I think everyone can agree that the biggest need for the Kings this off-season is at the point guard position. Sure there are some questions with the team’s small forward position since Andres Nocioni might be better served as a reserve and Donte Greene not being ready as of now to be named the starter. But with Beno Udrih’s regression from his promising 2007-2008 season campaign to his dreadful and frustrating 2008-2009 season, the glaring hole at the team quarterback position has been ominous.
They have a fascinating makeup for the team already as the rebuilding process chugs along. They have their own version of young big men that the Chicago Bulls attempted long ago (back when Tim Floyd wasn’t a complete embarrassment and they were relying heavily on two young, inexperienced big men) except these guys are a little more seasoned and have a lot better chance at realizing their potential due to great basketball skill sets. They also have a pure scorer from all over the floor with Kevin Martin and some nice pieces to come off the bench on the wings. But the direction on the court has been lacking since Mike Bibby was here and interested. So assuming that the Kings are going to try to find their next great point guard with the fourth pick in this draft, let’s review the players in play and try to figure out who has the best standing.
1. Ricky Rubio
Strengths: Passing, Vision, System Defense, Penetration, Basketball IQ, Length, Veteran approach to the game despite youth.
Weaknesses: Outside Shooting, Getting off his shot in a quick manner, Sometimes tries to do too much, Strength, Slow first step.
Ricky is still the most intriguing prospect at the point guard position in this draft and if he can fall to Sacramento at #4, then there shouldn’t be much hesitation for Geoff Petrie in selecting him. He definitely has questions about his game, validity of international experience translating to the NBA, and whether or not the hype is legit. Brandon Jennings’ dismissive view towards Ricky’s ability, whether he meant it or not, had to bring up red flags throughout the league. But you can’t really forget or discount his play during the Olympics. Sure, Patty Mills played incredible against the U.S. and other teams during the Beijing Games and it isn’t shooting him up the draft boards but that doesn’t mean it should be the same for Ricky.
His attitude and demeanor on the court told a lot of people (including myself) everything we needed to know. He was fearless, confident, and not going to back down to the best point guards in the world. He held his own, made more good plays than mistakes and even seemed to be favored often over fellow countryman, Jose Calderon. It was kind of a contrast to what we’ve heard from his play in the international leagues in which he’s inconsistent. That creates the question of how much can we trust in coaches who manage player rotations like international Don Nelsons? Did Ricky deserve to sit all of those games and play inconsistent minutes? Was it an attempt to keep himself in doubt and the threat of a tough buyout more looming than it should be? Will he be able to come over a play this year?
Unfortunately, we won’t know the answers to those questions until he gets selected June 25th. And we probably will have to suffer through an inconsistent and tentative summer league season before we get real answers. But if the Kings can grab him with the fourth pick, Geoff Petrie will have put the rebuilding process ahead of the game.
NBA Comparison: Andre Miller without the postgame and a little more speed.
Immediate Impact: Instant energy throughout the fanbase will be the byproduct of drafting Ricky Rubio. He’s the player that the fans want and something this franchise could really use to put them back in the national spotlight (see: Jason Williams, circa 1998).
2. Brandon Jennings
Strengths: Extremely fast end-to-end, Great explosiveness, Great at playing passing lanes, Good court vision, Good play-maker, Good range on the jumpshot.
Weaknesses: Natural fadeaway on his jumper, Small for an NBA point guard, Forces the spectacular, Very streaky.
So what do we do with this Brandon Jennings situation? Apparently, he came into the point guard workout with Jonny Flynn and Jrue Holiday and raised hell. A lot of people came away impressed with Flynn but more came away thinking that Jennings was the toast of the outing. Then he follows that up with a post-workout interview in which he basically discredits everything that Ricky Rubio has been lauded for and says that he’s all hype. He tried to take it back on his Twitter account but once it’s out there, that’s all anyone is going to think about. Some people see that as competitiveness and some see it as arrogant, cocky bravado.
When Jennings played overseas this past season, he didn’t dazzle anybody with numbers but he didn’t completely wet the bed either. He never shot the three well (20.7% in Italian League, 26.8% in Euroleague). He shot really well from the field for such a young, foreign player with 47.9% in the Italian League and 45.7% in the Euroleague. His assist to turnover ratio wasn’t great this past year but he was such a work in progress in so many facets of his game and life that he seemed to handle the pressure and inconsistency of knowing when he’ll play about as well as any teenager could.
There’s no questioning that he has the raw skill set and athleticism to become a really good point guard in the league but will he let his attitude of dismissing his competition overtake his work ethic? That’s what teams have to figure out.
