Welcome to the Sactown Royalty Offseason Preview! Every day this week, we’ll tackle one position. We’ll go over what the Kings have and what they could use at that spot, and how they they can address those needs via free agency or the draft. Today, let’s continue with the centers.
Who do the Kings have?
The best deal the Kings made last offseason was signing Richaun Holmes, who produced as an average starting center while being paid at about a third of the price. He was an outstanding play finisher who cleaned up everything near the basket and helped to approximate some of the rim running that the team lost when Willie Cauley-Stein left last offseason. Holmes is a good communicator on the defensive end whose activity leads to high block and steal rates, even if he often gets a little over eager with his fouls.
It was clear how much the Kings missed Holmes during the bubble when his unintentional 10-day quarantine put a damper on his conditioning. They can confidently run it back next season with Holmes as their starting center. He’ll fit perfectly in Alvin Gentry’s offense as a bouncy, high-energy five.
Sacramento doesn’t have any other centers under contract for next season, but the team would presumably like to re-sign at least one of its existing bigs: Alex Len or Harry Giles III. Len was an absolute standout on the defensive end in his brief regular-season stint, though contracting the coronavirus made him essentially a non-entity during the bubble. He can protect the rim better than anyone on the Kings, and has better mobility than might be expected considering his frame. His offensive game was almost non-existent in Sacramento, which puts him in stark contrast with Giles.
Giles fulfilled a useful role as an additional playmaker, operating the offense out of the elbows. He had a knack for finding cutters, handing off to shooters, or just pulling up himself. But all of Giles’ offensive gifts were counteracted by his defensive performance, which can only be described as disastrous. He’s too slight to really guard centers or even box them out, and he’s out of position more often than not defending in space. Giles is young enough at age 22 that he can be expected to improve on defense; it often takes big men longer than perimeter players on that end because of the extra responsibility bigs have manning the paint. He’s the player the Kings should prioritize over Len because of his upside, but they’ll have to find some defensive reinforcements around him.
Can the Kings draft a center at no. 12?
There aren’t really any bigs who fit Sacramento’s needs at the 12th pick. It only makes sense to pick a center who has strong defensive upside, but both Onyeka Okongwu and James Wiseman will be off the board by then. The Kings have been linked to Aleksej Pokusevski (Kevin O’Connor had the Kings picking him in his mock draft at The Ringer), who is a 7-footer with guard skills. Even though that player archetype is interesting, there is no chance that he can currently defend at the NBA level, and the projections suggest that defense will never be his strong suit.
No other centers even ranked in the top 30 of Kevin Pelton’s best prospects, though Precious Achiuwa from Memphis has shown up in the late lottery on some draft boards. Stylistically, he seems a lot like Holmes, but there are probably better prospects to be had at this point in the draft.
What about free agency?
The Kings tried to find a 3-and-D center last offseason in Dewayne Dedmon, and it’s safe to say that didn’t go well. Another player of that mold who might be more successful — and he also comes from the Suns — is Aron Baynes. He has a well-rounded offensive skillset and shot 35 percent on threes last season with Phoenix. Baynes has historically been a solid defensive center as well, though his stats with the Suns last year were not great. He didn’t play in the bubble, and DeAndre Ayton proved perfectly capable of handling the center minutes without him, so Baynes could be had for cheap. He is another reclamation project Sacramento should consider.
Of the other centers on the market, Tristan Thompson seems likely to stay in Cleveland. Serge Ibaka has said he wants to play for a contender if he leaves Toronto. Mason Plumlee is essentially just a souped-up Giles (both Dukies, too). Meyers Leonard could be an interesting floor-spacing option at the five if both of the Kings’ free agent centers elect to leave.
It will be interesting what Giles decides. The team is limited in what it can offer him, but hopefully the fact that a new front office is in place means that Giles won’t harbor ill will to them for not picking up his fourth-year option. Luke Walton showed a real commitment to developing Giles, and the Kings have to hope that relationship is enough to keep Giles around, even if it is at a discount for one season.
Center isn’t a real position of need for Sacramento. Holmes can handle the bulk of the minutes with Marvin Bagley III and Nemanja Bjelica occasionally playing in smaller lineups. This isn’t a spot where the Kings should be spending a lot of money unless they can make a meaningful upgrade. Those dollars should be spent on the wing. Having Holmes under contract gives the team flexibility to go in a lot of directions with his backup.