Is Hilton Armstrong What the Kings Need?

The Kings have reportedly acquired center Hilton Armstrong from New Orleans for a conditional second round pick. Since apparently no other assets besides cash (to cover Armstrong's contract, I imagine) will change hands, this deal is actually for Hilton Armstrong. In the weekend's rumors, I posed that in order for New Orleans to get closer to to the luxury tax threshold, the Kings could potentially take Armstrong with the Hornets' first-round 2010 pick coming to Sacramento as an incentive. Apparently, the Kings believed Armstrong to be asset enough.

Is he?

We'll see -- the 25-year-old has played only scattered minutes in his 3-1/2 NBA seasons. A 2006 lottery pick, Armstrong had trouble cracking Byron Scott's regular rotation, despite the lack of any other notable bench big men over that entire span. Ryan Bowen, Melvin Ely, Marc Jackson ... just some of the stars who received consideration ahead of Armstrong at various points.

Of course, Scott failed to play fun-lovin' rookies Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison this season, so perhaps the lack of playing time is more circumstance of the head coach's personality than talent indication. We do have data on Armstrong's applied talent, though, and it's not particularly pretty. Last season, Armstrong's most active in terms of minutes played, the center had a defensive rebound rate of 12.6 percent, the second lowest figure among all 6'11 or taller players who logged at least 1,000 minutes. (Small forward Jared Jeffries was quite worse.) Among the same 44-player population, Armstrong ranked third worst in total rebound rate (10.8 percent, ahead of Jeffries and Andrea Bargnani) and 28th (again, of 44) in offensive rebound rate (9 percent). Offensive rebounding was the only rebounding category in which Armstrong beat resident rebounding disappointment Spencer Hawes, and only then slightly.

This year has been better for Armstrong on the boards: he's at a middle-of-the-pack 14.6 percent total, middle-of-the-pack 21.6 percent on defense, and middle-of-the-pack 8 percent on offense. The question is whether you trust this season's 239 minutes, or the 2,300 prior NBA minutes. (It's a legit question -- players improve, and the coaching staff has changed.)

As far as his apparent reputation as a defensive presence: see the mediocre defensive rebounding history, but acknowledge that his block numbers are fairly decent. He ranked 29th in the league in block rate last season (all players with at least 1,000 minutes). If he gets to his (until this season) consistent career average block rate (3.4 percent), he'd easily lead the Kings. Donte Greene is currently tops at 2.9 percent; Hawes is the top regular big man at 2.3 percent. For what it's worth, as underwhelming as Armstrong's defensive rebounding numbers have been, he'd rank No. 1 in that category for the Kings this season. His career average would place him between Omri Casspi and Ime Udoka, though. (Again, do you believe 239 minutes this year? Or the previous 2,300 minutes?)

According to 82games.com, the Hornets defense has been 3.8 points per 48 minutes better with Armstrong on the floor this season. (The offense has been more than 8 points per 48 minutes worse.) Last season, the defense was 1.5 points per 48 minutes better with Armstrong. (The offense was nearly nine points worse.) In 2007-08, the Hornets defense was 1.4 points per 48 minutes worse with Armstrong playing. And the offense was more than eight points worse, too.


HoopsNumbers.com put out regularized adjusted plus-minus numbers this summer which said that last season Armstrong made a positive 1.5-point impact on defensive efficiency while on the court. Given the standard error, Armstrong is somewhere between defensive-neutral or a fair positive on defense, based on those numbers.

So, to answer our question as to whether Hilton Armstrong is what the Kings need, my preliminary answer would be "probably not." He has proven to be a mediocre rebounder at best, a decent shotblocker but overall a player with only minor positive impacts on defense. (Of course, that's a minor positive defensive impact relative to league average. The Kings defense is far below league average, especially in the paint. So the relative to that, Armstrong could look like the New York version of Mt. Mutombo. It would be a mirage, but them's the circumstances.)

If Armstrong works out, the Kings have a couple options: pick up his $3.8 million qualifying offer while his agent looks for more lucrative offer sheets, reach an extension deal before freeing him into the restricted free agency wild, or decline to sign the Q.O. and hope he flails in free agency so that you can sign him more cheaply. If he doesn't work out, you have to imagine the team will decline the Q.O. and renounce his rights.

The cost here, really, is a decent little trade chip called "Sacramento's in-year cap space." Oklahoma City used its cap space to get Eric Maynor in his first season on a four-year rookie deal. Sacramento used its cap space to get ... a three-month Hilton Armstrong audition. A first or early second round pick would certainly seem to be more valuable than the Armstrong audition. Flexibility in the trade market would certainly seem to be more valuable, as well. With a full month left until the trade deadline, one can only imagine the Kings actually see something they like in Armstrong and have decided risking losing the free audition isn't worth sitting on the valuable cap space another five weeks. Or perhaps the front office is that frustrated with the frontcourt's defense that inserting Armstrong looks like a quick fix. We'll see.

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