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The Royal Mailbag: Talkin’ lineups, rebounding, and oh so much more

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You asked, we answered!

NBA: Preseason-Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s dive right in!

From thefifthmookie via the comments: What does the new age of superstar control of where they play mean to smaller markets like the Kings? With players now forcing trades with multiple years left on their deals, what kind of impact will that have for championship aspirations for smaller market franchises?

Tim: Simply put, the Kings must establish a winning culture before the shininess of team loyalty wears thin for the young core. Players rarely demand trade from teams that make regular appearances in the postseason, and reaching that status is the only foolproof plan against preventing trade demands in the future. If De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley reach their ceiling as top-10 or top-20 performers in the NBA, they’re not going to want to waste their prime years in a small market unless that small market can also provide them realistic chances at a championship. Win, or lose your best players.

Will: I’m going to be saying this a lot during this mailbag but, Tim is right on about the Kings winning culture being a crucial piece to keeping guys and bringing new blood in. Past that, I’m going to be completely honest I think that the Kings have a small advantage as the turn the corner into the next decade. I’m sure many native to the area have used this as a selling point for decades but Sacramento isn’t far from anywhere. Yes, we live in an age where a player’s proximity to a large market isn’t the only way to enriching oneself with endorsement money but it sure as heck helps. Being in Sacramento as opposed to say Oklahoma City won’t ever wow a superstar player into coming to the Capital City, but it could absolutely sway core pieces of a championship team. Sacramento can sell themselves as being a quick helicopter ride from the Bay, an hour by jet to LA. We saw a glimpse of that this summer where we saw De’Aaron Fox living in a beach side condo in San Clemente and Assistant Coach Rico Hines continue to run his famous pick up games out of the gyms of UCLA. Go an spend your summer in LA and if we need you in Sac, you’re an hour flight away.

From Carl via the comments: 538 predicts that the Kings will be one of the worst teams in the NBA and will regress bys even games, back to 32-50. Why are they wrong (Alternatively, are they wrong?)

Tim: Assuming the Kings don’t suffer a devastating injury, 538’s projection feels a little ridiculous. They’re basing the record off of their CARMELO formula, but there are a couple of issues with that plan. First, the Kings are chock-full of rookie-scale players who should, in theory, grow from year to year. For example, Marvin Bagley’s first-year impact was relatively poor, but an offseason of growth and working out should vastly improve his on-court contributions; the same theory can be applied to De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harry Giles, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and even Richaun Holmes. In addition, 538 decided to embarrass themselves with the projected nightly lineup. They have Marvin Bagley’s playing time actually slightly reducing in his second season, Buddy Hield at only 30 minutes per game, Harry Giles at only six minutes per game, and Yogi Ferrell playing 15 minutes per night at shooting guard. There are some very smart people over at 538, but their formula and execution of that formula is irresponsible in regard to the Kings.

All of that being said, there is still a chance that Sacramento finishes with the same or a slightly worse record in the 2019-2020 season, as the entire Western Conference got stronger, but I cannot envision a seven game drop after improving at nearly every position this offseason. If the Kings do drop down to 32 wins next season, both Luke Walton and Vlade Divac should be on the chopping block.

Will: I got a small bit of hate the other day on Twitter when I offered up a hot take that the Kings would win less games this year, but, I honestly see a scenario where the Kings get better as a team and still don’t take the next step. Franchises have false starts all the damn time. Minnesota had a 42-42 record where they had something like 300+ games of combined missed time by their key players back when Kevin Love and Rick Adelman were running things up in the frozen north. That next season was all Wolves, baby. Then Nikola Pekovic dropped off forever with a string of injuries, Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle pushups, and then poof. Just a couple seasons ago, it happened AGAIN to the Wolves where they were spooky good and then Jimmy Butler lost his damn mind. Phoenix with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. You could go back every few years to the dawn of the NBA and find a team that was a year or two away that never made it. I didn’t write a follow-up to my “Is Vlade Right?” this year because boy oh boy, I just don’t know if this is the year the Kings make ANOTHER leap. Are they a better team? Hell yes. I love the make up of this team on paper. But 1) It’s the WEST. 2) It’s the KINGS. 3) It’s the NBA. Crazier, dumber things have happened than the Kings being disappointing the year after giving their fans some hope. You’ve got new coaches, new starters, new expectations and those are all tricky things to navigate for teams with great general managers. The Kings are in a much better spot and have set themselves up well for a successful season but I wouldn’t blink if the Kings won 35 games this year. Wouldn’t shed a tear. But, yeah, CARMELO the model sucks and it’s wrong because it’s bad and it sucks.

From For Kings and Country via the comments: What is the Kings best 5-man lineup going into the season and why?

Tim: This is a tough one because the answer probably depends on both the matchup and if we’re thinking about opening night versus game 82. I think the Kings most talented lineup is Fox-Buddy-Bogi-Barnes-Bagley, but their best lineup in terms of impact will probably be Fox-Buddy-Barnes-Bagley-Dedmon. I wouldn’t be shocked if Holmes in one of those slots produces at a high level as well.

