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Kings Progress Report: Trevor Ariza

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Ariza wasn’t the answer at small forward, but at least the Kings recouped some value from signing him.

Milwaukee Bucks v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Player: Trevor Ariza

Age: 34

Relevant stats: In 32 games for the Kings, all off the bench, Ariza averaged 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game. He shot 48.8% on 2-pointers and 35.2% on 3-pointers. Sacramento had minus-3.8 point differential (per Cleaning the Glass) with Ariza on the court this season.

Contract status: The Kings signed Ariza to a two-year, $25 million deal in the 2019 offseason before trading him to Portland in January. Only $1.8 million of his 2020-21 salary is guaranteed.

Recap: Sacramento signed Ariza this offseason as some wing depth to back up Harrison Barnes and ideally play alongside Barnes in the forward spots in small lineups. His familiarity with incoming head coach Luke Walton, since the two were teammates for a year and a half, likely played a role in the signing as well. Ariza was coming off of a down season split between two miserable teams in Phoenix and Washington, but was just a year removed from being an integral part of the 65-win Houston Rockets. Given his playoff experience, and the fact that the second year of his contract was only lightly guaranteed, the Sactown Royalty staff gave the move a B- back in July.

The Ariza the Kings got was probably closer to his Suns/Wizards form than the Ariza of the Rockets, though his shot selection was pure Moreyball. Ariza is really only capable of being a spot-up shooter on offense — he shot 37.3% on catch-and-shoot threes compared to 29.4% on pull-ups. Ariza is still guarded beyond the 3-point line, allowing him to provide spacing, and his shot profile is analytically-friendly (he only took 9 midrangers in 32 games). However, given his blah finishing at the basket (46th percentile among wings), he needed to shoot at a higher percentage to have a positive offensive impact. Sacramento was 5.4 points per 100 possessions worse on offense with Ariza on the floor.

Ariza can make a straight-line drive to the basket and potentially drive and dish from there. Beyond that, his creativity within the offense is fairly limited. As a result, he needs to be on the court with players who can create shots for him and others. He had the second-lowest assist percentage of his career this season (combining Sacramento and Portland) and was at his best when he played alongside De’Aaron Fox and Nemanja Bjelica, one of the better shot-generating bigs in the league. Ariza’s most productive 2-player lineups were with Fox (+5.7 net rating) and Bjelica (+3.6), but four other combinations earned more minutes than those two.

On defense, Ariza’s effectiveness was mostly a product of his engagement. Although not at his peak, Ariza can still fight through screens and harass perimeter players with his length; that effort just wasn’t there every night (I’m inclined to think this is an effort problem, because Ariza’s defense has been off the charts good in Portland, even though the Blazers are much worse). When he was active, like against Houston in December or the Thunder two nights later, it was easy to see the allure of a multi-positional wing defender. His opponents shot 5.6% worse against him, and the Kings were 5.5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with him on the court.

That was almost entirely offset by Sacramento’s offense, which was 5.4 points worse with Ariza, meaning the Kings were 0.1 points per 100 possessions better on the whole with him. 32 games and essentially neutral.

Future with the Kings: Sacramento traded Ariza in January, and Portland seems likely to retain him given his improved play and their lack of cap flexibility, so a reunion between Ariza and the Kings is unlikely. His “future” with the Kings lies in the 2024 and 2025 second-round draft picks the team acquired in the trade with Portland.

Grade: B- (on a curve)

Like his stats suggest, Ariza was basically average for the Kings, but this grade reflects the total Ariza experience, not just his play for the team. Instead of a C, he gets a B- because Sacramento was able to get out from under his contract without giving up any players of value. They also got two future assets (the second-round picks) and a player who has been a surprisingly good fit in Kent Bazemore. Ariza’s uptick in Portland (7 of his 10 best game scores have been with the Blazers, and 8 of his 10 worst were with the Kings) is a little annoying, but at least Sacramento doesn’t have to sink more money into a player who appears to be happier elsewhere.