5 College Basketball Stars the Sacramento Kings Must Keep an Eye on

Sim Risso@@SimRissoFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2014

5 College Basketball Stars the Sacramento Kings Must Keep an Eye on

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    Marcus Smart could be a good pick for the Kings.
    Marcus Smart could be a good pick for the Kings.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    As the regular season winds down for the Sacramento Kings, preparations for the offseason are ratcheting up. Chief among that is getting everything in order for the upcoming NBA draft.

    The Kings figure to have one pick in this year's draft—a selection in the first round. According to Real GM, their second-round pick will either be conveyed to the Toronto Raptors (if it falls between picks No. 31 to No. 55) or the New York Knicks (if it's between picks No. 56 to No. 60). 

    The Kings also owe their first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls, but that selection is protected if it falls somewhere within the top 12 picks. As it currently stands, Sacramento has the seventh-worst record, so the team will likely keep the pick, as it'll fall within the top 12.

    However, exactly where the pick falls is unknown. That's because of the draft lottery. But seeing as how the Kings are set up for the seventh pick right now, it's reasonable to assume their pick will fall between No. 4 and No. 10. 

    There's a chance the pick could be higher or lower, but given the team's recent history in the lottery, and the overall probability, it's better to just go with a range of No. 4 to No. 10. 

    With that being the case, the cream of the crop—Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid—will likely be gone when the Kings pick (they're ranked in the top three on both Chad Ford of ESPN's rankings and the Draft Express big board).

    So, given who's available in the draft this year, and who figures to be there when the Kings pick, let's rank the college stars Kings fans should be keeping their eye on in the weeks leading up to the draft. 


    Player size measurements come via ESPN's Chad Ford's player profiles.

Honorable Mentions

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    The Kings could use Cauley-Stein's shot-blocking, but he doesn't provide much else of need.
    The Kings could use Cauley-Stein's shot-blocking, but he doesn't provide much else of need.John Bazemore/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Zach LeVine, UCLA

    The main reason to pay attention to Zach LeVine is the size he brings to the point guard position. At 6'5", he provides much more length than Isaiah Thomas or Ray McCallum. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) praises him for his athleticism and leaping ability as well.

    However, he may not be a great fit since he's not a great distributor, indicated by his 1.9 assists per game. If the Kings are going to take a point guard, it needs to be someone with a pass-first mentality. That makes LeVine a questionable candidate.


    Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

    Willie Cauley-Stein is a center. With DeMarcus Cousins manning the 5, it's not a position of need. Yet Cauley-Stein excels at blocking shots, which is the one thing Cousins and the Kings are lacking. He averaged 3.0 blocks per game this season. If he could provide similar production in the NBA, it'd be a huge boost for Sacramento.

    The drawback to Cauley-Stein, though, is that he doesn't provide a ton other than shot-blocking. He's not much of a scorer, and he only averaged 6.3 rebounds at Kentucky. The Kings don't need more scoring, but if they're taking someone in the top 10 who's a one-dimensional player, that one dimension better be excellent. If Cauley-Stein isn't great at rebounding and defending, it could be a stretch.

5. Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Doug McDermott is a coach's son with a high basketball IQ.
    Doug McDermott is a coach's son with a high basketball IQ.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    It's true Doug McDermott's main skill is scoring. It's also true the Kings don't need more scorers. Yet the way McDermott scores would help Sacramento, as he's a shooter who scores most of his points without creating in one-on-one situations.

    The one thing the Kings unequivocally don't need is a scorer who needs to create for himself by dribbling. That's not McDermott. What he'll provide is the ability to space the court, and he can knock down any open shot that comes his way. As a senior, McDermott hit 45.5 percent of his three-pointers. That type of range requires attention from opposing defenses.

    As a coach's son, McDermott is also lauded for his high basketball IQ. To go along with that intelligence is four years of experience playing college ball. If anyone's able to come in and have an impact immediately, McDermott is that guy.

    McDermott isn't a great defender, and he's a bit of a tweener. At 6'8", 210 pounds, he'll have to play small forward in the NBA, but he's a bit slight for the position. So while his shooting ability and experience make him an intriguing candidate for the Kings, there are other players who would be better fits. 

4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

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    Tyler Ennis has the pass-first mentality the Kings are lacking.
    Tyler Ennis has the pass-first mentality the Kings are lacking.Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    The one thing the Kings definitely still need is a pass-first point guard. Isaiah Thomas has improved in this regard, but it's still not a strength of his. Furthermore, as a restricted free agent, there's no guarantee Thomas comes back. Sacramento needs to look into contingency plans in case he bolts.

