The Sacramento Kings busy summer marches on as we edge closer to the 2019 NBA Draft. As of Friday, the team will have publicly brought in 96 players across 16 workouts, and while a bunch of this scouting work will be more useful for the Stockton Kings than for the parent team, there’s no downside for a organization working their way up the rebuilding process to analyze and meet with as many prospects as they can.
Here are some of the more interesting names that the Kings have met with in the past week that I’ve watched enough to analyze (apologizes to Penn State guard Josh Reaves, but I never watched the Nittany Lions this year):
Nevada’s Cody Martin has the three most alluring skills you’d want in a modern wing—he can pass, dribble, and shoot at a relatively high collegiate level. Those first two skills are particularly alluring; having a wing who can rebound (5.2 boards per 40 minutes), cruise coast-to-coast with the ball, and dish the rock (5.7 dimes per 40, and a 2.6/1 assist-to-turnover ratio) is extremely valuable in the modern game. Martin’s got the live dribble and passing instincts to become a solid bench wing, but it’ll be the trust in his shot that likely determines how high teams will be willing to take him.
Martin shot only 29.4% from distance in his junior season, but that percentage jumped to 35.8% on 95 attempts in his senior year. It’s key to point out that a lot of those makes came in the second half of the season—he shot 43.8% from deep in Mountain West Conference Play—but even if he was going through an extended hot streak, it indicates that Martin is a dude who will put in the work on his jumper. One bit of evidence that supports his shooting ability is his mark on catch-and-shoot shots, which should increase dramatically when he plays next to NBA ballhandlers; he scored 1.39 PPP on catch-and-shoot shots, 95th percentile in the league.
Martin’s a smart player who can do a ton of things on the court. He can score at the basket (71.3% shooting at the rim with only 30% of them assisted, per hoop-math), attack in the pick-and-roll (94th percentile, per Synergy), and is a determined defender even against better athletes. He might not have a ton of upside, but what he does now is valuable in the NBA, and he’s got the competitive edge that you’d want for a 2nd round dice-toss.
In a vacuum where only talent is considered, San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels would be a solid fit for Sacramento; he’s a combo-forward who projects to be a solid shoot-and-defend role player at the next level, although he’s got to (1) limit his mid-range shots and improve his deep shot (32% on 72 attempts this year) before he can stretch the floor, and (2) add to his 192 lb frame before he can possibly battle at the NBA level. But outside of that vacuum, McDaniels has a major red flag; he is currently being sued by two women who’ve separately accused him of filming them during sexual acts and sharing the videos online when they were all in high school. While every person deserves their day in court, the Kings should let McDaniels continue his career elsewhere and avoid adding to their existing legal and moral issues.
Tyus Battle was the primary scorer for Syracuse over the last two years and helped lead them to back-to-back NCAA Tournament births. He’s an athletic wing who can get down the court in a hurry, and over his three years with the Orange he attacked the basket at will. Per hoop-math.com, he shot 60% at the rim this season—not a spectacular number, but the fact that only 19% of those attempts were assisted indicates he can create at the basket. The concern for Battle is his jumpshot, as he made a middling 38% of his 2-point jumpers and only 33.5% of his 534 career three point attempts. Still, dudes who average 17+ points per game in major conferences tend to get NBA looks, so Battle will probably end up a priority undrafted signing. If he can continue to improve his shot, he could become a solid contributor at the next level.
Take one look at Vanderbilt freshman Simisola “Simi” Shittu (pronounced Shi-tuu) and you can see why he’s getting NBA attention; 6’9.5 in shoes, 7’1.25 wingspan, a huge frame that’ll add plenty of muscle, and solid (if not spectacular) fluidity and athleticism. He’s got some guard-like qualities in his game that make him alluring at the NBA level; he can dribble and lead the break, and he’s an unselfish player who can move the ball when the right play presents itself (16.4% assist rate with his 26.3% usage rate). He’s got the size and determination to create space in the post, and should be a solid rebounder if he’s willing to battle with NBA physicality; he finished with 10 boards per 40 minutes and a 21.2% defensive rebounding rate. Check out this highlight (he starts the video with the ball) that shows a bunch of his good traits.
What keeps Shittu from being a 1st round selection is two-fold. He’s NOT a shooter, full stop—32% on 2 point jumpers and only one three pointer made in 18 attempts—and he’s not a rim protector at this stage of his career. A 6’9 big getting just 16 blocks in 854 minutes is insanely low considering his intersection of size and pop.
It’s not clear what role Shittu will play on either end at the next level, but it’s also hard to take too much away from his one year at Vanderbilt. It was expected that Shittu and Darius Garland (a projected top 10 pick) would form a dynamic duo, but Garland suffered a season-ending knee injury five games into the year, and the Commodores imploded with a 0-18 record in SEC conference play. The lack of a real offense (bottom 3rd in the country for scoring) and talent around Shittu likely makes him an alluring ‘diamond-in-the-rough’ selection given that he was considered a top talent in his freshman class. It should also be noted that Shittu tore his ACL in January 2018, although he was an iron man for the Commodores and played in all 32 games this season.
And finally, the Kings should take a real look at Michigan’s Charles Matthews. Matthews tore an ALC in a workout with the Boston Celtics last week and will be out for the season. This is a huge disappointment for both Matthews and for fans of basketball, as Matthews comes equipped with a fiery play-style and determination you’d want in any 2nd round selection. He’s a tough defender who makes life hell for the opposing team’s best wing—Synergy marks him as holding opponents to 34.4% shooting overall, 84th percentile in the country—and he’s got the length, quickness, and height to become an solid NBA defender. The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn also quotes NBA folks as saying Matthews had been “proving to be a better shooter than advertised” before the injury; if Matthews’ could become even a middling NBA shooter, he’d have real value in the modern game that needs all the capable wing defenders it can find.
A few seasons ago an injury like this would doom a borderline top-60 player, but two-way contracts have changed that. The Kings roster is already 10 deep (if you count both Harrison Barnes and the non-fully-guarenteed Frank Mason), and it has always been unlikely that the Kings would draft three 2nd round picks with the intent of keeping all on the full roster. Matthews’ agent says that Matthews is open to signing a two-way contract; if Sacramento buys into Matthews’ value as a wing defender, rostering him for a rehab season in Stockton and seeing if his shot really is better than advertised might be a smart move. Of course, any team in the later half of the 2nd could make this same calculation, and the Kings may already have plans for both of their two-way contracts. But Matthews is a risk that some clever team is going to take, and he fills a big need for Sacramento’s roster.