Sports

The Kings don’t have a first-round pick, but history shows they’re not a sure thing

Kings draft pick Jimmer Fredette, and Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie at the news conference at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento. June 25, 2011
Kings draft pick Jimmer Fredette, and Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie at the news conference at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento. June 25, 2011 jvillegas@sacbee.com

The Kings know all about the NBA Draft, of hopes and dreams.

And of empty promises and broken hearts.

Since arriving from Kansas City in 1985, Sacramento has hit some draft winners and they have air-balled badly. And shoot, it is easy to pick apart drafts years later, almost as if second-guessing was its own sport. There will be no second-guessing this time as the Kings do not have a first-round pick at the moment, though a trade could change that.

A good draft can immediately boost a team, and a blah draft can ensure more mediocrity or misery. The Kings in recent seasons have found gems. In 2016, they landed the draft rights to shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, a keeper. In 2017, it was point guard De’Aaron Fox at No. 5, a big-time keeper.

And last summer it was forward Marvin Bagley III, he of boundless potential, selected second out of Duke. The Kings in 2018-19 enjoyed their best campaign in 13 years.

It’s been a roller-coaster, and it all started when they passed on Karl Malone.

1985, Joe Kleine

The Kings already had a power forward in Otis Thorpe, so there was not a pressing need for Malone, and didn’t everyone blunder on not taking The Mail Man?

So the Kings went with a center at No. 6 and settled on Kleine, the lumbering red head from Arkansas. He was a good guy with a big heart but not an All-Star. In parts of five Kings seasons, Kleine averaged 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

1987, Kenny Smith

The sentimental, and looking-back, logical pick at No. 6 would have been homegrown product and blur-quick guard Kevin Johnson of Cal, but the Kings went with Smith and storied North Carolina.

Johnson went No. 7 and had an All-Star career. Smith was solid, averaging 15.6 points in three Kings seasons.

1988, Ricky Berry

A dynamic long-ball shooter and one of the great “what-ifs” in franchise history, Berry at No. 18 appeared to be on his way to stardom.

He scored 37 in his first start and averaging 11.0 points in 64 games before his stunning and mysterious suicide in the summer of 1989.

1989, Pervis Ellison

The Kings were lucky in a luckless draft, and selecting the slightly built and lightly motivated center No. 1 overall out of Louisville epitomized the franchise’s angst.

Kings coach Bill Russell didn’t bother to bring Ellison in for pre-draft workouts, and karma kicked back. Ellison was touted by the Kings on draft night as “the right guy for the franchise for the next decade.”

Ellison played just 34 games with the Kings, averaging 8.0 point and 5.8 rebounds.

1990, Lionel Simmons, Travis Mays, Duane Causwell, Anthony Bonner

The Kings struck gold with four first-round picks, or so they thought, and then they flinched over time as it was more fool’s gold.

Only Simmons produced a solid career of the four, and the Kings continued to spin out. The Kings would make the playoffs just once in the next eight seasons.

1991, Billy Owens

A star guard at Syracuse, Owens made it clear that he did not want to play for the Kings.

Sacramento traded his draft rights to Golden State for Mitch Richmond, which was a home-run deal. Richmond averaged 23 points over seven seasons, infusing life in a sagging franchise. Said Charles Barkley of Richmond in 1993, while with the Suns, “The guy plays in a (bleeping) ghost town. They don’t even have TV in Sacramento.”

1993: Bobby Hurley

The slightly built guard from Duke impressed against the original Dream Team in pre-Olympic scrimmages in 1992 and he was a wise pick at No. 7.

But Hurley’s body was crushed, nearly killing him, from a car crash near Arco Arena after a game early his rookie season and he never regained his playing form.

1996: Peja Stojakovich

Kings fans booed lustily and loudly when the team selected the shooting forward from a faraway land of Serbia at No. 14.

But those fans did not attend predraft workout in Chicago when Peja stunned 30 general managers with his 3-point range. He helped boost the Kings and remains an all-time Kings fan favorite.

1998: Jason Williams

He was flashy and fun, and J-Will fit right in for a team fast on the rise.

At No. 7, Williams was the right point guard at the right time, and his highlight clips still circulate on the Internet.

2006: Quincy Douby

A guard out of Rutgers and the 19th pick, Douby was not the answer in an underwhelming draft as the Kings sought a player to keep them a playoff contender.

Douby lasted two seasons with Sacramento, averaging 4.1 points.

2009: Tyreke Evans

Evans impressed Kings executives and coaches in pre-draft workouts more than Steph Curry did, so they went with the guard as the fourth pick out of Memphis.

He earned Rookie of the Year honors and had glimpses of promise but never approached All-Star status. Curry? You know.

2010: DeMarcus Cousins

Big Boogie fit the bill as a big with skills, and he delivered great moments.

But Cousins was not always easy to coach as the Kings cycled through coaches in his seven seasons, averaging 21.1 points and 10.8 rebounds.

2011: Jimmer Fredette

Acquired in a draft-day deal, the guard from BYU was a popular fan pick as his Kings jersey resulted in a 540-percent merchandise spike.

But Fredette struggled to defend and get his shot off, his undoing as he bounced around the league, even landing in China.

2012: Thomas Robinson

This was a wildly popular fan pick at No. 5 out of Kansas, and NBA media across the country rated it an A-plus, envisioning the power forward settling in nicely with Cousins.

But Robinson didn’t pan out. He averaged 4.8 points in 51 games with the Kings before getting traded to Houston. The Kings could have gone with guard Damian Lillard, who has dazzled in this season’s NBA playoffs.

2013: Ben McLemore

The seventh pick out of Kansas, McLemore never found his groove as a shooting guard, averaging 9.0 points in five Kings seasons. A nice athlete but a blah pick.

2014: Nik Stauskas

A year after selecting McLemore, the Kings went with another shooting guard, the eighth pick out of Michigan. But Stauskas underwhelmed, identified mostly for the nickname “Sauce Castillo,” as he lasted one season with the Kings with one start, averaging 8.7 points.

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