This week the Sacramento Kings wound up snagging the 4th overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. With the arrival of such an opportunity, Monte McNair and the front office will have a chance to grab a top of the line talent.
While resting near the very peak, this pick is particularly interesting as it sits at the threshold between the consensus top three and the next echelon of young talent. Assuming Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Duke’s Paolo Banchero, and Auburn’s Jabari Smith are the first three taken, regardless of the exact order, the Kings would likely be left to choose from what’s best, either going with the best available talent (such as Purdue’s Jaden Ivey or Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe) or with the best available fit (someone like Iowa’s Keegan Murray). Or, alternatively, they could trade the pick away, likely falling back with some form of additional compensation knowing that there are better fits and/or sufficient talent in a later position.
Of course, there’s also the slightly far-fetched possibility one of the top three talents slips into Sacramento’s lap. If, under dubious circumstances, Smith or Holmgren fell to number-four, their fit combined with their sought-after talent would make them a no-brainer. Then again, that chance could tee up another trade opportunity, especially if Banchero were to be the one to slide a spot since his play-making style as a power forward maybe fits less well with a Sabonis-centric offense.
Anyway, one can’t get ahead of themselves on exactly what will or should be done and whether the best player available or the best fit is the more worthwhile option, but the fact remains that the number-four pick is an interesting, if not lucrative, position for McNair and company to be in.
If the Kings indeed use their pick to select someone, there’s still so many ways things can go. That’s why it’s worth taking a glance at everyone included at the very top of the list of draft prospects.
Jabari Smith Jr. 6’10”, 220 lbs., Auburn, PF 19 year-old Freshman
Perhaps the most fortunate thing that could happen to the Kings is if Jabari Smith fell to them.
Whether or not that happens is beside the point because, regardless, Smith is an admirable talent with the skillset on both ends of the floor to make an instant impact in this league.
Of Smith’s offensive abilities, his capacity to hit any and all jump shots stands out. Whether it’s “pull-up 3s, step-backs, turnarounds [or] on-the-move jumpers,” as ESPN’s Mike Schmitz put it in February, Smith can hit it “thanks to his high release, footwork and feathery touch.”
In his lone year at Auburn, he hit 42% of his threes, making him an excellent option to stretch the floor from the four position, and with legitimate size.
Defensively, the long forward is able to guard multiple positions and is, in fact, exceptional on the perimeter against smaller players. This also allows for proficient switches for himself and his teammates.
On top of showcasing undeniable talent on both ends of the floor, Smith is well regarded for his competitive attitude and his all-around energy, according to Schmitz’s initial impression of him.
With all the talent, there are still areas that need improvement. This includes the fact he has a tendency to make inefficient or erratic drives to the basket, as well as his shortcomings pertaining to his shooting percentage at and around the rim. Combine that with the fact he lacks the “explosiveness” of other prospects, and it’s evident Smith has trouble creating his own shot.
Additionally, his athleticism and shooting may make him a prize talent, but his game within the perimeter and in the paint are in need of serious development.
Overall, Jabari Smith has a lot of tools that make him a pluggable player right away and a longtime starter. If he can develop other areas of his game that need work, he can be a perennial all-star. He’s only 19, and with the skillset already at his disposal, his ceiling is only icing on the cake.
Chet Holmgren 7’0″, 195 lbs., Gonzaga PF/C, 20 year-old Freshman
Chet Holmgren may have the highest ceiling of the top prospects, and not just because he’s a seven-footer. But he is a “polarizing player amongst teams,” according to Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo.
Gonzaga’s big is frequently touted as the number one player in the draft, and for good reasons. Holmgren’s ability to use his athleticism on defense and his shooting ability on offense, combined with his height, makes all basketball executives wonder just how dynamic he could possibly become.
He’s known primarily for his defensive ability because his athleticism allows for bouncy and active motion on that end of the floor. On top of being a defensive anchor, his potential as an elite roving rim-protector is there, having been compared to Rudy Gobert. The fact he has been commended for his instincts helps a good deal as well.
Offensively, Holmgren possesses the ability to shoot like a guard, shooting 39% from deep this past season. He also has a nice touch around the rim.
ESPN’s Jonathan Givony made note in March how Holmgren held his own in the paint against Jalen Duren of Memphis despite being 50-pounds lighter. Even with his slight frame, he possesses a lot of toughness to counter that reality.
Though, the NBA is different, and that slight frame will not hold up in all the same ways, leading to questions about his strength and physicality with other bigs. That also, in turn, clouds what position he plays exactly. Hope at the center position may not exist.
But his upside is ridiculously high, and if he develops properly (and gets notably stronger), he could be an extremely special player.
Paolo Banchero 6’10”, 250 lbs., Duke PF, 19 year-old Freshman
The physically impressive Paolo Banchero has the potential to influence the offensive dynamic of whatever team drafts him.
