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Cracking the Core Rotation as a Rookie

For the purpose of this exercise, the Kings are keeping their 2015 draft pick. Also, in spite of what you may have been told, there is math.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

"With the 6th/7th/8th/9th pick of the 2015 NBA draft, the Sacramento Kings select Justise Winslow / Willie Cauley-Stein / Kristaps Porzingis / Mario Hezonja / Stanley Johnson / Myles Turner / Frank Kaminsky / none of the above."

And with that, a draft contest is won or lost, a fan base is elated, vacillated, inebriated and/or exasperated, and a draft thread burns to the ground in celebration or immolation.

Days later, when we sift through the rubble while Chad Ford sits on a beach earning 20% and Jason Thompson tweets "Deja Wow!,", we will begin to ponder as to the fit of our new prize, and how/where/if he fits into the rotation. Well I say never put off prognosticating tomorrow what you can pull out of your arse today. Are you with me? Then follow me to freedom!

Let's set some benchmarks here. First, we want to see our rookie play, but what we really want is for the team to be at least flirting with a .500 record, right? That is, the squawking over the lack of playing time for the rook would be minimized (or at least on the back burner) as long as the team was competitive and making us pay attention to the record of the eighth seed in the Western Conference into late March or April. Finishing with a better record than the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference would be just the lemon juice that this fan base's open sore needs!

So when we begin to determine rookie minutes, we can ignore the minutes that rookies get playing for bad teams. In other words, Marcus Smart got legit minutes this year for a Boston team competing for a playoff spot, while Elfrid Payton benefited from playing for an Orlando team that was in rebuild mode. This is not to say that Smart and Payton would not have had similar minutes had they swapped spots. It's just to say that what we are interested in here is how often rookies land in the core rotation on playoff-competing teams.

Next, let's define "core rotation." I see it as a team's top 8-9 players. Some teams that are stacked (Golden State) or trying to limit minutes to aging stars (San Antonio) may run a little deeper or wider, but for the most part a team will trot out an 8-9 man rotation, with the balance of the roster picking up most of its minutes due to injuries and the like. Warning: Do not review the Kings "core rotation" for 2014-15. It will only further depress you.

Reiterating, we are looking for core rotation minutes for a Kings team that might be competitive. But to be fair, we should probably not include the teams that are elite. Let's look at the average minutes for 8th and 9th men on teams that won 38-49 games last year (your 11 - 19 teams). The average 8th man comes to 1,300 minutes, while the average 9th man comes in at 1,100 minutes. For perspective, Nik Stauskas played 1,127 minutes last season. So let's split the difference and set the bar at 1,200 minutes.

Last benchmark: Throwing out special cases. 2nd year rookies and old rookies really don't apply here when it comes to the Kings and this draft, so the minutes of guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Nikola Mirotic really don't apply. Nerlens Noel is already discounted due to Philadelphia being a bad team, but he also benefited from sitting a year (a la Blake Griffin).

Alrighty then. What we are looking for are rookies that have played at least 1,200 minutes for teams that are playing at least .463 ball (at least 38 wins) but not entering into the .600 realm (under 50 wins). If we could land a rookie that could play core rotation minutes for a playoff-competing team, we'd be pretty happy, right? (Note - I understand that 38 wins is not playoff-contending in the West, but since it is in the East, the numbers are applicable for the purpose of this exercise.)

2014-15: Marcus Smart (Bos) - 1,808, Dante Exum (Uta) - 1,817, Joe Ingles (Uta) - 1,673.

You could almost toss Exum and Ingles here, as Utah was never really in the playoff hunt. Their 19-11 record down the stretch of the season did pull them within a game of Phoenix, however, and on a par with Brooklyn and Indiana. Jabari Parker would have made this list had he not been injured. As noted above, Stauskas logged 1,127 minutes.

2013-14: Cody Zeller (Cha) - 1,417, Mason Plumlee (Bkn), 1,215, Tony Snell (Chi), 1,231.

Honorable mention: Steven Adams, who logged 1,197 minutes for the 59 win Thunder. Ben McLemore came in at 2,187 minutes. Ray McCallum added 897.

2012-13: Harrison Barnes (GS) - 2,058, Jae Crowder (Dal) - 1,353.

Twenty rookies logged at least 1,200 minutes, but Barnes and Crowder were the only two that did so for competitive teams. Thomas Robinson played 1,056 minutes, 809 for the Kings.

2011-12: This was a lockout season, so the combination of the late start and compressed season really skews the rookie numbers. That said, Chandler Parsons, Iman Shumpert, Markieff Morris and Kenneth Faried all exceeded the pro-rated minutes threshold of 1,000 (as did Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas).

2010-11: Landry Fields (NY) - 2,541, Evan Turner (Phl) - 1,797, Gordon Hayward (Uta) - 1,218.

Honorable mention: Gary Neal, who played 1,685 minutes for San Antonio. The Clippers had three rookies play in excess of 1,400 minutes (Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu). DeMarcus Cousins turned in 2,310 minutes, and Pooh Jeter added 860.

2009-10: Brandon Jennings (Mil) - 2,671, Taj Gibson (Chi) - 2,204, Chase Budinger (Hou) - 1,488, Sam Young (Mem) - 1,321.

Tyreke Evans notched 2,677 minutes, Omri Casspi 1,931, and 654 Mancakes were served. Darren Collison turned in 2,109 minutes for the Pacers, while Ty Lawson played 1,316 minutes for the Nuggets.


On average, about 30% of the rookies drafted onto mid-talent teams made the core rotation in their rookie season, coming in all shapes and sizes. Mind you, this is highly unscientific. But it probably provides a reasonable baseline, and that is that there is roughly a one in three chance that the Kings 2015 draft pick will crack the core rotation if the Kings are a mid-range record ball club.

It also sheds some perspective on the difference between what a team needs, and how quickly a rookie can provide it. For example, Willie Cauley-Stein may become a staunch NBA defender, but it will be easier said than done for him to come in and unseat 500+ NBA game veteran Jason Thompson. Kristaps Porzingis may have a sweet stroke from deep, but his body and the rest of his game at this point in time might be south of Victor Claver or Noah Vonleh, and those guys would be battling to crack the core rotation right now. Myles Turner may be no more ready as a rookie than was Hassan Whiteside.

We can certainly hope for the best as Kings fans, but the realism seems to be that if this team is going to be good this year, core contributions from its rookie pick will be the exception and not the rule. It is more likely that Nik Stauskas will be more prepared to crack the rotation than the rookie pick. It is certainly not impossible for a rookie to be a core contributor, and a leap into the top three picks would improve the odds.

It is absolutely possible that the Kings land a core contributor for this season when it is their turn to pick at the 2015 NBA draft. But absent of a little good fortune, it is not highly probable.