NBA Teams on the Rise: Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings
The current narrative of the NBA goes along the lines of; Warriors on top, who will try to beat them next? This will not be the case forever though, just as a player only has a limited number of years in their prime, dynasties can’t last forever. Soon enough, there will be a new class of All-NBA players and new rivalries atop the association.
There are several franchises that are heading for success, but they are at different levels of the rebuilding process. The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers are three franchises who are young and ready to compete right now. The Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons have tons of potential and have talent on their rosters already check out what their futures specifically look like (Suns, Nuggets). The Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, and Orlando Magic have drafted well to form solid young cores, but may need a piece or two still, check out what their futures look like (Bulls). Out of all these teams today we will be focused on the future of the Suns and Kings. These teams are overflowing with talent and potential so let’s get right into it.
Phoenix Suns: Rise From the Ashes
The Suns have made tanking an art form in recent years, they draft good young players and still lose enough games to place themselves at the top of the draft lottery each year. In the last four NBA drafts the Suns have selected TJ Warren(2014), Devin Booker(2015), Josh Jackson(2017), DeAndre Ayton(2018), and Mikal Bridges(2018). The 2016 NBA draft was a whiff for the Suns, but they did pick Dragan Bender who, for now, is widely considered a bust. I say for now because he has shown he can play at times and the franchise hasn’t cut him out of their long-term plans. TJ Warren may not be considered an overly impressive pick, but he quietly averaged just about 20 points a game last year while shooting 50% from the field. Booker has become the franchise player for the Suns, he put up 25 a game last year and let’s not forget about when he scored 70 points on the Celtics…70! Ayton and Bridges are both highly touted prospects and both can play key roles on this team. With that being said, neither has played an NBA game yet. These picks built a solid young core for the Suns; now let’s look at how it transfers to the court.
Let us start with the point guard position, this will most likely end up being the position with the most rotation and least production. The Suns selected Elie Okobo and George King as second-round picks in the 2018 draft. I assume the plan here is to let them battle for the starting spot, competition breeds excellence. Keep in mind Devin Booker has the skill set to play point guard as well, but will start at SG and move over to the point for a rotation or two a game. I expect Elie Okobo to win the starting job, and George King to come off the bench form minutes at both PG and SG. Okobo’s film from the French Professional League was all very impressive, easily the best player on the court in all the games I watched. Okobo has great speed/athleticism which works well with his ability to see the court and knock down jumpers from deep. This will be a good pairing with Booker in the backcourt. George King shot 41% from deep last year at Colorado, supply valuable floor spacing off the bench.
At shooting guard, there’s no question. Devin Booker remains one of the top up-and-coming stars in the NBA. Last season Booker averaged 24.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 38% from downtown. Booker has this spot locked up and will be a leader on this team. As I said early expect King to rotate in at the SG along with Josh Jackson, TJ Warren and Mikal Bridges
The small forward position is full of young talent for the Suns. The realistic frontrunners to start here are TJ Warren, Josh Jackson, and Mikal Bridges. One of these guys will most likely end up taking the start at power forward, all three of these players have the length, size and athleticism the play SF or PF. Last season Warren averaged 19.6 points, 1.3 assists, and 5.1 rebounds but only shot 22% from behind the arc. Jackson had very limited minutes but was still productive with 13.1 points, 1.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds. Mikal Bridges was the 10th pick in the 2018 NBA draft and his game breaks down to 3-and-D. A lot of guys in the NBA get the “3-and-D” tag, but Bridges can already function in this role at an NBA level and there’s no telling what he can add on to his game as his career progresses. Expect Bridges to start at SF here and Jackson to get the start at PF, this allows Warren to come off the bench and provide valuable scoring while Booker is off the floor.
At center will be the no. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, DeAndre Ayton. Ayton has the physical gifts that some of the greats had. Coming into the league as a 7-footer who has a 260lb frame and a 40-inch vertical means Ayton has potential to be a league-dominating player. Ayton can shoot from deep fairly consistently but will need to prove that as the season goes on. Hopefully, Tyson Chandler can mentor him through these first couple years and form Ayton into an all-time great we can watch for years to come.
Power forward will most likely come down to either Jackson or Warren. Both can play power forward effectively, but Jackson will be stronger on the defensive end. The Suns still have two true power forwards they hope develop into contributing players, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Chriss, the crazy athletic power forward adds energy, rebounding, and shot blocking. Chriss needs to add some more skill (jumpshot, face-up game, passing ability) if he plans to be on the court next season. Dragan Bender, a 7’2” stretch four who can hold his own defensively on the block. Bender has had some flashes of being a solid player, but consistency has been an issue for him. If one of these players can pan out for the Suns they will have a young lineup that runs deep with talent.
Between Booker and Ayton there is potential for championships in Phoenix. If you add Jackson, Bridges, and Warren the outlook only gets brighter. If you would like to read more in-depth on the Suns players, possible lineups, and possible moves click here.
The Kings have been the laughing stock of the NBA for years, the franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006, and chased off possibly the best player the franchise has ever had (DeMarcus Cousins). After countless lottery picks, the Kings now find themselves with several young players full of potential. Hopefully, this new wave can change the culture in Sacramento and restore the franchise to its former glory. Vlade Divac, who was on those great Kings teams with Chris Webber and Jason Williams in the early 2000s, believes in the roster he has built and has given some interesting quotes.
