The Kings already made my week. If nothing else, their rapid exit from trade talks involving Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith eliminated the night sweats.
Can anyone imagine a more nightmarish scenario than DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Isaiah Thomas and Smith together on a basketball court, competing for touches and shots, and conveniently ignoring the wisdom that was imparted during the San Antonio Spurs’ NBA Finals tutorial?
The NBA is a copycat league. One can only hope.
The Kings, who finished last in assists in 2013-14, who won 28 games for a second consecutive year, who were exploited on the perimeter and the interior, need help in a multitude of areas. Keep in mind that the NBA draft is one of three ways teams improve – trades and free agency are the others – and the talent level tonight is widely regarded as vastly superior to the class of 2013.
“I think it’s one of the deepest drafts and one of the most talented that we’ve had in maybe a decade,” longtime ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas said during a teleconference with reporters. “It’s full of players that can not only come in and contribute, but guys that could be starters and potential stars. We’re one year removed from what I thought was a really bad draft. Last year, nobody wanted to trade in.”
While remaking a team is far more involved than one-stop shopping, tonight is where and when it starts. Unlike a year ago, when employees were still moving in and out of the building during a hasty ownership transition, all the Kings men are in place – the general manager, assistant general manager, special advisers to Vivek Ranadive, the head coach and his staff – and they’ve spent the past several months preparing for the draft.
General manager Pete D’Alessandro also planned to work through Wednesday night pursuing trade possibilities and/or attempting to obtain another first or second-round pick to go with the team’s No. 8 selection.
“We’re really looking in all directions,” D’Alessandro said Wednesday. “That said, this is the NBA draft. You’re always searching for that diamond in the rough. And because the draft is so deep, the thing we feel really good about is that we’re going to come out of it with a good player.”
With the organization’s priorities on playmakers and shooters, and Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker expected to be the first two selections, though not necessarily in that order, here is a look at the players who could be available to the Kings at No. 8:• Marcus Smart: The Oklahoma State standout is considered the top point guard prospect by most draft analysts, and at a muscular 6-foot-3, his physical, attack-rim style is reminiscent of a smaller Tyreke Evans. So is his shaky jump shot, which suggests he might be more of a combo guard than distributor. But he defends aggressively and is a vocal floor leader. The sense is that his shooting percentage will improve with better decision-making.
• Dante Exum: The Australian is projected to go within the first four picks despite his lack of college or European experience and exposure. Scouts are intrigued by his length, athleticism and all-around skills. Plus, everyone loves a good mystery.
• Joel Embiid: If healthy, the 7-foot Cameroon native would be the consensus No. 1 pick. Unfortunately, his tremendous upside is countered by a downside that includes a recent stress fracture in his back and a broken navicular bone in his right foot that required surgery last week. Think Bill Walton and Yao Ming. Think again. Someone will take the risk, though, because of Embiid’s size, mobility, footwork and dramatic improvement in a very short period of time.
• Noah Vonleh: Scouts like his size (6-9), length and instincts on the defensive boards. His offense lacks polish – or even definition – but his potential is tantalizing.
• Aaron Gordon: The Arizona standout is known for his spectacular dunks, many coming off alley-oop passes in transition, but there is a lot more to like than a one-handed or two-handed flush. Though a little undersized for a power forward, he compensates with quickness and athleticism, footwork and defensive instincts, and he’s a willing and accomplished passer. He needs a better jump shot, but he has everything else, including a fast motor.
• Julius Randle: The left-handed power forward has been compared to a young Zach Randolph because of his size (a thick 6-9) and post skills, but he needs to develop a right hand and is uncomfortable taking shots outside the lane. Teams love size and strength, though. Just guessing, but I could see him creating congestion in a lane dominated by Cousins.
• Doug McDermott: What’s not to like? OK, he’ll struggle defensively against NBA small forwards. But he’s a four-year player regarded as one of the two best shooters in the draft (along with Nik Stauskas). Plus, he makes plays for others, makes big plays (rebounds, steals) and will figure out how to score against athletic defenders. He might be the most NBA-ready of this year’s class.
• Elfrid Payton: The lithe, athletic point guard from a mid-major program (Louisiana-Lafayette) forced his way into the higher lottery grouping via workouts, interviews and closer scrutiny of his talents. He has size (a wiry 6-4), quickness and a passion for defense, and he’s an electric passer and playmaker, particularly in the open court. He is a point guard first and foremost. But there are questions – serious questions – about his shooting. His mechanics are terrible and in need of a complete overhaul. Three-pointers, mid-range jumpers, floaters. He can look bad on all fronts. Can he learn to shoot? This is where the scouts earn the big bucks.
• Nik Stauskas: The Michigan sophomore is a prototypical shooting guard in terms of size (6-6), range (deep threes) and the ability to use screens and score on backdoor cuts. He also moves well without the ball and is a better athlete than advertised. He is not a lockdown defender, but neither are most natural shooting guards.