The Sacramento Kings are entering a new era in the 2017-18 season. DeMarcus Cousins is gone, and the Kings have adjusted for another rebuilding process. The Kings will have one of the youngest rotations in the NBA, even with their new veteran additions. The team will likely run a more up-tempo offense next season with De'Aaron Fox replacing Cousins as the team's most important player. Here is a look at the projected starting lineup and the key rotation players for the upcoming year.
PG: De'Aaron Fox
Given that De'Aaron Fox is the future of this team, it seems likely that the Kings will find a way to fit him into the starting backcourt. The fifth overall pick in this past draft, Fox endeared himself to Kings fans by proclaiming his love for the team early and often during the draft process. Fox brings defensive intensity and ridiculous athletic tools to the Kings; he showed in Summer League that he can leverage that speed into transition buckets against elite NBA athletes:
Josh Jackson, another elite athlete taken one pick before Fox, is actually closer to the other basket than De'Aaron on this play. However, once he sees Fox turn on the jets he does not even try to get back. Sacramento native Marquese Chriss has incredible athletic tools, and Fox just blows by him despite Chriss' significant head start. De'Aaron's speed alone gives him a solid floor for his rookie year on both ends of the floor and he should be a far better defender than the average rookie.
The biggest concern for Fox, both this year and going forward, is his jump shot. Fox's form is not broken and his mid-range jump shot was better than advertised in Summer League. However, he cannot shoot at all from long range. Fox shot a ghastly 24.6% from deep at Kentucky and went 1-8 from deep in Las Vegas. Fox's solid mid-range jump shot is a positive sign that he can eventually shoot from deep, and if Fox can become league-average from long range he could make a couple of All-Star games at his peak.
SG: George Hill
George Hill should start alongside De'Aaron Fox, and they will probably share the ball-handling duties. With that in mind, the Kings could opt to give either of them the nominal point guard title. However, Hill has a remarkable 6'9" wingspan and a far bulkier frame than Fox. Hill should thus take the bigger guard on the defensive end, which will effectively make him the starting off-guard.
Hill is one of the more underrated players in the league and is an above-average starter when healthy. He is an elite shooter from long range, cracking 40% from deep last year, and is a stout defender at either guard position. Hill has alternated between 70-game and 40-game seasons over the last four years, so the Kings will have to hope that the trend continues after Hill played in just 49 games last season in Utah. He could also face some age-related decline as turned 31 in May. However, George Hill is the best guard that has put on a Kings uniform in many years and will be a great mentor to De'Aaron Fox in addition to being a great backcourt mate in the starting lineup.
SF: Bogdan Bogdanovic
Bogdan Bogdanovic might be a rookie in terms of the NBA. However, Bogdanovic was one of the best players in Euroleague last season and was impressive during Eurobasket as well. Vlade Divac inked the Serbian phenom to a three-year $27 million contract with the expectation that he would be one of the best players on the team. While there is some reason for concern on that front, there is also plenty of cause for optimism:
Bogdanovic might have fantastic touch from deep--he shot 43% from long range last year with Fenerbahce--but he is not just a spot-up shooter. He was one of the more athletic players on the wing in Europe last year and should be about average in terms of athleticism in the NBA. His sizable contract and optimism from the front office make him a reasonable bet to start. While his natural position is probably shooting guard, his 6'6" frame is acceptable at small forward.
PF: Skal Labissiere
Skal Labissiere got a chance last season after the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and he definitely took advantage of it. He was arguably the team's most impressive player down the stretch, and he should get a chance to start on Opening Night of the 2017-18 season.
Skal's biggest challengers for his starting role are Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph. Randolph was effective off the bench for Memphis last season, but he started all but 15 of his games under Dave Joerger in Memphis and could easily start again next season. Joerger was also a fan of Koufos last season due to his experience with Joerger's system in Memphis. Either or both of Randolph and Koufos could be nominal starters that average under 20 minutes a game--which is the role that Koufos played last season. The Kings should focus on their youth movement this year, and Labissiere should play a major role next year regardless of his starter status.
