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The Kings Don't Need Another Center

Geoff Petrie told The Bee's Jason Jones after the draft the Kings will look for frontcourt help in free agency. This could mean resigning Ike Diogu to a small contract, or chasing a center of minor repute to round out the depth chart.

But the team doesn't really need the help up front. Not right now.

The Kings need to figure out what they have. Spencer Hawes is the only shotblocker on the team (though Jason Thompson showed great shotblocking instincts in college -- very little in his rookie season). We know rebounding is a problem, but the team is committed to a Hawes/Thompson starting frontline. Improvement needs to come there, with those two players (especially Hawes on the offensive glass and Thompson on the defensive boards).

Luckily, the rebounding will get help at other positions. Kevin Pelton's college translations for Basketball Prospectus project a rebound rate of 9.3% for Tyreke Evans. Among Kings guards, only Bobby Jackson (7.9%) had a rebound rate better than 6.5%. Even among the small forwards, only Andres Nocioni (11.4%) rates as a better rebounder now than Evans' projects. If Evans starts at the point with Hawes/Thompson up front, Nocioni at the three and Kevin Martin at the two-guard, in terms of rebounding it is the equivalent of starting two small forwards, two power forwards and a shooting guard. Your starting lineup would be above average in terms of rebounding.

What about the bench? Francisco Garcia is a mediocre rebounder at any position but point guard, which is to say Garcia is a mediocre rebounder. (He won't be playing point guard on this team.) Beno Udrih is average for a point guard, but would be a drain at off-guard. Ditto for Sergio Rodriguez. Donté Greene rebounded poorly last season (John Salmons poorly) at the three and four, though his off-season weightlifting program should help. Omri Casspi rebounded well for a small forward in Euroleague (Hollinger is a fan) and (as we know) Jon Brockman could be one of the best per-opportunity rebounders in the league (though he'd be expected to get few minutes).

As for inside scoring: Hawes came around a bit late in the season on the block. Thompson is working on his left hand reportedly, and was opportunistic under the rim if nothing else. Evans' major offensive strength is getting to the rim -- he shot better than 51% from two as a point guard at Memphis. Martin's ankle injury turned him into a jump shooter, so hopefully health will reignite his rim attack. (Oden October 2008, never forget.) Casspi is a dunk artist, Greene knows his NBA career depends on his willingness to attack. We won't be leading the league in points in the paint with this roster -- we might not even by in the top half. But it's not as much of a problem as you'd think.

We don't know how Paul Westphal will use this roster as constructed. But we do know these things:

  • Thompson can play center.
  • Casspi played power forward a bunch in Israel.
  • Nocioni has played a surprising amount of power forward in the NBA (though I don't necessarily condone this).
  • Greene should be able to play some power forward, assuming strength improvement.

The frontline depth chart looks bad on paper, with just Hawes, Thompson, Kenny Thomas and Brockman. But unless Nocioni is traded, there's a logjam at small forward. To get Hawes, Thompson and the two young SFs minutes, Westphal could use Thompson as the back-up center in addition to the starting power forward. When Hawes heads out for a breather or due to foul trouble, slide Thompson up and insert Garcia, Greene or Casspi, with Nocioni sliding to power forward or putting Greene or Casspi at the power forward defensively. (And remember: positions only really matter on defense.)

You may have problems if Hawes were injured, but even raw-as-carpaccio Greene started a couple games last season. Casspi has been playing professionally for years. Plug him in. This season will not result in a playoff berth, so earning the kids real NBA minutes (with the only stipulation being that they are put in a position to succeed) should be the priority. Signing a back-up center who expects minutes and touches doesn't accomplish that, unless said back-up center is young and offers something the team currently lacks. Otherwise, if you just want an insurance policy, you might as well resign Calvin Booth.

(You might note that Kyrylo Fesenko is young and offers something the team currently lacks -- a combination of size and power. Hawes has size, Brockman has power. Fes has both -- 7'1, 290 -- and I'd be pleased if he could be had for a future second-round pick. I doubt Utah's price is much higher, given the pending contract demands of Paul Millsap.)

(I also wouldn't be mad at a cheap contract for Diogu. A stellar rebounder, a great scorer and according to Bobby Jackson a dedicated practice player last year. I would prefer Nocioni were traded if Diogu returns, if only because the kids need minutes. Starting Garcia at the three is rough on the rebounding game, but starting Evans could potentially minimize the impact.)