With the Sixers’ second west coast trip being continued in Sacramento tonight, I talked with Richard Ivanowski of Sactown Royalty to ask some questions about one of the league’s most enjoyable teams this season.
Question #1: The Kings are a young team currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, usually a recipe for a trade deadline seller. But the Kings don’t own their first-round pick this year (as Sixers fans know), so many expect them to try to bolster their roster in the next week. If the Kings do attempt to improve their team, what kind of player could they use most?
First off, I do see the Sacramento Kings as buyers rather than sellers at this deadline, but for a different reason than you might think. While they have no incentive to tank for a draft pick, I don’t think that matters to this organization. What does matter is finishing with the best record possible after a decade of futility- the Kings are on pace to finish with their best record since 2005-06. While the playoffs are not a likelihood in the stacked Western Conference, sneaking into the 8th seed would be massive for Sacramento. Even just breaking the 40 win mark would be more than most Kings fans could have dreamed of six months ago.
All their recent success aside, the team still has plenty of needs to address if they choose to go that route. Yogi Ferrell and Frank Mason have been serviceable as backup ball-handlers, but a veteran with more size and the ability to provide a scoring punch could be a key upgrade down the stretch. And while the Kings are known for their stockpile of big men, they still struggle with rebounding, rim protection, and shooting from the center position. But the biggest issue on the roster is no secret -- they need a starting level small forward. Some of the most likely trade targets for the Kings could be Jeremy Lin, Dewayne Dedmon or Enes Kanter. And if the stars align, Taurean Prince and Otto Porter could be the real prizes.
Question #2: According to many metrics, De’Aaron Fox was one of the worst players in the NBA last season. But this year, he’s been one of the league’s best stories, showing that he is clearly one of the association’s brightest future stars. What has been the biggest difference from year to year for Fox?
In my opinion, the enormous change that we all have witnessed in Fox’s game can mostly be credited to a change in pace. Fox is one of the fastest players in the NBA, and he uses that speed to unlock his game and set up open shots for his teammates. His quickness allows him to get separation, both on and off ball, and makes him particularly deadly in transition. Last season Sacramento finished dead last in pace. This year they’re all the way up to second in the league. Coach Dave Joerger has implemented a style of play that fits De’Aaron far better than what he had last season. Keeping him in the half court would just be a waste of his natural ability.
In addition to that, there is some natural growth occurring for him and his teammates. Rookie point guards are often a disaster. Time and experience helps a great deal. The cast surrounding Fox is pretty inexperienced as well. Bogdan Bogdanovic is in his second year, Buddy Hield is in his third, and Willie Cauley-Stein is in his fourth. Each are continuing to improve their game, and Fox is reaping some of those rewards himself. Having reliable scorers around him takes the pressure off of Fox, and it lets him know that he doesn’t have to do it all himself. Hield in particular has been a revelation for this squad, providing an elite spot-up option for Fox to find on the perimeter.
Question #3: With the second pick in last year’s NBA Draft, the Kings took Marvin Bagley III. This was a selection that many, including myself, have criticized. What have you seen from the Duke product now that we’re a handful of months into his rookie year?
Let’s be clear about this -- everyone has criticized this pick at one time or another. Even the most hardcore homer in Sacramento wonders what could have been. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t happy to have Marvin Bagley. In fact, I haven’t heard from a single fan who didn’t support Bagley as soon as the pick was made. Once you’re a King, the whole city of Sacramento is behind you. And there has been a lot to be excited about with MBIII. In his first appearance at the Golden 1 Center (in the California Classic) he threw down a dunk that nearly brought the building down around him. He’s explosive, athletic, and has one of the most impressive second jumps the sport has ever seen. We all knew about the physical tools, but it’s the skill he’s shown that has really surprised us all.
Very few draft analysts projected him as a strong defensive player. He has quickly put many of those concerns to rest, showing impressive instincts around the rim. He leads the Kings in blocks per game, despite being only 7th in minutes played. He’s also putting up those numbers while playing power forward a majority of the time. I believe his natural position is center, and as he spends more time there I expect his game to improve by leaps and bounds. Sure, the Kings have had a lot of centers on their roster recently. But they haven’t had one guy who can block shots, run the floor, jump out of the gym, finish with touch around the basket, and drill the occasional three -- not until they drafed Marvin Bagley III.
Big thanks to Richard for taking the time to educate us about his team!