Written by Ajit Bhullar
The conclusion of the NBA championship signals a transition to a new season, and that unofficially starts with the NBA Draft.
The newly crowned Milwaukee Bucks have shown that it is possible for smaller market teams who emphasize home grown talent to be successful in this league, and the Kings are the ideal franchise to take a page from their notebook and follow that mold.
Draft night will be indicative of what direction the Kings intend to move towards in the coming years as they determine who they want to develop alongside their young core of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton.
Given the volume of quality prospects, there are a lot of interesting pieces to evaluate and consider. Even as Scottie Barnes — who’s an excellent fit for the Kings — has seen his stock rise in recent weeks, there are plenty of options at the 9 spot that can help propel the Kings into a winning franchise.
Jalen Johnson, 6’9″ SF/PF from Duke
Jalen Johnson is a combo forward with great playmaking abilities and instincts, who plays the game with a high intensity. He thrives in the full court offense, which would pair well with De’Aaron Fox’s athleticism and the Kings’ ability to push the pace. On top of that, he has great court vision and rebounding/defensive abilities, meaning that he can be the catalyst to help initiate the full court offense whenever he is on the floor.
His mentality and willingness to commit is a real question after he quit Duke mid-season. If he is so quick to quit a reputable program like Duke, Sacramento really needs to take a hard look to determine if he will have the discipline and maturity to stick with the Kings long term to adequately contribute.
As a matter of fact, in two years (his last year of high school and lone year of college), he has played a combined 22 games for three teams.
Additionally, he will need to work on his range to help the Kings offense be most effective. If he is willing to put in the work and stick through potential tough times, he can really develop into a solid two-way wing and play a central role in the future for the Kings.
Keon Johnson, 6’5″ SG/SF from Tennessee
Arguably the greatest athlete in this draft — as evidenced by his 48 inch vertical at the Draft Combine — Keon Johnson represents a very intriguing fit for what he brings to the team.
He plays amazing on ball defense, and his athleticism allows him to easily take on the toughest defensive roles for guards and smaller wings — an aspect on defense that the Kings have been lacking in.
The Tennessee product currently lacks much of an offensive game, particularly shooting from the perimeter (he shot only 27% from three in college). Though he wouldn’t help the Kings stretch the floor, his athleticism and great rim running abilities for his size would be a great fit alongside the speed of De’Aaron Fox in pushing the pace. Not to mention, adding a three point shot is something that is certainly a developable trait in today’s league.
He is not currently regarded as a great ball handler, which can easily be neutralized if he is on the court alongside Fox and/or Haliburton. Plus, due to his size, he is primarily going to be limited to the guard position. And considering the number of guards currently on the roster, he would really need to earn his minutes, which could help him prove himself and aid in his overall development.
Kai Jones, 6’11” PF/C from Texas
Kai Jones is the quintessential big man for the modern NBA: very athletic for his size, capable of shooting from three, and able to guard multiple positions ranging from the interior out to the perimeter.
As a former track star, his speed and athleticism would make him an ideal big to play alongside De’Aaron Fox. He can push the pace, be a rim runner, and stretch the floor.
He is currently considered a very “raw prospect,” meaning the team will need to have patience and do everything possible to develop him properly.
His scoring ability is currently limited to simple buckets around the rim or catch-and-shoot opportunities from three, and is unable of creating his own shot. Thankfully, however, with his skillset, the Kings would not need nor expect him to be a shot creator for himself or others, particularly with guys like Fox and Haliburton setting him up for quality looks.
If drafted, don’t expect him to start many games his first season or so. Rather, expect that he’ll be developed gradually. If he lives up to his potential he would create a very lethal duo alongside Fox that could wreak havoc in the league for many years to come.
Moses Moody, 6’6″ SG from Arkansas
Considered by many to be an NBA-ready 3-and-D player and a very safe pick, Moses Moody offers a highly sought after set of skills.
Measuring in at 6’6″ with a 7’1″ wingspan, he has the ability to defend multiple positions. While he currently does not exude “All Defensive” potential, he plays very smart on that end of the floor and knows how to make the game more difficult for his defensive assignment.
He is also both a good free throw shooter and an above average rebounder for his position — two elements that, along with his high defensive IQ, are vital in closing out games.
His offensive skillset would fit well alongside two playmakers like Fox and Haliburton since he is primarily a catch-and-shoot shooter from deep and a guy who can get to his spot in the mid range. Add to it his efficiency and his wingspan to help shoot over defenders, and he would help tremendously in spreading the floor for Fox.
Moody does a lot of things right and seems to have the right mentality and play style to mesh well with an emerging team like the Kings looking to establish their identity and a winning culture.
Franz Wagner, 6’9″ SF/PF from Michigan
Wagner is another prototypical 3-and-D player like Moody, except measuring a bit taller at 6-foot-8, meaning he can play either forward spot as needed.
As someone who has been touted for his instincts and IQ, he is being projected as a sort of secondary ball handler/playmaker on the court, which could take some of the offensive playmaking load off of Fox and Haliburton.
Defensively speaking, he has the size to hold his own against opponents down in the paint, and also has the quickness and footwork to keep up with others around the perimeter.
Also similar to Moody, he represents a safe pick since he’s considered capable of being a contributing piece on the team from day one with no glaring weaknesses.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t have room for improvement. He is not a particularly physical player, often avoiding points on the inside, he isn’t great at creating his own shot, and though he is a smart passer, his handles do not currently indicate an ability to be a significant creator on offense. But given his willingness to work, those are areas one can reasonably expect to see him improve in as he matures.
Other Players to Watch
The ideal scenario for Monte McNair would be to try and can keep the 9 pick while finding a way to trade for an additional pick in the teens or early twenties. The reason for this is because there is noteworthy defensive and playmaking potential in Usman Garuba from Real Madrid.
Currently 19 years-old and seen as a developing prospect, he has had a few years to work on his game in one of the best leagues in the world, and he has managed to establish himself as a prospect with real potential worth keeping your eyes on and investing in. (He recently was given the assignment of guarding Kevin Durant in the recent USA-Spain exhibition.)
Given his high defensive potential, passing ability, and developing shot-making ability, he is a player who, if put in the right situation, can really thrive and become a significant contributor. He is someone the Kings should consider finding a way to get.
Another prospect worth mentioning is Ziaire Williams. Seen as a top prospect going into Stanford, his lone season was viewed as an underperformance. Even so, at 6’8″, he has the tools necessary to be a successful two way wing in the league. He will, however, need to bulk up if he expects to go up against other wings and stay in the league for some time.
This year’s draft is voluminous with talent, even at the 9 pick. There are a range of players capable of complementing the Kings’ core and creating an elite team. It’s really just a matter of how the Kings maximize the amount of value they can walk away with, whether that requires a splash pick, or a trade for additional picks.
Last year the Kings snagged one of the better players in the draft at the 12 pick, and a repeat of similar circumstances are highly possible with this draft class. With rumors of the Kings acquiring the 22 pick and others from the Lakers in exchange for Buddy Hield it seems possible that Sacramento will move the goal posts a little and maneuver a way to end the night with multiple pieces that can really upstart a winning era in Sacramento basketball.
Things seem to be coming together for the Kings, and draft night presents the distinct opportunity to let the whole league know about it.