#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Sacramento Kings for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The Sacramento Kings, who are using a strange collection of upside and veteran presence in an attempt to move up the Western Conference standings.

18. Matt Jones: 1.14

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 22
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 7.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 163.62 TPA (for Duke Blue Devils)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Matt Jones might not have the athleticism necessary to be an NBA star, but he could eventually work his way into the rotation by playing tough defense and excelling from beyond the arc.

That’s right. We’re talking about the classic three-and-D mold.

Jones was largely overshadowed during his four years at Duke, but he finished up his senior season averaging 1.7 steals. The three-point stroke just wasn’t there during the final go-round, which likely tanked his draft stock after three years of knocking down triples at a 38.3 percent clip. If that doesn’t come back, he’ll go down in the history books as a training-camp body who subsequently left for the G League or Europe.

17. Jack Cooley: 1.22

  • Age at start of 2017-18:  26
  • Position:  PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 13.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks (for MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

As Jack Cooley proved during his summer-league stint with the Kings, his value can go far beyond the box score. Here’s Sanjesh Singh of A Royal Pain:

His numbers off the bench were solid no doubt, but he has a quality that cannot be indicated with stats. Cooley showed extreme hustle down low in the paint, which was a huge source of his rebounds and points. Cooley would use his big body down low to out-hustle his opponents and get crucial second-chance points which would always get everyone fired up.

You couldn’t find a more hard-working player like Cooley on the Kings…

Of course, some of Cooley’s contributions do show up on the stat sheet. They just tend to be recorded as rebounds.

 

16. JaKarr Sampson: 2.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 15.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks (for Iowa Energy)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

JaKarr Sampson might’ve preferred to spend the 2016-17 season with an NBA squad, but he couldn’t have picked a better G League affiliate. After all, Energy is what makes his game. The 24-year-old small forward loves showing off the springs in his legs on both ends of the floor, whether he’s elevating for a rebound, leaping to complete a dunk or attempting to contest a shot around the hoop.

Operating on a two-way contract, Sampson might not spend much time in the Association this year, either. That’ll change if his shooting stroke develops, but his offensive game simply isn’t complete enough to beat out the many other forwards competing for minutes on the big-league roster.

15. Frank Mason III: 2.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, 248.83 TPA (for Kansas Jayhawks)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Can Frank Mason III continue finding so much success as he moves to the NBA? He’s now coming off a season in which he was the AP Player of the Year for the Kansas Jayhawks, throwing up monstrous numbers and refusing to miss shots from anywhere on the court. Slashing 49.0/47.1/79.4 seems pretty decent, especially when coupled with just 2.4 turnovers per contest.

But Mason slipped out of the first round before the Kings took him at No. 34. Why? Because he doesn’t always play like a distributor and will likely have trouble finding too much playing time as a 5’11” guard with a skill set that should leave him at the 2. Size will always work against him, no matter how much scoring acumen he displays.

Still, if Mason shows his deep shooting wasn’t fluky and he’s no longer as inconsistent as he was during his first three seasons at Kansas, he could quickly emerge as a draft-day steal.

14. Harry Giles: 2.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 19
  • Position: PF/C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 3.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 33.03 TPA (for Duke Blue Devils)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Frank Urbina)

If the Kings are patient with Harry Giles, they could emerge with a draft steal.

The big man was once thought of as a future top-five pick when he was coming out of high school and preparing to go to work for the Duke Blue Devils. But having already needed ACL repairs in both knees, he was never able to develop into the Kevin Garnett replica he was once supposed to become under head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s supervision in Durham.

Still, don’t count out future stardom. Those numbers he accumulated up above came in just 11.5 minutes per game as a freshman, and they still hint at the well-rounded production that once made him such an intriguing commodity. If he can get and stay healthy, he certainly has a chance to remind onlookers why he was previously held in such high esteem, even if he fell to No. 20 in the 2017 NBA draft.

13. Malachi Richardson: 2.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 3.6 points, 1.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.2 steals, minus-21.53 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

“[Malachi] Richardson, who will sport his preferred number 23 on his jersey this season instead of 5, which has been given to rookie De’Aaron Fox, said that he has been working on more than bulking up this offseason,” Blake Ellington wrote for Sactown Royalty. “Putting the ball on the floor, coming off screens, shooting better and defense has all been a focus.”

That’s a wide range of skills that need improvement, which indicates why the second-year shooting guard can’t even fully grade out as a depth piece. Three of our 16 panelists expected growth and viewed him as such, but he’ll surely be striving for more by the end of the season. It’ll just take a lot of work.

