To kick off free agency in July, the Sacramento Kings signed free agent Dewayne Dedmon to a three-year contract worth up to $40 million, spelling the end of Willie Cauley-Stein’s tenure in Sacramento. Vlade Divac swapped out his high-flying, speedy center for a savvier, more versatile role player, and while Dedmon’s skill set is a much cleaner fit with this roster, his unique talents will require some adjustments from his new teammates.
Although Willie wore out his tenure in Sacramento with his inconsistent contributions, he did play an important role for the Kings over the last few seasons. His gravity in the pick-and-roll lured defenders away from De’Aaron Fox in the paint, and his vertical threat also afforded an easy target in the lob game. Cauley-Stein’s teammates could toss the ball anywhere near the rim, and Willie would grab it and throw it down. His combination of speed and athleticism was unmatched among opposing centers.
Even when passes weren’t perfectly executed, Cauley-Stein used his jumping ability to snag the ball and make a play, a capability that Dewayne Dedmon lacks. Over the last two years, Willie Cauley-Stein received 149 alley-oops, while Dedmon has completed just 28. A similar gap can be found in the number of total dunks during the 2019 campaign, as Willie ranked sixth in the NBA with 182, whereas Dewayne sat near the bottom of starting centers at only 62, sitting at 46th place in the league and behind players like Zach LaVine, Jayson Tatum, and Moe Harkless.
Dedmon may trail Cauley-Stein in verticality, but he was the more efficient player in the pick-and-roll, scoring 1.28 points per possession (83rd percentile), compared to Willie’s 1.15 (63rd percentile). The veteran uses positioning and footwork, rather than athleticism, to set himself up for layups and dunks.
Atlanta’s offense was built out of shovel passes and bounce passes in lieu of lobs, an important adjustment for the guards. Sacramento’s ball-handlers have grown overdependent on alley-oops in the past, as evidenced by their laughable tosses to Kosta Koufos over the last few years, and they must realize that Dedmon doesn’t offer the same safety valve as Cauley-Stein. De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic undoubtedly possess the needed touch to find a less bouncy center in the lane, but the same may not be said for less gifted passers such as Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes. The Kings will need to avoid lazy execution and live ball turnovers when finding their cutting big man.
Outside of his efficiency as a rim runner in the half-court, Dedmon’s contributions will be best highlighted by his ability to knock down jumpers in pick-and-pop situations, an advantage no Kings big man could reliably provide last year. Sacramento’s new center ranked in the 73rd percentile in the pick-and-pop in 2019, and his dual threat as a roller and as a shooter will open up easy scoring opportunities for both his teammates and himself.
Trae Young meets Dewayne Dedmon at the top of the three-point arc to set up a screen against Wilson Chandler. Mike Muscala is forced to choose between covering Dedmon or sticking with Young, and the Sixers forward drops down to contain penetration, leaving Dedmon wide-open for the triple.
Trae Young once again sets up the play at the top of the key. Dedmon screens the lead guard defender, Elfrid Payton, and Julius Randle stick’s with Young’s attack. Payton also chooses to recover to his original assignment, and Dedmon is left with about seven feet between him and the nearest defender. Buckets.
In this instance, Dedmon doesn’t even set a particularly effective screen against Eric Bledsoe. He creates just enough space for Young to get into the lane, and Brook Lopez stays home as the resident shot-blocker. Dedmon knocks down the three-pointer with ease.
Studying a snapshot from each clip demonstrates the impact of Dedmon’s shooting on opposing defenses.
Imagine that sort of spacing with De’Aaron Fox in the paint, Buddy Hield (95th percentile) and Harrison Barnes (90th percentile) in the corners, Marvin Bagley trailing Fox’s attack, and Dewayne Dedmon (83rd percentile) firing away from the top of the key. That’s the kind of devastating offensive versatility that the Kings lacked with their big men last season. They could choose to feature either the shooting of Bjelica or the rolling game of Willie Cauley-Stein; Dedmon provides both options in a single player.
The Kings and the Hawks both loved to get out and run last season, but their centers played different roles during those opportunities. Willie Cauley-Stein outran and out-jumped virtually every opposing center in the league, and his combination of speed and athleticism devastated opponents in the fast break.
Dedmon isn’t a sluggish ground-pounder by any means, and he won’t be constantly left in the dust by his younger teammates, but the Kings also have Marvin Bagley to sprint down the floor with the guards and wings. Dewayne can better replace Nemanja Bjelica’s function as the trailing three-point sniper.
A stretch-five who can run the floor is any easy way to confound shot-blockers in transition. They’re forced to choose between covering the paint and guarding the three-point line, especially both teams are running two guards, two wings, and only one big.
