One feature I would like to post on this blog are pieces that contain highlights and some brief write-ups on former Euroleague stars that are not or barely familiar with American basketball fans. As displayed by this latest draft and free agency period, it is obvious that the influence European basketball has on the NBA (and vice versa) is greater than ever. A lot of the negative biases NBA fans, front office and media members had in the past about European players and teams has started to fade more and more each year, especially with European veteran stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker and newer stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo succeeding in the league, (and that’s just naming a few). And because of this “European Influence” the game of basketball here in America is more diverse and entertaining than ever.
However, what about the stars who never made it to the United States or the ones who only played here briefly? What about the teams who dominated the Euroleague that never got the recognition they deserved in the United States? What about the coaches who not only were successful in Europe, but also influenced the game so much that their contributions have influenced the NBA and American game?
That is what Euroleague Retro is about, and to begin the series, I am going to take a look at a dynamic point guard who just played his last season: Raul Lopez of Spain.
A brief outline of Lopez’s career
Lopez is probably one of the most dynamic point guards to ever come out of Spain. Considering that’s a category that also includes NBA players like Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio and Euroleague stars like Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio Llull, and Juan Carlos Navarro, that is quite the statement. However, Lopez’s legacy in Spain is one that should be remembered for years to come, as he helped break ground and set the mold for Spanish point guards who came, after him, especially Rodriguez, Llull and Rubio.
Lopez played nearly 19 seasons between Europe and the United States. He started out his career DKV Joventut from 1997-2000. After a breakout season with Joventut where he averaged 10.1 ppg, 2.8 apg and 23.7 mpg while shooting 51.5 percent from the field in 34 games in the ACB, he transferred to top Spanish club Real Madrid, where he played from 2000-2002. He had one of his best seasons in the Euroleague in 2000-2001 (his first Euroleague appearance) where he averaged 8.3 ppg and 3.3 apg in 13 Euroleague games with Real Madrid. After a solid first season with Los Blancos, there were a lot of high expectations for the 2001-2002 season for Lopez, but a knee injury derailed him and limited him to 4 games in the Euroleague, and only 14 games in ACB play.
Despite coming off injury, Lopez made the transition to the United States, playing for the Utah Jazz, who drafted him 24th overall in the 2001 draft. However, due to his meniscus tear in 2002 with Real Madrid, he had to sit out the entire 2002-2003 season with Utah to recover. When he did appear in the United States with the Jazz, Lopez didn’t necessarily have the same bounce and explosiveness that he displayed earlier in his career in Spain, and thus, he found it difficult to find a regular spot. His best NBA season was his debut year in 2003-2004, where he played all 82 games as a primary backup to starter Carlos Arroyo, and averaged 7 ppg and 3.7 apg while averaging 19.7 mpg.
Unfortunately, Lopez was unable to maintain that momentum and after an uneven season with Utah in 2004-2005, and being traded to Memphis and cut in the off-season, Lopez decided to end his NBA career after only playing two seasons.
After leaving the NBA, Lopez bounced around as a bit of a journeyman of sorts. He had a great comeback season in 2005-2006 with the now defunct CB Sant Josep Girona 10.2 ppg and 2.8 apg while shooting 55.5 percent from the field and averaging 24.2 mpg in 37 ACB games, which solidified that he could be an impact player again in his home continent. From there, he played three more seasons for Real Madrid from 2006-2009 before going to Russia to play for Khimki Moscow for two seasons from 2009-2011, where he served primarily as a role player (he didn’t average more than 18.4 minutes per game in his two seasons there).
Once his tenure in Moscow finished, the call to come back to Spain came in the form of him suiting up for Bilbao Basket in Basque country. Near the end of his career, Lopez finished his career on a high note, playing four seasons with Bilbao while competing in both the ACB as well as the Euroleague (2011-2012) and Eurocup (2012-2016). Though he certainly wasn’t the kind of star player with Bilbao like he was with Joventut and Real Madrid (the first time), he offered excellent shooting, some spectacular playmaking ability, and a strong veteran presence for the younger players on the club.
In 95 games of Euroleague play, Lopez averaged 7 ppg, 2.8 apg, and 1.1 apg while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. In 61 Eurocup games, he averaged 6.8 ppg, 3 apg, while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and a ridiculous 47.2 percent from three.
Why Lopez is worth remembering
Lopez was just a dynamic point guard overall. Yes, his ppg and assist numbers may make people think twice about his legacy, and he was kind of a weird hybrid between a point and a combo guard, who didn’t really focus on one thing at his position (he didn’t focus solely on scoring or passing, but tried to balance both). However, what Lopez did on the court went beyond his stats. He played with incredible creativity and panache. He displayed strong handles for a point guard his size as well as an excellent shooting stroke, especially from beyond the arc. And he paved the way for a lot of Spanish and European point guards during the mid-2000’s. He may not be a first-tier Euroleague legend in the mold of a Sarunas Jasikevicius or Drazen Petrovic, but if there are second-tier Euroleague legends who probably go unnoticed in the greater basketball community, Lopez would be on that list.
