What a difference a year makes.
Sacramento entered the 2018-19 season without a starting level small forward and the power spot was taken by a rookie and an unknown free-agent acquisition. Fast forward 12 months and the Kings have all kinds of options when it comes to the forward rotation.
Head coach Luke Walton has a stable of serviceable players to choose from. He also has a variety of player types, which should help him adapt his rotations to adjust to the opposition or create mismatches of his own.
Injuries play a role in every season, but the Kings are as deep and versatile at the forward position as they have been in years.
Here is a look at the group of players Walton has to work with and how he might use his players on a nightly basis.
Harrison Barnes signed a massive, 4-year, $85 million deal in the offseason and he is the long-term solution for the Kings at the starting small forward position. He came to Sacramento in a midseason move from the Dallas Mavericks where he played predominantly as a stretch four. Those skills will come in handy with Sacramento.
Marvin Bagley is the heir apparent at the power forward spot and the future is now. The No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft has star potential and he gives Walton a legitimate low post scoring option in the halfcourt offense. He’s also 20 years old and ready to take on a ton of minutes in year two.
Where Barnes can play both the three and the four, Bagley can shift between the power forward and center position. He has the height and athleticism to man the spot and would be perfect against small-ball centers.
Both of these players are primed to have major roles in the Kings’ rotation for the foreseeable future.
Bagley is the rebounder and scorer. Barnes is the shooter and defender. While they are going to take time to gel on the court, it’s not a bad starting forward combination.
Nemanja Bjelica joined the Kings at the end of the free-agent period in the summer of 2018, inking a three-year $20.5 million contract. He had played limited minutes during his time in Minnesota but instantly earned a spot in Dave Joerger’s starting lineup as a floor-spacing stretch four.
Bjelica played very well in his first season in Sacramento, but it’s clear he was just holding down the fort while Bagley got a season of experience under his belt. He averaged 9.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23.2 minutes per game last season, but nothing the only thing guaranteed in his second season in Sacramento is his salary.
General manager Vlade Divac added Trevor Ariza as part of his offseason haul this summer. The 34-year-old forward signed a 2-year, $25 million contract, although his final year, like Bjelica’s, is only partially guaranteed for next season.
Ariza struggled early last year but made an impact for the Washington Wizards after a midseason trade. In 34.1 minutes per game with the Wizards, Ariza posted 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
Both players are considered strong shooters from the perimeter, although Bjelica hit a higher percentage last season. Ariza has historically been a better defender than Bjelica and he is more versatile in a switching defense.
While the Kings advertised Bjelica as a combo forward when they signed him, Bjelica is a stretch four that could possibly even spend a few minutes at the five in smaller lineups. Ariza could steal a few minutes at the four, but his primary position is at the small forward spot.
Bjelica and Ariza player very styles, but they help space the floor for point guard De’Aaron Fox to run. They also open the key for Bagley to do damage in the post.
The Other Guys
Versatility is the name of the game with the Kings’ 2019-20 roster. They have players that can fill a variety of roles and perhaps their most versatile player is Bogdan Bogdanovic.
After blowing up in the FIBA World Cup, the third-year wing is primed to take his game to the next level. Unfortunately, the backcourt is backed with Fox, Cory Joseph and Buddy Hield all ready to play major minutes.
Walton is going to need to steal time for Bogdanovic from somewhere and it’s likely going to come at the small forward spot. That means fewer minutes for more conventional wings, but Bogdanovic is a catalyst player and the centerpiece of the second unit.
Rookie Justin James can play the two and the three, but the likelihood of him cracking the rotation this season is slim at best. He’ll have to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to arise.
Walton has all kinds of options at his two forward spots. Maybe even too many options.
Bagley and Barnes are the starters and will play a minimum of 32 minutes per game each. It’s possible Bagley can steal a few of those minutes as a small-ball five, but the center spot is jam-packed as well. Barnes will play 20-plus minutes at the three and then another 10-12 minutes at the four.
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With Hield set to play 32-34 minutes at the two, Bogdanovic will need 12-14 minutes at the three, which might leave a total of 20 minutes for Ariza and Bjelica.
Both Ariza and Bjelica bring the ability to shoot and open the offense. Ariza is a more switchable player on the defensive side of the ball.
Injuries over the course of an 82 game season will open opportunities, but Walton can’t play 11 or 12 players on a nightly basis. Someone is going to get minimal time in the rotation and have to wait for their chance to shine.