Once a guard in high school prior to a sudden growth spurt, Banchero has tremendous playmaking capabilities. In addition to finding good looks for his teammates, he can create his own shot in multiple ways at multiple levels.
That along with the fact Banchero’s indelible levels of strength and power down low make him an NBA-ready talent.
His shooting isn’t bad, though it could evidently improve, posting a decent 33.3% from deep.
Similar to the potential underlining his shooting skills, Banchero has potential to be an effective roving defender in the post. His protection of weak side cuts is his best defensive trait, but only because he shows promise, not because he has a shining reputation for it.
But it is never so simple. Banchero’s biggest weakness, after all, is his defense. It’s primarily his effort and his switching engagement-or lack thereof-but also his lethargy when it comes to defending in transition. And in spite of his former role as a guard, the Duke big does not switch well on to perimeter players. All the athleticism in the world cannot make up for letdowns regarding defensive commitment.
Should he improve his shooting a little, and if he can improve his defense-his effort on that end, at least-Banchero can be a consistent all-star. His play making ability and shot creation makes him such a valuable prospect, and if he can develop well enough, there’s no reason he can’t have the best career of the players drafted-but that could be said of all these aforementioned top three.
Jaden Ivey 6’4″, 200 lbs., Purdue SG, 20 year-old Sophomore
As the frequent fourth rank on many draft big boards, Jaden Ivey is the first player on the other side of the threshold separating the consensus top three. At the same time, he’s considered the top guard in the draft.
Offensively, he is no joke. Ivey may be the most explosive and athletic player in the draft, and it’s why he’s been compared to Ja Morant. With those capabilities, he is able to get his way to the rim with the help of his savvy understanding as a downhill scorer that keeps the opposing defense constantly working.
His play style and physical characteristics allowed him to score 17.3 points a game on 46% overall shooting this past year for the Boilermakers. In the NBA, where the existence of talented shooters naturally spaces the floor, Ivey may be able to have a more than fruitful professional career in regards to scoring.
Along with that, his 35.8% three-point stroke on 5 attempts a game, while not an automatic, could be polished in the first years of his career, which could really transform his offensive game to impressive proportions.
His defensive effort, though, has been a question, which isn’t all that surprising as a scoring-focused guard. That doesn’t mean that’s acceptable, but there remains a chance to refine that area. Being a fountain of versatile athleticism, Ivey has the potential to improve his defensive ability at the next level.
While he’s able to find his own shot and create looks for himself, Ivey could improve his playmaking. Both his passing and decision making could use some work. There are also times where he has a tendency to turn the ball over as illustrated by his prominent place near the top of the turnovers per game list.
At the end of the day, Jaden Ivey is poised to be a workhorse in getting to the rim and putting up points with solid potential to be a succesful two-guard.
Shaedon Sharpe 6’6″, 200 lbs., Kentucky SG, 19 year-old Freshman
With substantial upside, Shaedon Sharpe remains the man of mystery in this draft.
In his one year at Kentucky, Sharpe did not play a single game for the Wildcats. As Gary Parrish of CBS Sports noted, this was the case “in part because the people around him wanted to protect his status as a projected top-10 pick.”
Coach John Calipari wrote publicly that Sharpe would not play, but would contribute in practice and be ready for the next season. Not long after, though, ESPN’s Givony and Schmitz explained that Sharpe would likely declare for the draft “because there’s simply too much risk in going back to school, risking poor play or injury, and seeing their stock fall.”
This is why he’s such a big question mark; not only did he not play, but the reasons are unclear. And if not unclear-if he chose not to play solely to protect his own status-then there may be questions in regards to his character and commitment.
But Sharpe was nevertheless a top recruit coming out of Canada, and his explosiveness and shooting make him an excellent prospect-one worth considering in the top four. And he has at least some experience to show for. As one article observes, in the EYBL Circuit, the wing scored 22.6 points-featuring a 36.1% clip from deep-as well as accumulated 5.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists a game. In The Grind Session he posted 18.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 steals. Sharpe also contributed on Canada’s teams in youth tournaments.
Being a 6’6″ wing with long arms, he already offers a lot physically. Balance and well-proportioned, his athleticism can really shine in productive ways, and as a result, Sharpe is able to display admirable explosiveness.
As Givony and Schmitz wrote, his “best NBA-ready skill is his shooting.” The two described how his shot mechanics are tight and refined, which mixed with his ever ready preparedness allows for a quick and efficient release. Overall, he’s able to shoot under a variety of circumstances, and is able to find and maintain a solid rhythm.
At his pro day, Sharpe was impressive, and it’s a big contributor to his stock continuing to hover near the top. There, he displayed not just his ability to make shots, but also his magnificent use of footwork.
