George Hill

De'Aaron Fox is the future, but don't count out Frank Mason

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AP

De'Aaron Fox is the future, but don't count out Frank Mason

For years the NBA has overvalued potential and undervalued production come draft season. The 2017 NBA Draft was a microcosm of the trend, as the top 11 players had one year of college experience or less. Some of these players were productive in a small sample size, but all of them were drafted on potential.

De’Aaron Fox showed flashes of brilliance in his lone season at the University of Kentucky. He put on a show in the tournament, which helped skyrocket him up most draft boards and the Kings were more than excited to see him fall into their lap at the fifth overall selection.

In comparison, Frank Mason III spent four years building a resumé at Kansas. He finished his senior season averaging 20.9 points and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 47.1 percent from 3-point range.

Mason’s numbers were good enough to earn him AP Player of the Year, the Oscar Robertson Award, the Naismith College Player of the Year Award and plenty of other accolades. His trophy case is stuffed full, but that didn’t stop him from falling to the fourth pick of the second round, no. 34 overall.

Maybe it isn’t fair, but it is the reality of the situation. At 19-years-old, teams are predicting that Fox can be a star. At 23, Mason is considered a finished product with little room to grow.

Fox is lean and athletic. He can run the floor as well as anyone in any league, but he has plenty to learn about the game of basketball. He is already being billed as a franchise cornerstone before he’s even played a single game in the NBA. His potential on both ends of the court is elite.

Mason is described as tough, NBA ready and mature. He lacks Fox’s size and length, but he makes up for his shortcomings by playing with heart and moxie. His leaping ability and leadership qualities will win fans over quickly.

While Sacramento is pinning its hopes for the future on Fox, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Mason is out of the picture. Both players will fight for minutes behind starter George Hill. Don’t be shocked if Mason plays a bigger role than Fox in certain games.

Potential is a word for front office staff. Once the ball is tipped, Dave Joerger will go to the players that give him the best opportunity to win. He will side with production and in year one, Mason is the most game ready. He may not have Fox’s ceiling as a player, but he is likely better prepared to fill a role.

With three point guards on the roster, Joerger also has the option of playing either Hill or Fox at the shooting guard position. This could potentially open up more than just 48 minutes for the trio.

Having options is a good. Mason’s presence on the roster, in addition to Hill’s, allows the coaching staff to bring Fox along at cautious pace. They can take their time teaching him the game, knowing that they have another able body on the roster.

There will be a time when Fox is turned loose on the NBA. It might be 20 games into the season or it could be 100 games into his career. In the meantime, don’t count out Mason as an important figure on the 2017-18 Kings rotation.

George Hill will play a major role as he mentors Kings rookies

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USATI

George Hill will play a major role as he mentors Kings rookies

On draft night 2017, the Sacramento Kings tested the old proverb, “patience is a virtue.” Instead of giving up gold to move into the top three of the draft, guaranteeing a shot at selecting De’Aaron Fox, they sat back and let the talented 19-year-old point guard fall to them at the fifth pick.

They backed that selection up by drafting Frank Mason, another point guard, in the early second round. The message was clear - veterans Darren Collison and Ty Lawson were not coming back for the 2017-18 season.

It appeared that Vlade Divac and his group were ready to head into the season with rookies manning one of the most important positions on the floor, and then the team went on a July 4th spending spree. Vince Carter and Zach Randolph were added for veteran leadership at the wing and in the post and George Hill inked a three-year, $57 million deal to stabilize the backcourt.

Hill, 31, has plenty left in the tank. He spent last season with the Utah Jazz, helping the team improve from 40 wins during the 2015-16 season, to 51 wins in 2016-17. He averaged a career-best 16.9 points for coach Quin Snyder while posting 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game.

The nine-year NBA vet might not see the same type of minutes in his first season in Sacramento, but Dave Joerger is going to give plenty of time to his veterans while the young core finds its sea legs.

Sacramento is very high on Fox. They also know that Mason can play solid minutes in year one, but Hill will play a major role while he mentors the rookies.

Both Fox and Hill can also shift to the shooting guard position for short stints and play alongside each other. The Kings already have plenty of bodies at the two, but Fox’s development will be a high priority as they groom him for the seasons to come.

On the downside, Hill has missed plenty of games over his career, including 33 last season due to toe and groin issues. He’s never played a full 82 games, but in this scenario, that might not be a negative.

Sacramento hedged their bet with Hill, giving themselves a $1 million buyout for year three of the deal. If Fox is ready to take over full-time or Hill begins to decline as a player, the Kings can clear a mountain of cap space off the books for the summer of 2019.

For now, Hill will start at the point and act as a veteran advisor for Fox and Mason. There is no question that he knew what he was buying into when he signed his contract with the Kings. He’ll eat plenty of minutes as the rookies learn the ropes at the NBA level and then he will pass the torch when the time is right.

The Kings have talent, depth and a future at point guard. Minutes will be earned, not handed out, which is the way it should be.

Patience needed for young and inexperienced Kings

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AP

Patience needed for young and inexperienced Kings

The Sacramento Kings are attempting to do something rarely seen in the NBA. They’ve paired four first round selections from the 2016 NBA Draft with another five rookies for the 2017-18 season. They’ll open the season with nine players with one year of NBA experience or less and three others with two years in the league or fewer if you include two-way contracts.

Veterans Vince Carter (40), Zach Randolph (36), George Hill (31), Garrett Temple (31) and Kosta Koufos (28) push the average age of the Kings to 26.1. According to RealGM, they’ll enter the 2017-18 season tied for the 15th youngest roster in the league.

If you remove the veterans, the Kings youthful core averages less than 22 years of age. But age doesn’t tell the entire story.

Entering his third NBA season, Willie Cauley-Stein has seen action in 141 of a possible 164 games. On the current roster, he might as well get lumped in with the veterans.

Buddy Hield donned a Kings uniform for 25 games last season after coming over in a midseason trade from the New Orleans Pelicans. He played 82 games in total between the two clubs, which is five more combined contests than his fellow 2016 draft mates Skal Labissiere (33 games), Georgios Papagiannis (22 games) and Malachi Richardson (22 games) played in.

Sacramento selected three first rounders in the 2017 NBA Draft, including De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. They also landed point guard Frank Mason III with an early second round pick and convinced 25-year-old former first rounder Bogdan Bogdanovic to leave the European game behind and join the club.

Without bringing two-way players Jack Cooley (16 games) and JaKarr Sampson (147 games) into the discussion, the Kings have a major experience issue. They’ll walk into the season with 10 players having a combined 300 games of NBA experience and 223 of those games were played by Cauley-Stein and Hield.  

Sacramento’s veteran group has appeared in 3718 regular season contests. Dave Joerger will have no choice but to turn to the group for plenty of minutes as the Kings’ young players learn on the fly.

Patience is necessary. Vlade Divac and his team have assembled a lot of talent, but they will need time to develop. Joerger has a strong staff in place, including Elston Turner, Bryan Gates, Duane Ticknor, Bob Thornton, Jason March and Larry Lewis. Phil Ricci was also added to the staff as a player development coach this season with the influx of young players.

Even with an expanded staff, there is no way Joerger can fit all 10 of his youngsters into the rotation. They’ll need playing time to develop and there is a good chance that some of these freshman and sophomore players will spend time with Darrick Martin and the Reno Bighorns.