Prospects the Kings May Select: Part Two

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 11: Dereck Lively II #1 (L) and Dariq Whitehead of the Duke Blue Devils look on from their bench during the second half against the USC Upstate Spartans at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 11, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

The 2023 NBA Draft is less than a month away. 

As the big day approaches, here are some more prospects the Kings may select at pick number-24. (See Part One here.)

Dereck Lively II 7’1″, 230 lb. Duke C – Freshman, Age 19

It’d be apt to consider the possibility of adding a true big man, and the projection of Duke’s Dereck Lively II as a late first round pick makes him a candidate for Sacramento. 

The 7’1″ Lively has a 7’7″ wingspan and is able to get off the ground in a hurry. He might be the best rim protector in the draft as he’s able to block shots in the blink of an eye, but as Adam Spinella points out, he is also aware of when to simply go straight up. So he has a grasp of the kind of fundamentals Mike Brown would want to see.

Spinella also notes Lively’s pick-and-roll defense, which is another thing coach Brown would like to have at his disposal. He’s adept at retreating to the basket, tracking the ball, recovery, and shot contesting. His switching probably isn’t there quite yet though; he mostly succeeds in those scenarios with trailing blocks. 

Offensively, he really only scores off of alley-oop’s or dump-off’s. He lacks post skills and touch, but his excellent reach and decent explosiveness make him a great lob target. The better the spacing, the wider the opportunities will be.

But he won’t create any spacing himself as he seems to lack any form of a jump shot, going just 2 of 13 all season from three.

A big concern that could inhibit his ability to make an impact as a rookie is his tendency to get into foul trouble. Per 100 possessions, Lively committed 8.0 personal fouls, which would be the second most among NBA players. Weaknesses get exploited at the highest levels of competition, and this one is particularly susceptible to that because of the increased physicality.

If the foul trouble avoids becoming a major issue, he could see a fair amount of time as a backup center.

Dariq Whitehead 6’6″, 217 lb. Duke SG/SF – Freshman, Age 18

Sticking with another one-and-done Blue Devil, Dariq Whitehead is a name that pops up.

He shot 42.9% from three-point range on 3.5 attempts per game and 44.3% on catch and shoot threes. The spacing he provides would likely translate, especially because he has good awareness of where to be on the perimeter while also possessing the body control to square up and hit his shots off that movement.

Whitehead also shoots well from the mid-range, able to pull up at times, but it’s clear he doesn’t finish all that well inside and he is mistake prone with the ball in his hands. 

On defense, he’s said to have all the makings of a good defender, though he didn’t always show it. With a 6’9″ wingspan, he has good length, and he moves pretty well while trying to defend with his chest. It also helps that he’s fairly strong and exhibits nice activity, but like a lot of young players, he has to be more consistent on that end.

The biggest concerns have to do with his injury history and lack of explosiveness. He broke his right foot in August, which required surgery and forced him to miss the first 3 games of the season. Later on, he sustained a lower leg sprain on his left side. And earlier this month, it was reported he was getting a second surgery on his right foot.

As noted, he doesn’t score at the rim much. He isn’t very good at it, and part of the reason is his lack of burst, which apparently never surfaced pre-injury in high school.

At the end of the day, he could see some floor time as a floor spacer early on, and if his defense pans out, he’ll keep himself out there. He has real potential to be a solid 3-and-D wing down the line.

Noah Clowney 6’10”, 210 lb. Alabama PF – Freshman, Age 18

After a great season for Alabama, some envision Sacramento taking the second-most enthralling prospect coming from the Crimson Tide.

Noah Clowney is a great athlete with tremendous length (7’2″ wingspan). This lends a lot to his defensive versatility. He’s able to guard inside and outside, exhibiting switchability and, as Jonathan Givony put it, an ability to play disciplined drop back defense. He can also block shots, mostly in transition where he’s chasing guys, but also in the half court while near the basket because of his adept rotations. 

He’s not just a defensive prospect. Clowney converted 67.2% of his attempts at the rim. He’s a good roller and can throw down lobs due to his springiness. 

