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The revamped small forward position in Sacramento

The Kings are situated at small forward much better than last season and that benefits the versatility of the team.

NBA: Miami Heat at Sacramento Kings Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Kings entered last season with two small forwards in (checks notes) Justin Jackson and (checks notes again) Troy Williams as a two-way player who was involved with the first team quite often until late December.

The depth at small forward became so emaciated that Iman Shumpert, listed at 6’5”, took the mantle at the 3 and was tasked to guard players at least two to three inches taller than him.

Shumpert definitely made waves out of the gate, providing the team with gritty defense and unexpectedly solid offense. He could handle the ball, move the ball, hit mid-range shots and converted 36.6 percent of his threes on 4.8 attempts. His leadership also became a vital aspect of the organization, nicknaming the team the “Scores”, bringing in t-shirts for everyone and more.

But his remarkable play fell into an unsustainable trap as he failed to turn himself back to the player he was to begin the year. While the defensive presence remained intact, the offense kept disappearing slowly game after game and a trade eventually molded which sent him to Houston.

On the other hand, Justin Jackson couldn’t find a groove to maintain either, besides serving necessary length defensively. He would visit Antarctica for a few games, missing open looks from the field and randomly took trips to Kilauea, erupting for 28 points against the Golden State Warriors or at least hitting double digit point totals. A consistent Jackson would be the coolest Jackson not named Samuel L. but that never materialized, leading to Vlade Divac pulling off a trade that sent Jackson and Zach Randolph for Harrison Barnes.

In the offseason, Sacramento inked veteran Trevor Ariza to a two-year, $25 million contract that was unanticipated by many but nonetheless a solid signing was made to improve the depth behind Barnes, who additionally re-signed to a four-year, $85 million deal.

After three quarters of a season relying on ineffectual forwards and non-forwards in Shumpert and Bogdan Bogdanovic to carry the bulk of the small forward minutes, the Kings are refined with two savvy veterans that undoubtedly shore up last season’s forward weaknesses.

I don’t know how the “Kings got worse with Harrison Barnes” idea developed, but it’s a negligent one.

Barnes over any other option the Kings put out last season is a massive upgrade on both ends of the floor. A major aspect of his game he needed to eliminate with Sacramento in order to mesh with the youngsters was his usage rate. In Dallas, Barnes was a focal point in their offense, holding a significant usage rate percentage of 23.7. For Barnes, that meant less isolation and bad shots needed to be changed to more ball movement and open shots.

Sacramento possessed a wider range of offensive threats than Dallas, so that adjustment went smoothly for Barnes except for the first few games when his shot wasn’t falling. However, when he found his touch again, Barnes became a momentous threat from beyond the arc.

The Kings were fourth in three point shooting as a team and Barnes’ incredible rate of 40.8 percent after joining Sacramento added an instant threat once the shot was falling. The clip shows the Boston defense too focused on De’Aaron Fox, allowing Barnes to sneak into the corner, receive the floating skip pass from his guard and drill the open three.

Barnes’ offensive production gave the Kings an additional piece that teams had to respect because of his three point shooting and post-playmaking, but his value to the team increased due to tremendous defense.

Jackson’s 6’8” frame helped guard taller forwards, but his lateral movements were easy for defenders to maneuver through. He had a tough time keeping his defender in front of him and couldn’t utilize his long arms to make plays either. On the other hand, Barnes is the same height as Jackson and despite his lateral quickness not being rapid, he competently kept defenders in front of him and used his arm size more often, too (both have 6’11” wingspans). It wasn’t expected of Barnes to provide the defensive presence that he did, but it sure was welcoming and crucial.

After Jayson Tatum resets with the ball, he attempts an isolation drive to the basket but Barnes is able to stick his arm and knock the ball out, allowing for fellow defenders to pounce on the ball for a steal.

Trevor Ariza fits pleasingly behind Barnes, because even though he is coming off a rough and questionable season on both ends of the floor, there’s still some solid defense left to milk out from him.

Ariza’s inefficient shooting most likely won’t become a concerning factor in Sacramento due to a much smaller role on a better constructed roster, but owning another 6’8” forward who can guard multiple positions like Barnes is so vital in this league nowadays.

The 7’2” wingspan equipped with Ariza’s body grants the Kings with a player who occupies a good defensive IQ. The 34-year-old forward hasn’t experienced a season under one steal a game since the 2007-08 season, where his total average came out at 0.9. Ever since, he’s been a reliable player that earns you another possession a game through intercepting passing lanes, sticking his hand out on opposing dribble drives, knocking the ball out while guarding an iso and more.

The Wizards halt the T.J. Warren-Deandre Ayton pick-and-roll beautifully and when Ariza is latched back onto Warren, he times the crossover dribble to perfection and slaps it out while the dribble is in motion, leading to a steal.

Now that the Kings have two valued veterans with the size and ability to proficiently play small forward, it also permits Bogdanovic to play his usual position of shooting guard more often.

Through two years, Bogdanovic has played 57 percent of his minutes at small forward and being an under-sized player in terms of both weight and height, he was always at a clear disadvantage.

Tatum snatched Bogdanovic’s number and kept it throughout this whole game. He bullied the smaller non-forward by getting him in the post and fading away, shooting right over him and simply taking the ball to the basket as he does here.

Tatum’s display of offense easily jumbles Bogi’s footsteps, losing the Serbian with ease and not letting him recover by going around the rim. However, Tatum shouldn’t be missing those and Sacramento caught a break. Because Tatum was posting up on Bogi quite frequently in the game, when he puts his back to Bogdanovic, you notice how Bogdanovic starts to back pedal as if he’s predicting the post up is coming. That’s how Tatum baits Bogi’s feet and mind into thinking one thing, but instead he spun right by him.

There’s still a relatively high chance that Bogi plays a good chunk of minutes at the 3 in many different small ball lineups that could feature one of Barnes or Ariza playing the 4, but the Kings definitely have two versatile forwards who can play in any lineup. Both can guard 2-4’s, be on the court with each other and potentially play off one another because of Ariza’s ability to move the ball and make smart passes as he just showcased last season.

Sacramento shocked many NBA watchers of all backgrounds last season without true small forwards on the roster - now they’re heading into the next season with two talented and versatile ones.