Any and all pre-draft player prognostication must come with the caveat that no one actually knows anything, at this point. DeAndre Ayton might turn out to be Michael Olowokandi 2.0; Marvin Bagley III could wind up being another Justise Winslow; It’s not impossible that Luka Dončić is in fact Mario Hezonja, operating under an alias. Has anyone seen Hezonja in a while? Probably not! Probably hiding in plain sight.
The only thing that anyone knows, at this stage, is that the Sacramento Kings are working into the night to find a way to screw this up. They’ve got the second pick in Thursday’s draft, the result of extremely good lottery luck. Their cupboard isn’t quite bare, but it’s close: DeAaron Fox has fun moments, but his rookie year was uninspiring, and he only made the NBA’s Rising Stars game as an injury replacement; Bogdan Bogdanovic made an All-Rookie team, and he’s got a fun and telegenic offensive game, but he’s also 25 years old. That’s about it! It’s not impossible Harry Giles will show some potential if he ever stops being injured all the time. Willie Cauley-Stein is butt; Skal Labissiére is butt; Buddy Hield merely exists. Not only is it not clear that the Kings currently have future foundational pieces on their roster, it’s not even clear they have more than one or two future NBA rotation players on their roster.
The good thing about the Kings’ present position is that there’s a consensus top-two in this draft. DeAndre Ayton is humongous and strong and athletic, he moves around pretty well, and he has some scoring moves. Nice. An NBA team should have no trouble figuring out how to get value out of a humongous human being who can jog up and down the floor and dump the ball into the hoop from a few different spots. And Luka Dončić is big and sturdy, and comfortable dribbling and passing and shooting, and should be able to defend a few positions. That’s good! It should be pretty simple to wring value out of a sturdy wing who can do some ball-handling and some shooting and some passing and some defending. So there’s your top two, a couple horses with high ceilings and—just as importantly, especially if you’re the mayor of shantytown, which Vlade Divac most certainly is—high floors, and the Kings are a lock to have right of first refusal on at least one of them.
But, being the Kings, they’ve been linked to Marvin Bagley III (whose 6-foot-11 advertised height looks a lot more like 6-foot-8 when he stands next to Peja Stojaković), Michael Porter (who played just three games in college because of a back injury, and since the end of the college season managed to injure his hip), and [gulp] trades that have them targeting an “established star.” A word you don’t want to see anywhere near “Kings” in a sentence is “desperate,” nor any of its various conjugations:
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We desperately need a player who is forcing his way out of San Antonio after missing a season due to a mysterious and controversial injury, to pair with our sad collection of draft busts. That is for sure a thing that is worth giving up the second overall pick in a top-heavy draft for.
There is nothing more terrifying than the thought of Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadivé exploring all these other options when they’ve got first crack at at least one elite prospect with impeccable pedigree. This is the organization that drafted Georgios Papagiannis 13th overall in 2016, that once traded a rookie lottery pick plus the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft to the 76ers, in exchange for nothing. The Kings are being cute and trying to talk themselves out of good ideas and into bad ones, which means whatever choice they wind up making will almost certainly have been made for the wrong reasons. If they draft Dončić it’ll be because they’re finally convinced he has enough of whatever they love so much about Porter. If they wind up with Ayton it’ll be because he’s actually much shorter than they’d heard. If there is a way to screw up this good fortune, the Kings are a solid bet to find it.