When the Sixers upgraded their pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, going from #3 to #1 to select Markelle Fultz, an asset with high potential value given to the Celtics in the swap was the Kings’ 2019 1st round pick (or the Sixers 2019 1st round pick if it is higher than the Kings’ pick). Though the Kings’ pick is currently expected to be in the top half of the lottery, in the moment, pulling the trigger on the deal was an easy pill to swallow for Philly for a few reasons: Markelle Fultz was the consensus #1 pick and the perfect archetype to play alongside Ben Simmons, and the Sixers were able to place a protection on the Kings’ pick which stipulated that the Sixers would retain the Kings’ pick OR their own pick if either ended up as the #1 selection. At the time, it was a no-brainer according to many (edit: some is probably a better word here than many, “it was the right move” is a more appropriate phrasing than “it was a no-brainer”). “The pick is 2 years out, it’s better to have an asset now than later. The Kings’ actually might not be horrible anyways — what if the pick ends up being at #10 or later and it is a weak draft?” - someone, probably.
Nowadays, it’s easier to call into question the Sixers’ shrewdness (or lack thereof) when making the trade. If Fultz is never able to recover to his Washington form, the trade doesn’t become just an overpay, it has the potential to derail everything the Process years worked toward. (To be fair to the man with the high collars, I was totally in favor of the trade. If you had told me the propositions before the trade and that Bryan Colangelo had turned them down, I would have been angry.) Not only will the Sixers have missed an opportunity to add one young, cheap, high-level talent from the very deep 2017 NBA Draft , they may miss out on an opportunity to add a second tantalizing prospect in 2019, all for a player who isn’t anywhere near as promising as we thought.
But Markelle Fultz does have an opportunity to alleviate the fears of many Sixers fans. If the young man can hit the court in October with a fluid and functional jumper, fans will start feeling much better about the package relinquished to acquire Fultz. Not only can Markelle himself improve the outlook of the trade, the protection placed on the Kings’ pick hasn’t gone anywhere. If the pick lands at #1, the Sixers still have the rights to the selection. So where might the Kings finish in the NBA hierarchy, and could the Sixers retain the Kings’ pick? Who are the players that will be in the conversation for the #1 overall selection? If the Celtics get the pick at #3, can they add a generational talent?
Sacramento Kings outlook
The Kings finished the 2017-2018 season tied for the 6th worst record in the NBA, with their 27 wins being just six games better the Phoenix Suns’ league-worst win total of 21. Sacramento’s net rating says even more about the futility of their play than their win total, as their net rating of -7.9 was worsted by only, you guessed it, the Suns. According to Synergy, the Kings’ finished 29th in offensive points per play (0.929). On defense, they weren’t much better, allowing 1.003 PPP — a number that ranked 27th. So did they use this offseason to improve on those putrid numbers?
Notable departures from the Kings 2017 Opening Night roster include George Hill (26.6 mpg over 43 games with SAC), Garrett Temple (24.8 mpg, 65 games) and Vince Carter (17.7 mpg, 58 games). Their offseason headlines don’t feature any big name free agent signings but they have made changes. Marvin Bagley III was selected by the Kings, who picked 2nd overall. However, Bagley has a ways to go on the defensive side of the ball, and though he’s shown promise on offense at Duke, he was uninspiring in Summer League and likely needs more development to be a positive on the court. Ben McLemore rejoined the Kings this summer after spending last season in Memphis where he displayed G-league-demotion-worthy performances. Nemanja Bjelica, who flaked on the Sixers, is a Kings’ signing that should provide floor spacing and depth, but he’s likely a bench piece. So the Kings haven’t added anyone that figures to both contribute major minutes and generate improvements unless Bagley can figure things out quickly.
I reached out to Greg Wissinger (@gwiss), editor at Sactown Royalty, to get his input on the Kings’ 2018-2019 outlook:
I think it’s certainly possible that the Kings end up with the worst record next season, but I’m not sure it’s likely. Atlanta seems primed to be worse, but the Kings will have a harder schedule with more games against a brutal Western Conference. The Kings get 4 games against the Warriors and 4 games against LeBron’s Lakers, and the rest of the West doesn’t get much better. The Kings outperformed their expected win-loss last season and still finished with just 27 wins. They could play better this season and still end up with fewer wins than last season. At the same time, it wouldn’t shock me if the Kings managed to improve this year. It depends entirely on some of their young core taking a step forward. De’Aaron Fox is the most obvious candidate for significant improvement, followed by Willie Cauley-Stein. Marvin Bagley III doesn’t seem like he’ll be an immediate impact based on what we saw in Summer League, but he could surprise us. And Harry Giles has tremendous upside if he can stay healthy. I wouldn’t bet on the Kings finishing as the worst team in the league, but I’m pretty confident they’ll be in the bottom 5.
