Draft-day drama is no stranger to the Sacramento Kings over the past few years. In 2008, it was “Who the heck is Jason Thompson?” In 2009, it was “Tyreke Evans over Ricky Rubio?” In 2010, it was “Can DeMarcus Cousins actually behave himself?”
Despite all the drama over the past few years, Sacramento fans may forever look back at draft day 2011 as the one to remember, mainly because there were so many questions raised.
The Kings started the day with the seventh overall selection, and ended the day with BYU superstar Jimmer Fredette coming in at No. 10, small forward John Salmons and the departure of veteran guard Beno Udrih.
Of course, nothing is more fun in the midst of this lockout-created NBA desert than taking a look at what-ifs—so let's get to it.
You have to wonder if Sacramento expected Brandon Knight to be there at No. 7. By the time it became clear that Knight would fall (the Raptors selection of Jonas Valančiūnas at No. 5 and the Wizards already having a PG in John Wall pretty much guaranteed Knight would last till No. 7), the Kings had already pulled off the deal and sat at No. 10.
So what if the Kings had stayed pat, and had Knight fall into their laps?
We’ll never truly know the order of the Kings' draft list, but Knight’s NBA potential is definitely high. He was a fair shooter in college, improving as the year went on and he hit some clutch shots in the NCAA tournament. He was a decent passer, getting 4.2 assists a game albeit with 3.2 turnovers, but also saw his assist number rise later in the season.
In the NBA, Knight should become an above-average PG thanks to his athleticism, decent passing skills and strong shooting ability.
While the Kings still had to deal with figuring out a guard lineup with Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and Knight, I believe that is a lineup with far stronger potential than the current Kings lineup. There would be questions about working the passing game, but I believe those questions are just as prevalent, if not more, in the current lineup.
Say Toronto had taken Knight and Washington had taken either Jan Veselý or Jonas Valančiūnas at No. 6, leaving Sacramento to take either Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker at No. 7.
While we’ll never know how the Kings ranked Brandon Knight alongside Jimmer, it’s clear they liked Jimmer more than Knight. There were few questions that Kemba Walker would fall to No. 7 at least for Sacramento, and yet they traded down to No. 10. Unless they thought Kemba would be the one falling to them (as unlikely as that would have been), the trade signified that they liked Jimmer more than Kemba.
The case for Kemba: He’s an absolute proven winner and, aside from Jimmer, was the best player in the 2010-2011 NCAA season. He averaged 23 points per game, 4.5 assists per game and 1.9 steals a contest. He willed an average team through five straight games to the Big East title, and straight on up to the NCAA championship.
Kemba is a little short (6’0") and there questions about his efficiency as an NBA scorer (43 percent shooter in college), so how would he have fared with the Kings roster?
The same complication of the guard depth chart remains—would Kemba start with Tyreke and Marcus Thornton? I don’t believe he would have, at least not in the beginning, but I do feel he has more chance of becoming a strong NBA player than Jimmer. He’s more athletic and just as good a passer, and is a far better defender and ball thief even with his smaller size.
Still, the situation would have been the same in the immediate future for Kemba as it will be for Jimmer—third-best guard and probably coming in off the bench.
My personal vote for least-discussed “what-if” of the 2011 draft. Everyone believed, going into the draft, that the Kings needed desperately to fill their guard need, but that may not have been the case. With Tyreke and Thornton, the talent is there, even if there are question marks about Tyreke ever becoming a true point guard and floor general.
That said, that same question remains about Jimmer, as well as Knight and Walker. Enter Leonard, who fell to the Pacers at No. 15 and was traded to San Antonio. Leonard is a tough defender, a great rebounder for his position and a very determined player—exactly what the Kings need at the small forward position.
Yes, his scoring isn’t great and his shooting overall is very weak, but the Kings already have natural scorers in Tyreke, Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins. Bringing in Leonard would have put in the perfect role player for the Kings at small forward.
