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KANGZ, A-Z: Otis Birdsong, scoring machine

The second pick of the 1977 NBA Draft helped the team reach the conference finals in 1981.

Editor’s Note: As the NBA shutdown continues (though there are signs of progress!), we’ll be taking a look back at Kings history through the Cincinnati Royals and Kansas City days to identify the best players for each letter of the alphabet. We hope you enjoy KANGZ, A-Z.

The Kansas City Kings finished the 1976-77 season 40-42, missing the playoffs for the second straight year.

Back then, the NBA determined the draft order by having a coin flip between the worst team in each conference for the Nos. 1 and 2 picks, while the rest of the selections were based on the standings.

This was a huge development for the Kings at the time. In September of 1976, the team had sent star Tiny Archibald to the then-New York Nets for a package that included the Nets’ next two first-round picks.

New York finished with the worst record in the league in 1976-77, but Kansas City wound up with the second overall pick after the Milwaukee Bucks won the coin toss with the Nets. The Bucks took Indiana center Kent Benson first, while the Kings went with Houston guard Otis Birdsong at No. 2.

The Birdsong selection was more about the long-term picture as the team looked to add some young talent around him. Although he was only playing 25 minutes a night, he averaged 15.8 points per game in his rookie season and finished with 4.2 win shares, per Basketball Reference. Kansas City regressed to 31-51 in 1977-78, but with the Nets finishing with the worst record one again, the Kings moved up to the No. 2 pick.

Kansas City took North Carolina guard Phil Ford, who went on to win Rookie of the Year. Even though Ford had a fine career, a player named Larry Bird went four selections later at number six.

Still, as the talent around him got better, Birdsong reached another level. His scoring numbers improved to 21.7 in his second year, despite his usage rate coming down slightly. More importantly, the team turned the corner and finished first in the Midwest Division with a 48-34 record. However, the Kings were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals.

With the core now in place, Birdsong led Kansas City to a 47-35 finish in 1979-80, making the All-Star team for the second straight season. The Kings were once again ousted by the Suns in the first round of the playoffs, but bigger things were on the way.

Even though Kansas City sputtered to a 40-42 record in 1980-81, Birdsong was named second-team All-NBA after averaging a career high 24.6 points. The Kings matched up with the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, where Birdsong got off to a hot start.

He averaged 29.5 points through the first two games, shooting a ridiculous 62.2% from the field. Kansas City beat the Blazers in the deciding third game, leading to a second-round series with the Suns, the team who had eliminated the Kings each of the previous two seasons.

Birdsong sprained his right ankle in a Game 1 loss, but Kansas City would cover for his loss by winning the next three games. Although Birdsong came back and helped the Kings win the deciding Game 7, he didn’t look like the same player, and that carried over the conference finals, when the Houston Rockets took out Kansas City in just five games.

Despite averaging 21.2 points per game over four seasons with the Kings, Birdsong was traded to the [now] New Jersey Nets in the offseason.

Birdsong was a prolific scorer who helped lead the franchise the furthest they had been since the 1950-51 season. He tops my list because of his accomplishments, being a three-time All-Star and All-NBA second-team in 1981. The other player I considered was Mike Bibby.

On to some more links:

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” has wrapped up. Read what Kings forward Harrison Barnes had to say as part of The Ringer’s NBA/WNBA player exit survey.

The Kings hired former WNBA and Duke star Lindsey Harding as a player development coach last year. S.I. caught up with Harding and discussed what she has learned during her time in the NBA.

Danny Ainge only spent 1.5 seasons in Sacramento. The current Celtics reflected on his trade to the Kings with the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn.

Buddy Hield has been a popular trade candidate among Bleacher Report staff. Grant Hughes suggests one Eastern Conference team is a great for the Sacramento guard.