C: Willie Cauley-Stein
While Skal drew much of the shine down the stretch of last season, Willie Cauley-Stein was the biggest beneficiary of the DeMarcus Cousins trade. Cauley-Stein averaged just 13 minutes per game before the trade and did not start in a single game. After the trade, Willie started in 21 of his last 25 games and averaged 30.9 minutes per game.
Willie Cauley-Stein is the best bet to start among the quartet of himself, Randolph, Koufos, and Labissiere. He was the main minutes beneficiary after Cousins left, and his remarkable mobility and size make him an asset on defense at either big man spot. Willie will have to improve his rebounding and defensive pick-and-roll coverage to hold down that starting spot, but his defensive upside makes him an important player to watch going forward.
6th Man: Zach Randolph
Since Zach Randolph had started the majority of his games in every year since 2003-04 barring an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, his 2016-17 season with Memphis appears to be an aberration. After all, he started nearly all of his games under Dave Joerger and only made the transition to coming off the bench last season under David Fizdale.
However, Randolph might simply be better suited for a bench role going forward. He turned 36 during this offseason, and his limited athleticism is becoming even more of a crutch as he ages. That being said, his masterful low-post game and effort on the glass allow him to bully all but the stoutest bench big men. Randolph averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in just 24.5 minutes per game for the Grizzlies last season. Although he did not come off the bench under Dave Joerger in Memphis, he could be a bench big man in Sacramento.
7th Man: Buddy Hield
Buddy Hield struggled last season in New Orleans but lit it up in Sacramento after the trade. He put up 15.1 points per game on 48/43/81 shooting splits and can score from almost anywhere on the floor. His poor ball-handling and below average passing vision, as well as his defensive concerns, make him a liability as a point guard. However, he can rotate between the two guard spots depending on his backcourt partner in any given rotation.
Hield's explosive scoring ability and poor defense make him an ideal sixth man going forward, and Dave Joerger may decide to have him start the season in that role. Hield might start the year at shooting guard to allow De'Aaron Fox to acclimate to the NBA while coming off the bench, but Buddy' long-term role will probably involve him coming off the bench. Given his scoring punch, he might be good enough in that role to win a Sixth Man of the Year award in a few years.
8th Man: Vince Carter
Vince Carter will be remembered mostly for his dunking. Since he is arguably the greatest dunker of all-time (and is indisputably in the top three with MJ and Dr. J), he has certainly earned that reputation. However, he is also currently fifth all-time in three-pointers made with 2049 career triples. That three-point shot has become Carter's primary weapon in recent years as he prepares for his 18th season in the NBA.
A full 60.4% of Carter's field goal attempts last year came from beyond the arc, and he knocked down a respectable 37.8% of those looks. Given Sacramento's lack of a clear starter at small forward, Vince might be in line for the starting job on Opening Night. He did start 15 of his 73 games in Memphis last season, but relying on Vince as a heavy-minutes starter is an untenable plan. Vince will occasionally rev up the engines for a highlight reel dunk despite his age, and he will be a joy to watch next season whether or not he plays a ton of minutes.
Other Players to Watch
Even though I am projecting that the Kings will have two rookies in the starting lineup, that does not even begin to cover the depth of rookies and young players on this roster. First-round pick Justin Jackson impressed in Summer League, and he could earn rotation minutes in a weak small forward group for the Kings. Harry Giles will probably be brought along slowly given his injury concerns and did not play in Summer League. Frank Mason is on the outside looking into the rotation to start the year, but injuries and solid play for the Reno Bighorns could earn him some minutes down the stretch. Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis will look to bounce back from tough rookie years--Malachi due to injury, and Papagiannis due to his very raw skill set. Kosta Koufos will probably play more minutes than any of these young guns, and could potentially be a small-minutes starter as he was for much of last season.
The Sacramento Kings do not have a superstar like they did last year. However, they have a lot of exciting young talent and a great group of veterans to teach them. The Kings will probably not win as many games as they did last season, but they will certainly be fun to watch.