Bat Around
A three-way trade with Boston and Memphis
Celtics receive: no. 2 pick
Grizzlies receive: no. 27 pick, 2019 Clippers pick (lottery protected), 2019 Kings pick (top-1 protected), 2019 Grizzlies pick
Kings receive: no. 4 pick, Terry Rozier
The Celtics have to essentially empty their treasure chest of assets to make this deal worth it for Memphis, but in return, they get Doncic. Can you imagine a team with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Doncic? And they’re coached by Brad Stevens?!? Bill Simmons will move back to Boston if this goes through.
Meanwhile, this deal would make sense for the Kings if Doncic weren’t their top player and they could still get their preferred big man prospect at no. 4. In addition to getting the player they already wanted, the Kings would pick up Rozier, whose defense, handle, and ability to get to the rim make the 24-year-old enticing for any team. There are just two problems: (1) Will Rozier, who won 11 games as a starter in the playoffs, be as effective outside of Stevens’s system? And (2) what would the Kings do with De’Aaron Fox? It seems like a no-lose scenario for the Kings to move back and still get the draft prospect they want, but it would create complicated questions about where the franchise is heading.
Fleece Mark Cuban
Kings receive: no. 5 pick, 2019 first-round pick (unprotected)
Mavericks receive: no. 2 pick
Who better to succeed Dirk Nowitzki — the greatest European player ever — in Dallas than Doncic? Cuban and the Mavericks could easily fall in love with Doncic (not because of Nowitzki, but because everyone should fall in love with Doncic), and while there is a chance that Doncic could slide all the way to the no. 5 spot, a trade to no. 2 would secure the Mavs’ dream selection. This is the deal it would take for the Mavs to move up; the team doesn’t have many other tradable assets that make sense for Sacramento. Even then, with no guarantees as to where the Mavs’ 2019 pick will fall, this would be a huge gamble for the Kings.
Stay put at no. 2 and draft Deandre Ayton
I know, I know, we’re supposed to assume Ayton is going to the Suns with the top pick. But wilder things have happened, and can you imagine how much fun a Fox-Ayton pick-and-roll would be?
Savvy, and Un-Kings-Like
Stay put at no. 2 and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.
Of all the non-Doncic options in this draft, Jackson is my favorite. He has all the makings of a modern NBA big: shot blocking, rim protection, the ability to switch on defense, and 3-point shooting. He often played at the 4 in college, but should be a 5 in the pros, and I think that move would highlight all the things he already does well.
Jackson might not have the immediate star power of some other players in this draft — he averaged just 10.9 points per game in college — but he has fewer questions about his game than many of the other top prospects. And as one of the youngest players expected to be drafted in the lottery, he might have as much potential as any of the top picks.
Move on from De’Aaron Fox
Kings receive: no. 6 pick
Magic receive: De’Aaron Fox
I love Fox, but the thought of trading him did cross my mind. Fox still has an incredible amount of room to grow as a player, and he didn’t exactly crush it as a rookie ; he didn’t even make an All-Rookie team. Maybe the Kings would rather take a home run swing with someone like Porter rather than stick with Fox. The trade would allow the Kings to take Doncic at no. 2 and someone like Porter at no. 6, giving them two players who, if they reach their ceilings, could turn Sacramento around sooner than later.
Orlando has needed a ball handler since it traded Elfrid Payton to the Suns at last season’s trade deadline. (And it could probably use someone more adept with the ball than Shelvin Mack.) Fox’s potential is still quite high, and this draft is very shallow at point guard. Fox could come in as a starter and dish the ball out to the Magic’s combo forwards right away, something that guys like Trae Young and Collin Sexton may not be ready for immediately. That could make Fox more enticing to the Magic than any of the players available at no. 6.
Swap picks with the Hawks
Kings receive: no. 3 pick, no. 30 pick (via Houston)
Hawks receive: no. 2 pick
You might be thinking, “Why would teams ever swap consecutive draft picks? They pick right next to each other!” And, well, that’s probably what Chicago Bears fans thought, too, in 2016 before they swapped from no. 3 to no. 2 with the 49ers to draft Mitchell Trubisky. It happens.
The Hawks are favorites for Jackson — and they’re also reportedly down on Doncic — but what if that isn’t true? And what if they’re worried about another team trading with the Kings and jumping ahead of them to grab Doncic or whichever player they want? The security in getting their preferred prospect may be worth giving up the no. 30 pick.
The Kings would do this deal only if they knew the Hawks wouldn’t take the player Sacramento wants. In which case, the Kings get a first-round pick at virtually no cost. What’s not to like for Sacramento?
Genuinely Terrifying to all Kings Fans
Stay put at no. 2 and draft Mo Bamba
This isn’t going to happen, right? Right? It can’t happen.
Bamba is all potential. He could end up being an elite defensive anchor with 3-point range at nearly 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-10 wingspan. ESPN recently made the case for Bamba being the best player in the draft. But his future in the NBA is all based on theoretical skills — he had a rough freshman season at Texas, and much of the recent hype he’s amassed is off of individual workouts, which aren’t the best indicators of on-court success. He has so much to work on, and Sacramento’s player development over the past decade hasn’t exactly been inspiring. So many other players can contribute right away: Ayton and Bagley had classic box-score-breaking numbers in their freshman years, Doncic won virtually every individual accomplishment available to him, and Jackson is an advanced-stats darling who also has the length and athleticism to make your mouth water. Could the Kings really pass on all that to take a player with so much growing left to do?
Oh my God, Bamba is Papagiannis 2.0. This is happening. Yep, this is definitely, genuinely terrifying.