Kayte Christensen: Answers To Your Looming Kings Questions

It’s hard to believe there are just 15 games left in the Sacramento Kings’ season.

There’s been a lot of change on this team over the course of the last few weeks leaving a lot of Kings fans wondering just what to expect as the season finishes out and, more importantly, as we look ahead to next year.

In the spirit of looking towards the future I’m answering some questions submitted via my twitter followers.

Here it goes folks!

That’s a great question Ryan. When these two guys were drafted by the Kings I had no idea what to expect, as was the case for most Kings fans.

I knew Georgios Papagiannis fell under the category of “you can’t teach size” and had limited experience as a featured player while playing professionally in Greece (which is very common given his age).

Then there was Skal Labissière who was coming out of a dominate college program at Kentucky. He had a limited role in his one year in Lexington.  Based on what I saw from both Skal and Georgis during summer league I did not have high expectations for their rookie seasons (which wasn’t a bad thing considering they were drafted as projects).

Having said that, we now have an actual NBA sample size for Skal, albeit relatively small. The amount of growth he’s undergone is significant and far surpasses ANY expectations I had for the young fella back in October. Here’s what impresses me about Labissière:

  • His athleticism is really something special. He’s quick off the ground, smooth, runs the floor well.
  • He has shown an ability to rebound outside of his area which shows me he has great instincts and anticipation which is something you quite frankly cannot teach.
  • Where he is at a disadvantage with his weight compared to other NBA frontcourt players at this point he has shown his ability to affect the game on the defensive end. I think he is going to be an above average, maybe even great, big when it comes to blocking the basketball both one-on-one and coming from help side. His body will come. In the meantime I’d like to see him use his quickness and allusiveness to release and slide around into a full front on the low block instead of trying to psychically battle with guys who have 30-60 pounds on him.
  • Maybe the most shocking component of Skal’s game to this point for me has been the touch on his shot. Because of his athletic ability I’m not surprised to see him developing a turn around that includes spins and moves off the dribble. What I am impressed with his how comfortable and efficient he is in executing those various moves. He already is showing signs of a deadly fade away/step back but it’s his finish and touch on his shot that has stood out to me the most.

As for Georgios, I haven’t seen his D-League games with the Bighorns so I really only have about 12 minutes of meaningful action in Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic to base this opinion on. Here’s what I thought:

  • The biggest improvement is his significant loss of weight. I don’t know how much he’s lost since the summer but it is apparent he has worked hard to trim down and there was an obvious difference between his mobility in summer league and the way he is moving now.
  • As is expected, he looked nervous versus Orlando. The game is still very fast for him but things will slow down and I believe he will be a capable finisher around the rim once he slows down and lets the game come to him. It also didn’t help him that his teammates were trying to force the ball into him in the post.
  • Defensively he showed some positives. He uses his length and size well and so far doesn’t appear to be overly zealous biting on fakes, etc. He showed a couple occasions where he made a defensive play then rotated to make another directly after the pass. That’s a good sign. His lateral movement is as expected for a player of his size and age. Those things I believe will improve with time but I don’t expect him to ever fall under the “great” lateral mobility column.
  • Was pleasantly surprised at his speed in the open court.
  • He appeared not only comfortable but competent handling the ball within the offense away from the rim. This is a great sign. He could prove to be a good passing big man, especially if he is comfortable handling the ball within reason.

“Work In Progress” is a great name because that tells me as a fan you understand where this team is!

I won’t address specific questions regarding which current players will/should be on the roster next season because that falls under personnel decisions which is way above my pay grade. And quite frankly, when you’re a lottery team, just about every single person on a roster is a piece that could potentially be used to make you better via trade.

Having said that, I can offer some opinions on what the Kings “need.”

To put it bluntly, they need everything.

There are a few questions that we don’t have answers to yet. What will happen with Darren Collison who is in the final year of his 3-year deal as well as Ty Lawson who the Kings signed to just a 1-year deal at the start of the 2016-17 season?

Darren will be a coveted free agent in my opinion. He is an absolute pro and I think very highly of what he brings to a team. The real question though is whether or not Darren wants to be a starting point guard. That is why he signed with the Kings. I don’t know that if he leaves in free agency that he will have the opportunity to run his own team again. He may be back in the role of backup point guard. So it comes down to what HE wants. My guess now is that the Kings would be interested in resigning him so we shall see.

