Another season of Sacramento Kings basketball is upon us, and you will not be surprised to learn that Year 13 of the rebuild will be yet another futile one.
The team finds itself comfortably at the bottom of a viciously competitive Western Conference where the 14 other teams all think they can at least sniff the playoffs. Their summer-defining move was using the franchise’s most important pick in decades to choose an uninspiring power forward instead of a potentially generation-defining passer. The cherry on top of this shit sandwich is that the Kings won’t even have anything to tank for, since math-challenged GM Vlade Divac traded their 2019 first-rounder three years ago to clear cap space that the team then used to overpay for Marco Belinelli, Rajon Rondo, and Kosta Koufos, only after getting used as leverage in a failed attempt to overpay Wes Matthews and Monta Ellis. When the next thing you have to look forward to as a fan is the 2020 NBA Draft, shit is truly bleak.
If I were a Celtics fan, whose team controls the Kings’ 2019 pick, I would look at this roster and salivate. Sacramento has exactly three veterans, two of whom are deeply mediocre (Iman Shumpert, Kosta Koufos) and one of whom is old as dirt (Zach Randolph). None of them figure to get heavy minutes, which is definitely for the best. The name of the game is development, and while that’s crucial for the team’s near-term future, it means this year will be very rough.
You can’t take away too much from the preseason, since the games do not matter. However, when the Kings and Jazz both played something resembling their regular season rotations last week, the Kings looked comically overmatched. They lost by 39, and trailed 47-12 at one point. Basically everyone is still learning how to play defense. They’re not really an NBA team, but there are plenty of intriguing young guns.
De’Aaron Fox seems nice and fast, though he is still figuring out how to use his powers for good and how to orient an offense. Marvin Bagley is a rookie, and though he’s athletic, he’ll probably need at least a year to figure out how not to foul out. Justin Jackson and Skal Labissiere are bad. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a fiery sharpshooter type who will bear the scoring burden this year, and I really like his fearlessness. Buddy Hield looks like he’ll peak as a sixth man.
Simply put, the team is a project, and this year is a no-stakes period where the Kings can figure out who’s worth a shit and who they can bail on. The problem is, nobody seems—to me, a dumbass—like they have the potential to become the first, second, or even third best player on a championship team. That could be too fine of a nit to pick, and I’d be very happy to be wrong, but players like that are the sorts of players who truly move the needle. The Kings, an utterly cursed franchise, need that grade of player.
Out of this potato sack of youngsters, Harry Giles is the most intriguing. The beanpole-skinny Duke big man was projected to be a top pick, maybe even the top pick, in the 2017 NBA Draft before a disappointing year in college and a series of knee surgeries sent him tumbling down to 20th. He sat out all of his would-be rookie season recovering from the injuries, and he’s finally set to make his NBA debut on Wednesday against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz.
Like Bagley, Giles is one athletic dude. In summer league and the preseason, Giles bounded around and overwhelmed many NBA-quality big men with his size and athleticism, which seems to have finally reverted back to its pre-Duke levels. He will struggle with foul trouble, as all young big men do, but he’s got the instincts and body to perhaps become a decent defender.
Giles is not just a blunt object. I’ve been surprised by his vision and instincts on the court, though, like all young big men, he doesn’t quite know where to stand. His passing acumen will come in handy on a team that’s short on players who can create their own shot. I also just enjoy watching him play; he has that rare combination of size and movement ability that pops off the screen. Even on a court of NBA players, Giles looks different, which isn’t worth many wins, but it’s fun as hell to watch. Check out all these extra cool passes he made in the preseason:
If things go well, Giles could push Willie Cauley-Stein out of the starting lineup by Christmas. Divac’s mismanagement of the franchise may have even done Giles a favor, as the team will have no reason to stunt his growth in favor of tanking. There’s no pressure to be good, or bad, or anything, which is probably best for a sad-sack team like the Kings.
All of which is to say, it will be extremely disappointing and sad when Divac inevitably trades Bagley, Giles, and a pick for six months of Jimmy Butler.