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 begin with point guards.
Who do the Kings have?
The cornerstone of the Sacramento franchise is the team’s point guard, De’Aaron Fox. Despite missing 17 straight games with an ankle sprain and taking a step back in his 3-point shooting, which went down from 37.1% in 2018-18 to 29.2% in 2019-20, Fox meaningfully improved in the third year of this NBA career. His assist percentage (33.7%) and his turnover percentage (12.7%) were career bests, and he shot better overall from the field even though the threes didn’t go in. Fox is the leader of the Kings, and the one position the franchise knows it does not have to address is starting point guard.
Fox will likely be asking for a max contract extension this offseason, one that would keep in a Kings uniform for at least another four years beyond this one. There’s no sense in the team playing hardball on that deal. Fox is one of the finest young point guards in the league, and creating a situation for him to succeed in Sacramento is priority No. 1.
What the Kings need to address is having an effective point guard to back up Fox. Cory Joseph was a defensive standout but he provided little in the way of playmaking, a flaw that was exposed only further when he played next to Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes. Joseph also doesn’t shoot at a high enough volume to compensate for his lack of creation. He remains a useful defensive option, even against two guards, but he isn’t the pure point Sacramento needs in its second unit. Yogi Ferrell wasn’t that option either. He’s a shoot-first guard who is only listed as a point because of his size.
The Kings could probably let Ferrell go and either give developmental minutes to Kyle Guy, or find a veteran point guard at the minimum to help spell Fox and Joseph. Joseph has another year left on his deal, as well as a non-guarantee the following season, so he’s likely sticking around in Sacramento. Perhaps playing under Alvin Gentry can help Joseph discover some dormant point guard skills, but more than likely, the Kings need another playmaker.
Can the Kings draft a point guard at no. 12?
The Kings have been linked with Kira Lewis Jr. out of Alabama with their first-round pick. Lewis resembles Fox in terms of his speed on the court and his aggressiveness attacking the paint, but with one important upgrade, as detailed by Ricky O’Donnell in SB Nation’s mock draft:
No player in this draft class is faster with the ball in their hands. The 6’3 point guard can blow by defenders at the point of attack or dust them in transition to apply consistent pressure on the rim. That speed creates advantage situations for himself and others even if he isn’t the most polished finisher or live dribble passer just yet. Lewis is also a solid catch-and-shoot threat, ranking in the 88th percentile of America in spot-up opportunities while hitting 36.4 percent of his threes.
John Hollinger of The Athletic was similarly complimentary of Lewis, who is one of the youngest players in this draft despite being a sophomore, and who has steadily climbed up draft boards since the college season abruptly ended:
He’s a young point guard with size, shooting and some pop as a leaper. He’s blazing fast in transition, has a secure handle, generates a ton of space on step-backs, can make reads in pick and roll, and is more than capable of guarding the position. Statistically, his markers were all hugely positive (high rates of steals and blocks, good shooting) and the tape backs it up.
This draft is deep in point guards beyond Lewis, if he’s unavailable. Tyrese Haliburton out of Iowa State is an excellent shooter who defended well and consistently demonstrated hustle in his two collegiate seasons. He’s been lauded for his playmaking, but it’s unclear if he has the speed to create in the NBA. Haliburton is also projected as a top-10 pick, which means he’s probably out of Sacramento’s range.
Cole Anthony is a score-first guard who can run an offense because of his ability to create for himself, not necessarily his teammates. He might have greater success with more talent around him, but his passing needs some work at the moment. That being said, he’s a great athlete and shooter with a nose for the rim, and his defensive instincts suggest that he reads the floor well, even if his shot selection makes the opposite argument. The Kings would have to be confident that North Carolina did not provide the best environment for him in his lone college season to pull the trigger on Anthony.
Tyrese Maxey and RJ Hampton are two other names to keep an eye on. Maxey is part of a long lineage of Kentucky scoring guards under Calipari whose jumpers need some refinement, but he’s a helluva defender and makes big plays. Hampton is more of an upside pick because of his size and hype coming out of high school; there just isn’t a ton of high-level tape on him since he only played 15 games in Australia this past season.
What about free agency?
Sacramento doesn’t project to have a ton of cap space if the team keeps its core intact and re-signs Bogdan Bogdanovic. Even if the Kings do create some space through other moves, point guard isn’t the position where they want to spend a ton of money because Fox will be eating up most of the minutes there.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong offseason to be shopping for a backup point guard. The only decent playmakers (Trey Burke, Reggie Jackson and D.J. Augustin stand out) would provide challenges on defense, to say the least. Raul Neto presents the opposite problem, and the Kings already have a better version of him on the team in Joseph. Unless Sacramento wants to take a flier on someone like Jaylen Adams or be the team to finally make something out Emmanuel Mudiay, there isn’t much to had at the point guard position in free agency.
This is a big season for Fox, and the success of the Kings ultimately comes down to his continued development as the franchise point guard. If he takes another step forward as the lead guard, the production of his backups doesn’t matter quite as much. Nevertheless, it would be helpful for the team to have as much playmaking on the floor as possible, whether or not that comes from the guard position.