Even in 11 games with the G League’s Reno Bighorns, Richardson struggled immensely with turnovers and couldn’t finish plays around the basket. His three-point shooting showed major strides, but that’s simply not enough if he hopes to live up to his massive, but totally unrealized, potential.

12. Georgios Papagiannis: 2.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 20
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.8 blocks, minus-18.96 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

If Georgios Papagiannis can continue playing like he did during the end of the 2016-17 campaign, he might be able to overcome the competition at center and carve out more run. The 20-year-old big man finally started to fill a featured role after DeMarcus Cousins was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, playing 23.3 minutes per game during his last 23 appearances. Throughout that stretch, he averaged 8.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.2 steals and 0.9 blocks while shooting 55.4 percent from the field.

But that doesn’t mean Papagiannis managed to eliminate all his limitations.

He was still devoid of range and rarely took shots from outside the painted area. Worse still, he struggled to guard stretchy bigs with his lack of foot speed and allowed opponents to shoot 55.1 percent against him when he was stationed at the rim. If those areas don’t improve quickly, he’ll be limited to a small role off the bench in support of the many other big men on this increasingly deep roster.

11. Bogdan Bogdanovic: 2.88

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks (for Fenerbahce Ulker)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Brian Sampson)

Bogdan Bogdanovic could factor into the All-Rookie hunt if he proves the transition from European basketball to the NBA isn’t quite as difficult as advertised (it is). Then again, he could also just be so good that the increase in difficulty doesn’t really matter, since he’s already proved he can play high-quality defense, facilitate for his teammates and thrive as a deadly shot-maker, to the point that he’s now the highest-paid rookie in league history.

It’s the last part—shooting—that makes him special.  In 22 Euroleague games last year, Bogdanovic connected on 50.0 percent of his field-goal attempts, 43.0 percent of his three-point attempts and 85.5 percent of his looks from the charity stripe. That put him in close proximity to the 50/40/90 club, which is even more notable when he created a significant amount of offense for himself.

Bogdanovic won’t be placed in a featured role with the Kings and will likely have to work more off the ball, but that doesn’t mean he can’t become a spark plug off the bench whose well-rounded abilities make him one of the team’s key depth pieces, fostering the growth of his fellow players with his ability to draw defensive attention and hit open teammates in the shooting pocket.

10. Justin Jackson: 2.94

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 22
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 218.86 TPA (for North Carolina Tar Heels)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

More ready to contribute from Day 1 than your typical incoming rookie, Justin Jackson thrived at North Carolina because he so seldom made the wrong play. One of the more cerebral contributors that you’ll find at such a young age, this small forward picked his shooting spots wisely but never hesitated to take open jumpers, even if they came from his patented mid-range zones. And while working as a distributor more than you’d expect from a 6’8″ wing, he rarely coughed up the ball.

Is Jackson a dynamic athlete? Not really, and he sometimes seemed to take plays off during his college days. He’s also older than most rookies.

But those concerns shouldn’t nullify the excellent tools he brings to the Sacramento table. From the very start of his professional career, he should be able to fill a number of different roles and settle in as a convincing depth piece who does all the little things well, not needing to score in order to have a positive impact.

9. Kosta Koufos: 3.00

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 6.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, minus-53.3 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

If you’re expecting Kosta Koufos to do anything more than score a few points and pull down a few rebounds whenever he makes an appearance, you’ll experience some pangs of regret and disappointment that stem from having unnecessarily lofty aspirations for this veteran. The 28-year-old big man is a steady backup who rarely lets his team down with unforced errors, but he’s also fairly devoid of upside.

For seven consecutive seasons now, Koufos has averaged between 10 and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes, plus between 11 and 14 points during the same typical stretch. Why would we expect that to change going forward? The Kings’ plethora of capable bigs could cause him to spend less time on the floor, but he’ll likely just produce those same rate stats without quite as much volume.

8. Garrett Temple: 3.25

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 31
  • Position: PG/SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 7.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 10.25 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Brian Sampson)

Garrett Temple is a journeyman no longer. Before, he was the very definition of the word.

Prior to finding a long-term home with the Sacramento Kings, this combo guard played on nine separate 10-day contracts (only two players have ever topped that, per HoopsHype) while suiting up for—takes a deep breath—the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Vipers (again), Erie BayHawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Bayhawks (again), Charlotte Bobcats, Novipiù Casale Monferrato, Reno Bighorns and Washington Wizards. The trip toward legitimacy has been long and arduous, but Temple’s growing defensive ability and improved three-point shot have finally made him a valuable piece to an NBA puzzle.

