It’s no secret that the Kings are looking to upgrade their defense this offseason after finishing with the worst defensive rating in NBA history. The Kings currently have a little more than $98 million in guaranteed salary on the books for next season. General manager Monte McNair doesn’t have a ton of assets to improve the roster, so finding a meaningful contributor at No. 9 is imperative.
McNair got the steal of the 2020 NBA Draft when he selected NBA Rookie of the Year Award finalist Tyrese Haliburton, at No. 12. The Kings are hoping for some similar luck at next month’s draft.
Now that we know the draft order, the mock drafts are rolling in. Here is who some of the draft pundits have the Kings taking at No. 9.
ESPN has the Kings taking Michigan forward Franz Wagner:
The worst defensive team in the NBA could be attracted to the versatility, intensity and instincts offered by Wagner. He is one of the best off-ball defenders in the draft and also brings promising passing and shooting indicators that suggest a very high floor as the type of two-way, role-playing combo forward every team desires.
Bleacher Report has the Kings taking Duke forward Jalen Johnson:
Unless the Sacramento Kings detect any red flags during Jalen Johnson’s background checks or medicals, they should see enough talent and versatility to forget about his midseason opt-out and foot injury.
With an outstanding physical profile for finishing and defending, Johnson’s ability to handle in the open floor and pass from the power forward position separate him from other prospects. He should find enough ways to compensate for limited shooting range with his transition game, face-up game around the key, cutting, inside activity and potential to guard different positions.
Durability issues with Marvin Bagley could ultimately sway Sacramento to lean Jalen Johnson over Keon Johnson.
CBS Sports has the Kings taking Tennessee guard Keon Johnson:
The Kings finished with the worst defensive rating in the NBA this season, which suggests they could use a prospect who adds something on that end of the court. Keon Johnson was a terrific on-ball defender in his one season at Tennessee and projects as a nice two-way player in the NBA for many years to come.
The Ringer has the Kings taking Johnson:
Johnson didn’t start playing organized basketball full time until high school, and it shows with his raw abilities on the floor. But he could become a bouncy finisher with go-to scoring skills if he’s able to successfully develop the unseasoned areas of his game. The playoff-desperate Kings might be tempted to go with a so-called win-now player, but they should be realistic about their postseason chances and favor upside.
SB Nation has the Kings taking Arkansas forward Moses Moody:
Moody brings length, perimeter defense, and projectable shooting to any team looking for a complementary wing. While the 6’6 freshman isn’t the most explosive natural athlete, he’s able to leverage his 7’1 wingspan to bother opposing scorers on one end while also shooting over the top of smaller defenders on the other. Moody’s defense should play anywhere as he continues to fill out his frame, but his offense is more of a wildcard. Moody likely isn’t going to be a high usage wing who creates for himself and others, but he can space the floor with a 36 percent mark from three-point range. For a limited athlete, Moody is also good at attacking closeouts with pump fakes and jab steps to set up his mid-range game.
If you think Moody is a safe bet to shoot it from deep, he warrants consideration as early as the fifth overall pick as the type of player who can have a positive impact on any game without needing to hold the ball for long stretches.
The Athletic has the Kings taking Baylor guard Davion Mitchell:
This is a matter of Mitchell being the highest-ranked player available who does something the Kings desperately need — defend. He’s 22, which makes him old nowadays for a prospect, but that could help him see the court sooner. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, which is not an ideal fit for a team in need of more length on the perimeter, but if he helps with the defense that was atrocious most of the season, the Kings will find time for him on the court.
Don’t be surprised if this pick is eventually traded by Sacramento, which is trying to leap into the playoffs next season. For now, the Kings add the National Defensive Player of the Year with the hopes of adding a much-needed disruptor. Sacramento’s inability to contain opponents at the point of attack was often embarrassing, so the more defenders, the better.
They could easily go with a bigger wing player here, too. But with how the Kings defended the point of attack by giving up so many straight drives to the basket, there’s reason to add someone who would provide some resistance. Offensively the Kings have De’Aaron Fox, Delon Wright and Tyrese Haliburton who can run the offense, but it wouldn’t be crazy to play Mitchell in any of them or with restricted free agent Terence Davis for more defense in the backcourt.
Which player do you want the Kings to target with the No. 9 pick?