Needing a point guard, wing defender, defensive big man and perimeter-shooting power forward, the Kings could go in several directions with the sixth pick of the NBA draft.
One person who won’t be yelling out his opinion during the June 25 draft is coach George Karl.
“I’m not an expert on the draft,” Karl said. “I like the (predraft) workouts because you can get a feel for a player and see in general what he can add to the team.”
The Kings worked out two top prospects Thursday at their practice facility. Center Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the most versatile defenders in the draft, while point guard Cameron Payne offers size at 6-foot-2 and playmaking, two things the Kings need.
Sacramento hasn’t had much success in the first round of the draft in recent years. After taking DeMarcus Cousins in 2010, the Kings chose Bismack Biyombo at No. 7 in 2011 and sent him to Charlotte on draft night in a three-team trade that netted rookie Jimmer Fredette and veteran John Salmons from Milwaukee. Sacramento selected Thomas Robinson at No. 5 in 2012. Both Fredette and Robinson are long-gone fringe players.
The Kings might not land a superstar this year, but they can’t afford to spend another high pick on someone who struggles to earn playing time. Karl believes Cauley-Stein or Payne would help the Kings next season.
“Would they get on the court for us?” Karl said. “I think they would get on the court for us.”
Payne would help fill a void the Kings seemingly have spent a decade trying to fill. Though they had their shortcomings in the eyes of previous management and coaches, Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas remain the two most productive point guards Sacramento has had since the team’s heyday of the early 2000s.
The Kings signed Darren Collison last summer, but they still aren’t satisfied with their depth at the position.
“The backup point guard position is obviously open,” Karl said. “I think the game is actually going to playing two point guards for some period of time.”
Payne, who played two seasons at Murray State, says he possesses the intangibles the Kings have lacked. Payne also enjoys setting up his teammates, and the Kings need more players willing to pass.
“I’ve got a great IQ for the game, a feel, and to me that’s what separates me a lot,” Payne said. “I’m very coachable, I listen well, and I do what they tell me to do.”
Cauley-Stein is noted for his defense, but Karl said observers “will be surprised how well he will do offensively” with more space to operate in an NBA system.
“I’m comfortable with my shot,” Cauley-Stein said. “I know I can knock it down.”
But Cauley-Stein realizes he’s a top prospect because of his defense. He’s 7-foot-1 but can switch onto smaller defenders on the perimeter and patrol the paint to guard the rim.
“I think with Willie, he gives us a defensive dimension,” Karl said. “I think we’re all looking for better paint presence and protecting the basket.”
Payne and Cauley-Stein are comfortable in an up-tempo style such as Karl’s. The Kings’ drills are tailored to see if players will fit into their scheme.
With new associate head coach Chad Iske and assistant John Welch joining Karl in Sacramento – both were with him in Denver – Karl has even more voices familiar with his philosophy and to help put prospects through drills.
“Here, you could tell this is what they do – run in transition, being able to score fast,” Cauley-Stein said. “I talked to coach, and his thing is to play really fast but play under control.”
The Kings will send a group of executives to Las Vegas to watch Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis work out Friday.
- When: June 25
- TV: 4 p.m., ESPN
- Kings pick: Sixth in first round