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Gay was the Kings’ answer – but small forward now a big question again entering draft

April 2017: 'I think I can be the missing piece of any team,' Rudy Gay says about his future

'I think I can be the missing piece of any team,' said injured Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay about his future with Kings after their last 2017 home game.
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'I think I can be the missing piece of any team,' said injured Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay about his future with Kings after their last 2017 home game.

Fans of analytics sneer at the thought of Rudy Gay being on their basketball team.

He’s a ball stopper and bad for flow, they say.

But there’s this: He’s also a proven scorer and someone the Kings would be hard pressed to replace next season.

Gay will be a free agent this summer, expected to pursue a playoff contender, which the Kings likely will not be with their youth-filled roster.

With good size, 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, and solid rebounding ability, he was the Kings’ answer at small forward after years of cheap stopgaps and passing on prospects at the position. Acquired in a trade from Toronto in December 2013, Gay averaged more than 17 points each season with the Kings.

But they have known for a year Gay would test free agency, a decision that stood after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in February.

Gay’s injury, coupled with Matt Barnes being waived, exposed the Kings’ lack of size, depth and scoring at the position. Opposing wings overpowered their collection of undersize shooting guards playing small forward, which compromised coach Dave Joerger’s defensive schemes.

Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo and Garrett Temple made the best of it, but for the Kings to take a step forward in their rebuild, they’ll need to groom a young wing.

Temple can still help. So, too, might Malachi Richardson, the 6-6 guard drafted last year who would have seen time at small forward if not for a season-ending hamstring injury before the All-Star break.

The Kings will have room under the salary cap to pursue a veteran small forward. Or they might find a stopgap by absorbing a big contract a team doesn’t want, if said team throws in a draft pick or two for the favor.

But for a long-term solution, the Kings would need to consider drafting a small forward in the top 10, especially if Kansas’ Josh Jackson or Duke’s Jayson Tatum slip to five.

Someone like North Carolina’s Justin Jackson could be an option with the 10th pick. Alternatively, the Kings could opt to give wing minutes to Richardson or Bogdan Bogdanovic – if the Serb joins the team – spreading the wealth of their off guards.

In that case, the Kings would still be too small to compete on the wing in the future.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

Kings draft glance: Small forwards

Need level (scale 1-10): 9

Five prospects who could be available: Josh Jackson (Kansas, 6-8, 203), Jayson Tatum (Duke, 6-8, 204), Jonathan Isaac (Florida State, 6-11, 205), Justin Jackson (North Carolina, 6-8, 193), OG Anunoby (Indiana, 6-8, 215).

Perfect fit: If by some miracle Josh Jackson slips to five, the Kings would be wise to ignore another big need (point guard) and snatch him up. Jackson’s athleticism and elite scoring potential fit the bill of a future superstar. He could also develop into a top-tier defender.

Jason Jones

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