We are a super team, just young— Vlade Divac Kings GM
The Kings have the potential to be a super team but will need their young players to keep getting better.
The Road Back to Royalty
The first key for the Kings is the development of DeAaron Fox. Fox was obviously the best player on the team last year, even as a rookie. Fox has unbelievable speed and quickness, combined with his court vision and high IQ he will be the center-piece for this team. Fox’s rookie season was underwhelming to those who were high on him going into the draft, 11.6 points and 4.4 assists per game. Now that’s not bad for a rookie, but Fox’s ceiling is much higher. Fox has plenty of room to improve and he will, he just needs time. Fox only shot 30% from behind the arc in his rookie season, but went 6-6 from deep on his way scoring 26 against the Spurs on January 28th. Fox can score, set up his teammates, plays hard on defense, and is super athletic. With all this skill at the point guard position, Fox is a perfect player to build a franchise around.
Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic are two interesting prospects at the shooting guard position. Both players are still young, Hield (24) and Bogdanovic (25). Both of these players have impressive past accomplishments. Hield won Naismith College Player of the Year in 2016 and was selected to the All-Rookie First Team in 2017. Bogdanovic has won MVPs and championships across Europe including, All-EuroLeague First Team in 2017 and a EuroLeague Championship to go with it. Last season Hield averaged 13.5 points per game and shot 43% from 3-point land, while Bogdanovic averaged 11.8 points at shot 39% from deep. Hield shooting 43% last season was 9th in the NBA and ahead of guys such as; Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Paul George. Bogdanovic shooting nearly forty-percent from deep classifies him as a sharp-shooter as well. Both of these players’ skill sets pair well with Fox because they can space the floor and give Fox open passing lanes and space to attack the basket. The Kings don’t have a great option at small forward so it’s possible one of these two slides over to SF, but they’d both be undersized on the defensive end. Neither one of these two have blown away anybody with their production, but last year was Bogdanovic’s rookie season and Hield’s first full season with the Kings. One of these two will assert themselves as the starter, hopefully, both can be long-term players. Competition breeds excellence.
Small Forward will be a struggle for the Kings this year. Currently, they have Justin Jackson and Garrett Temple. Temple has been in and out of the NBA and Jackson has shown glimpses but is yet to prove himself as a reliable starter. The development of Jackson will play a huge role in the Kings’ plans moving forward. They brought in Vince Carter to mentor the team as a whole and that must’ve had an impact on Jackson. Jackson and Carter both for Roy Williams at North Carolina. Jackson only shot 30% from deep last year, that will take away from his playing time if he cannot improve. I’m not sold on Jackson his game is great for college, not so much for NBA. A 6’8” small forward will have a size advantage in college almost every game, but in the NBA it's right around average. Carter's impact on Jackson may help his development enough. I expect the Kings to rotate different players through this position and see who fits best.
Marvin Bagley III has been one of the most highly touted prospects in recent years. From playing in highly competitive pro-ams(Drew League) while still in high school, to dominating the NCAA, Bagley has impressed at every level. Sacramento will be a great fit for Bagley. He has a just as impressive, young point guard to play with, a defensive center in Willie Cauley-Stein, and most importantly one of the top power forwards to play in recent years mentoring him. Zach Randolph led the Kings in scoring last year, but his role is just as big off the court. Randolph and Carter were brought in to end the streak of talented players the Kings organization has destroyed. Offensively, Bagley has it all; post-up, face-up, mid-range, 3-pointers, pick and roll, he can do it all. The worries for Bagley are on the defensive end. He will have trouble switching on picks, but most big men do. Bagley has impressed during summer league and looks to be as close to a “sure thing” as they come.
Willie Cauley-Stein will be Bagley’s front-court mate. Cauley-Stein is a freakishly athletic 7-footer. Cauley-Stein has showed improvement each of his three season in the NBA and is still only 24 years of age. Cauley-Stein averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last year. Not bad, but he can do better and most likely will do better. DeAaron Fox is great in the pick and roll and will, no doubt, be feeding him for easy dunks throughout the year. Cauley-Stein has never shot below 50%, from the field, in any of his 3 NBA seasons. There are a few major holes in his game. First, he can’t shoot…at all, but he doesn’t need to be a shooter he can make up for that with other aspects of his game. Cauley-Stein’s career high for blocks per game is 1….1 block per game and he’s never averaged more than 10 rebounds. If Cauley-Stein wants to be on the court for this team he needs to play a DeAndre Jordan/Clint Capela role. He needs to be a glass eating rim protector.
If either Hield or Bogdanovic can turn into an all-star to be paired with DeAaron Fox the Kings will have a solid backcourt for years to come. Bagley can be a monster in this league, but still needs to prove himself. Cauley-Stein will need to improve and even if he does it makes sense for the Kings to look to add pieces at center and small forward.
The Kings and Suns have both been embarrassing as of late, but they can turn the ship around. The Suns are more ready to win now, and the Kings are maybe a year or two away. The Kings need to add a piece yet, but I think if Phoenix develops their talent properly all they need is time. Only problem is, they both are in the Western Conference. Both teams have tons of potential and will be fun to watch grow.