The biggest night in the rebuilding process for the Sacramento Kings took place on Thursday night at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The Kings held the 5th and 10th overall picks in the 2017 NBA Draft and used them to turn their young, talented roster into an even younger and more talented one.
The 5th pick was Sacramento’s own, obtained by finishing with the 8th worst record in the league, followed by a rise up the board and a pick swap. As many had predicted in the weeks leading up to the draft, the Kings selected De’Aaron Fox from the University of Kentucky. Fox is a 6’4” point guard and was the fastest prospect in this year’s draft. His game in a word is “electric”, with a fearless mentality when attacking the basket. He is a leaper and uses his ultra-athleticism to convert around the rim. His speed is his greatest asset, however. He has been described as a “blur” and has game changing quickness, which is the attribute that Sacramento coveted the most.
An added plus for the Kings is Fox’s potential to be an elite defender. In his two contests against fellow top-5 pick Lonzo Ball, Fox pestered Ball into a total of 10 turnovers. In the first game, Ball had a season-high six turnovers to Fox’s two. Their second matchup was in the Sweet 16, and De’Aaron Fox had his best game on the biggest stage. He scored 39 points by shooting 65% from the field and converting 13 of 15 free throws. Kentucky got the victory and advanced to the Elite 8. Lonzo Ball scored 10 points in 38 minutes.
There is a glaring weakness in Fox’s game, however: long-range jump shooting. While he shot a respectable 52% from inside the arc, his 3-point percentage was an abysmal 24%. It is said that a jump shot can be corrected with a few years of NBA play, and Fox maintains that he is a better shooter than his percentage reflected. He shot a solid 74% from the free throw line, so the technique is there, and may just need to be tweaked. It is a risk that Sacramento is more than willing to take, given Fox’s strengths and the team’s thirst for a point guard.
How De’Aaron Fox will fit
The Kings needed a point guard, plain and simple. Given the Kings youth and inexperience, having a traditional pass-first point guard would have been optimal for the Kings. In fact, envisioning pick and rolls between Lonzo Ball and Willie Caulie-Stein or Skal Labissiere was enough to make some Kings fans open to the idea of Ball and his father being in Sacramento. But Fox will find a way to fit in. He is the type of player who can control the pace of a game, and the Kings coaching staff will find a way to fit the rest of the players around him.
As for the fan reception, Fox already has a solid reputation with Kings fans via social media. He’s been interacting with fans on Twitter and posting pictures with Kings memorabilia on his Snapchat. Only a handful of hours have passed since the Kings selected De’Aaron Fox, but so far it looks like a match made in heaven.
About 20 minutes after Sacramento drafted Fox and just before they went on the clock for the 10th selection, a trade was announced. At a spot in the draft where it looked like there would be a run on big men, and given the players they drafted last year, the Kings got out. Sacramento acquired the 15th and 20th overall selections from Portland in exchange for the 10th pick. The Blazers used that pick to select Zach Collins, the big man from Gonzaga.
With the newly acquired 15th pick, the Kings selected Justin Jackson from the University of North Carolina. Jackson would have been drafted last year, but decided to return to school for his junior year, and was arguably the best player on the team that won the National Championship. Jackson is 6’8” and is listed as a small forward. He weighs only 193 pounds, meaning his frame needs some work before it’s NBA ready.
Jackson’s decision to return to school was extremely beneficial, as his game improved all over the board. He was the 2017 ACC Player of the Year, and averaged 22.9 points per 40 minutes. He upped his 3-point percentage from 27% in his first two seasons to 37% his junior season. In the biggest games of the year, Jackson performed at a moderately high level. In the Final Four game, he dropped 22 points on Oregon and sank all 6 of his free throws. He struggled with his 3-point shot in the Championship game, but still managed to score 16 points and used his long wingspan to bother Gonzaga players on defense en route to a Tar Heel championship.
Jackson is an average athlete with a lot of length, though he lacks explosiveness and open court speed. His jump shot from inside the arc is solid, though his shooting mechanics are a bit irregular. He shows good court vision and is a good passer who averaged 3 assists last season. His frame will be his biggest obstacle in his rookie year. On defense, he is easily backed down, especially against larger opponents. In the NBA, everyone is large and strong. Jackson may have some trouble adjusting to the physicality and quick level of play in the league.