    Tyler Ennis would be a good contingency plan. Chad Ford loves his court vision. You can see why, as Ennis averaged 5.5 assists and only 1.7 turnovers this past season as a freshman at Syracuse. That's the mentality the Kings are lacking, and it's why Ennis would be a good option.

    Of course, at 6'2", 180 pounds, his size for a point guard is adequate. It's not elite, though. Players with similar skill sets who have more length would be better options. He's also not a great shooter. As a point guard, his main role won't be scoring, but Ennis will need to have enough range to keep defenders honest, allowing him to break down the defense. 

3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

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    Marcus Smart has the type of all-around game the Kings could use.
    Marcus Smart has the type of all-around game the Kings could use.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    If he came out last year, Marcus Smart would have been a top-10 pick. The same can be said of him this year and that's in an even deeper draft. That's because Smart improved all around during his sophomore season at Oklahoma State.

    Smart played less minutes as a sophomore than he did as a freshman, yet his scoring, assists, rebounding and field-goal percentage increased, while his turnovers decreased. That's exactly what you want to see from a player with high draft stock who returned to school for another year. 

    His 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.9 steals per game show an all-around skill set. Plus, he's got the quickness and ball-handling ability to play point guard in the NBA. His rebounding and defense would bring aspects to the 1 that the Kings are lacking. Smart is also improving as a distributor, as he increased his assists and cut down on his turnovers.

    The only potential drawback to Smart is his 6'4", 225-pound frame. He's a combo guard, meaning he can play the 1 or the 2. He's oversized as a point guard and undersized as a shooting guard. However, if the Kings drafted him, it would be because they view him as capable of manning the point. After selecting Ben McLemore last year, Sacramento doesn't need another shooting guard.   

2. Noah Vonleh, Indiana

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    Vonleh is a tenacious rebounder and defender.
    Vonleh is a tenacious rebounder and defender.Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    With DeMarcus Cousins on the team, the only reason to add another center with the top pick is if it's someone who can be a defensive ace. Well, that's Noah Vonleh. That'd make him a near-perfect option for the Kings.

    At 6'10", 240 pounds, Vonleh has the requisite size to bang in the paint. Of course, his 7'4" wingspan doesn't hurt. Not only does he have the size, but he knows how to use it. In fact, according to Chad Ford, his three player traits are rebounding, defending and size. 

    All of his traits show up in the numbers as well. His size is pretty self-explanatory, but his rebounding (9.0 per game) and defense (1.4 blocks; 0.9 steals) show up in the box score on a nightly basis.

    As was mentioned in the breakdown of Cauley-Stein, the only reason for the Kings to select a big man with their pick is if it's someone who plays great defense and rebounds. Those are Vonleh's two best traits. Plus, he's not the type of player who demands the ball on offense (only 7.2 field-goal attempts per game).

    Theoretically, the fact Vonleh is a big man could be considered a drawback. With Cousins, plus a host of other power forwards still under contract next year, the team doesn't need another low-post player. But none of those guys are rim protectors and only DMC and Reggie Evans are great rebounders. The Kings could certainly do worse than selecting Vonleh.  

1. Dante Exum, Australia

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    Exum isn't a college star, but he's the best option for the Kings.
    Exum isn't a college star, but he's the best option for the Kings.Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Are you sensing a theme here? Four of the seven players listed (including honorable mentions) are point guards. It's the team's biggest need. 

    Dante Exum is the best of the bunch. He's the top-rated point guard in this draft, according to both Chad Ford and Draft Express. Exum would also be the ideal candidate for the Kings, assuming the team doesn't end up with a top-three pick, which is the assumption we're going on in this slideshow. 

    At 6'6", 188 pounds, and with a 6'9" wingspan, Exum has excellent size for a point guard. That alone makes him enticing for the Kings. According to Ford, he's also an excellent penetrator, passer and ball-handler.  

    The negatives with Exum are that he needs to add strength and improve his shooting from the perimeter. At 18 years old, the strength figures to come with time. Shooting can also be an acquired skill, although there are no guarantees a player will put in the work to improve it.

    Still, if the two drawbacks to a player are both areas that can be improved upon through hard work, that means he's probably an ideal candidate. Beyond Exum being the ideal draft candidate in general, he's also a perfect fit for what the Kings are lacking.

    Technically, Exum isn't a "college basketball star" since he's not playing in the U.S., but he's the best option for the Kings in the upcoming draft. I'm not holding that against him when compiling this list, and Sacramento probably won't either.


    If you want to talk Kings basketball/upcoming draft options, hit me up on Twitter @SimRisso