Another draft dud?
Marvin Bagley III would be some team’s hot prospect—the Kings needed someone else.
The Kings came into last Thursday’s draft with much to be excited about. For the second straight year, they’d moved up in the draft lottery. But unlike last year, when a pick swap meant their lottery luck was another team’s good fortune, this year, the pick was theirs to keep—and with it, a chance at the franchise-altering superstar they so desperately need.
The overwhelming favorite among fans and draft experts alike was Luka Doncic. A 19-year-old star from Slovenia, Doncic became the youngest ever EuroLeague MVP while leading Real Madrid to the EuroBasket title just two days before the draft.
The Phoenix Suns, holding the first overall pick, chose Arizona center DeAndre Ayton, leaving the door wide open for Sacramento to nab Doncic. But for the most part, the typical draft-day intrigue was already over, as reports had surfaced hours before the draft that the Kings would take Duke big-man Marvin Bagley III.
The Dallas Mavericks, who would have been drafting second had the kings not beaten the odds in the lottery, wasted no time trading for the third pick (via Atlanta) to take Doncic. Many pundits agreed they’d gotten the draft’s best player.
The Kings disagreed. “Marvin for us is better fit, better player, and great talent,” Kings’ GM Vlade Divac said when asked about passing on Doncic. “So, it was an easy choice for us.”
Doncic and Bagley may be forever linked in fans’ minds, but it will be years before either player—and the team’s decision—can be fairly evaluated. What is open for criticism, though, is the Kings’ all-too-familiar bungling of draft strategy and team building.
First: Bagley is an excellent prospect. An off-the-charts athlete, tenacious rebounder and efficient low-post scorer, he put together a terrific freshman year at Duke. His defense is a work in progress, and his slender build precludes him from being an immediate rim protector, but at only 19, Bagley has time to grow mentally and physically into his 6-foot-eleven, 235-pound frame. It may have also helped Divac’s decision that Bagley was one of only two prospects to hold a workout with the Kings, while most others refused in hopes of avoiding Sacramento.
Divac’s claim that Bagley is “a better fit” is debatable. Bagley joins a crowded Kings’ frontcourt alongside recent draftees Skal Labissière, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Harry Giles, plus veterans Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos. Some of those players will surely be moved, but Doncic would have filled a position of greater immediate need on the Kings roster. Moreover, Doncic’s skilled shooting, passing and pick-and-roll play would have provided needed spacing for the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense. Though Bagley shot well from behind the arc in limited attempts at Duke, Doncic’s position and skillset is particularly suited for an increasingly wing-dominated, pick-and-roll-heavy league.
Despite all that—when you are a franchise without a superstar picking so high in the draft, you don’t draft for fit. If the Kings saw Bagley as the best player available, they were right to take him. But it appears they were once again behind the 8-ball from a strategy standpoint by letting their intention to take Bagley leak. With suitors eager to trade up for Doncic, and many projecting Bagley would be available a few spots later, the chance to trade down, pick up future draft assets, and still get Bagley would have been the best outcome.
There will theoretically be players in free agency, if there are any superstars more willing to join them than the draft prospects who dodged them. So after yet another lottery pick in Sacramento, consider the can officially kicked down the road.