It is a shame Lopez retired, but after 19 years of basketball, it probably was his time. Spanish basketball fans, especially in Basque country, have been lucky the last four years to see a true basketball artist create on a nightly basis against ACB as well as Eurocup and Euroleague competition, and they will miss him dearly, even if he didn’t provide any big moments or championships with Bilbao. Lopez was a basketball savant, and he deserves proper recognition, regardless of how his numbers or paper profile looks.
Video Highlights of Lopez
Raul Lopez Tribute (from user Jordi Pla)
Raul Lopez: Puro Talento (from official ACB YouTube profile)
Nightly notable: Once again, Raul Lopez (from Euroleague YouTube profile)
With the 2016 NBA Draft coming up tomorrow, there has already been a lot of discussion about some of the European and International talent that can be taken in the draft. With Kristaps Porzingis having a sterling year with the New York Knicks last season, and the precedent set by European-born NBA superstars such as Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs, and Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls, demand for foreign basketball talent is higher than ever. And for good reason, as basketball development in Europe has garnered high praises for focusing on “developing” skills in their youth academies rather than trying to win games (as is the issue with the current AAU landscape), and competition both at the youth and senior levels has significantly raised internationally, especially in Europe, over the past decade or so as well. Players coming from Europe are more prepared than ever in making the adjustment across the pond and in the NBA.
Most of the talk this draft is centering on Croatian Dragan Bender, who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv this past season, and potentially could be a Top-5 pick. However, other international players of note who could be drafted include Jakob Poeltl (who played in college at Utah but is from Austria), Domantas Sabonis (who played at Gonzaga, but is from Lithuania and played in juniors with Unicaja Malaga), Timothe Luwawu (Mega Leks), Ivica Zubac (Mega Leks), Juan Hernangomez (Estudiantes) and Zhou Qi (Xinjiang in China), just to name a few. To put it quite frankly, it should be expected that at 3-5 international players could go in the first round, and perhaps 10 or more could be drafted overall in this upcoming NBA Draft.
But, I’ll take a look at who was drafted and what the outlook will be for them in the NBA on Friday, after the Draft. Today, I wanted to take a look at former international picks in the NBA Draft over the past 15 years, and whether or not they panned out. So, I’m going to break down each draft year-by-year, rating the NBA success of international players from this draft on an A-F scale. Here are a couple of key notes to keep in mind before you start reading the analysis:
Usually, my ratings are based on how many “successful” international players came from this draft. Success varies, but what I am looking for is that they played a decent amount of time in the NBA and that they had some kind of regular playing role as well. A guy who plays one year on the bench does NOT have a successful year, but if you played 3-4 years and had a regular role, then I would consider that somewhat successful. It gets a little trickier with recent draft picks, as you can’t have more than 1 year if last year was your rookie year. In that case, I project based on that year if they will qualify under those parameters.
I do not count “international guys” who played in college in the United States. The reason I disqualify them is that “international” guys who play in college can have a bit “murky” backgrounds: are they really International? Have they lived in America most of their life or just for college? There is a lot of background work that needs to be done, so in the case of this analysis, I kept it to just players who came from international club teams (though there are some exceptions, which I will explain when I get to them).
I only count players who had successful careers in the NBA, not in Europe or the Euroleague. Just to put this out there: I do not think the NBA is the only way of determining whether or not you had a successful professional basketball career. I think that success in the Euroleague is worthwhile on its own, and some players, especially European-born ones, are simply better fits in the European game than the NBA. That being said, this analysis focuses on NBA success, not professional success in general. So, I do not list players who were drafted that had good European club success, but not NBA success. If that was the case, I would have to find American talent who did the same, and that is a post for another day.
Grades go as follows in number of players successful from each class, though pluses/minuses are given out in discretion depending on how successful the talent was: F (0-1), D (2-3), C (3-4), B (4-6), A (5-7).
Okay, with those parameters being set, let’s take a look at each draft.
Successful players drafted: Pau Gasol, Vladimir Radmanovic, Tony Parker, Mehmet Okur.
Notable ones drafted: Raul Lopez.
Reasoning: It technically falls in C category in number, but the quality of these four guys push it up to a B. Gasol and Parker have Hall of Fame cases, and Mehmet Okur was an All-Star with the Jazz and won a title with Detroit Pistons. Vladimir Radmanovic also had a long career that involved stints with the Seattle Supersonics, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. Even Raul Lopez, who didn’t make the cut in the “successful” criteria, played a couple of years in Utah and ended up having a good career in Europe in the ACB. Solid class, but the low number prevents it from being better than a 85 percent class.
