Prospects Outside the Lottery: Round 1

With what seems to be an infinite amount of possible routes that could be taken on draft night, it’s hard to predict what the Sacramento Kings will do when June 23rd comes around.

At the end of May, James Ham had come out and noted that “there’s rumor there that the Kings have already made the move to number-two.” The reported rumor indicated that Sacramento may be moving up to the second pick to grab either Jabari Smith Jr. or Chet Holmgren.

Combining the implications of Ham’s report and the well-known win-now strategy of the Kings, it seemed like this presented the real possibility of landing Smith at number-two. However, at about the same time as that reporting emerged came a piece from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, which pointed to the league-wide belief and understanding that Smith is going number-one to Orlando, thus putting the potential for a Smith-Kings pairing to rest.

Smith in Sacramento would be almost too good to be true. After all, the Kings are a team desperately yearning to get over the hump and into the playoffs, and one that needs a fair amount more shooting ability, length, and athleticism to do that. It’s clear, Jabari Smith Jr. would almost certainly check a good majority of boxes for the Kings, but it seems only Orlando at number-one will be able to yield such magical results.

But that doesn’t mean Ham’s note about a trade-up rumor was all for nothing because Chet Holmgren would still check a lot of those boxes for Sacramento. It’s just that Holmgren, as is widely understood, does not come with as prominent of an instant-impact factor, meaning that regardless of his upside, it will take a bit of time to tap into. Perhaps too much time for a Kings franchise that cannot fathom the horror of a 17-year playoff drought.

None of that is to say the Kings are, in fact, not moving up to get Holmgren. As Brenden Nunes of the Kings Beat Podcast said, maybe Sacramento sees Holmgren as a special and rare talent that they feel is irresistible. 

What it does underline is the fact at the top: there are a lot of options, none of which can be pinpointed as the actual strategy yet. In short, outside of the intra-league circle, nobody knows a whole lot…

It seems the Kings can do anything and as Givony wrote in his recent mock, opinions around the league are “split greatly” as to what they do. Obviously, trading back is as possible as it’s always been. So is any other option. This is why getting a broad view of the draft big board is important.

Similar to the looks at the top of the prospect list as well as the mid to late lottery range⁠—and kind of for the hell of it⁠—here’s a peek at some of the talent projected in the latter part of the first-round.

Jalen Williams 6’6″, 190 lbs., Santa Clara SG/SF, 21 year-old Junior

Bleacher Report recently put out a mock draft that predicted Sacramento trades back with Atlanta, receives John Collins, and uses the 16th pick to draft Williams out of Santa Clara. 

After USA Today called him the breakout star of the combine and B/R said he could end up being a lottery pick, Jalen Williams has risen considerably on mock drafts and big boards alike. 

The late-blooming junior had shot up from 5’11” to 6’3″ in his senior season of high school before growing another two inches for his freshman year of college. At 6’6″ and equipped with a 7’2″ wingspan, he immediately stands out for his length. 

More than that, Williams’ weight is deceiving. He actually possesses a good deal of strength and his frame gives him more than enough to work with in order to become an effective NBA wing. 

In his combine showing, Williams showcased a 33.5″ standing vertical (tied for 2nd best) and a 3.11 second three-quarter sprint (4th best), which puts the Santa Clara star up there with Donovan Mitchell as the only two to reach those thresholds, according to USA Today. 

Perhaps just as important as his physical attributes, he also shoots the ball incredibly well as illustrated by his 39.6% clip from deep and the 80.9% from the free throw line. While watching him at the West Coast Conference tournament in January, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz described his shooting stroke as “projectable” enough to transfer to the next level.

Adding to his offensive game, Williams brings nice ball handling, smooth footwork, and passing instinct from the wing position, opening up opportunities for teammates off the dribble. He’s also a smart cutter off-ball and a solid finisher.

Defensively, his athleticism and physical tools at baseline make him a promising prospect on that end. Moreover, Williams exhibits active and adept hands when defending, using both that and his length to be disruptive. All of this could make him a net positive for any team looking to get better at amassing stops.

Though, there are times where his effort will dip defensively. Schmitz noted how he’d heard Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek call out the wing. “Hey Jalen, you gotta guard,” Schmitz recalls hearing. “No excuses.” 

Most of that lack of effort falls in his off-ball defense and his dealing with screens, which in turn pairs with what’s been called a lack of aggressiveness in his overall game. Notably, his rebounding has been deemed another area in need of improvement given that his laxness concedes plenty of offensive rebounds. 

He’s also not considered overwhelmingly explosive or shifty despite some good physical showings at the combine. That isn’t a huge issue⁠—nobody expects him to keep up with what Jaden Ivey offers in terms of burst⁠—but given Williams’ proclivity to utilize finesse, NBA defenders could be a real challenge and thus flatten his game at the next level.

But Williams has nevertheless been rising in the ranks. His physical assets, basketball IQ, shooting, and defensive potential coalesce to make him a great option for a lot of teams, including Sacramento.

Nikola Jovic 6’10”, 222 lbs., Mega Mozzart (Serbia) SF, 19 year-old (on June 9, 2022)

Nikola Jovic has been rising up mock drafts as an intriguing offensive prospect.

What could be the most attractive quality of the Serbian is his shooting. In 25 games this past season, he shot 35.6% from three-point range, which may not be exceptional by any means, but it’s his stroke and his versatile ability to hit a variety of shots that foretell a good amount of promise.

He can hit shots off the dribble as well as using hesitation or a step-back, even from deep. And Mike Schmitz has made note of Jovic’s “Dirk-like fallaways” at various points throughout the years, particularly within the arc.

