Kings dominate Wizards in 4th, snap losing streak

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Kings dominate Wizards in 4th, snap losing streak

BOX SCORE
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With the pace off the charts and players driving to the basket at will, the first half of Wednesday night's game between the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards looked like an All-Star game preview - minus the All-Stars.Then a few things happened that weren't All-Star-like at all: The Kings started playing some defense, DeMarcus Cousins made the unselfish decision to keep himself on the bench, and the coach of the losing team angrily ripped his players for pursuing "style over substance."Cousins and Tyreke Evans sat the entire fourth quarter while Marcus Thornton, rookie Isaiah Thomas and Chuck Hayes took over, leading Sacramento to a 115-107 win that snapped a six-game losing streak."I was getting ready to put Cousins back in," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "And he said Let Chuck Hayes stay in the game.' That's gigantic for him. Tyreke Evans had a fabulous first half, came out of the game, didn't play in the fourth quarter and simply cheered his teammates on."That's the growth I'm trying for our team to have if we're ever going to have a chance to be good and turn our franchise around."It made for an interesting set of numbers as the game progressed. Evans scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half, and Cousins had 14 of his 16 before halftime as well as 10 of his 16 rebounds. Meanwhile, Thornton scored 18 of his 22 in the second half, and Thomas had 16 of his 18 in the final two quarters. Hayes finished with six points - all in the final 6 12 minutes."Chuck was doing an incredible job out there on the floor," Cousins said. "The group that was out there was going well, so there was no need for me to go in and change it."Right now, it's hard to imagine such examples of team play coming from the Wizards, who made 6-of-16 shots in the fourth quarter. Washington has lost four straight and enters the All-Star break 19 games under .500."Until our team is committed to playing winning basketball - until they're committed to doing that - we're going to be like this team was tonight," coach Randy Wittman said. "There wasn't anything done in that second half to win that game."I know the term has been used - style over substance. We got a guy going in for a layup and does a reverse 360 and misses the whole thing. Crowd oohed and aahed. We didn't get any points out of it. Until we're committed to making winning basketball plays the whole game, it's going to look like that."He kept going, referencing the Wizards' 14 second-half turnovers."Why did we have those turnovers? When I'm double-teamed, I continue to try to do something against the double team," Wittman said. "You're going to turn it over, plain and simple."The player guilty of the failed 360 move was Nick Young, who was 6 of 23 and scored 17 points."I was the only one who did it. I did that in the past. If I make it, everybody's on my side," Young said. "If I miss it, then it's a bad shot. ... I didn't know I had that many shots. I was just trying to get things going for my teammates. They brought me here for that and that's one of the parts of my game."Jordan Crawford scored a season-high 32 points, and John Wall had 21 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for the Wizards."In that second half, we became selfish and didn't play team defense," Wall said, "and they picked us apart."The Kings said pretty much the same thing about themselves in the first half as the Wizards piled up 68 points at halftime, the most Washington has scored in any half this season. Neither of these losing teams will have a player in the All-Star game in Orlando on Sunday - the only representatives will be former Kentucky teammates Cousins and Wall in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday - but that didn't keep both sides from getting in the spirit of fast-paced runs that met little resistance."There was no defense out there," Cousins said. "It was terrible."The game included 58 fast break points and 102 points in the paint. The Kings led 104-103 with 3:44 to play, but Thomas scored the next basket to start a game-ending 11-4 run as Sacramento matched its highest point total of the season.Thomas made 8 of his last 12 shots and has scored 78 points since taking the starting point guard spot four games ago, tying Otis Birdsong (1977) for the most points scored by a Kings rookie in his first four starts.The win also gave the Kings an upbeat ending to their six-game road trip."It was important for us to get a win and go home over this break," Smart said, "and not have to come back with all the world on our shoulders."Notes: In this lockout-shortened season, both the Kings (11-22) and Wizards (7-26) hit the break exactly halfway through their 66-game respective schedules. Sacramento improved to 4-17 on the road; Washington fell to 4-13 at home. ... The Wizards had won six in a row at home against the Kings. ... Washington F Jan Vesely was not on the bench at the start of the game because of a stomach virus, but he played in the second half. ... Sacramento F-G John Salmons missed his second straight game with a sore right hip. ... Players have been known to check out mentally in the final game before the All-Star vacation, and both coaches addressed it before the game. "I've been around it when I look in the tunnel and the limos are already there - ready to go to the next spot," Smart said.

