Time to Step Up
The upcoming NBA season is pivotal for the Sacramento Kings and their ascension up the Western Conference standings in years to come. No one rightfully expects the Kings to make the playoffs or really even push for a .500 record with so much young talent on board. Despite the anticipated losses coming over the next 82 games, the team looks as exciting as any squad suiting up for the Purple and Black over the past 10 years.
A busy offseason in the capital city of California brought in some very exciting youngsters and grizzled (read former Memphis Grizzlies) veterans to help steer the team in the right direction. With a slew of young prospects needing minutes to mature this season is all about growth.
Buddy Hield looked really good at the end of last season scoring 15 points a game on 42% from deep. His elite skill of shooting is an absolute asset as the modern NBA game has moved further away from the basket. Look for Hield to approach closer to 20 points per game this season on 38% plus shooting from 3. Improved ball-handling and a further emphasis on defense under Coach Dave Joerger will make Hield a more well-rounded player.
Hield was acquired last year in the Boogie Cousins trade, and is one of two true potential stars currently on the roster. The other potential superstar is De’Aaron Fox, the number 5 overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Fox looked, at times, like the most dynamic player in college basketball last year. Lonzo Ball may be getting all of the summer hype as an incoming rookie, but it was Fox who absolutely destroyed Ball in head to head matchups. In the NCAA tournament, Fox showed unparalleled athleticism in attacking Ball’s UCLA Bruins. Fox and the Wildcats handily won the game and the individual matchup. Fox was an offensive dynamo and a defensive wrecking crew during his freshman year. He looks like the type of exciting draft pick the Kings have not had since drafting point guard Jason Williams in 1998. Fox won’t start this season but he will get plenty of minutes and learn how to be an NBA point guard under the tutelage of George Hill. Look for stats of around 9 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists as a rookie while playing some intense defense.
During an up and down rookie campaign, Skal Labissiere looked both like the player thought to have #1 overall draft pick potential and a flyer taken in the late first round. Skal is tall, 6’11, and long but does not have elite athleticism. He is very smooth and seems to be in the right place offensively. He has range out to the 3 point line with an effortless stroke and willingly crashes the offensive glass. On defense, he appears lost and routinely gets beat in the post by stronger players. A realistic long-term projection could be a Robert Horry type, stretch 4; or a solid starter but never a star. This season, look for around 8 points and 5 rebounds per game with 34% 3 point shooting as he is set up by real point guards in the new look Kings offense.
Another young player who will contribute this season is Willie Cauley-Stein who will start and approach a double-double and nearly 2 blocks per game. Georgios Papagiannis looks like a standard euro 7 footer with good touch and below-average athleticism. He will only get significant minutes if Kosta Koufos is moved to a contender in a trade or buyout. Malachi Richardson has yet to look like an NBA player thus far after an injury riddled rookie season.
The future looks very bright for these young Kings. Time will tell if any of them become stars in this league or if the team will net another high lottery pick next June that may eventually give them a franchise player. As it stands, Fox and Hield are the two players whom Sacramento is hinging its hopes for the future and both will be solid contributors this season. While the Kings won’t have a winning record in 2017-18, the season will be a real success if these young players take a significant step forward in their careers. This is an outcome fans can absolutely cheer during a long NBA season.