Kings

New NCAA rules allow Kings, NBA to evaluate draft prospects early

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USATSI

New NCAA rules allow Kings, NBA to evaluate draft prospects early

SACRAMENTO -- One foot in, one foot out. It’s the new NBA draft process, and the players seem to love it.

According to new NCAA rules, undergraduate college players can hire agents and work out for NBA teams without it impacting their eligibility. The agents can pay for their travel and food for NBA workouts, and they can collect feedback from clubs before deciding whether to stay in the draft or return to school.

“It allows people like me to the opportunity to test and still have a chance to get their education if they want to go back if it’s not their time," University of Florida freshman guard Andrew Nembhard said from the Kings facility Wednesday. "It’s been great.”

Players have until May 29th to make their final decision, which can get dicey for college programs waiting to hear whether they’ll have open roster spots or not.

There is hope thatm by allowing players the opportunity to test the NBA market, potential prospects can get a better feel for their strengths and what they need to focus on moving forward before making an educated decision on their future.

“I’m very thankful, grateful for the opportunity,” Virginia big man Mamadi Diakite said. “If you look back at the time people didn’t get to do this, if you were trying to test the water, you were done, basically.

“You had no way back to college,” Diakite added. “But now we get an opportunity to come and play in a great facility like this, with Hall of Famers and go back to school with that experience, you know how much you have to work and you know your weaknesses and everything. It’s a really good process.”

With fewer and fewer players fully participating in the NBA Draft Combine, this opens the door for teams to bring in more players for individual and group workouts. Many of the players who have visited the Kings this week already have plans to go back to school and re-enter the draft next year or possibly the year after that.

“With a lot of the new rules, it was a little easier decision to make,” William and Mary center Nathan Knight said. “Just the ability to test the waters and not risk my eligibility, because school is important as well.”

These players will return to school with professional assessments from multiple clubs. It’s an experience that might even raise the level of competition at the NCAA level.

“All of these GMs, all of these coaches are wise people when it comes to the game of basketball,” Knight added. “It’s a lot to take in, so I’m just doing my best to take it all in and really just put together a really robust template of what I need to work on, where they think I could go this year and what they think I can do if I went back next year.”

The process of group workouts also allows prospects to test themselves against different competition. Twelve different schools from all over the map were represented during Wednesday’s workout in Sacramento.

“I’ve been able to get great feedback on my game and just learn from great coaches and great players and get to play against the best competition in the country,” Penn State junior forward Lamar Stevens said. “This has been great for me, just being able to go through this process the way it’s been set up.”

[RELATED: Kings will reportedly go after free agent Tobias Harris]

Sacramento will host a fourth workout this week on Thursday when UCF’s 7-foot-7 center Tacko Fall headlines another six NBA hopefuls. This is the new standard for prospect evaluation.

The Kings will make a file on every prospect who rolls through Sacramento, whether it’s for one of their three second-round selections this year, or for next summer when the process starts all over again.

What Kings have to do to erase early struggles, make NBA playoffs push

What Kings have to do to erase early struggles, make NBA playoffs push

The post mortem on the 2019-20 Kings season isn’t ready to be written just yet, but it's getting late for Luke Walton's team. After a promising season last year, the Kings come out of the All-Star break at 21-33, seven games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Injuries, bad beats, two-minute report failings and playing down to competition have turned the first two-thirds of the season into a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of year. With 28 games remaining, do the Kings still have a chance to turn the season around?

The short answer is yes, the Kings still have an opportunity to end their 13-season postseason drought. The long answer is more complex.

The Kings open their post-All-Star break schedule at home with a matchup against the Grizzlies. If they can find a way to beat an up-and-coming Memphis team, they would give themselves a glimmer of hope for the remainder of the season.

A loss would put them eight games off the pace, with a 1-2 record against Memphis. Game over.

If the Kings can get past the Grizz, they have a small window to make up ground. They travel to Los Angeles for a game against the Clippers on Friday. The last time the Kings were in Staples Center, they lit the Clippers up for a franchise-record 21 3-pointers in a 124-103 win.

After the trip to LA, the Kings continue their four-game road trip with stops in San Francisco to play the Warriors, Oklahoma City and Memphis. Sacramento is 2-0 against the Warriors and 1-1 versus both the Thunder and Grizzlies on the season.

