The race to the bottom of the NBA has been a fascinating part of the season this year. It has the fans of many teams looking more towards the future than the present. Sacramento fans fall into this category. This is a sad fact for many of us who grew up during the King’s prime and enjoyed match ups between Vlade and Shaq. Can we ever get back to that point where the Kings are a dominant team in the West?
Currently the Kings have the 23rd highest payroll in the NBA, coming in at a smidge under $100 million this season. For the 2018-2019 season, they have 9 players on contract and 3 players led by Iman Shumpert that have player options. If everyone takes their options, the payroll will shake out to just north of $60 million next season. Surprisingly, Shumpert would be the only player earning over $10 million if he takes his player option. This leaves a lot of room for Sacramento to sign a blockbuster free agent if they can swing that. This has not been the strength of the Kings over the past decade as the most successful free agent signing dates all the way back to 1999 when Vlade Divac signed for the most memorable few years of the Kings in recent memory.
The Kings have not made the playoffs in over a decade. The last time they saw the post season was the 2005-2006 season (8 coaches ago).
When I first started watching the NBA, before I was that familiar with the league, I enjoyed tuning in to the Lakers vs Kings playoff match ups of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The hard nose, old school play by guys like Vlade Divac and Chris Webber was very entertaining to younger me. Back then it was those traditional bruiser post players who went toe to toe with each other in a battle of brute strength. Now that the league has changed to be more of a stretch the floor and finess game, the back court players have carried on this tradition. Unfortunately, Sacramento has not been able to adjust with the times. Since their last playoff appearance, they have finished last in the Pacific Division five out of eleven seasons. They attempted to make some moves at the trade deadline by participating in a three team trade that sent George Hill to Cleveland for while receiving Joe Johnson, Iman Shumpert and a future second round pick.
I love Zach Randolph as much as the next guy. He is part of a core that once existed in Memphis who were most responsible for me ever experiencing NBA playoff basketball in person. Without his career resurrection in Memphis, I would be nothing more than a passive fan of the NBA. However, at this stage in his career (16th season), it is alarming that he led his team in points and rebounds until recently missing a string of games for personal issues. Willie Cauley-Stein has showed marked improvement this season over his first two campaigns and I am holding out hope that he will turn into a serviceable 4th option on a good/decent team.
Fortunately for the Kings, they do have some rookies who are taking advantage of the lost season to further develop their game and increase their future potential. Two of the top ten rookie scorers can be found on this very roster in De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
De’Aaron Fox has been an encouraging addition to the Kings this season. He is a top ten shooter among rookie guards. The Kings dealing George Hill to the Cavs at the trade deadline benefited Fox. Since then he has averaged over 12p/4r/2a.
Bogdanovic is a guy who can certainly add value to the team with his experience and shooting capabilities. Bogdan has the second highest EFG% on this roster among players who put up a significant amount of shots per game. He is not a guy who can single-handedly put Sacramento back into the playoffs, but trading him to a contender in the future could be a move worth looking into.
First, I’ll start with some facts. Right now the Kings will most likely be a mid lottery team. Fox, Hield, Bogdan are on contracts for several more seasons if team picks up their respective options. There are several guys who can hit shots from the outside. Even though Sacramento has a handful of post players on the roster now, they need guys down low who can spread the floor and they aren’t getting that in Zach and Kosta. Unfortunately, coveted guys like Doncic, Ayton, Jackson, and Bagley will likely be off the board by the time the Kings pick. If those players blue chip players don’t fall to the Kings, I would look for someone like Wendell Carter Jr., who is 6’ 10”, 250 lbs and averaged 13p/9r/2b during his Freshman year at Duke (which included an Elite 8 appearance). I realize it is a small sample size, but he also shot 41% from behind the arc on 46 attempts and 73% from the charity stripe on 4.5 attempts per game. He has the physical frame to be a high floor player, even though his ceiling is lower than some other players who will come off the board before him on draft night.
Player Spotlight: Buddy Hield
Buddy was a four year player at the University of Oklahoma. During his time as a Sooner, he crushed records right and left. He was a prolific scorer, averaging a cool 25 PPG in his senior season. He was voted player of the year his final year by multiple publications and committees.
It didn’t take too much research to find out that he had a very non traditional upbringing and rise to stardom as it relates to other NBA players. He was raised in the Bahamas and was discovered at a basketball showcase in high school. He then moved to Wichita, KS to complete his high school education.
As far as college recruitment, he drew interest from big name schools like Kansas, but turned them down in hopes of making his own name at a school where he could be king. This is how he landed at Oklahoma. After his impressive college career, Hield was drafted sixth overall by the New Orleans Pelicans. He was then traded to the Kings towards the end of his rookie year as part of the deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to Nola.
There is one overarching question that remains in the balance regarding Buddy Hield’s professional career: is he actually good or naw? His numbers with the Kings are better all-around than his Pelicans stin. Hield is Shooting 43% from deep on 5 attempts per game, despite having started in less than 20% of his appearances this season. In this D’Antoni day and age of the NBA, Hield appears to be a valuable player who takes his attempts where they need to be. This means he is either shooting layups or threes. Vice Sports puts his ceiling at J.J. Reddick or Jamal Crawford, which can be quite the compliment to any roster that has other primary options.
The one thing we do know is that Hield is an impact player when on the court. According to 82 games.com, the lineups that feature Hield provide the Kings with the best chance at winning. Fox-Hield-Bogdanovic-Labissiere-Cauley-Stein have only played together for less than 60 minutes this season, but provide a 75% chance of beating their opponents. For a Kings fan this is encouraging because it is a young lineup that you could potentially see together for several more years into the future. If Sacramento can improve in the post through drafts or trades, the Kings might be able to break their playoff drought in a few short seasons.