January 8, 2019, 1:42 am
I was going to give some big picture Kings thoughts after the Warriors game but my mentions went to crap and I didn’t want your responses to get lost in the ether. After Monday’s easy win over the Magic, I figured why not now and when what would have been a tweet-thread got long, I said let’s write this thing up and then it’s back to work for me running this joint.
Nothing in-depth here, just some quick Kings thoughts after 40 games of .500 basketball.
Editor’s Note: He basically went in-depth
First things first, I had a tweet a while back saying they should plan for playoffs outside of five years.
That’s definitely changed.
Of course, if you start showing this development last season it would be interesting to see how the offseason differs — you might get more free agency love but you probably don’t get the 2 pick. This has been a great draft and the draft is its own never-ending topic so /shrug
Also of course, this stuff does start last season if you don’t play Zach Randolph — so no kudos for slow development, as it comes with opportunity costs and collateral damage (Skal Labissiere).
Regardless, now for the important stuff.
De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are already a top backcourt in the league. I did a quick count and I probably have them at No. 4 (GSW, HOU, OKC). When folks counter with Washington and Portland that’s how you’ll know they’re behind the game. John Wall is no longer John Wall and may never be close and C.J. McCollum is many tiers below the Kings duo.
I’m actually not sure who has the higher upside now between the two, which probably comes as a surprise since Fox is currently on everybody’s radar as the upside guy. Hield’s development is off the charts right now in multiple facets. His dribbling and finishing ability has improved, his ability to read defenses and probe is as good as other top players in the league. He rebounds like a beast for his position and he’s right there with Fox pushing the pace.
His physicality jumps off the page and he plays extremely hard. Whenever the experience plateaus and he’s locked in on defensive Xs and Os, he can be every bit as good as Klay Thompson has been.
In fact, if Vivek Ranadive had said that he could be a future Klay Thompson it might have been prescient.
While we’re at it, I don’t know who I put behind Steph and Klay in terms of shooting a basketball but all I know is that Hield is right there with them.
His makes have a perfection inherent within them that most humans will not know. It’s as if he’s not aiming for the goal but the tightest, inner-most circle that a ball could travel through and he’s hitting it most of the time.
Fox has an easy shot at All-NBA teams if he develops a plus-jumper. Everything else is there and the Kings really ought to think about managing his long-term health, as that’s the only thing that can stop him from being an elite NBA athlete for most of the next decade.
Together, they’re scary for at least the next five years.
Justin Jackson’s last 15 games or so have shown what he can be when aggressive, so he’s playing at the top of his potential suddenly. Shots will eventually fall.
Jackson’s defense is an enigma. He has limitations, isn’t projecting like a plus-player there but he’s showing upside if average is the goal. Out of nowhere he has a future as a rotation guy.
It speaks to the healthy on-court environment they have. Success breeds success (see: why Z-Bo’s minutes last year were so bad).
Marvin Bagley is good enough with his left hand that his lack of right is more hidden upside than weight to his value. He has a chance to compete on defense. Split his minutes at the 4 and the 5 and you’re doing it right.
Harry Giles is a major X-factor with health and with whatever he ends up being, and the jury is still out on what that is, but if healthy it’s probably going to be good.
That’s a four-player core and a rotation guy in Jackson that you can build around, which is before you get to Bogdan Bogdanovic, who ensures that the Kings have 2-3 on-ball playmakers on the floor at all times. Because he is somewhat duplicative, he’s an attractive trade chip as the Kings go here, though you probably want to see this out and see what the trio of Fox, Hield and Bogdanovic can do.
Teams that take leaps can be really hard to track. They grow exponentially until the talent level plateaus and you see what you have from there. Obviously, benching Randolph was the piece that unlocked everything on the court. The players themselves have done what they need to do to take their own individual leaps.
Against this backdrop the Kings have most definitely been an accidental success, as any number of decisions don’t stand up under scrutiny when you look at them either at the time or right now.
But now, in a complete reversal of what most thought would be more of the same dysfunctional decision-making that we’ve seen for a decade, the only thing that can stop this team from making the playoffs in the next 2-5 years is a monumental front office screwup.
Dave Joerger, for all his hangups playing veterans and tendency to trade minutes for their locker room cachet, is a solid coach. As long as bridges weren’t burned during the Brandon Williams fiasco, he’s more than capable of taking this team into its next phase of development.
More importantly, the Kings are now a desirable free agency destination, obvious issues noted (if you can think of them, they’re noted).
The question will be whether they can harness this newfound success and address their weaknesses in the frontcourt and at the small forward position.
Willie Cauley-Stein shouldn’t be long for this team, given what he might make in free agency but mostly because his athleticism has already dipped and the thin defensive presence of Marvin Bagley demands you have a solid anchor five who brings defense and toughness. Cauley-Stein doesn’t appear to have those things in his DNA.
While his offense makes the Kings very dangerous, it shouldn’t keep them from looking at better fits.
If the Kings turned into ringers and made a Zillow ‘make me move’ deal for Suns backup center Richaun Holmes they could set themselves up cap-wise to be major players. He is as tough as most bigs in the league, is a beast in the pick-and-roll, and regularly turns away the best offensive players in the league with his blend of quickness and leaping ability. He’s also unknown to most NBA people and that means he’ll come cheap.
Regardless of my royalty-free recommendations, they will have many more opportunities to secure a dynamic power five and high-end 3-and-D small forward. Even if cash becomes tight as it typically does for good teams, I fill out a free agency card every season that has multiple affordable options if the expensive guys aren’t worth pulling the trigger on.
Now the pressure falls on owner Vivek Ranadive, consigliere/COO Matina Kolokotronis, GM Vlade Divac and whatever role one wants to prescribe for assistant GM Brandon Williams. They can be picky and get the deals they want and let the product on the court be the attraction they need to change the free agency equation.
Whether they turn the page or fly too close to the sun, the great thing about the past is that it doesn’t have to be the indicator for future results. With half a season to go and a big summer ahead, the game has changed in Sacramento and suddenly the house money isn’t upside down or down and out.
The question now is how they spend it.