Equally as impressive, Jovic was often the primary ball handler for his team this past year. He maintains nice ball handling ability despite standing at 6’10”, showing off excellent distribution skills that make him the best passer of all the international prospects. Jovic frequently displays excellent decision making and vision, especially in the pick and roll.

Whether hitting his own shot or making the extra pass, Jovic is a big offensive plus. And his height and youth combine to form a nice foundation for potential to develop into a combo forward, maybe a mismatch 4 like Danilo Gallinari as Schmitz suggests. Ideally, he’d become a stretch-4 who handles the ball a fair amount.

He’s not in any way perfect on the offensive end, though, struggling to score off the dribble if it’s not a jump shot, and often finding difficulty finishing at the rim.

In the effort to achieve his full potential, it’s important to note that at around 210 lbs. or so for most of the season, the lanky Jovic was not able to punish smaller defenders on the low block. But having posted a weight of 222 lbs. at the combine, he may have made considerable headway in improving that part of his game.

However, a player can’t improve every single physical downside because they cannot be refined. For instance, Jovic’s wingspan is not incredibly long at just 7’0″ for a 6’10” prospect. 

Less permanent of an issue, he also lacks quickness and explosiveness. As such, his defensive ability on the perimeter is a big hole in his game, often letting players with above average quickness to blow by Jovic on that end. Still not at full size in terms of his frame, he predictably struggles guarding bigs. 

His motor and effort are also notably insufficient, causing his off-ball defense to leave gaping openings lying around. All together, he’s really not considered a good defender and has even been dubbed a “liability” on that end. 

As a younger player, he’s been highlighted for his negative attitude and body language at the U19 World Championship, but recently, he has displayed growth regarding maturity according to Schmitz.

If he can continue that growth in other areas and refine his positive attributes, Jovic has a chance to be a really good NBA player. But that has to happen first. 

Christian Braun 6’7″, 209 lbs., Kansas SG/SF, 21 year-old Junior

Jonathan Givony described the Kansas junior as “a jack of all trades, master of none.” Even still, Braun offers a diverse skillset that could make him a valuable NBA asset.

Undeniably his best attribute is Braun’s competitive spirit. His high intensity effort allows him to find a way to impact the game in a variety of ways, particularly on the glass and on defense. Despite the “master of none” moniker, and on top of being a high-motor guy on defense, Givony considers Braun the best rim protector among guards and wings.

At 6’7″, he guarded the 1 through the 4 on defense, making him a versatile defender that can translate into the defensive realities of the NBA where everyone is constantly switching. His toughness makes up for the fact he’s not as burly or strong as others. 

It should be reiterated, though, he’s not an elite anything, including as a defender. 

While not overwhelmingly so, he has some explosiveness that shows up in highlight reels, featuring some nice finishes at the rim. The reason for this can be understood through his 40″ max vertical leap at the combine, which was good enough for 3rd best overall.

Braun shot 38.6% from deep this past year and 37.8% throughout three years at Kansas, which is so high because he doesn’t have to lean so much on it given his range of skills.

He’s not a primary playmaker, but he showcases nice passing ability with smart decisions.

However, sometimes he can be a little hesitant to take big shots, which baffles some considering his seasoning through three years at the collegiate level. Additionally, even when he is shooting, Braun has a tendency to be a little streaky with his stroke. 

According to many, Braun’s NBA career pretty much rests on whether or not he can be a believable threat from three-point land. Though he isn’t a clunker by any means, there are also times he is outmatched regarding athleticism, which substantiates the need to establish a consistent shot.

If he can indeed hit his looks from deep⁠—which is imperative in the modern NBA⁠—as well as improve in the multiple areas where he possesses upside, Braun could be a really good rotational role player for his career. 

Jake LaRavia 6’8″, 235 lbs., Wake Forest PF, 20 year-old Junior

Committed to the draft after withdrawing from the combine, Jake LaRavia quietly offers a substantial amount of value as a modern-styled power forward with shooting ability and is widely liked. Some have him as more of a second-round prospect, but his fit in the NBA is undeniable enough to make him a likely first-round pick.

As was clear in assessing Christian Braun, three-point shooting is very important these days, and for any position. Of particular value, though, is a stretch-4 and LaRavia is just that. 

He shot 38.4% this past year from deep, and 37.1% through all three years of college (the first two of which were at Indiana State prior to transfering to Wake Forest). His stroke and motion, according to Mike Schmitz, is easily translatable to the next level.

This range can primarily be very effective in a three-point pick-and-pop scenario, but also in the simple catch-and-shoot situation. Overall, he proves to be a viable threat for defenses to keep an eye on⁠—so long as LaRavia doesn’t get hesitant.

Scmitz made note of other offensive skills that exist in his post play. Being both savvy and smart, LaRavia can score down low as well as facilitate for teammates.

As much as he offers on the offensive end, defense may actually be his strong suit. Further underlining the modern-4 characterization, Jake LaRavia was more than capable of switching to any position between the 1 and 4. At 6’8″, he’s not a sloth on the perimeter, and his frame makes him a good defender in the post.

More than that, he has shown excellent defensive instincts which lead to sharp switches, tips and interceptions, as well as overall alertness.

Those skills are extremely vital to his defensive game. Just because he guarded the 1 through 4 doesn’t mean he’s a shut down defender; he certainly relies on instincts, not athleticism. Lack of lateral quickness and agility made it easy for a decent amount of perimeter players to get by him at the collegiate level, and things will only get tougher amid the next step.

He’s also notably been short on toughness in terms of the defensive glass as well as in other areas.

Still, any team would greatly benefit from adding Jake LaRavia to their team should they have a pick in the later part of the first-round. He may not have a super tall ceiling, but he has more than a solid chance of finding a place in the league.

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Kings Talk – A Cap City Crown Podcast on the Sacramento Kings

Kings Talk: Episode 68

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