Then there is Ty Lawson. Given his recent legal issues popping back up there is no way of telling how that will play out and whether or not it will ultimately be something that could prevent the Kings from signing him to a deal next season. On the court, I 100% know the team and front office is pleased with what he has brought. But it’s hard to ignore the off court issues and the potential implications.

So that addresses the point guard situation. I think it is a must to address this position in the draft and potentially free agency depending on what happens with Darren and Ty. The Kings need and have been looking for a point guard for the future for quite some time. You’ve got a very young shooting guard core with a ton of potential and upside, you want a playmaker to grow with them.

I addressed Labissière and Papagiannis earlier but when discussing the Kings young frontcourt you have cannot leave out Willie Cauley-Stein. The sky is the limit for this guy. It’ll all come down to where he is in his head.

If that doesn’t make sense my advice is to watch the upcoming episode of Kings Central that airs on CSN Authentic March 15th. I did a sitdown interview with him and I cannot put into words the conundrum that is Trill! You simply have to see it to understand what I’m saying.

That leaves one guy on the outside – Kosta Koufos. Say what you want about Kosta, but he is one hell of a big man in this league.

The Kings signed Koufos to a 4-year $33 million deal in July of 2015 with a player option after the 2017-18 season. That is a very friendly contract. He has value for many teams in this league so it should be interesting to see what happens here, if anything, in the offseason. But the Kings need to continue to build their frontcourt because Papagiannis is unproven and there is no telling at this point what kind of player he will develop into. They need reinforcements.

That leaves us with the final and most awkward situation on the roster. The Small Forward. Rudy Gay said prior to the 2016-17 season he would opt out of his contract during the upcoming offseason. Then he ruptured his Achilles and most peoples’ immediate reaction (including mine) was that he would definitely not opt out. His recovery and rehab is reportedly going extremely well and based on his conversations with his doctors and therapists Rudy believes he will be back on the court by this fall.

Having said that, I’ve changed my thinking. I believe Rudy will absolutely opt out leaving the Kings with a gaping hole to address at the small forward.

There’s lots of work to do but I am also really excited about some of the young pieces the Kings have as well as veteran pieces that will still be under contract next season.

Johnson, we’re all about to get this question A LOT! So in the spirit of full disclosure, I haven’t watched much college basketball this season. Keeping up with an NBA schedule and travel makes it nearly impossible for me to keep up with college hoops.

The great thing about that though is, to me, a college regular season doesn’t even come close to showing you what a player is made of or the kind of potential they have in the way that the NCAA tournament does. They’re playing against the best players and teams in college basketball in a win or go home environment. That’s where players are made and the others fall by the way side.

Also, being that we have no idea where the Kings will fall in the lottery, there is no way to project what player they can/should take! So we’ll cross that road when we get to it.

This is really a great question. Ben McLemore has truly been like the ugly step child of this organization recently. There were such high expectations for him out of college. This is one of the disturbing things about being a lottery pick in the NBA to me.

Few players are franchise players or immediate serviceable starters in the league straight out of college. Yet lottery picks go to bad teams and are thrust into roles they’re not ready for yet. The expectations are generally way too high and then that poor guy is faced with developing his game at an expedited pace and managing expectations all while not allowing any of the minutiae to affect his mental state. It’s not an easy situation to navigate and I don’t envy the position.

But Ben finally seemed to let go of what was holding him back – the mental part. Once he did that, he started playing the best basketball of his career. I know the Kings have always believed in him. That is why he is still here. But as mentioned above, there is a serious backlog at shooting guard on this team now.

There is Buddy Hield, Garrett Temple, Ben McLemore, coach has also played Lawson and Collison at shooting guard at times. Then there is the looming question of whether or not Bogdan Bogdanović, whom the Kings acquired in a draft night trade this past June, will be joining the team in 2017-18.

There really is no way of telling what Ben’s future with the organization looks like. The good news for both he and the Kings…he definitely raised his value this season.

Hopefully that answers your questions and offers some insight into what the Kings immediate and long term future might look like!

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