Temple’s game isn’t particularly glamorous. Defense remains his calling card, where he can use his relentless physicality to cross match against point guards or take on bulkier wings to alleviate his teammates’ responsibilities. Throw in his improved shooting in a largely off-ball role, and you have a player who can now convince six different panelists that he plays at the level of an upper-tier backup in Sacramento, even if he remains in a starting spot.

7. Vince Carter: 3.69

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 40
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 8.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 34.59 TPA (for Memphis Grizzlies)
  • Highest Grade: 5 (Adam Fromal)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)

Vince Carter may be more Quarter Amazing than Half Amazing these days, but he’s parlayed his veteran wiles and relatively newfound desire to play hard on every possession into two-way benefits. Players in their 40s aren’t supposed to be productive figures across the board, but this shooting guard is now coming off a season with the Memphis Grizzlies in which he graded out as a positive on both offense and defense, per NBA Math’s TPA.

Remaining a plus on the preventing end will be tougher, since Carter still uses his athleticism to get by. Moving away from the grit-and-grind system employed on Beale Street will also leave him open to a rude awakening, forcing him to be more disciplined because fewer teammates are there waiting to clean up after any mistakes.

His offensive game, however, shouldn’t decline much. As long as he can still shoot, he’ll have value as an off-ball option who relies on the three-ball for the majority of his work. A whopping 61.2 percent of Carter’s field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc last year, and so too did 56.3 percent of his total points.

But the most amazing stat of all? Carter’s first NBA game came on Feb. 5, 1999 against the Boston Celtics, when he logged 16 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals for the Toronto Raptors. De’Aaron Fox, who you may have noticed hasn’t yet appeared in this countdown,  had only just celebrated his second birthday.

6. Zach Randolph: 3.75

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 36
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-72.12 TPA (for Memphis Grizzlies)
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Dan Favale)

If Zach Randolph, who can still barely jump over a piece of paper, is going to retain value after his move from the Grizzlies to the Kings, he’ll need to continue dominating on the glass while throwing up the occasional post-move score. The first part hasn’t been particularly problematic for the 36-year-old power forward who averaged a career-high 12.1 rebounds per 36 minutes during his final season in Memphis.

The second, however…

During the 2016-17 campaign, Randolph could only produce 0.82 points per possession on post-up plays, which left him in the 34th percentile. That could be an aberration, seeing as he sat in the 52.9 percentile one year earlier.  But it could also be a sign of significant decline, and a power forward without much shooting range (he’s begun taking, but not making, some longer jumpers) whose calling card is drying up wouldn’t deserve to steal too much playing time away from the young bigs he’s now supposed to mentor. For him to prove prescient the three voters who viewed him as a low-end starter, he’ll have to show significant improvement on the blocks or start hitting some triples.

5. Skal Labissiere: 4.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 21
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 8.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, minus-32.67 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (Tim Stubbs)

Right now, the most exciting part of Skal Labissiere’s overall profile is his ability to knock down shots from all over the half-court set. He thrived in transition and when working from the blocks, but his face-up game allowed him to pair 68.3 percent shooting from within three feet with plenty of other impressive percentages. Not only did he knock down 52.1 percent of his jumpers from between 10 and 16 feet, but he also connected at a 57.9 percent clip on even longer twos, offering hope that he could one day expand his range beyond the three-point arc.

Once his role swelled in mid-March, Labissiere began making good on his lofty potential. Over his last 16 appearances as a rookie, he averaged 12.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.6 blocks while slashing 52.7/42.9/70.6. That middle number came with limited attempts (0.4 per game), but the overall profile is nonetheless impressive.

Now, it just needs to contain more defense in order for him to make the leap to legitimate stardom. Though he often failed as a rim-protector, his quick hands and activity offered hope of so much more.

“That kind of disruption in the paint [baiting opponents into ill-advised dump-off passes on the interior] can cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses, and it’s one way for Labissiere to make up for his poor shot-blocking,” Eric Spyropoulos explained in a Labissiere profile for NBA Math. “Defense will never be his calling card, but if he can continue to display good awareness when guarding off the ball (something the majority of rookies and young players struggle with) and gets stronger defending the rim, he will be able to become at least an average defender.”

4. De’Aaron Fox: 4.50

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 19
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 174.15 TPA (for Kentucky Wildcats)
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

De’Aaron Fox is already one of the NBA’s fastest players. Limit the scope of analysis to speed while dribbling, and he might rise even higher up the ranks.