I have to say that I agree with Greg. Trae Young, Atlanta’s marquee draftee, could struggle adjusting to the NBA. With him likely being a focal point in the team’s offense, the Hawks could chalk this season up to experimentation, and they may even want to lose to get a top pick to add to their core. The Knicks haven’t done much of anything to improve. They are welcoming a new coach and system, and in an extreme but possible scenario, may be without their star big man Kristaps Porzingis for the entirety of next season. Those two teams as well as the Suns and Bulls could all finish worse than the Kings. But like Greg, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Kings do indeed accumulate the worst record due to a tough conference (or even regardless of the conference), and some popular models agree.
538’s official win projections have not yet been released, but using their player projections, 538 calculates the Kings record at 21-61, easily the worst record in 538’s results. And Jacob Goldstein’s live win-projections spits out a record of 24-58 (rounded, official numbers are 24.4-57.6), bad enough for 2nd worst.
Without owning their 1st round draft pick, there aren’t many incentives for Sacramento to be bad, but it is still entirely justifiable to hypothesize that the Kings are next season’s worst team according to the win-loss column. They figure to give significant minutes to young and developing players like Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Aaron Fox or just plain bad players like Ben McLemore, a recipe for defeat. Barring any major trades, the Kings are running it back with what could the be the NBA’s worst offense in a Western Conference loaded with fire power.
Vlade Divac’s transactions: the gift that keeps on giving.
NBA’s updates to lottery odds
So what if the Kings aren’t the NBA’s worst team? What are the chances that the Sixers could still retain the pick? Well, remember that in Adam Silver’s endless crusade against the Sixers’ rebuild, he approved lottery reform — and it could backfire on Silver in the sense that it may actually reward the Sixers. With the new rules, the team that finishes dead last doesn’t solely have the best odds of obtaining the #1 pick but shares the same odds as the teams that finish with the 2nd and 3rd worst record — a 14% chance at the top selection for all three. The rest of the updated odds breaks down as follows (1 indicates the worst record, 14 indicates the 14th worst record):
Updated NBA Draft Lottery Odds
|Pre-lottery placement||Chance at #1 pick|
|Pre-lottery placement||Chance at #1 pick|
Let’s say the scenario laid out earlier comes to fruition, the one in which I speculated that the Knicks and Hawks (or any two bad teams) could tally fewer wins than the Kings. It wouldn’t affect the chances of the Kings pick conveying at #1 at all so long as the Kings have at least the 3rd most losses. Sacramento could even have more wins than four other teams and still have a relatively decent chance of ending up with the first selection (10.5% vs. 14% at most). The Sixers need Sacramento to be bad, but not necessarily the worst. (It took me four Tankathon sims to get the Sixers the #1 pick via the Kings — it is meaningless, but you can try here and report back in the comments.)
2019 NBA Draft class
The Sixers find themselves in an uncomfortable position when it comes to the 2019 NBA Draft class. They need there to be talent worthy of a #1 overall selection, but it could be trouble if the class is deep, because the last thing the Sixers need is the Celtics drafting yet another potential All-Star on a rookie contract should the Kings’ pick convey to Boston. So the Sixers need one and only one blue chip prospect to enter the draft. In such a scenario, if the Kings’ pick conveys, it is the Sixers’ who obtain another potential All-Star on a cheap contract, and if the pick doesn’t convey to Philly, the Sixers won’t need to worry as much about Boston adding to their treasure trove of assets.
By many accounts, next summer’s draft won’t have the same totality of promise as the last two NBA Drafts. It doesn’t appear to be as deep. However, there are a few very alluring players at the top. The Stepien’s top tier for next year’s draft currently includes 4 players: Zion Williamson (PF, Duke, ranked as 5th best recruit by Rivals, 5th by 24/7, 2nd by ESPN), Cam Reddish (SF, Duke, 3/2/3), R.J. Barrett (SF, Duke, 1/1/1) and Nassir Little (PG, UNC, 2/3/6). Bol Bol (C, Oregon, 4/4/4) is another prospect who some believe to be primed for an illustrious NBA career. We have yet to see any of those players in a meaningful college game against their NBA-bound peers, so it’s tough to project how much potential they have for the NBA game. But each one has shined at the lower levels with flashes of NBA skills. While the class may not be deep for all lottery teams, it currently looks like any team picking 1 through 5 could nab a true difference maker.
If the Sixers aren’t going to end up with the Kings’ pick, they better hope the Kings can outperform expectations. Otherwise, the Sixers may have gifted the Celtics an asset that could give Boston a 3-piece core to compete with that of the Sixers (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown & maybe Zion vs. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid & Fultz) for years to come or an asset that allows the Celtics to land a star to add to their win-now core of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward.
Big thanks to Greg from Sactown Royalty for contributing his thoughts and words. He’s a great Twitter follow for any NBA fan and does great work.