The debate over who “won” the 2017 NBA Draft will most likely rage for years.
The most obvious answer is the Philadelphia 76ers, who took the one player experts consider a sure thing in Markelle Fultz. But the great thing about the draft is that most of the time the overall winner only becomes apparent about five or six years down the line. And in some cases, it never does.
Take 2010 for instance.
Did the Washington Wizards win that one because they took John Wall first overall? Or was it the Sacramento Kings, who took DeMarcus Cousins fifth overall? How about the Utah Jazz, who got Gordon Hayward ninth overall? Or even the Indiana Pacers, who took Paul George tenth overall?
It’s hard to say (even if three of those four players may have left the franchises that drafted them come the end of the summer). Especially when the class is a deep one, as 2017’s most certainly was.
That’s why I’m not going to try and convince you that any one team came out on top this year.
What I am going to say though is that the Sacramento Kings had a very good draft night – the best the franchise has seen since they got Cousins back in 2010.
And it was trading Cousins at this year’s deadline that put the Kings in a position to draft well, something GM Vlade Divac highlighted when the rest of us, myself included, were too busy focusing on how the Kings had just been fleeced by the New Orleans Pelicans (which they still were, okay?!):
“With the upcoming draft class set to be one of the strongest in the decade, this trade will allow us to build the depth needed for a talented and developing roster moving forward.”
In retrospect, while the Kings should have tried to get more for Cousins, Vlade’s thinking at the time is beginning to make a little more sense, as the Kings are not only rebuilding the team, they’re overhauling the entire culture of the organization.
While they’re still likely to have some veteran guys on their roster next year, the Kings are looking leaner, younger and more exciting than they have done for years going into free agency, thanks largely to the players they acquired on Thursday night.
Just to recap, they took point guard De’Aaron Fox with the fifth pick, before trading the tenth overall pick for picks fifteen and twenty, giving them forward Justin Jackson and center Harry Giles. With their second round pick they also added another point guard in Frank Mason, giving them a glut of fresh talent to work with over the summer.
Now a lot of people were extremely critical of the Kings decision to trade down, especially as explosive guard Malik Monk was still available when they did so. But given just how high we know Kings owner Vivek Randive is on Buddy Hield (a player he believes could possess Steph Curry-level talent, make of that what you will), the brain trust in Sacramento was never likely to go after someone capable of challenging him for his starting spot.
Additionally, as they have Malachi Richardson, Bogdan Bogdanovich (stashed away in Turkey) and Garret Temple on their books, as well as the option of bringing back unrestricted free agen Ben McLemore this summer (should they choose to), adding another shooting guard doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
That said, I totally understand the argument for drafting Monk, as he’s a quality scorer who could have a huge impact on a franchise. And yet, if “winning begins with culture and character matters”, as Vlade Divac led us to believe after trading Cousins, loading up on one position makes little sense when you have the opportunity to fill out others.
Speaking of which, Jackson was (if Vlade’s to be believed) the player they would have taken at ten regardless, and he should be able to slide right in alongside Fox and Hield at the three – something that would have been quite a stretch for the 6’4”, 197lbs Monk. On top of that, the Kings were able to add Giles, who, prior to tearing his left ACL, MCL and meniscus in 2013, his right ACL in 2015 and having surgery as recently as last October, was actually considered a top-three-calibre prospect.
Given his health problems Giles is undoubtedly a huge risk. But, again, on paper at least, he looks like a solid addition to that young core, which will undoubtedly benefit from his elite rebounding ability, assuming he’s able to play consistent minutes.
As for Mason, he’s an undersized guard who was named the 2017 Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year. And while he’s unlikely to see a lot of action in the NBA next season, he could be a really nice project for the Kings, especially as they’re not exactly in any great hurry to turn this thing around.
Obviously Fox is the real gem here though, as he’s a great defender despite his slender frame and brings a ton of energy to the court. He’s also a really intelligent player whose quickness enables him to burst into the seams of a defense at will, and whose intelligence as a playmaker should ensure those around him get a lot of great looks next season.
On the flipside, he does struggle with his shot and made just 24.6 percent of his three point attempts in 2016/17. Still, experts don’t have him pegged as Rajon Rondo-esque player who will never develop this part of his game. Rather, the good folk over at Draft Express seem to think he could have a career trajectory similar to Mike Conley’s, who also experienced similar problems during his time at Ohio State.
However you feel about Fox, he should give the Kings the kind of franchise point guard they’ve been missing ever since the traded Isaiah Thomas (or maybe even Mike Bibby), even if it does take a few years for that to become entirely evident.
Right now (prior to free agency) his supporting cast looks young and exciting too – something Kings fans just aren’t used to. The organization has been throwing aging free agent talent at Cousins for so many years now in an attempt to end its playoff drought (in effect since 2006) that a scenario such as this seemed unfeasible as recently four or so months ago.
Still, this is the Kings we’re talking about here.
And although it’s great to see them finally rebuilding the right way – from the ground up, through the draft – there’s still plenty of time for Randive and Divac to screw it all up.
Watch this space, haters.