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

Fultz a perfect fit, but do Kings have assets required to trade up?

It’s lonely at the top, which is where Markelle Fultz sits on almost every 2017 NBA Draft board. The Brooklyn Nets should be set for the next decade with a big time scoring point guard. Instead, it’s the Boston Celtics who have no choice but to take Fultz with the No. 1 overall selection after a savvy trade that sent veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets for a stack of picks and players back in 2013.

Fultz can do it all. He’s deadly from the outside, he can take you off the bounce and he has elite passing skills to boot. In a draft packed with star potential, specifically at the point guard position, the freshman from Washington stands out well above the rest.  

It would take a major shake up at the top for Fultz not to have his name called first on draft night, but there are plenty of very talented players sitting on the board behind him. Here is a deeper look at the potential top overall selection.

The Positives:
Fultz has tremendous size, length and athleticism for an NBA point guard. He measured in at 6-foot-5, 195-pounds with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and has a frame built to take on muscle. At just 19-years-old, he is already well defined physically and has plenty of room to grow and get stronger.

A crafty, high-end scorer, Fultz changes speed and direction well and has an advanced Euro-step for a young player. He averaged 23.2 points in 35.7 minutes a night for the Huskies while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three. He can score from all three levels, finish well above the rim and play through contact.

In his lone season in college, Fultz showed that he is not only a legitimate scoring threat, but he is a willing passer and an unselfish teammate. While Lonzo Ball is considered the true pass first point guard of the draft, Fultz had a higher assist rate (35.5 to 31.5) and lower turnover rate (13.4 to 18.2) than the star guard from UCLA.

Fultz rebounds well for his position, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game at Washington. He also has potential as a defender, posting 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, although he is a work in progress on that end of the floor.

Known as a high-character kid and tireless worker off the court, Fultz has the entire package. He can also play the lead or shooting guard spot, which will come in handy if the Celtics decide to pair him with All-Star Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt.

The Negatives:
9-16 is a concern. Great college players should be able to will their team to victory, even if the talent around them is suspect. Washington was certainly worse off without Fultz down the stretch, losing their last six while he sat with a knee injury.

Shot selection and sloppy ball handling was also an issue this season. In Fultz’ defense, he played with a group that lacked overall talent and those issues might eventually disappear when he’s added to a roster that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.  

Fultz is a quality chase down defender, but he fell asleep on plenty of plays or didn’t show a consistent fight on the defensive end. Lack of focus allowed for plenty of back cuts. He also showed an inconsistent effort fighting through screens.

He’s a work in progress on the defensive end, like most young players coming into the league. Most of these issues can easily be coached out of him at the next level.

Projection:
Fultz has an advanced feel and tons of room to expand his game. On the court, he resembles another former Husky in Brandon Roy. Fultz is much further along than Roy was at the same age, but possesses both the ability to score from anywhere on the court, as well as rebound and set up his teammates.  

It’s hard to imagine the Celtics passing on Fultz with the top overall selection, but if they do, teams will scramble trying to move up to select him. He would fit perfectly in the Kings starting backcourt alongside sophomore Buddy Hield, but Sacramento lacks the assets to move from five to one, Fultz’ likely landing spot.

 

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

The Sacramento Kings walk into the 2017 offseason with gaping holes in their roster. Free agency will play a role, but before they get to spending their $60-plus million in cap space, Vlade Divac, Scott Perry, Ken Catanella and the rest of the front office will try to fill some of their needs via the draft.

While the first batch of draft prospects rolled through Sacramento late last week, Vlade Divac, along with European scout Predrag Drobnjak spent the weekend in Istanbul, Turkey at the European Championships. Sharpshooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led Fenerbahçe to its first title, further building the hype around one of Europe’s best young stars.