Nikola Vucevic naturally recovers to the rim in the semi-transition situation, hoping to stop Trae Young and the rest of Atlanta’s guards from infiltrating the key. And for most teams and in most circumstances, that would have been the right call, but Dedmon adds another layer of complexity to open court opportunities. If the rim protector covers the long-distance threat, he’ll leave the basket wide open, allowing Fox and Bogdanovic to feast in the paint. If he stays back as Vucevic chooses to do, Dedmon will knock down the majority of his open three-pointers. The offense is dictating how the defense operates.
This clip demonstrates a clever tactic deployed by Dedmon and Young last year. Atlanta’s center initially matches pace with everyone sprinting down the floor, but as the entire defensive presence is backpedaling and flowing with the movement of the offensive players, Dedmon very quickly slows to a saunter and stops at the three-point line, hands ready for the pass. Karl-Anthony Towns relocates too far under the hoop, and by the time Andrew Wiggins realizes what has happened, it’s too late for him to contest the shot. It’s another three points for the Hawks.
Dedmon doesn’t actually score or even touch the ball on this possession, but his ability to stretch the floor still carries a major impact. As Trae Young is charging down the court at full tilt, Dewayne hangs back, and Kelly Olynyk is offered two bad choices: stick with the shooter or pack the paint. Olynyk stays at the top of the arc, leaving a wide-open lane for Young.
Modern NBA offenses demand shooting from all positions, and the Kings were a perfect example of that need last season. Nemanja Bjelica, the only stretch-big on the roster, led the team in net rating (2.7), and Sacramento posted a record of 15-7 when he played at least 28 minutes in a game. It’s no coincidence that the Kings’ slump coincided with Bjelica’s shooting collapse later in the year. Among the starters, Dedmon wil provide similar levels of accuracy and frequency as Nemanja during the 2020 campaign.
The possession begins with two screens being set in the same moment. Omari Spellman sets a pick for Trae Young, and Dewayne Dedmon sets a rather weak pin-down screen against JJ Redick before shifting to the corner. Young reverses direction after his defender is displaced, drives toward the rim, and forces Embiid to stay in the paint, allowing Dedmon to pull up and sink the long-ball.
This situation actually starts off with a Young-Dedmon pick-and-roll, but Trae is covered by three defenders and can’t find an open pass to his center. He kicks the ball to Taurean Prince, who shot-fakes and drives toward the hoop. Instead of packing the paint for his teammates and charging the rim, Dedmon instinctively recovers to the corner. Meanwhile, Deandre Ayton sticks in the paint, and Dedmon knocks down the three-pointer. There’s a reason he shot 47% from the left corner last season.
Swapping Nemanja Bjelica and Willie Cauley-Stein for Marvin Bagley and Dewayne Dedmon represents a major upgrade for Sacramento’s starting front court, but the front office did sacrifice one major aspect of the offense with that switch: ball movement. Bjelica and Cauley-Stein were both willing and competent passers last years, while Dedmon is more of a finisher and Bagley struggled with tunnel vision in his rookie year.
Assist Percentages of Big Men
Initially, that sacrifice doesn’t look too intimidating, as most teams’ passing comes from their guards and wings, but that can’t be said about Sacramento’s roster. In 2019, the Kings started only one player with an assist percentage below 10%, Harrison Barnes at 6.9%. They’ll start three of those individuals in 2020, Barnes, Bagley, and Dedmon, with Buddy Hield barely surpassing that mark at 11.7%. Even if Marvin Bagley shows some growth in his court vision, there’s a legitimate concern as to what will happen when De’Aaron Fox breaks down the defense, dishes the ball to a teammate, and the offense stalls when a shot isn’t immediately available. Luke Walton will have to manufacture some ways to create ball movement in the half-court.
Those adjustments will likely lead Walton away from Joerger’s love of the high post. Willie Cauley-Stein placed third in the NBA in elbow touches per game last year, averaging 6.4 each night, more than Dedmon and Bagley combined. He was often able to find cutters or initiate the pick-and-roll after receiving the ball at the free throw line, a wrinkle Sacramento's current bigs will struggle to conquer. Inserting Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harry Giles into the lineup will help to patch up some of the questionable court vision on the team, but the initial starting five may struggle in the half-court against set defenses.
Dewayne Dedmon’s ability to act as a hybrid between the floor spacing of Nemanja Bjelica and the rolling attack of Willie Cauley-Stein will generate an abundance of options for De’Aaron Fox and the rest of the Kings. He may not create many highlight reel finishes, but there’s no doubt that the veteran’s shooting, experience, and consistency will open up previously closed doors for Sacramento’s scoring attack next season.