Sunday Musings: Fit versus best player available


The Sacramento Kings are in an interesting position.  The NBA draft lottery is a few weeks away, but while the Kings wait to figure out if they will land in the top three, stay at No. 6 or fall a spot or two, they are going to have to answer one of the most difficult questions facing teams.

Fit or best player available?

If you poll all 30 teams, you will get a uniform answer – you always draft the best player available.  But when the teams are on the clock, everything changes.  The best player available begins to morph.  Maybe it’s the “best player available for our draft position,” or maybe “best player available for our team.”  Rarely is it just a simple “best player available.”

The truth is, Sacramento needs talent, and they have positions of need.  Somewhere along the way, those two ideas have to intersect.

The past hasn’t been kind to the Kings when they stray away from the idea of drafting the most talented player on the board.  Jimmer Fredette made sense next to Tyreke Evans.  Thomas Robinson should have been a solid frontcourt mate next to DeMarcus Cousins, and the Kings are probably a better team going forward if they would have taken Elfrid Payton over Nik Stauskas.

Hindsight is 20-20 in these situations.  Instead of Jimmer, the Kings could have Kawhi Leonard at the wing or Klay Thompson at the two.  They could have Damian Lillard running amuck at the point or even Andre Drummond playing goalie alongside Cousins.  These are decisions that were made, and there are no do-overs in the NBA.

So here we are again.  Sacramento is once again primed to draft in the lottery.  It is sitting on the outside looking in on a four-man draft, but there is always a shot they move up.  The top-four players possess star potential, but more than likely, they are solid NBA starters.

If somehow the Kings make it into the top three, there are options, but once again, the issue of fit versus best player available creeps in.  Karl Towns and Jahlil Okafor are exciting big-man prospects, but the Kings already have Cousins.  These aren’t complimentary players; they are duplicate players who will likely lead to a glut in the middle, as long as Cousins is on the roster.

Neither of these players has Cousins’ star power or potential, but they are very good prospects.  The next two players in the draft may have similar impacts on the game, but they also fit a bigger need for the Kings.

Emmanuel Mundiay is an athletic point guard who spent last season in China.  At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, he has the look of a slightly bigger Jrue Holiday.  He doesn’t have the long-range touch of Holiday, but he is an aggressive scorer, rebounder and passer.  The Kings could use a point guard of the future, especially with Darren Collison’s injury history.

The last of the top four is Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell.  The flashy combo guard has a high basketball IQ and makes his teammates better whether he is playing the lead or off-guard.  He is the type of play-making, scoring and shooting threat the Kings could use on the perimeter in the mold of former NBA star Brandon Roy.

Sacramento would love to have a choice of this group, even if not all of them are perfect fit players, but they will all be gone by No. 6.  What is left is a hodgepodge of question marks who will truly test the fit versus best player available debate.

We will focus on two of the draft’s big men, because a source has made it clear to Cowbell Kingdom that the Kings are more than interested.  There are no perfect players.  Not in the top four and certainly not in the five-through-eight group.  What you have are prospects and role players.

The question the Kings will likely be faced with is Kentucky’s Willie Caulie-Stein or Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis – two diametrically opposed 7-footers.

Caulie-Stein is a “fit” player through and through.  He can play the four alongside Cousins, and he can shift to the five and play with Rudy Gay.  The 21-year-old giant plays defense, runs the floor like an antelope, blocks shots and doesn’t demand the ball on the offensive end.  He has a Tyson Chandler-type skill-set, both on the offensive and defensive end.  After three years with John Calipari, Caulie-Stein will never be a star, but he may fill a void the Kings have been lacking for years.

Porzingis, on the other hand, is a smooth-shooting stretch four that lacks elite defensive and rebounding skills.  He could be the next Dirk Nowitzki.  He could also be the next Andrea Bargnani or Nikoloz Tskitishvili.  That is the danger of drafting a young player with a small body of work.

Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new Vice President of Basketball and Franchise Operations, has spent the last few years in Europe.  He has seen all of the young European prospects in action and may already have his mind set on a player like Porzingis.

Pete D’Alessandro and Mike Bratz have spent plenty of time scouting in the States.  Kentucky is a destination location for front-office execs, because they are always packed with blue chips.  This will be a difficult decision, but an educated one.

Here is the quandary.  Caulie-Stein is a known entity – a talented defender who will never be more than a fourth or fifth option on the offensive end but may complete the Kings’ frontline puzzle.  Porzingis could be a great player the Kings regret passing on for the next decade, like Lillard.

Do you draft for need, or do you look for the best player available?  Maybe one of these players is both.  Maybe the Kings will hop into the top three and their decision will get even more complex.  Or maybe they trade the pick and make this entire conversation pointless.


James Ham

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