There were 14 NBA teams that did not make the playoffs in 2020-21. Eight of those teams made the playoffs within the past two years. Eleven of those 14 teams went to the playoffs within the past three years and 13 of those 14 teams have been in the playoffs at least once in the last five years.
And then there are the Sacramento Kings.
Poor Kings fans have not seen their squad in the playoffs since 2007. That’s three presidents ago. If you’re reading this on your iPhone, that technology had not been introduced the last time Sacramento was in the postseason. That 2007 squad consisted of the Mike Bibby-Brad Miller-Kevin Martin core and was hanging onto their playoff lives since the team’s dominance in the early 2000’s. Ron Artest led the team in minutes played.
Over the past fifteen years, the Kings have laughably been unable to find any kind of identity. And now in 2021, they have a couple of the most dynamic guards in the Western Conference plus an uber-athletic (but uber-consistent) power forward and are once again pegged by oddsmakers to be one of the worst teams in the league. Kings’ fans should be prepared for the trio of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Tyrese Halliburton to be difference-makers in fantasy hoops, but ultimately extend the playoff drought to a 16th year.
Let’s dive into the Kings’ roster to see what kind of fantasy value they bring this season.
2020-2021 record: 31-41, 12th in the Western Conference
Preseason odds: O/U 28.5 wins
There is no doubt who the alpha is on this team, despite its ongoing identity crisis. De’Aaron Fox logged the most successful season of his career in ’20-’21, putting up 25.2 points per game, 7.2 assists, and a .523 effective field goal percentage. Despite jumping up to 19 field goal attempts and 35 minutes per game he still shot 48% from the floor, including 32% from deep. You can still draft Fox as PG12 in the third round, but that’s more of a statement on the strength of the position and not an indictment on Fox’s game. With very little around him changed from last season, we should be looking at another All-Star level campaign worthy of a top-36 pick. Relatively poor free-throw shooting (career 72%) and turnovers will likely keep him out of the top 20 overall this year.
Davion Mitchell will nominally be the backup point guard on the depth chart, but this should primarily be a three-guard rotation between Fox, Hield, and Haliburton with it likely being a learning year for Mitchell. He comes from a national championship season at Baylor and was known for his ferocity, playmaking, and three-point shooting. But his career 66% free throw shooting in college ensures he will never be on the floor for any crunch-time minutes, barring injury.
For as many gains as Fox made last season, Buddy Hield gave most of them away with his inexplicably poor and inefficient play. He suited up for 71 of the Kings’ 72 games, played 34 minutes per night, but the production suffered a steep drop off from the past two seasons. Hield shot 40% from the floor last year, evolving (devolving?) into primarily a three-point bomber. That remains his one elite weapon, and he did shoot over 10 per game last year but he doesn’t contribute much else beyond a high free throw percentage that can help justify a seventh-round price tag. In that range, I would rather gamble on the upside of Cade Cunningham, Derrick White, or Hield’s teammate….
Tyrese Haliburton was a revelation as the 12th overall pick in 2020 and ended his first campaign as a Rookie of the Year finalist. Serving as a combo guard who could back up both Fox and Hield (as well as start 20 games), Haliburton contributed a little bit of everything for fantasy managers. He finished with 13 points, 5.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 85% free throws, 47% shooting from the floor, and 41% from three-point territory. You’re going to pay for that production on draft day, as Haliburton is going at the end of the sixth round right now. but if no sophomore slump emerges and Hield continues to be a one-trick pony, there is still room for more in the former Iowa State Cyclone’s range of outcomes.
One thing that Harrison Barnes will always be able to tell his grandchildren is that he owns one of the more perplexing contracts in NBA history. After helping the 2015 Golden State win the NBA title, Barnes was offered a four-year, $94 million contract in 2016 despite scoring 11 points per game on 46% shooting in a role that only called for him to make open shots when Steph Curry or Klay Thompson passed out of double teams. Barnes can still be counted on for points and triples five years later, but I’m personally not paying for the career highs in rebounds and assists he posted last year. That multi-category contribution has him drafted in the 10th round presently (28th among small forwards), but I am likely to let others pay that as the Kings turn the team fully over to their stud guards and young bigs.
At this stage of his career, backup Maurice Harkless is a 3-and-D wing but severely lacks the “3.” Known as primarily a strong defensive wing presence, Harkless shot 27% on threes last season and didn’t provide much in terms of fantasy assets other than the occasional steal. It would take a lot of injuries to open up an opportunity for Harkless to be fantasy-relevant.
Marvin Bagley. I wish I knew how to quit you. The number two overall pick from 2018 has shown flashes of brilliance from time to time over the past four three seasons, but health concerns, lackadaisical defensive effort, and concerns about shooting ability and offensive presence have prevented him from taking the step-up many are hoping for. Bagley averaged 14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 50.4% shooting his rookie season. Last season? 14.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 50.4% shooting. You’re getting nothing else from the athletic big man, so until we see more, his draft position should continue to languish around his current spot at PF50.
Chimezie Metu had a nice spike in minutes in 2020-221, going from 5.8 per game two years ago to 13.6 last season. He has some intriguing per-36 numbers of 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks backing up Bagley, but he is not a draftable asset at this time.
Compared to the contract Barnes received, paying Richaun Holmes for four years and $55 million looks like highway robbery by comparison. Holmes posted career numbers nearly across the board last season with 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 63.7% field goal percentage, and almost 80% on free throws as the cherry on top. And Holmes did it all while managing only a 17.1% usage rate last season, higher than only Barnes among Kings who played at least 50 games. If he gets a couple of usage ticks away from Hield or Bagley this year, Holmes could be knocking on the door of an 18-point, 10-rebound, 2-block season which would be a steal at his current draft price of C14.
Call it injuries. Call it load management. Call it rest days. Call it whatever you want, but Tristan Thompson has it in spades over the last four seasons. He averages 52 games played per season over the last four years. So while Thompson has shown elite abilities in rebounding and field goal percentage over his career, there was a reason the Kings also brought in Alex Len this offseason. This backup big man rotation will be nothing you want a part of.