This offseason yields new challenges for a Sacramento Kings squad looking to rebound from the midseason trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans. With Buddy Hield now the focal point of their rebuild and little in regards to long-term talent, the 2017 NBA Draft presents a pair of Vlade Divac’s most pivotal decisions yet — the fifth and tenth pick.
As this team moves forward, the depth of talent in this year’s lottery gives the Kings a nice boost. They have the opportunity to add a pair of players with star-caliber upside, while also addressing multiple areas of need from a rotational standpoint.
Who they’ll select, though, remains up in the air. That aforementioned depth leads to quite a bit of uncertainty, as several players deserving of top-flight selections duke it out for positioning. Something we witnessed during the collegiate season, and something we’ll continue to see as team workouts progress.
Sacramento will have a variety of viable options at both spots, with the players available being the overarching determinant for their direction as a team. One player who has risen up draft boards as of late, and could in turn be in play at ten, is Donovan Mitchell.
The Louisville sophomore was largely unheralded coming into the season, as an inconsistent freshman campaign led many to dub him more of a long-term project than a ready-made NBA prospect.
He altered that notion relatively quickly, though, averaging 15.6 points per contest, while upping his 3-point percentage to 35.4 — an over 10 percent increase from last season.
The hyper-athletic two-guard carved out his role as Louisville’s go-to scorer this season, combining a dynamic repertoire off the dribble with a much-improved threat from deep.
However, the strides that could be most noteworthy in establishing his fit with a team like Sacramento are the strides he made as a passer.
Mitchell was never the Cardinals’ outright point guard, but he did see significant time as the team’s main ball handler. While his combination of elite explosiveness and a quick shot release allowed him to generate his own offense at all three levels, he managed to showcase prowess as an assist-man in the pick-and-roll as well.
He also excels in the open court, something that could translate into transition playmaking at the next level. When placed alongside a shooter of Buddy Hield’s caliber and a rim-runner of Willie Cauley-Stein’s ilk, that’s a tantalizing proposition when considering the raw physical gifts that Mitchell possesses.
If Mitchell’s passing is able to develop alongside Hield’s, the Kings could generate enough ball movement to make that combination of two perimeter-based scorers work. They’ll have plenty of actions to run through Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere, while the team’s improvements in transition could lead to increased firepower on the offensive end — something this rebuilding group is in desperate need of.
Mitchell’s defense, in many ways, cements his fit on a team like Sacramento. With a guard who struggles on that end the way Hield does, Mitchell’s versatility (spearheaded by his 6-foot-10 wingspan) allows him to cover a lot of holes on the perimeter.
His strong frame allows him to body up top tier athletes at either guard position, while his aggressiveness allowed him to flourish as one of college basketball’s most apt defensive guards.
From day one, h will have the tools to cover the opposition’s best guard, allowing Dave Joerger to slide Hield onto the opposition’s weakest facet on that side of the ball.
Mitchell also creates turnovers at a high clip, bursting through passing lanes and leveraging his gritty, strength-laden approach to force turnovers on the perimeter and off of drives.
He averaged 2.1 steals per contest last season, and continuing that trend at the next level could entail more transition opportunities — which ties back to maximizing his offensive success.
With this Kings team predicating it’s rebuild on culture and future success, Mitchell fits the mold of what they need in a prospect.
He covers Hield’s weaknesses on the perimeter, while complimenting his game on the offensive end. He also ups their defensive ceiling as a unit, while giving them a hard worker and consistent grinder — something this Sacramento group lacked in odd fashion at times during the haziness of the DeMarcus Cousins era.
Mitchell’s rise was sparked by a strong run at the NBA Combine, but it’s an ascension that wasn’t difficult to foresee. He has the athletic tools of an elite NBA guard, while boasting the two-way versatility needed to back up that type of hype.
If he’s available at ten — which is most likely going to be the case — the Kings need to take a long and hard look at what he brings to the table.
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