How Justin Jackson will fit
Given the departure of Rudy Gay, the Kings are desperate to fill the small forward and wing positions. Unfortunately, Jackson probably won’t be able to be plugged in immediately, and may even need a year before he is a part of the rotation of any NBA team. If he is able to contribute this season, he will bring positive attributes that will be beneficial to the development of the Kings. His solid passing will work well with a young team that will need ball movement and unselfishness from its small forward. Jackson also knows how to win and has big game experience, which may come in handy in his development down the road.
Five picks later, Sacramento was on the clock again. Having already filled two of their most pressing needs, the Kings were able to take a chance. In what will probably be the most “high risk, high reward” selection of the night, Sacramento selected Duke power forward Harry Giles with the 20th overall selection. The risk: his knee. Giles suffered a torn ACL before his senior season in high school forcing him to miss the season. Days before he committed to Duke, he had another surgery on the same knee, forcing him to miss the first six weeks of his collegiate career. The reward: the no.1 overall player in the 2016 high school class.
In a repeat of last year’s draft when the Kings drafted Skal Labissiere, they once again selected the player who was the top rated prospect the year before. Labissiere struggled in his freshman season at Kentucky and resulted in him falling to the Kings in the mid-20s. Giles struggled as well, but only because of injuries. Following his six week absence, he averaged only 11 minutes per game, and contributed a paltry 4 points per game. The problem is that his physical tools that once made him an explosive prospect are in question. Coach K wisely put a heavy monitor on Giles’ minutes, so there is a very small sample size of what he can do against higher competition. If he is able to overcome the injury issues, the sky could be the limit for this one. He has a huge wingspan and a body that needs little tweaking to become NBA ready. He is light on his feet, and got a handful of his buckets last season while running the open court.
How Harry Giles will fit
It is difficult for an NBA franchise to judge potential talent when all they’ve seen are your high school tapes. But the Kings were in the best position to give Giles a chance, having drafted two of the players they had been coveting. Sacramento could afford to take a flyer. It is almost certain that Giles won’t be making an impact this season. If he does get minutes, they will be extremely limited. In fact, it is probably safe to assume that Giles will be wearing a Big Horns jersey more often than a Kings one.
Sacramento’s final pick of the night was early in the second round, the 34th overall. The pick was acquired as a throw in in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, but ended up as the 3rd pick of the second round, making it fairly valuable in such a deep draft. With the pick, the Kings took a player who had impressed them in his workout, senior Frank Mason III from the University of Kansas.
Mason won 90 games as a Jayhawk, and was 2017 Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year. He averaged 21 points per game as a senior to go along with 5 assists, and was also named Big 12 Player of the Year. He led his team to the Elite 8 and is one of the winningest players in Jayhawk history. The biggest reason for Mason’s drop in to the second round is his size. He is undersized, even by point guard standards, at a mere 6 feet tall. It hampers his ability to finish around the basket, just one of the ways his height will keep him from affecting the game. He also struggles on the defensive end with bigger guards. He is strong and uses that to his advantage on defense, but bigger players are able to rise up and shoot over him. However, none of that stops Frank Mason III motor. His style of play is “fearless and ferocious” and is ultra-competitive. He has been referred to as a “bull dog” by more than a few scouts and NBA heads. He has a great outside shot, shooting 47% from deep in his senior season, mainly in catch and shoot situations.
How Frank Mason will fit
While the pick is exciting and smart, its hard to see how Mason plays in to Sacramento’s immediate plans. There could be as many as three point guards above him on the depth chart when the season starts, depending on what happens the rest of the summer. At a time when the Kings need teamwork and fluid ball movement, Mason may be worth stashing away in Reno and monitoring his play based on his size. If the Kings are able to begin next season without Ty Lawson on the roster, Mason could potentially see some minutes. There won’t be a lack of experience. Mason has plenty of big game experience, and brings his maturity with him as a 23 year old rookie.
The Kings and their fans can’t help but be satisfied with the results of this draft. Of course, you can never judge a draft until at least a couple of years down the road. But given the rocky history of Kings draft picks, coming out satisfied on draft night feels good. The players they drafted know how to win. In fact, the schools of the players that they selected (Kentucky, UNC, Duke, Kansas) are the 4 winningest programs in NCAAB history.
In the end, the final haul for the DeMarcus Cousins trade was Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III.
The Young and Talented Movement just got a whole lot younger and more talented.