Divac acquired the rights to Bogdanovic in a draft day trade last summer when the 6-foot-6 Serbian was tossed in along with picks 13 and 28 for the 9th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Divac would love to entice the 24-year-old wing to play in the NBA next season.

Even if Bogdanovic buys in, the Kings need more.

Both Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are unrestricted free agents, leaving Langston Galloway as the only point guard on the roster. Rudy Gay has already informed the team that he intends to opt out of his $14.3 million player option for next season, opening a massive need at the small forward position.

The needs are clear. Sacramento has to find a point guard and small forward of the future. They also need a point guard and a small forward of the right now. If a player fits both now and in the future, so be it.

Lady luck shined brightly on the Kings during the draft lottery. A move from No. 8 to No. 3 would have guaranteed a point guard, but a pick swap to No. 5 still has Sacramento in the running to fill one of their biggest voids.

While plenty of mock drafts have a variety of players in the top five of the 2017 NBA Draft, there is a clear group that Sacramento will likely focus on. Barring a major trade, point guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington is projected to go with the first overall selection, but then it’s wide open how the next four picks will unfold.

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is projected to go to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 in most mocks, but nothing is a sure bet. Small forwards Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are top five selections as well, while Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is an early draft climber.

Sacramento would love nothing more than to see Fox sitting on the board when they select at five. He’s slight of build, but the 6-foot-3 speedster is a high character player with tons of potential. He would step in and instantly compete for a starting job with the Kings’ young core.

There are concerns that Fox won’t make it to five and the Kings have a few options if they want to move up, but the real question is, should they?

If Fox is gone, Sacramento will still have a player on the board at a position of need. Be it Ball, Jackson or Tatum, the talent pool is rich. Finding a floor general is important, but finding a star should be the top priority. All five have potential to become more than just a starter in the league and all five fit one of the team’s two most glaring weaknesses on the current roster.

Drafting either Jackson or Tatum would instantly bump the talent level of the team. Both are considered top tier prospects and for Sacramento, likely starters on Day 1.

Jackson is a catalyst type player and personality that brings energy, as well as a tremendous skill set. He can pass, rebound, play defense at a high level and score above the rim. He’ll be an instant fan favorite wherever he lands.

Tatum has potential as a two-way player, but his offensive game should instantly translate to the NBA level. A polished scorer, Tatum would step in and give the Kings a scoring option to fill the shoes of Gay, who is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Top 10 has plenty of other high end prospects. Sacramento could chase a shooting big in Lauri Markkanen. The 7-footer out of Arizona would help to stretch the floor at the four, but their other needs are more obvious.

Fox’s backcourt mate at Kentucky, Malik Monk, is also an intriguing player, but with Buddy Hield, Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson and the potential for Bogdanovic to join the team, the Kings are heavy at the shooting guard spot.

Point guard Dennis Smith has a high ceiling and would likely challenge for top five consideration if it wasn’t for a torn ACL in high school and some questions about his attitude.

If Sacramento selects a small forward with the fifth pick and Smith was still available when they choose again at No. 10, he becomes a lower risk proposition the Kings might have to consider.

Point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France would fit the bill as well in the right situation. If the Kings land Jackson or Tatum at five, they could come back with Ntilikina at 10. He’s young and inexperienced, but he also stands at 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan. His defensive potential at the point is tremendous, but he is a project on the offensive end, not a polished player like the four point guards expected to go ahead of him in the draft.

Combo forward Jonathan Isaac is an appealing prospect, but he’ll need plenty of time to develop and he’s a better target if he somehow slips to 10. Like Smith and Ntilikina, this would be a nice addition if the Kings fill their other need with the fifth overall selection.

Regardless of how they got to No.’s 5 and 10, the Kings are in a good spot. They have options and plenty of players at positions of need and there is potential to land a future star. Once the draft rolls around on June 22, the focus will quickly shift to shoring up the remainder of the squad. With two high picks, the potential addition of Bogdanovic and plenty of cap space, the Kings are primed for a big time roster overhaul this summer.