For years, the Sacramento Kings have lacked a legitimate interior defender. The painted area in Arco Arena’s low posts have been a place of wanton joy and reckless abandon for visiting guards—a land of easy layups and so-so moves to the basket that seem, undefended, to be completely unstoppable.
So on draft night in 2011, Geoff Petrie and Co. selected Bismack Biyombo, a Congolese center with a remarkable wingspan and high upside.
Of course, even at the time the pick was understood to be part of Sacramento’s trade with the Charlotte Bobcats, a deal that would allow them to move back in the draft where potential franchise savior and all-around “aw-shucks all-star” Jimmer Fredette was waiting to breath new life into California’s capitol city.
If Fredette plays up to his potential, which is some weird hybrid of Tim Tebow’s fanatical following, Larry Bird’s range and Steve Nash’s efficiency, Biyombo will exist in the minds of Sacramento Kings fans only as an afterthought, a piece of trivia to be broken out at bars and parties.
But what if Biyombo plays up to his potential?
What if Jimmer’s career goes the way of J.J. Redick instead of Danny Ainge?
What if Biyombo’s triple-double outburst at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit was just a glimpse of things to come?
See, in all the excitement (good or bad) surrounding the decision to draft Fredette, one fact has remained surprisingly under-discussed:
The thing that has always kept the Kings from winning is a legit post presence. A guy who can make a difference on the offensive end of the floor and the defensive end as well.
Oh sure, Sacramentans have seen their share of players who can do one or the other. The Keon Clarks, Greg Ostertags, Brad Millers and Scot Pollards of the world have all, in their own way, been able to contribute to quality basketball teams.
But none of them were complete players at the center position.
In fact, the closest thing the Kings have had to a complete center was Vlade Divac. Think about that. Vlade Divac, the man who’s go-to defensive move involved hurling himself backwards at the slightest hint of contact and howling as if he had been flagrantly assaulted with a tire iron, also represents the pinnacle of defensive excellence among Sacramento centers.
Since Divac, the Kings have only ever been as good as their centers. When Brad Miller was an above-average player, the Kings were an above-average team. When he wasn’t anymore, it was suddenly time to rebuild.
When Spencer Hawes was involved, the team was terrible and when the switch was made to Samuel Dalembert, they weren’t much better.
Now DeMarcus Cousins is in town, and although his raw skill and vast potential is obvious to even the most casual basketball fan, whether he is best suited for center or power forward is still a question that is still unanswered.
There is no more valuable a commodity in the NBA than a quality center. They are worth their weight in gold, while quality shooters, even above-average ones, are a dime a dozen.
Even for the Kings, players like Kyle Korver, Redick and Jason Kapono are available pretty much all the time. Legit centers are significantly harder to find.
A good shooter can put a team over the top. A good center can build a team from the ground up.
So will the Kings regret trading Biyombo?
For the moment, all that is certain is that the Kings traded away a prospect who plays a position that has been a point of weakness for them since the franchise’s inception in Sacramento. They are also banking on the marketability and success of one of the most heavily hyped and nationally recognizable college players in the last 10 years.
In the end, it may turn out that the Kings didn’t make a mistake trading Biyombo. But the risk they took in trading him away was a significant one, if only because of the landscape-altering repercussions of having an elite center.