The eve of the 2021 NBA draft is upon us and the whole league knows the Kings are open for business as general manager Monte McNair works to reshape the roster going into his second season in Sacramento.
The Kings hold the No. 9 pick in the draft, but that pick and multiple players will continue to be the subject of trade talks until the Kings are on the clock Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Three players — Michigan forward Franz Wagner, Arkansas guard Moses Moody and Turkish center Alperen Sengun — have come into focus as prime draft targets for Sacramento should the Kings keep their first-round pick, but the situation is fluid with multiple trade possibilities and draft positioning outside the top five completely in flux.
This is the first time McNair has been involved with a top-10 pick. He spent 13 years on Daryl Morey’s staff with the Houston Rockets, but they never drafted in the top 10. Last year, after coming to Sacramento to replace former general manager Vlade Divac, McNair selected Tyrese Haliburton with the No. 12 pick.
McNair and his staff believe in taking the best player available, but the best player available to them could be someone outside of the draft if the right trade opportunity arises. The Sacramento Bee confirmed the Kings have expressed interest in Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported the Kings and Los Angeles Lakers have discussed a deal involving Buddy Hield and Kyle Kuzma.
The Kings also continue to shop Marvin Bagley III, and according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, rival teams are showing “a lot of interest” in Harrison Barnes. The Kings have also been linked to several other trade rumors in recent weeks, and we can assume the vast majority of their trade talks have gone unreported, leaving open any number of possibilities.
Most of the speculation about what the Kings will do if they keep the No. 9 pick has narrowed to Wagner, Moody and Sengun.
The Sacramento Bee, The Athletic’s John Hollinger, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, NBC Sports California’s James Ham, Yahoo Sports’ Krysten Peek and NBADraft.net all have the Kings taking Wagner at No. 9 in their latest mock drafts. Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley and CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone have the Kings taking Moody. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo and Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News have the Kings taking Sengun.
Most of the mock drafts sending Wagner to Sacramento have Moody coming off the board before the Kings are on the clock, but O’Connor has them taking Sengun ahead of Moody and Wagner.
“The Kings have a lot of interest in Franz Wagner, but they could also go with Sengun, who won Turkish league MVP at just 18 years old,” O’Connor wrote. “He’s a low-post scorer with the touch to someday become a threat from 3. Passing is his best skill; pairing him with De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton could lead to exciting results.”
There are questions about Sengun’s ability to defend in the NBA, but there’s no denying his extraordinary gifts at the offensive end as a throwback low-post big man. O’Connor noted Sengun “can finish through tons of contact” and “lives at the free throw line.” Those are selling points for the analytically minded McNair, who might value points in the paint and free throws even more than 3-point shooting based on the percentages.
Here’s the thing, though. The Kings absolutely have to get better on defense and Sengun probably can’t help them there right now. That’s why Moody, a 6-foot-6 guard with a 7-foot wingspan, and Wagner, another heady defender with good positional size and versatility, seem like more practical choices.
In making his case for Wagner, Hollinger noted: “The Kings are pretty analytics driven and Wagner’s numbers are some of the best in the draft; after the runaway success of the Tyrese Haliburton pick last year, the Kings aren’t likely to deviate from this road.” Givony pointed out that Wagner’s name has “gained traction in Sacramento despite a mysterious pre-draft process that included no NBA combine and few individual workouts.”
You know who else had a mysterious pre-draft process? The Kings, who conducted their workouts privately this year, eliminating the customary media access. If Wagner kept quiet, it might be because the Kings wanted him to.
It might be worth pointing out now that @michigan_beat, a University of Michigan news and analysis account with 367 followers on Twitter, reported Wagner had a draft promise from the Kings on July 10, citing an unnamed source.
Hollinger delved into the various, multifaceted complexities of Sacramento’s situation in his latest mock draft. The Kings want to take the best player available, but they also want to get better now, improve defensively and find a way to prevent Richaun Holmes from departing as an unrestricted free agent.
“The Kings are exploring various win-now moves with this pick as they try to end a 15-year playoff drought and hold a parade for themselves for finishing 40-42,” Hollinger wrote. “They’re also looking at some other moves that are less ‘win-now’ than ‘probably necessary,’ such as trading Marvin Bagley’s $11 million salary to end up with enough cap room to re-sign Richaun Holmes. One of the angles on a rumored Buddy Hield-Kyle Kuzma trade is that it could open similar cap room doors, although the Lakers can’t likely save them that much on their own.”