It’s less certain, but he’s also regarded as having shooting upside. He shot below 30% from three in his one season at Alabama, but most seem to agree that his shooting mechanics are strong with his quick, smooth release. He’s shown a lot of promise on corner threes and has had games where he is hot from beyond the arc.

There are reasons some project him as more of a second round pick though.

His defense can be really good, but right now, he’s not laterally quick enough to guard some quicker power forwards in the NBA. Some may assume he could be better suited as a 5, but in that respect, he lacks a lot in his frame. And while scouts and such can admire his shooting fundamentals, it’s really important that he actually hit those kinds of shots with some form of consistency.

In all, he has some very promising traits. If he can refine his defense, show that he can routinely hit shots without being left entirely alone, and add to his frame, he’ll have a nice career, but as of now, it’s all a question mark.

James Nnaji 6’10”, 225 lb. Barcelona (by way of Nigeria) C – Age 18

With Sasha Vezenkov likely headed this way, Sacramento could potentially add two EuroLeague players if they drafted James Nnaji.

The big man out of Nigeria played for Barcelona this last season, and as an 18 year-old, he did not see the floor a ton, but began to earn time later on. He’s raw, but offers plenty of upside.

Most of that is visible in his length and athleticism. He’s got a 7’5″ wingspan, he’s really strong for just a kid, and he has good mobility relative to his size. All of that gives him the defensive potential that makes him a late-first round pick. He’s got some good instincts and recovery speed as well. Like everything else with his game, it needs time, but he projects to be very effective switching onto smaller players as well as defending the pick-and-roll, which are two things any coach would love to see one day.

Nnaji is also a high motor player that rebounds on both ends and runs the floor. He throws down lobs with force, using his hops and reach to his advantage. The Nigerian finished incredibly well inside with a 78.6% clip at the rim.

He still needs to work on his touch though. In all, his offensive game isn’t expansive, and it won’t ever scare NBA defenses on its own unless he develops a jump shot, which he is nowhere close to doing at this point.

Additionally, the screws need some tightening in regards to his defense and his turnover susceptibility.

At the end of the day, James Nnaji will take a few years, but he could soon be a great complementary piece with his defense, athleticism, and rebounding.

Brandin Podziemski 6’5″, 204 lb. Santa Clara PG/SG – Sophomore, Age 20

One guy who saw his stock rise after the combine is Brandin Podziemski, a guy who might be solidifying himself as a first round talent.

Before his recent ascent, Podziemski was always regarded as a standout shooter. After transferring to Santa Clara from Illinois, he shot 43.8% from beyond the arc for the Broncos. He notably shot 44% on all catch and shoot jumpers (both twos and threes). Adam Spinella highlighted how many clean swishes he produces, and said he’s “automatic” when left open. And he has deep range as well. When set, defenders can’t give him any space. 

The lefty’s touch is special in general, and he finishes very well on his runners and floaters. Plus, he can convert around the rim fairly well for a smaller player and can get to the line at a decent rate if the chance arises.

As a combo guard, Podziemski is a commendable playmaker. He averaged 3.7 assists and is often touted for his high basketball IQ. The feel he exhibits for the game jumps off the screen and many of his passes are striking. The kid from Wisconsin is both confident and crafty.

He has an air about him that probably reminds some of Donte DiVincenzo, and his 8.8 rebounds per game really back that up. 

On the defensive side of the ball, he has good energy as a pestering presence that was near the top of his conference in steals, and his size gives him a chance to be versatile. 

Podziemski will still need to refine some things defensively though as he can struggle in some one-on-one scenarios, which causes him to drift from DiVincenzo territory. And furthermore in terms of areas in need of improvement, he’s not really getting by that many defenders with his relatively slow first step.

Still, it was his recent performance in athletic tests that underlined him as an NBA-ready athlete and has catapulted his ascendence into first round conversation.

Brandin Podziemski looks like he’ll be only the third player drafted out of Santa Clara in the last thirty years, which puts him in the company of Steve Nash and the Thunder’s young sensation Jalen Williams. Perhaps the Kings will initiate that into existence?

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