Though his shot was severely limited during his brief time at Kentucky, the aptly named Fox was quick enough to burst by defenders even as they sagged off to get a jump start on coverage. That strategy won’t work as well against NBA stoppers, who are largely bigger, stronger and faster than their collegiate counterparts, but the point guard still has enough tools in the bag to get by—literally and metaphorically. His athleticism will still let him earn finishes at the rim and thrive as an off-ball cutter, and he might be even better on the defensive end.

Speed plus quick hands can yield plenty of steals, and Fox is bound to dominate with his wheels during the subsequent transition opportunities.

3. Willie Cauley-Stein: 4.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 8.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, minus-30.91 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (Louie Vicchiollo)

“He has worked on ballhandling, pull-up floaters in the lane and catching the ball on the run for shots or dunks. He believes it will show on the court, but understands it might take some time,” Jason Jones wrote about Willie Cauley-Stein’s offseason habits for the Sacramento Bee.

If the big man shows touch around the basket, he might prove all of us wrong.

This Kentucky product is already an impact defender who, though he might not protect the rim as well as some of his positional peers, can show the versatility necessary to slow down many different types of plays and players. Few 7-footers hustle this much or show the lateral mobility necessary to stick with significantly smaller opponents, but Cauley-Stein seems to take personal affront to the idea that any foe can expose a defensive weakness. Though the numbers aren’t quite there, that’s largely a function of playing with limited teammates on a squad that finished No. 25 in defensive rating and was even worse without him on the floor.

But can his offensive game grow?

His jump-hook worked nicely (especially toward the end of the year), and he displayed a solid mid-range game throughout his sophomore season. Now, he needs to score in plenty more ways to become a featured option and not just a seldom-used player who fills a quaternary role when he’s on the floor.

2. Buddy Hield: 4.88

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-103.12 TPA (for New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (Jordan McGillis)

Buddy Hield’s NBA career got off to an atrocious start with the New Orleans Pelicans, but the DeMarcus Cousins trade that shipped him to Sacramento reinvigorated him, filling him with both confidence and opportunity. Once he moved out to California, he averaged 15.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 48.0 percent from the field, 42.8 percent from downtown and 81.4 percent at the charity stripe.

Still, the rookie shooting guard wasn’t an overall positive. His defensive woes continued to plague him, and his inability to function as a playmaker out of the backcourt—a problem that also existed at Oklahoma, where his turnover numbers routinely dwarfed his limited dimes—hampered his offensive value. Unless one of those traits changes quickly, he’ll trend toward becoming one of those 2-guards whose scoring tallies oversell him, irrespective of how efficiently he puts up points.

Unfortunately, they might not change. The 23-year-old is an older sophomore without the quickness necessary to hang with NBA guards on the preventing end, and he’s shown no indications of passing improvement throughout his four-year collegiate career. In fact, his assists trended down while his turnovers went up during his Norman tenure.

But that’s fine. Hield can still look like a convincing starter if he continues functioning as a go-to scoring option who can create his own looks without batting an eye. That’s an important and valuable role within any organization, even if focusing solely on it could hinder his overall ceiling.

1. George Hill: 6.19

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 31
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 16.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 106.08 TPA (for Utah Jazz)
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (Michael Brock)

Though George Hill isn’t one of the most glamorous players at his position, he does everything well. He doesn’t have the scoring average of a legitimate star and doesn’t rack up assists like the best dime-droppers in NBA backcourts, but he’s an efficient producer of points and assists who avoids turnovers and uses his 6’3″ frame to play solid defense.

Somehow, it seems like Hill’s remarkable shooting has also been overlooked by too many basketball fans. How many realize that he’s now posted back-to-back seasons in which he’s connected on over 40 percent of his triples while taking no fewer than four per contest? That’s a feat matched by only Stephen Curry, C.J. McCollum, Klay Thompson and J.J. Redick throughout the entire Association, yet Hill is rarely heralded as a top-tier marksman. Perhaps that’s just because he does so many other things well.

This floor general successfully made the transition from the Indiana Pacers to the Utah Jazz last year and didn’t need any sort of adjustment period, getting off to a torrid start before injuries struck. But this transition to the Kings could be a bit tougher, since he’ll be surrounded by a weaker roster while trying to stave off Father Time.

Still, that didn’t stop four panelists from viewing him as a high-end starter—a designation doled out to exactly zero teammates in a clear-cut indication that, for now, he’s easily Sacramento’s best player.

Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

Follow NBA Math on Twitter @NBA_Math and on Facebook.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun BaradwajNick BirdsongMichael BrockTony EastDan FavaleAdam FromalRyan JarvisJordan McGillisTom RendeBrian SampsonAdam SpinellaEric SpyropolousTim StubbsFrank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *