Kings Blog

Kings' best draft fits: Center isn't premier position, but should it be prime concern?

Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) dunks in front of Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) and forward Brady Manek (35) on Feb. 17, 2018 in Norman, Okla.
Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) dunks in front of Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) and forward Brady Manek (35) on Feb. 17, 2018 in Norman, Okla. AP

This is part of a series breaking down the Kings' roster by position and identifying the draft prospects who best fit those spots.

Center

Level of need (scale of 1-10): 6

Description

For all the talk about centers going extinct, big men still have value. Look at the defense of Rudy Gobert for Utah, or the versatility of Joel Embiid for Philadelphia or Al Horford for Boston. And before his Achilles injury, DeMarcus Cousins was a major reason New Orleans was playing so well.

The best centers are important in the pick and roll by keeping pressure on the defense, but can also pick and pop and knock down a jumper. Defensively, they protect the rim and gobble up rebounds. The trend of playing smaller lineups puts centers at a disadvantage, but if you can find a Gobert or DeAndre Jordan to anchor the defense, you're in a good spot.

For the Kings last season, breakdowns on the perimeter routinely put the centers in compromising positions around the rim. Sacramento also was among the league's worst at rebounding and near the bottom in blocked shots.

Who's there now?

Willie Cauley-Stein was supposed to have solidified this spot for the Kings. He was drafted sixth overall in 2015 largely because he was expected to be ready to contribute defensively rather quickly after three seasons at Kentucky.

The problem is some of Cauley-Stein's best games came when he played power forward and his intensity dropped when he wasn't facing big-time teams and players. Cauley-Stein is not an imposing rebounder or shot blocker. But his athleticism makes him valuable because he can switch out defensively on the perimeter against smaller players.

Cauley-Stein actually averaged more steals (1.1) than blocks (0.9) last season.

Kings general manager Vlade Divac wanted to see Cauley-Stein average a double-double. He averaged 12.8 points and 7.0 rebounds last season. Entering his fourth season and with a new contract looming next summer, Cauley-Stein should be motivated to build on those career-high numbers.

Kosta Koufos quietly had a good season. He averaged 6.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in 19.6 minutes. His defensive effort was consistent and underrated by those who might not notice the little ways he affected the game.

Koufos' ability to defend opposing centers allowed Cauley-Stein to play power forward at times. And his experience was important in helping young players know where to be on defense, even if the youngsters still got lost.

Koufos has a player option for next season he is expected to return to Sacramento. There will likely be trade interest from teams making a playoff push, but if he's still on the roster, the Kings have a reliable option who knows his role.

Best fits

Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Some consider the freshman phenom the best player available in the draft. At 7-foot-1 and 250 pounds, he already has an NBA frame and a game to match.

Ayton averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds for the Wildcats and can score in the paint and away from the basket.

If Phoenix passes on Ayton, the Kings should be ecstatic to select him second overall.

Mohamed Bamba, Texas: With a 7-10 wingspan, Bamba (6-11, 225) averaged 3.7 blocks for the Longhorns to go with 12.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. The Kings need an enforcer in the paint and Bamba might be able to do that as a rookie.

There will be questions about his offense and whether he can develop into a scoring threat. But there might not be a better defensive player in this year's draft.

Wendell Carter Jr., Duke: He played next to Marvin Bagley III in college and might be a power forward in the NBA. Listed at 6-10, 259 pounds, Carter is working to drop some weight to better defend on the perimeter. He averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds as a freshman for the Blue Devils. Carter also averaged 2.1 blocks.

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