Observers have noted that his physical attributes set up for the possibility of Sharpe becoming a “disruptive” defender on the wing. Notes on his “solid all-around instincts” from Givony and Schmitz substantiate this defensive potential.
The thing that stands to rattle all these positive perceptions, though, is the fact he didn’t play last year. That alone makes his need to comprehend spacing and positioning a bit of a priority, not to mention making his impact a less immediate thing. Questions about who he is exactly also remain.
However, it’s still obvious why he’s included among the best.
Keegan Murray 6’8″, 215 lbs., Iowa PF, 21 year-old Sophomore
Though Keegan Murray may not be the most attractive name at the top of the big board, there is very little to complain about regarding his game and attitude.
Having scored 23.5 points a game last year, Murray is clearly a versatile scorer. This includes his off-ball abilities, like finishing near the rim on cuts and rolls, and especially in fast break situations. He also possesses a three-point stroke, having shot 39.8% from that range for the Hawkeyes. More recently, his capability to create his own look is also improving.
In addition to his ability to score, Keegan Murray is also well regarded for the energy he plays with on both ends. This attribute makes itself known on the glass where Murray grabs a lot of offensive rebounds and creates or saves possessions for his team.
Defensively, he’s athletic enough at his size to guard multiple positions and in space. More than that, Murray’s exceptionally smart on that end of the floor, which combined with his intensity makes him a valuable defensive asset.
He’s also comes with a good approach to the game. Mike Schmitz compared Murray’s self-confidence and focus to that of Kawhi Leonard or Tim Duncan.
Murray could improve his ball handling to make him a more versatile threat, but there aren’t many holes in what he offers.
Of course, that doesn’t hide the fact that he probably comes with the lowest ceiling of these six. By most accounts, he’s projected to be a solid role-playing starter, but not a first or second option.
But his unquestionable ability to plug right in and make a difference off the bat keep him in the conversation.
Unless Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren fall to the Kings, there’s a decent chance this pick gets traded.
Think about it.
For one, the likelihood of those two dropping in Sacramento’s lap is low. Smith and Holmgren are not just perfect fits for the Kings need for long forwards who can shoot and play defense, but they are, for those very reasons, perfect fits for nearly all teams in the modern NBA.
Secondly, the likeliest of the top three to fall to 4th is Banchero, and he’s the least ideal fit for the Kings. In that case, the pick’s value would burst and it’d be hard not to consider trading back.
Third, the most likely scenario is Jaden Ivey being the top talent available at pick four, and if Banchero isn’t a great fit because of Sabonis (and to be fair, that assumption could easily be proven wrong, but what does anyone really know?), then Ivey may not be a good fit for a team with De’Aaron Fox… and Davion Mitchell… and Donte DiVincenzo… and on and on.
Would the Kings really draft a guard as their top pick for the third time in a row?
Maybe. The double-barrel shotgun approach of firing alternatively between two downhill scorers in Fox and Ivey sounds enticing, but think of the depth already existing at guard, and not to mention the fact this team was already scoring with the best of them down the stretch last season.
Detroit sits behind the Kings at number-five overall and they could really use athleticism and scoring. A good pairing could also form between Ivey and last year’s number-one pick Cade Cunningham. So maybe some team wants to jump up to four to snag him and would be willing to offer a nice return to keep the Pistons from getting the guard from Purdue.
Though, who knows?
There’s an equally good chance the fourth pick is actually used. Considering the realities regarding fit that counterbalance Ivey’s undeniable scoring talent, Shaedon Sharpe, at 6’6″, could be a good option for Sacramento. The Kings could use wing depth as much as they could use a stretch four. Sharpe is obviously an unknown having not played a single minute at Kentucky last season, and the ambiguity pertaining to his character and attitude shroud his name in question marks. However, he’s also wowed a lot of observers at his pro day and could very well end up being a very good wing in the NBA.
The Kings will certainly kick the tires on Sharpe over the next month-plus, and if they see the appeal, then he could be their perfect pick at number-four. Some draft predictions, such as Woo’s at SI, have Sharpe and his upside breaking into the top four, and The New York Post’s Jim Helmkamp lists Sharpe as a name to watch for the first overall pick. In a perfect world, adding him to Sac’s wing depth-especially along with veteran Harrison Barnes-could be a smart decision down the road. Nonetheless, McNair and company will make that call, and even then, his ability to make an instant impact remains a question after missing a year.
Maybe they keep their heads down and go with Keegan Murray. Maybe he’s not exactly popping with brimming “top four talent,” but he still offers a lot and could very well be able to make an impact on a team that has reason to believe they will be a playoff contender.
There’s still a lot of time for a clearer idea of what could happen to emerge. Likewise, there’s a lot of time for draft wizards and fans alike to keep their heads spinning in constant guessing. Such is the reality of draft season, evidently.
Again, the one certainty, it seems, is that the Kings are in a fascinating position with the 4th pick on draft night.