Will: To start the season, the best and most consistent lineup is Fox-Buddy-Barnes-Bagley-Dedmon. Those five give you the best chance to win over a 48 minute period of time. I think the closing lineup, the one that the Kings send out to win a game, down 2 with a minute left: that is going to be Fox-Buddy-Bogi-Barnes-Bagley. That’s it, Fox and the Killer B’s.

From Klam via the comments: I know his latest injury was just left knee soreness, but are you in any way concerned about Harry Giles’ healthy moving forward? How many minutes do you think he should be averaging this season?

Tim: Tim: It’s never fun to speculate about a player’s health, but I’m mildly concerned about Giles’ ability to contribute on a nightly basis. Since being drafted, he’s appeared in just 71 out of 201 possible Summer League, preseason, and regular season games. Thinking over the last few months, he missed the final 11 games of the regular season with a left leg injury, was a very late scratch from the 2019 Summer League (for reasons unknown), missed the entire India trip due to knee soreness, and now he’s neither practicing with the team, nor is he playing in the preseason game in Sacramento against the Phoenix Suns. Obviously, his injury history is unique, and we hope these absences are simply arising from an abundance of caution, but that may very well not be the case.

As far as minutes per game are concerned, I currently have Giles ranked as the fifth-best big man on the team, behind Dedmon, Bagley, Bjelica, and Holmes. He may be more naturally talented than several of those guys, but his on-court impact and reliability have to show up before I can rank put him any higher. I think he’ll average 8 – 12 minutes per game unless another big man is injured or he blows up early and proves me completely wrong.

Will: I feel uncomfortable speculating about someone’s health too much. The Kings drafted Harry Giles knowing that he was a project in terms of his physical profile. The kid has fought so hard to be a part of this league and if you’re tuned in at all on social media you know he’s dying to be out there, laying his health on the line for his teammates and his city. Am I concerned? The guy hasn’t played since March and there isn’t a new injury. Absolutely, I’m concerned. As for his minutes, I’m good with him getting no minutes at all until we know that he’s back to 100% again. If he’s got to redshirt another year, for the sake of his long term career: do it. Harry doesn’t deserve the injuries he’s had to endure and I’d give him whatever muscle he needed if I could. He’s that endearing and that fun to watch. Past that, I’m glad the Kings have other depth at that position and I can wait (but can’t wait) to see Harry on the court again in a Kings uniform.

From CameraMarty via the comments: Which team has a disastrous season? Pick only one: LAC, LAL, GSW.

Tim: The Clippers and Lakers have championship aspirations, so their level of “disaster” is a little different than that of the Warriors, so I’ll pick Golden State as the most likely candidate to fall apart next year. Their defense is going to be disastrous with a Curry-Russell backcourt, and their big men aren’t much more adapt at protecting the rim, while losing Thompson, Durant, and Iguodala on the wings eliminated their three best one-on-one defenders. They’ll make the playoffs if Curry can stay healthy, but if he misses 13 games like he did last year, or 31 games like the season before, the Warriors may find themselves in the 9th or 10th seed after things are said and done. Their slippage may be just the break the Kings need to snag the final postseason slot.

Will: It would absolute be the Warriors. Curry goes down for any length of time with a DNP - Dorito Ankles they’re going to be hurting bad. Draymond Green is one of the best and most unique complimentary players in the history of the league, but he isn’t leading the Warriors to anything. D’Angelo Russell is a great third star for them but he couldn’t guard a piggy bank with a battalion of Marines. After that they’ll have Klay coming back after the All-Star break and... Kevon Looney? HeWon’t Cauley-Stein? Past everyone I’ve named already they’re a group of “Who He Play For?” All Stars. If the Warriors make the playoffs at all this year, Steve Kerr is the Coach of the Year and Steph Curry hit 500 three pointers. I am not joking there.

From Patrick from Davis via the comments: Do the Kings have adequate pieces to be a reasonable rebounding team?

Tim: No. They’re going to be a bottom-5 team again. Dedmon is a solid rebounder, but he probably won’t be playing more than 25 minutes per game, and Bagley, Giles, and Holmes are all average to below-average glass cleaners. The front office did a solid job of addressing many concerns this offseason, but rebounding wasn’t one of them.

Will: NO. For all the reasons Tim just named above. Marvin Bagley is still young so I am really trying to refrain from judging him too hard. He has a lot of time to grow into a great rebounder and I’m hoping getting bounced around by Holmes every practice of the season eventually rubs off on him but Marvin hasn’t been the rebound I thought he’d be YET. He’s young. Young. I’m gonna keep saying it until I believe it. Past that, its a menagerie of meh.

From bibbybobbybaby via the comments: Who is going to lead the Kings in scoring this year?

Tim: I’ll roll with Buddy Hield. Fox’s scoring should see an uptick, as will Bagley’s, but I have a feeling that Buddy is going to absolutely thrive under Luke Walton’s offensive game plan. A mildly bold prediction: Hield surpasses the 25 point per game mark next season.