NBA Comparison: Nick Van Exel
Immediate Impact: I’d be shocked if he made a difference right away. But as his rookie season progresses, you’ll see him make great strides.
3. Jrue Holiday
Strengths: Size (he’s the biggest point guard in the draft), Quick first move, Great defensive mindset and fundamentals, Great decision-maker, Rebounds extremely well, Solid passer.
Weaknesses: Not a good shooter off the dribble, Not a real good shooter period, Not a great dribbler, Could end up being a defensive-minded shooting guard more than a point.
Sometimes, your first impression ends up being your favorite. And that’s the situation we could have with the Sacramento Kings. Jrue Holiday was their first major workout for the top guard prospects and the Kings front office and scouting department came away very impressed with his attitude and skill set. The first thing you notice with him is his extremely long wingspan. He looks like Stretch Armstrong with his arms extended and his body low into a defensive stance. At 6’4”, it almost feels like he’s still taller/longer than you when he’s digging in defensively. He’s a natural born leader in a way that GMs desperately want out of a young point guard.
But there are plenty of drawbacks with Jrue too. He was rarely a point guard in high school. He often played the shooting guard position and helped adopt a dangerous backcourt with two point guard mentalities. Even in the workouts by himself, Holiday was inconsistent with his jumper. It was a fairly rough sight to see as he made moves off the dribble and pulled up for a jump shot and his set shooting was above average but nothing that’s going to make you push aside someone like Dana Barros from your memory bank. And then there’s the fact that he doesn’t explode to the rim. He’s a bit of a slow jumper. He has the strength to finish off contact in the lane but if he’s too slow to get there in the first place, he could end up giving a lot of offensive fouls.
He’s not a bad pick by any means. The Kings loved him and are still highly considering him. There are some rumblings that they’ve floated out the idea of them drafting Jennings or Tyreke Evans to keep other teams uneasy when their final answer to David Stern’s question on draft night is certainly Jrue.
NBA Comparison: Rajon Rondo with out the explosive leaping.
Immediate Impact: I think he’s a guy that will have a type of impact like Russell Westbrook. He probably needs two months to begin to put it together and by the end of the season, you don’t care if he’s a true point guard. You just want him on the court.
4. Jonny Flynn
Strengths: One of the quickest guards in the draft, Great at getting into the lane, Has a variety of shots, Fantastic mid-range game, High volume scorer, Great leader and heart.
Weaknesses: He’s really small, Has three-point range but takes some bad threes, Tries to do too much when his team gets down, Too many turnovers.
The first thing you notice about this guy is his heart. He has that certain Allen Iverson-level of killing himself to win that you just don’t see in many players. This guy is one of the few in the league that doesn’t have to learn how important winning is or how put out extra effort. He’s always 100% to the wall and ready to do whatever it takes to win. It’s something you can’t teach. It’s something that’s a little cliché. But it’s something that Flynn possesses.
Now, does he have his drawbacks? Of course. He wants to win so badly that he often puts too much onus on his shoulders and tries to cut deficits or win games by himself. He can make a lot of bad decisions and force some really tough shots while trying to will his team to win. It’s something that he has to learn the time and place for and not just try to do everything on his own. As the future point guard of an NBA team, trusting his teammates and trusting his system is an aspect of his game that he’ll have to improve. And his size with that mentality can make it even harder for him to succeed at times.
So for GMs and scouts alike, they have to decide where this kid fits in. Is he more D.J. Augustin or a 45% version of Allen Iverson? Will he be able to run a team or become another Eddie House? Does he have a high volume of shots to jack up or can he figure out his times to shoot? Personally, with the fourth pick in the draft, I don’t think you can have those questions with the guy you take (see: Dajuan Wagner).
NBA Comparison: T.J. Ford with a better outside shot.
Immediate Impact: He’s the type of guy that can bring energy into an organization. With such a young team like the Kings, he could motivate them to win more early but end up burning himself out by February.
So what does this all mean? It means that the Kings have plenty of options for the point guard position. Clearly, the best-case scenario is Rubio passing through the first three picks and falling into Geoff Petrie’s lap like a small child with oodles of potential. They believe in Jrue Holiday but were impressed by an unexpected great showing when Jennings showed up Flynn and Holiday in a workout before taking “inadvertent” shots at Rubes. And with the other three point guards, they have the perfect position to move down in the draft, pick up an asset for the roster and still get one of their guys.
Much like Jim Carrey described the Information Superhighway in The Cable Guy, “the possibilities are endless!”