Building on their success last season, the Sacramento Kings went into the 2019 offseason with a clear goal to put key veterans around the young players who outperformed expectations last year. This is the next step in their ongoing attempt to put a stop to the league’s longest playoff drought.
Rather than take a patient approach, continue to rent out their cap space and add draft picks or other young players to complement De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, the Kings are in on the present.
However, Sacramento isn’t all in on the here and now—at least not yet. They still have a number of young depth players and all of their own picks, should they want to make in-season upgrades in 2019-20 or 2020-21.
Newly-hired head coach Luke Walton will have his hands full with the 2019-20 Kings, as the team has 11 legitimate rotation players under contract for the upcoming season. Walton’s management skills will be tested, as will his balance between letting the youngsters grow and winning as many games as possible.
Fox and Bagley are the future of the team—and as my colleague Dan O’Brien recently pointed out, Fox is entering the age range where big leaps occur.
But if either guy stagnates for a significant portion of the season, will Walton go away from them? The club brought in career backup point guard Cory Joseph at near-starter money for at least two years, and the roster is chock full of bigs capable of playing in Bagley’s spot, should the need arise.
The Kings didn’t quite fall off a cliff when Fox came out of the game last year, but it wasn’t necessarily a smooth transition, either. On both ends of the floor, Sacramento transformed from a solidly above-average team to a middling lottery team. Their +1.3 net rating when he was on the court dropped to -5.2 when he sat, the difference between contending for the bottom seed in the West and falling to the sixth-worst team in the league.
Joseph’s not the same sort of high-usage primary creator Fox is, but he’ll give them a solid baseline at the position and should significantly help their bench production overall. Surrounding Joseph with enough capable playmakers will be the key to Sacramento’s second unit, however.
Players like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harrison Barnes bring enough playmaking and individual scoring to take the ball out of his hands in those units. Defensively, Joseph is a menace who’s capable of playing the 1 or the 2, which will unlock smaller lineups with both guards on the floor.
On the wing, the three-headed monster of Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, and Trevor Ariza presents ample opportunities for the Kings to mix lineup combinations based on matchup and need.
Bogdanovic has the aforementioned playmaking and ball handling skills to take over the offense in spurts. Hield is one of the league’s deadliest shooters, whether at a standstill or running off screens. Ariza is the least threatening offensive force of this trio, but brings enough size and defensive intelligence to still take on the league’s larger small forwards. He’s a capable three-point sniper, despite a down year in 2018-19, though he’s entirely a stand-still shooter at this point in his career.
Along the forward line, Sacramento once again has a trio of options.
Harrison Barnes, whom the team re-signed to a four-year contract worth $85 million his summer, will likely continue as the starting power forward, with Bagley backing him up and playing some small-ball 5. Barnes’ floor spacing, individual scoring and ability to swing between the 3 and 4 defensively opens up a lot of versatility for the Kings, as both he and Bagley can play alongside a traditional center in certain lineups.
Nemanja Bjelica is another knockdown shooter who can provide the Kings with a level of floor spacing the other two cannot, adding to the morass of options Walton has.
Things don’t get any easier as we move toward the center position. The club signed Dewayne Dedmon (Atlanta Hawks) and Richaun Holmes (Phoenix Suns) to pair with Bagley. Harry Giles, who has played just 58 games in his two-year career with Sacramento, has a ton of upside and the club is rightfully excited about what he might do if he can prove his health and be relied upon for significant minutes.
Acquiring both Dedmon and Holmes in free agency indicates that the Kings plan to play Bagley at the 4 more often than not this season. Offensively, Bagley’s ability in transition and around the basket fits how teams use traditional centers, but his inability to stop anybody at the rim holds him back tremendously.
Last season, opponents shot 72.5% at the rim when Bagley was the main man in the middle, a mark that ranks him among the worst rim-protecting bigs in the league.
The addition of Dedmon will allow the Kings to play a similar style to the Hawks over the last two years: Dedmon and Bagley should fit together similarly to how Dedmon and John Collins did. Collins and Bagley draw constant comparisons as offense-first big men who would be best at the 5 but can’t defend well enough to make that tenable.
A shooter and rim protector, Dedmon complements everything Bagley brings to the table: He’ll space the floor so Bagley can work under the rim and in pick-and-roll, then defend opposing pick-and-rolls and protect the rim so Bagley doesn’t have to.
Holmes doesn’t necessarily bring the same floor spacing element to the table, but his fit as a rim-runner alongside Barnes or Bjelica in the frontcourt makes him a relatively seamless fit alongside those guys. Holmes is a bit better than Bagley as a defensive player but is still nothing special on that end. Lineups with him in the middle will suffer somewhat in this area.
Sacramento’s depth gives it plenty of options should the injury bug hit, but Walton will have to manage playing time and the egos that go with it to maximize his team for the short- and long-term.
Because the Kings are deep across the board, Walton will have choices every night on who gets the lion’s share of the minutes and how deep into his bench he wants to go.
Whether the depth will be enough to compete for a low playoff seed in a loaded Western Conference remains to be seen, but there will be no shortage of rotation options to take a step forward and finally end that drought.