Will: I hate nothing more than to agree with Tim all the time here, but the default answer is Buddy. I don’t think he gets anywhere near 25 per game, and I’d bet the Kings have 4 players between 22 and 17 a night but it’ll be Buddy. Fox could easily lead this team in scoring, but he’s passive and truly a point guard in the sense that he want’s that ball moved around. Marvin is still two years from being ready for that work load. Harrison Barnes has been told if he’s leading the team in scoring ever again, it means something terrible has happened so it won’t be Barnes either. Hot take: Bogi is second on the team in scoring off the bench. Do I actually believe that? I said it, so eh, yeah... sure.

From gregsactly via the comments: How do you intelligently watch a preseason game What do you look for when assessing preseason performance?

Tim: Over the years, I’ve found that coaches tend to run a semi-realistic game plan and rotation in the first half of preseason games and use the second half to experiment. With that mindset, I look for two things: the introduction of new players into the scheme and individual skillset improvements. For example, watching the way Dewayne Dedmon is integrated into De’Aaron Fox’s dribble attack is a good indicator to how those two players envision their relationship, even if the execution isn’t perfect yet. On an individual basis, the sample size is too small to really care about shooting numbers, but seeing Buddy Hield attack (or not attack) the rim more frequently can indicate his desire to draw more free throws, or observing Marvin Bagley still struggle against physical rebounders may show a need for more focus in the weight room. Similar to Summer League, most observations have to be taken with a large grain of salt, but watching for those types of instances can help draw some relatively sound conclusions.

Will: It’s flattering of you to assume either of us have ever intelligently watched anything at all, much less a Kings game, much less a Kings preseason game. Preseason games are like watching Marvel movie trailers: you can expect that the general gist of what your seeing will somehow later be presented on screen somewhere in the final product, but your eyes and the product you’re watching are absolutely lying to you every chance they can. When I’m tuning in for preseason games, I’m looking to see new wrinkles to the offense and defense, whether or not a player is doing something that is standing out from my generally held notions of them the year before and if any of the rookies or end of bench guys are doing something that might end up giving them some minutes. Past that preseason is draino-cut smack that you fire into your veins because even a hit of this is better than nothing after a summer without ball.

From BestHyperboleEver via the comments: Let’s say the Kings win 35 games next year. Will the front office be willing to go over the cap to pay Hield and/or Bogi to keep a 35-win team together?

Tim: While I did and still do appreciate what the Kings were able to accomplish in free agency this past summer, the front office did lock themselves up financially with their decision-making. I think it’s unrealistic to envision Vlade letting both Bogi and Buddy walk, so let’s make an assumption and say the Kings keep Hield for four years, $110 million. For the sake of gaining as much room as possible, we’ll have them waive Ariza ($1.8 million guaranteed), Bjelica, Lydon, and Swanigan, while also renouncing Bogdanovic and all of the other free agents’ cap holds. Including the 2020 draft pick (placing at #14), that leaves the front office with…drum roll please…about $9 million in cap space, as well as the $5.1 million room exception. That would leave the team without the services of Bogdanovic, Bjelica, and Ariza, all contributors, only 10 rostered players including the 2020 first round draft pick, and only $9 million to get better. That’s simply not going to cut it.

It’s going to best serve the Kings to operate over the cap this summer. These numbers are obviously guestimates, but re-signing Hield to the same four-year, $110 million contract, as well as inking Bogdanovic for three years, $56 million would still slide Sacramento just under the luxury tax, and that’s with Ariza and Bjelica still on the roster. I imagine they would waive Ariza in that circumstance, which would place them only $13 million over the cap and $11 million under the luxury tax, allowing them to take advantage of the $9.9 million mid-level exception. Even if they get a little hosed in free agency with a Hield max contract and Bogi getting something like $18 million per year, they can either waive Bjelica to open up space or use only a portion of the mid-level exception. Either way, that’s a much better squad.

Comparing the situations side-by-side, the Kings can either let Bogi, Bjelica, and Ariza walk with no compensation and have only $9 million to spend on a new player, or they can go above the cap to retain Bogdanovic, still keep Bjelica and still have $9 million to spend. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Of course, the Kings will be dealing with De’Aaron Fox’s and Harry Giles’ extensions the following summer, but they’ll have the $26 million of non-guaranteed contracts between Cory Joseph and Dewayne Dedmon to create some breathing room, and they could always look to deal a player like Harrison Barnes if they desperately need to shed salary.

Will: Tim does math and knows that cap, baby. I’m truly a better fan and writer having just read that, and my eyes started to glaze as soon as they saw the word “guestimates”. Of course Vlade would go over the cap for both of those guys. They’re the second and third best pulls of Vlade’s career as a general manager (Fox drafted 5th being his best) and I truly think Vlade would see 35 wins with his core and decide (rightly) to be patient and wait for Fox and Bagley to develop a couple extra years before cutting the cord on this team. Kings fans are definitely looking for this year to be THE year, to break that playoff streak, to show the world we aren’t rooting for shit any longer. This era in Kings basketball is still very, very early in its making with the two most important pieces of that puzzle being under 22 years old. If the money is there for Vlade to spend for those two and they’re happy to take, he’ll spend for that 35 win team.