As is normal in bleak situations, there has been a lot of big-picture soul-searching in recent weeks. I think coolcat's two FanPosts on the matter (1, 2) have done a good job exploring the theories to team-building. In the first, the need for a superstar is investigated. In the second, the relative value of draft picks (the difference between top five and picks 6-60, in this case) are looked at.
82games had a fairly technical study on draft pick value a year or so ago, completed by Aaron Barzilai. As you'd expect, higher draft picks more frequently turn into great players. It's a rather steep curve among the top 20 picks -- the average #1 is much better than the average #2, and so forth. Around pick #25, it sort of flattens out. You're also likely to get a stud at #26 as you are at #44, which is to say you are not likely to get a stud in either place.
Barzilai's study finds that getting a top five pick is a boon, but a top four pick would be better, and a top six pick would be better than a top seven pick. Of course, as important as where the pick lands is who makes the pick and obviously who is the pick. In other words, you can screw up a #2 pick, and a #2 pick can screw you. On this note, we can agree Geoff Petrie has been on the whole a marvelous drafter.
There is no disagreement that a solid-to-great draft pick is vital for the development of this team. But as it stands, the team will have one top eight pick -- we don't expect the Kings to return to these depths in 2009-10, I hope. While management must make this pick count for a ton, there is also the matter of the rest of the team.
As has been discussed this week, the current vogue in NBA team-building could be dubbed the Three Star model, or some such thing. Obviously, San Antonio has made it famous with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Boston followed with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The Lakers have a trio or a rectangle, I'm not sure. Portland has certainly instituted a triumvirate, and Oklahoma City believes it has itself one as well.
This fits in with some mathematical theory, as well: the Pareto principle, which has been translated to pro basketball by economist David Berri. Basically, the principle states that 80% of production can be traced to 20% of the population. On an NBA team, this means that three players are responsible for 80% of the team's production.
Let's look at, say, San Antonio's three stars in, say, 2006-07. The three stars each had PERs over 20. (Duncan was at 26, Ginobili at 24, Parker at 21.) No other Spurs did. What about the 2007-08 Celtics? Pierce fell just shy of 20, Ray Allen marked just above average ... and Leon Powe marked at 20 in relatively limited minutes. Garnett came in at 25. Boston's role players on the whole came in statistically better than S.A.'s non-star cadre.
Kevin Martin's peak PER is 21, and I think a responsible expectation would be 22-23 in the near future. That'd make him an able #2 in this scenario. The latest struggles of Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson have sent to duo below 15 ... though I think it is reasonable to believe one will find himself at 19 or better within the next three seasons. (I actually wouldn't be shocked if both made it, so long as the development isn't butchered by injury or worse.) So under the Pareto principle and assuming a healthy Alpha-dog Martin doesn't make a huge leap, the team needs a #1.
Fancy that, being the same conclusion as the previously mentioned theories: Sacramento needs a megastar. Trade, free agency, draft, development: a #1 is needed.
You would not think that player is on the roster. Can Shock be a superstar? Hawes? Donté Greene? The odds would be against any of the kids turning into a superstar, given where they were picked and their individual limitations.
If this is all to be believed, everything the Kings do going forward should fit into the theory that a superstar is required. That affects John Salmons. That affects Brad Miller. That affects Houston's #1, Greene, both Shock & Hawes ... even Martin. If the bigs both make it to better-than-expected things, could Martin be used as bait for a superstar?
Of course, all of this only gets you to contention. From there, you need the right coach, the right role players, the right defense, the right luck and circumstances. It's a long way to the top, and a long way from there to the championship.