Following the four-game road trip, the Kings return home to host the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. At the end of this eight-game stretch, the Kings either will still be breathing or their season will be over.

A 5-3 record over this grouping of games really is the worst the Kings can afford. A 4-4 stint or even a 3-5 record would be a huge blow in one of the last remaining soft spots in the schedule.

Even if the Kings make it through this stretch with a 5-3 record or better, they have a long road in front of them. They play 11 of their final 20 games at home, with eight of those games coming against clubs with a .500 or better record. Ten of those remaining games are against teams currently in the postseason picture.

The schedule is one issue, but in order for Sacramento to make up ground, they also have to pass over additional teams in the standings. The Kings trail the Phoenix Suns by a half-game, the New Orleans Pelicans by a game-and-a-half, the San Antonio Spurs by two games and the Portland Trail Blazers by three games.

In short, the Kings would need to jump over five teams in the standings over the final 28 games to make the playoffs.

The remaining strength of schedule, according to Tankathon.com, favors both the Blazers and the Pelicans in this situation.
Remaining strength of schedule (win percentage of remaining opponents):

Grizzlies            .554
Suns                  .522
Spurs                .488
Kings                 .487
Trail Blazers     .467
Pelicans            .449

Strength of schedule only is one of the issues facing the up and coming Grizzlies. Having one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, Memphis has very few players who have been in this situation before. Jonas Valanciunas has 43 career playoff games under his belt. Kyle Anderson played in 30 postseason games with the Spurs and newly acquired Gorgui Dieng has played in five. Tyus Jones (4) and Grayson Allen (2) round out the team’s total playoff experience.

If the Grizzlies fall, which is entirely possible, that still leaves a bevy of teams standing between the Kings and an elusive postseason berth.

The Blazers made it to the Western Conference finals last season, but they’ve struggled to stay healthy and build momentum all season after a series of roster moves. The Spurs are riding a 22-year postseason streak and they always seem to flourish in the window directly following the All-Star break.

The Pelicans just started integrating top pick Zion Williamson into their rotation and they are 5-5 since his arrival. Phoenix is just 3-7 over its last 10 games and their strength of schedule is difficult.

[RELATED: Buddy's Friday night out didn't slow him in 3-point contest]

Despite losing their final two games heading into the All-Star break, the Kings are 6-4 over their previous 10 games. They’re playing better basketball, keyed by the insertion of Bogdan Bogdanovic in the starting lineup, Buddy Hield finding a rhythm off the bench and the arrival of veteran Kent Bazemore.

The odds are not on the Kings' side, but if they can get healthy, integrate Jabari Parker into the rotation and get on a roll, there still is time to at least make this race interesting. It starts Thursday against the Grizzlies. If they can’t get that one, then none of this matters.

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

Ever since the Kings signed forward Nemanja Bjelica to a three-year, $20.5 million contract in the 2018 offseason, it quietly has been a great deal for Sacramento. 

Bjelica averaged career highs in points (9.6) and rebounds (5.8) for the Kings last season, and he has been ever better in Year 2 with the Kings. 

The 31-year-old is averaging 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over 54 games this season. He also is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from 3-point range, both career-bests. 

For his ability to give the Kings quality minutes at center, Bjelica landed on Zach Lowe of ESPN's latest "Ten things I like and don't like." 

"The Kings needed something to fill the void after injuries to Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes -- who had been killing it as their starter -- and whatever the hell happened with Dewayne Dedmon," Lowe wrote. "Credit Bjelica for stepping up.

Lowe notes that per Cleaning The Glass, the Kings have outscored opponents by almost 10 points per 100 possessions with Bjelica as a small-ball center. 

Holmes has missed 17 straight contests with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He attempted to return to the court last week but had a setback after one practice. Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has only played 13 games this season and isn't sure if he will suit up again this year after aggravating his sprained left foot

[RELATED: Kings' Holmes 'definitely ready to get back' after setback]

The Kings traded Dedmon back to the Atlanta Hawks months after signing him to a three-year, $40 million contract this past offseason. 

In what feels like yet another lost season in Sacramento, Bjelica has been a bright spot the Kings can count on.