2019-20 Previews: Sacramento Kings

Losses: Alec Burks, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein, Corey Brewer, Frank Mason III.

Additions: Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph, Richaun Holmes, Tyler Lydon, Justin James.

Likely Starters
Guard: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield
Wing: Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley (Ariza?)
Big: Dewayne Dedmon 

Predicted Record: 41–41 | 17th in NBA | 10th in West

As I sat down to write this (and, actually, that’s a dumb conceit; I was already sitting and then decided to continue sitting and start writing this), I began thinking about how beholden I am to my own terrible opinions.

See, back in 2016, I had such a strong reaction to Buddy Hield’s rising draft stock that I did a bunch of research about college senior guards and wrote this column for Celtics Hub. The main point was that we tend to overvalue college seniors—guards, specifically—because we don’t take the time to compare them to other college seniors (as opposed to younger players with more “upside”). In some ways, I was right: I’d still rather have, for example, Jamal Murray or Jaylen Brown (the guy the C’s drafted) than Buddy Hield. I probably went too far when I said, in the comments, that I’d rather have Henry Ellenson or Deyonta Davis.

Buddy Hield, it turns out, is kinda great. He’s a tremendous shooter, and he’s a sneaky rebounder for a guard. He’s also a bad defender (even though he plays hard), and he’s not a good passer, either. Still, you’d be psyched to have Hield on your roster, right?

Actually, the truth is that I’m not sure. Somehow, we’ve reached a point in NBA analysis during which shooting is both overvalued and undervalued. Teams are so desperate for shooting that the Suns wasted a lottery pick (let’s not even get into the fact that they traded down from sixth to 11th) on Cameron Johnson, who is 23 and doesn’t seem to do much beyond shooting. Does shooting solve everything? Can players stay on the court if all they do is shoot? On Buddy Hield’s own team, the best player is De’Aaron Fox, a player who was drafted fifth overall even though he’s currently a better and more valuable player than anyone else in his draft class. This happened because he struggled as a shooter, and it happened even though we already knew De’Aaron Fox was a fantastic basketball player.

Shooting, obviously, is essential to any basketball team’s offensive ecosystem, and offense impacts defense, so, like, shooting: it’s important. Teams forget that shooting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though. Would you want your team to sign a rebounder who can’t guard centers? Is it worth having a switchy wing defender who can’t attack a closeout? Skills are important in their capacity to be useful on an actual basketball court. If Steph Curry couldn’t dribble and pass the way he does, would it matter that he’s the greatest shooter of all time? What if that’s Buddy Hield? What do those 20 points per game cost you?

The Kings—and, if you’ve been wondering when I’m going to get around to talking about them: here we go—have a really talented roster. Fox and Hield are, really, a wonderful fit in the backcourt. Bagley and Harry Giles have loads of talent and potential up front. Trevor Ariza is still a useful defender and shooter. Harrison Barnes is grimly competent all over the place on both ends of the floor, I guess. Dewayne Dedmon: a deeply useful big man who can shoot and guard the paint and run around a little. Bogdan Bogdanovic is pretty awesome. There are the ingredients here for a good basketball team with Fox as the churning, beating heart of the whole operation.

On the other hand, looking at this roster one begins to get the sense that it is being held back by some of its best players. Harrison Barnes is a solid scorer who can credibly guard multiple positions, but is his presence on this team just going to mean less playing time for Bagley and Giles? Oh, and Barnes is a bad passer; is it a bad idea for him and Hield to share the floor a lot? Hield is great at shooting, but Bogdanovic is more well-rounded offensively, better at passing, dribbling, creating decent looks. Can Bagley protect the rim, or does he need to be paired with Dedmon? The questions are endless.

It’s possible the answers to them will all be something like, “Hell yes, this works.” The Kings are so young and so talented that it’s possible they’ll blow the doors off any and all projections. On the other hand, my read on this team is that there’s something messed up in the foundation. The architects were idealistic, but the plan is a little shoddy. It’s exciting, and I hope it works, but it might not work.

ROCKWELL KENT ILLUSTRATION FOR MOBY DICK. PLATTSBURGH STATE ART MUSEUM

Isn’t this kinda great though? Isn’t this what we really want? To have all the ingredients here, ready to go, ready to be incited to genius by some cosmic combination of heat and light? Melville wrote, “God keep me from ever completing anything.” He knew. Once something is what it is, the good part is over. One critic draws blood and the rest of them start circling. They tear you to pieces. There’s no joy in the final success of the grand design, only in the design itself. The 2019-20 Sacramento Kings: here we go.

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