There are currently two positions in the starting line-up where most of us would love to see replacements in the next year or two: point guard and small forward. At point, we obviously have Beno Udrih, one year into his five-season mid-level contract. At small forward, Andres Nocioni, Francisco Garcia and Donté Greene fill the ranks, with the footnote that Garcia is better at shooting guard and Greene needs at least another season before we talk about him as a potential starter. He's simply not ready yet.
So, obviously, the small forward "hole" is different from the point guard hole, in that at point guard the Kings have one substandard player best served as a back-up, while at small forward the Kings have two players capable of being stopgap starters and one young prospect, with the stopgap starters almost surely better served as back-ups. Udrih, Garcia and Nocioni off the bench at your guard/wing spots is not too shabby, if a little expensive.
We assume almost unanimously the point guard position will be dealt with in some form in the draft, specificially with the No. 4 pick. Whether that's Ricky Rubio, or Jrue Holiday, or Ty Lawson, or Stephen Curry, or Jeff Teague, or Jonny Flynn -- I don't know. But we assume that by hook or crook, through a trade down or up, Geoff Petrie and Jason Levien will find a Point Guard of the Future in this draft. Fingers crossed.
We have barely talked small forwards at all, though. This is in part because it is not a good draft for small forwards. Earl Clark is the top-rated small forward prospect, and he might not be a lottery pick. There's Victor Claver, who reportedly wants to fall to the second round to make more money when he comes over from Spain. There's ... um ... DaJuan Summers, Sam Young, Terrence Williams, Chase Budingers -- all swingmen. There's (gulp) Taylor Griffin. This is not a good small forward draft.
There is, of course, free agency and the trade market. But before we investigate who the Kings could (and perhaps should) target, we need to identify what exactly the Kings as presently constructed need from the position.
Clearly, the Kings need defensive help at every position. Nocioni is a hustling type, but he's not a particularly stout or impressive defender, either at either the individual or team level. He takes charges, but, well, so did Mikki Moore. Garcia can block shots at an abnormal rate -- he would have finished No. 2 behind Dwyane Wade in block rate among guards if he had played guard exclusively this season. He ended up a respectable No. 31 among forwards, ahead of Paul Millsap, LeBron James, Pau Gasol, Shawn Marion, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, Jeff Foster, Gerald Wallace, and (um) Jason Thompson.
Of course, blocks isn't the best measure in grading defense. On a very specific level, steals are more important. Garcia was No. 12 in steal rate among forwards last season; Nocioni finished No. 97 (of 120). But again, still, defense is not blocks and steals. Most great defenders get a bunch of blocks or a bunch of steals, some great defenders get a bunch of both. But some great defenders get few of either, and some mediocre defenders get a bunch of each. This is not a comprehensive way to assess defense, though I think we can look at the numbers of reasonably ascertain that Garcia is a better defender than Nocioni.
But there's a big problem in another sector of the game.
Namely, Garcia is an awful rebounder at the small forward position. He'd be fine at two-guard, but he's a huge hole at SF in the rebounding game. Ditto John Salmons. Peja Stojakovic was a bad rebounder for the small forward position. But during the heyday, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac were good rebounders, Scot Pollard was great, and Bobby Jackson rebounded like a small forward at the point guard position. There was coverage. (It should be noted the Kings were never an elite rebounding team, even the season their defense ranked best in the league.)
How's Nocioni on the boards? Rather good, actually ... especially on the defensive glass. He ranked No. 54 among forwards in defensive rebounding rate this season, ahead of a host of strong power forwards (including Kenyon Martin and LaMarcus Aldridge). Defensive rebounding is the team's real weakness on the glass. Sure, the Kings sucked on the offensive glass too. But the fundamentals are better there. Or, Jason Thompson is an amazing offensive rebounder, and you only need one (in the starting line-up and off the bench) to be decent in that category.
If your small forward can do a good job on the defensive glass, that will help the two bigs, neither of which is an amazing defensive rebounder. (Hawes finished No. 16 among 28 qualifying centers.)
With a suitable point guard, Kevin Martin, and Shock & Hawes, we shouldn't require too much offense out of our starting small forward. He needs to be able to hit open shots, which is a skill most small forwards have. Thankfully, our current starting-eligible small forwards have this skill. In spades. Garcia has shot better than 39% from three the last two seasons, and he's a stone cold killer from the corners. Nocioni is a bit overrated as a gunner -- he's not quite Jason Kapono -- but he's also quite good from deep, at 37% on his career and 44% as a King.
So there's the state of our small forward position. For what it's worth, Greene projects to fill every hole outlined. He'd be among the tallest starting small forwards in the league. He's an electric leaper. He blocked a ton of shots and rebounded well at Syracuse, and he's never been shy about taking threes. Finding his range and bulking up some will help his game immensely -- he has Rashard Lewis' body with the ebullience of Ronnie Price. It's going to take a ton of work, and it's frankly a long shot he'll reach his physical potential. But he'd be the perfect fit.
In the interim, the Kings need to a fill the hole. Will it be Nocioni's rebounding? Garcia's defense? A free agent's gifts?