If the Kings hadn’t done the Beno/No. 7 for Salmons/No. 10 trade, I think Leonard would have started right away and fit in really well. He wouldn’t have drawn the attention Jimmer or any of the other “sexier” picks would have, but he would have been a great selection given the Kings' needs.
What if Tony Parker had been traded for the No. 7 pick?
We’ll never know if discussion surrounding Parker being traded were serious, but let's consider the most widely discussed one: Tony Parker and Richard Jefferson to the Kings for the No. 7 selection and Omri Casspi.
It would have been a downer first off, since it would have meant Casspi was gone and unable to be shipped to Cleveland for JJ Hickson. But talent-wise, it would have been great for the Kings.
As I mentioned in this article, I feel the Kings' biggest need going forward is leadership. Tony Parker, all the extramarital baggage aside, would have brought that. Parker is a top-10 point guard in the league, a guard who has improved his shooting, passing and floor control every year. Parker is only 29, has a Finals MVP to his name and has been in the top three in assist rate over the past three seasons.
He could have slipped in at point guard next to Tyreke, and with Thornton coming off the bench, you'd have a very dangerous guard group.
Sure, he would have come attached to Richard Jefferson, a woefully overpaid small forward who probably isn't as good as Salmons. Adding in Parker and Jefferson would have taken away most of the Kings' salary space. But the veteran presence and the chance to bring in a top point guard was something the Kings should have jumped at, and probably of all these what-ifs would have produced the fastest return to the playoffs.
Jimmer Fredette at No. 10 was received with exceptional fanfare around Sacramento. John Salmons and his three-year $25 million contract were not greeted with such ferver, but Salmons was quickly forgotten in the midst of Jimmermania.
What can we expect out of Sacramento with these two additions?
First off, Salmons: He’ll start at small forward, but his addition was a very weak decision by the Kings front office. He was sent along with Brad Miller to Chicago two years ago for Andres Nocioni and an $8 million expiring contract known as Drew Gooden. Salmons' departure then was totally a business decision; now Kings fans are supposed to believe his return is a smart basketball move?
He’s never been an efficient scoring option (his total career shooting percent is .442 and his true shooting percentage (TSP) is a mediocre .540), and he’s gained a reputation as a ballhog and a locker-room headcase (and deservedly so, if you ask any Sacramento/Chicago/Milwaukee fans). You have to question putting in another black-hole offensive player on a team already struggling to fit an offense around Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thronton and now, Jimmer.
The Kings needed a small forward, true—but the addition of Salmons seems a very weak band-aid over a fairly deep wound. Kings fans have high hopes for second-round selection Tyler Honeycutt, but he’s years off from actually competing for a starting job.
Second off, Jimmer: The greatest thing Jimmer did and can continue to do is to bring in fans and media attention. He also brings a good jump shot to team that had only one shooter (Marcus Thornton) and a hard-working ethic that will hopefully transition over to his teammates.
But with his defense and ball-handling in serious question, I doubt that Jimmer will become the star many expect him too. His defense was terribly weak in the NCAA, so bad that his own teammate, Nick Martineau, was quoted by ESPN’s Rick Reilly as saying "The weird thing is, [his defense] has gotten progressively worse over the year.”
Even if he can focus more on his defense now, the fact that he was "too busy playing offense to play defense" in college is as big a red flag as there can be.
My expectation is that Jimmer becomes a fine NBA player, propelled by his shooting ability. But on the Kings roster, he’s the third-most talented guard behind Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton. I truly doubt he ever becomes a consistent starter unless Thornton leaves or is traded.
Remembering that hindsight is 20/20, I wish the Kings had stayed pat. Even if they didn’t know that Knight would have been there at No. 7, I truly believe Kemba Walker will be a better NBA player than Jimmer Fredette. The fact that Jimmer came attached with John Salmons made it all worse, even if that's not a problem with Jimmer.
If that Tony Parker deal had a serious chance, it would have been the smartest decision of all.
Of course, the NBA may look back in 10 years and think “What if Jimmer Fredette had gone higher in the draft?” You never know.