In a league where centers are regarded less and less, the Kings have what could be viewed as a surplus.
Two first-round NBA draft picks in the last two years were used on centers (Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis), in addition to signing Kosta Koufos as a free agent in 2015.
That’s three 7-footers, making it the position the Kings can most afford to ignore in Thursday’s draft.
None of the three gives Sacramento the offense and rebounding that traded All-Star DeMarcus Cousins provided on a nightly basis, but if the Kings are shifting to a more perimeter-based team, they can get by relying on on Koufos and Cauley-Stein.
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The spot should be Cauley-Stein’s now. Two years ago, the Kings were delighted to draft him, even with Cousins already on the team. After waiting for his time last season, there’s no reason he should not be a starter in his third season.
If the youth movement is truly in full swing, it would make sense to trade Koufos, whose $8.4 million salary (second highest among Kings under contract for next season) is a bargain for a player who is more than capable of contributing on a good team. But the Kings have resisted dealing Koufos.
The organization likes that Koufos is a solid player who will not raise a fuss over his situation, even though he was asked to sit out games last to give Papagiannis playing time.
For now, the Kings will keep Koufos, but don’t be shocked when reports of teams inquiring about acquiring him surface.
Papagiannis, 19, isn’t ready to be relied on as a full-time backup to Cauley-Stein. He spent most of last season playing the D-League (now the Gatorade League) and could see more time there next season.
Again, if this is about youth, it still makes sense to play Papagiannis more next season.
Cauley-Stein began to show signs he could be a consistent rebounder after the All-Star break, something the Kings had been waiting to see since drafting him sixth overall in 2015. The Cousins trade allowed Cauley-Stein to be more vocal and begin to take more of a mentor role with Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere. Assuming he’s the starter at center to start the season, Cauley-Stein is in position to build on that.
Cauley-Stein averaged 12.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game after Cousins was traded. If he can keep those numbers at that level and improve over the course of the 2017-18 season, the Kings would be pleased.
He’ll have to be a key to the defense, too, which was the reason he was valued so highly in the 2015 draft.
There isn’t a pure center prospect who the Kings covet. But if they do draft a center, it should be someone who plays differently than their current trio.
That means a hybrid power forward-center with shooting range like Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen. That kind of center would make sense. Other than that, the Kings need to fix the four spots around the center.
The Kings need more of a physical presence, but Cauley-Stein and Papagiannis need to fill that role.
Kings draft glance: Centers
Need level (scale 1-10): 3
Five prospects who could be available: Zach Collins (Gonzaga, 6-10, 232), Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, 7-0, 225), Jarrett Allen (Texas, 6-9, 234), Justin Patton (Creighton, 6-11, 230), Bam Adebayo (Kentucky, 6-10, 245).
Perfect fit: Markkanen would be an ideal complement to Cauley-Stein. When patrolling the paint and rolling to the rim on pick-and-rolls, Markkanen would be a problem for teams as a pick-and-pop center.