Arguably the most difficult task for any NBA General Manager is evaluating amateur talent. Teams of scouts and analysts spend yearlong evaluating thousands of players, looking for possible draft gems and distancing from potential draft busts. In what is a real crapshoot, for every Shaquille O’Neal and Lebron James also comes a Greg Oden and Michael Olowokandi. The twenty-nine year history of the Sacramento Kings has yielded both fruitful and disastrous first round choices for the organization. With the NBA Draft coming up, I decided to list the five best first round choices the organization has made (five worst will come next article). I have based my choices on the following factors: overall production on the team and NBA, and value for the numbered pick.
5. Brian Grant, No. 8 – 1994 In what was Geoff Petrie’s first draft as general manager, he nailed this pick. Some of you are probably scratching your heads thinking Grant left the team for a big pay in 1997 and after missing most of his last Kings season due to injury. However, next to Mitch Richmond he was a main catalyst in the Kings’ 1996 playoff berth, ending a 10 year playoff drought for Sacramento. His interior defense and scoring efficiency years throughout his career further cemented him at 5th. Overall, Grant beat out Kenny Smith, Lionel Simmons, and Tyreke Evans for this spot.
4. Kevin Martin, No. 26 – 2004 This was a classic Petrie pick: finding amazing value late in the first round. Nobody had initially heard of K-Mart coming out of Western Carolina, but the 6′ 7″ shooting guard quickly made a name for himself with his scoring prowess. By his third NBA season and first full year as starter, Martin averaged 20.2 ppg and finished second in voting for the NBA Most Improved Player Award. His next season in 2007-08 he averaged 23.7 ppg and averaged 45% from the court and 40% from three-point range. While constantly battling injury during his time with the Kings, Martin’s production for a late first round pick was beyond impressive. Martin’s most memorable moment as a King occured during this play in the first round of the 2006 playoffs:
3. Jason Williams, No. 7 – 1998 Jason Williams was one of the most popular players in NBA history. Holding the number 7 overall pick, Geoff Petrie took the gamble that the erratic, yet wildly talented J-Will could lead what would be a massively rebuilt team in the summer of 1998. His rookie year “White Chocolate” was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team with his jersey a top seller. Williams brought notoriety to small-market Sacramento and ran the point for the “Greatest Show on Court” for three straight playoff runs. In a nutshell, taking J-Will seventh was right and a smart pick to make, even yielding further success when he was traded for Mike Bibby in 2001. Click Here for my article on the Jason Williams trade.
2. Demarcus Cousins, No. 5 – 2010 Heading into the 2010 draft, the Kings had their sights set on two big men: Demarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe. When it came time to pick 5th, the organization wisely went with “Boogie.” After three years of getting by on simply talent alone under “Maloofery,” Cousins broke out in 20113-14, and cemented his status as the Kings’ franchise player. The 6-11 big man finished 9th in scoring, 5th in rebounds, 1st in steals amongst all centers, and 5th in PER (player efficiency rating). Finding any proven franchise player is a steal at pick 5, with Cousins already proving himself the best offensive center in the NBA. At 23 he can only get better and four years later this pick was a no-brainer.
1. Peja Stojakovic, No. 14 – 1996 If people hadn’t heard of K-Mart in 2004, they definitely had not heard of Predrag Stojakovic in 1996. The young Serb was making waves in Europe playing for Greek team P.A.O.K. When it came time for the Kings to make their pick at the 1996 NBA Draft, most Kings fans wanted Syracuse star John Wallace. However, Petrie’s gamble on a foreign player proved brilliant: Stojakovic had his breakthrough in 2000–01, averaging 20.4 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting .400 from three-point range in his first season as a starter. The next year he played in his first all-star game and reached career highs in shooting percentage (.484) and three-point percentage (.416). In 2003-04, he was second in the NBA in scoring with 24.2 ppg and a key component to the golden age of Kings basketball in the early 2000’s, further establishing himself as one of the greatest pure shooters in NBA history. To find all of that in the middle of draft’s first round not only makes him the greatest first round choice in Sacramento history, but also in the history of the league!
Let’s hope we can add Ben McLemore and whomever the Kings take at No.8 this year (assuming they keep their pick) to this list within the next five or so years! Be on the lookout for my next article “Worst 1st Round Draft Picks in Sacramento Kings History”!