The Sacramento Kings picked up Tyler Honeycutt with the No. 35 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft last week; it was quite a coup, as Jason Jones had reported in the run-up to the draft that if the Kings could pick up a late first-round pick, Honeycutt was a target. The team handled its immediate concerns at small forward (in theory) by picking up ol' friend John Salmons in the draft day trade involving Beno Udrih and an interesting move down in the lottery. Given that point guard-to-be Jimmer Fredette was the Kings' pick, swapping out Udrih for Salmons alleviates a crowded backcourt while giving the Kings a definite No. 1 option at the three.
But the future of the three remains unsettled; even Salmons' fans would admit that Johnny is neither great enough or young enough to be the small forward to help roll with Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Fredette into the fields of glory. It stands to reason, of course, that (should Fredette develop, Cousins meet his potential and Evans bounce back on the path to elite stature) the small forward position will always be one of those sub-elite, "replaceable" spots on the roster. The Spurs, after all, never had an elite center to pair with Tim Duncan once David Robinson retired, and the starting two-guard spot was manned by a faceless succession of roleplayers. The Lakers have been sub-good at point guard for five titles this millennium.
Or maybe the team will have Tyler Honeycutt.
Honeycutt is no slouch. Rivals rated him the No. 4 small forward in the high school class of 2009, behind Jordan Hamilton (who starred at Texas for two years and ended up with the Nuggets at No. 26), Royce White () and Solomon Hill (). Kawhi Leonard landed at No. 8, Georgetown's Hollis Thompson was No. 12. Scout.com rated Honeycutt as the No. 3 small forward, behind Lance Stephenson (now with the Pacers, but not for long) and Hamilton. Honeycutt was a huge deal coming out of high school. It stands to reason, of course: UCLA doesn't exactly recruit stiffs on the wings.
And Honeycutt was a major factor for the Bruins. I'm not a UCLA fan or follower, and I imagine hardcore Bruins fans consider Honeycutt and his two teams in Westwood to be disappointments. But the kid led the Pac-10 in blocks as a 6'8 small forward, was No. 3 on the team in scoring, No. 2 in rebounding, No. 2 in assists and No. 2 in steals. He hit more threes than any other Bruin, and was the top defender on a good (not at all great, but good) defensive team.
He's rangy (36 percent on threes taking almost half of his shots from that distance), versatile on defense (that many blocks at that position summons Josh Smith comparisons, even if the athleticism is worlds apart) and is said to be -- from both college recruiting and NBA draft scouting reports -- an excellent passer.
In other words, he's the perfect small forward we've all dreamt of.
Like, Nicolas Batum. A younger Shane Battier. A younger, not-angry Tayshaun Prince. And that final one is the most intriguing comparison for me: Tayshaun Prince. Prince developed NBA attributes a bit later: he shot 33 percent on three-pointers in four years at Kentucky, taking roughly the same share (versus two-pointers) as Honeycutt did this season at UCLA. Prince's NBA three-point range arrived pretty quickly, though; he never shot worse than 34 percent and, until the past couple seasons, has always taken around 20 percent of his shots from that distance. (In the post-Billups world, Prince has had to create more of his own offense. That means mid-range jumpers.)
Honeycutt was also a much more prolific shotblocker at UCLA than was Prince at Kentucky, but we'll see if Honeycutt's shotblocking translates. For what it's worth, Kevin Pelton's top statistical comparable for Honeycutt is Louisville enigma Earl Clark, who might actually not be in the NBA next season. Honeycutt is a year younger than was Clark in 2009, a bit smaller but a better long-range shooter and shotblocker. Rebounding and scoring are highly comparable.
Let's revisit that statement above: he's the perfect small forward we've all dreamt of. This is the theory, a theory. We concentrate on Salmons, and I assure you that next season, Paul Westphal will focus on Salmons when drawing his lineup card and sorting out his rotation. Never underestimate the scarring of the small forward volatility from the last two seasons on Westphal. Honeycutt's a young rookie who won't have the advantage of summer league and who may not have a legit NBA training camp, depending on what happens in the lockout. Even if he exceeds expectations from Day 1, he will be up and down. UCLA fans note his occasional (or more) lack of attention and commitment on defense (despite the gaudy block numbers). That needs to be fixed in the NBA. This figures to be an offense like no other, not in terms of quality but in pure confusion as Tyreke Evans learns to play off of the ball, Fredette learns how to run an NBA team, Salmons figures out how he fits in and DeMarcus Cousins and Major Frontcourt Talent To Be Named Later adjust accordingly.
So if Honeycutt is the small forward we've all dreamt of for this team, we won't find out in the 2011-12 season, or maybe the 2012-13 season. This is a long-term project, just as the Sacramento Kings are a long-term project. But after we've risen and fallen with the Donte Greene experience and risen and fallen with Omri Casspi ... it's nice to have another intriguing prospect to toss to the wolves and pray for. Good luck, Tyler. You'll need it.
(The most w-t-f subtext to draft day, for me: we traded for Salmons, who we've always known to be a version of Francisco Garcia. Then we drafted Honeycutt, whose DX best-case is ... Francisco Garcia. Seriously, y'all. As G-Wiss joked over the weekend, The Hydra Lives.)