Successful players drafted: Yao Ming, Nene, Nenad Krstic, Luis Scola.
Notable players drafted: Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Bostjan Nachbar, Jiri Welsch, Juan Carlos Navarro.
Reasoning: Same amount of players as 2001, but the busts color this class unfortunately. Tskitishvili is the poster child for any ignorant NBA fan when it comes to not drafting European players. (“Rabble…Rabble…they could be that Tskitish-vil-guy again! Europeans players can’t play in the NBA! AMURICA!! VOTE TRUMP! DURRR!) Nachbar and Welsch were first round picks who didn’t pan out, and Navarro left after only one season in Memphis. It’s sad that this class is known for the busts because Yao was on pace to be a hall of fame player until injuries derailed his career, Krstic had some good moments with the Thunder and Nets, and Scola and Nene are still playing key roles with the Raptors and Wizards, respectively. But like I said, you can’t mention international players in the draft without someone mentioning Nikoloz and that’s what keeps this class in the C-range.
Reasoning: Unlike the previous two drafts, there are no superstars here like Pau or Yao. However, six players ended up having pretty good careers as role players, with three (Diaw, Barbosa and Pachulia) having major roles with their NBA squads. There is something to that, and that should not go unnoticed. Much like 2002 though, this international class is forever tainted by Darko, who failed to live up to expectations in a draft class that also included Lebron, Carmelo, Bosh and Wade. So, you can’t rate a class an A with Darko in it, but I think this class gets less love than it deserves because of the amount of good role players it produced. Another notable pick was Big Sofos in the second round, though he never did arrive to the States.
Successful players drafted: Andris Biedrins, Sasha Vujacic, Beno Udrih, Anderson Varejao.
Notable players drafted: Pavel Podkolzin, Victor Khryapa, Sergei Monia, PJ Ramos, Ha Seung-Jin, Vassilis Spanoulis, Sergei Karaulov
Reasoning: Not a great class, with Varejao probably the best of the bunch. A lot of weird draft picks who didn’t turn out. There were four Russian players picked in this draft and with the exception of a cup of coffee from Khryapa in Portland, they didn’t have much impact in the NBA at all. Also, Ramos from Puerto Rico and Seung-Jin from Korea, represented countries in the draft for the first time in the modern era in 2004, though they hardly had any impact in the NBA. And lastly, Spanoulis is represented here, but like Big Sofos, he never made it to the States.
Successful players drafted: Ian Mahinmi, Ersan Ilyasova, Marcin Gortat
Notable players drafted: Fran Vazquez, Yaroslev Korolev, Johan Petro, Roko Ukic, Martynas Andriuskevicius, Mickael Gelabale
Reasoning: I like the players in this class a little better than 2004, but only 3 came out with really successful careers. Much to their credit, they are still continuing their careers, but neither of these guys have had real major impact, though Ilyasova and Gortat have flirted with being breakout players. Notable ones include Vazquez and Korolev who teased teams for years in terms of “when” they were coming over, only to stay in Europe on an annual basis. Petro and Gelabale are French nationals who played together briefly with the Sonics, and Petro had the honor of a fantastic Kevin Calabro “Sacre Bleu!” call whenever Petro dunked.
Reasoning: Bragnani has had an okay NBA career, but he was the No. 1 pick and hasn’t lived up to that expectation in the slightest. If he went 3 or 4, he probably would rate a bit higher with me, not to mention general NBA fans. Sergio had some flashes of a good NBA career, but it was hardly complete, and it was a real challenge for me to put him in the “successful” NBA career category. Sefolosha is the only the carries much salt for this class, but he is a defensive-oriented player, not exactly one you want representing you as the “poster child” of this NBA class. Even the notable players drafted fail the enthuse, with Pecherov and Freeland both having mediocre NBA careers before heading back to Europe.
Reasoning: Yi was a bust sure, but it’s not as bad as the 2002 busts, which helps it get the B- rating. Gasol is an All-Star and Franchise player which helps carry this class, and Belinelli and Splitter have been excellent role players in the NBA. Fernandez plays in Spain currently, but I think he had a good NBA career, and probably could still be playing in the NBA if he truly wanted to (better pay and more glory in the ACB). Even Fesenko had some good moments with the Utah Jazz as a backup center to Carlos Boozer. Not an awesome class, but not bad either.
Successful players drafted: Danilo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka, Nic Batum, Alexis Ajinca, Nikola Pekovic, Omer Asik, Goran Dragic
Notable players drafted: Nathan Jawai, Ante Tomic, Semih Erden
Reasoning: Great combination of quantity and quality here. Ibaka, Dragic and Batum are high level players who will start on any NBA roster, and could be anywhere from the 2nd to 3rd best player depending on where they go. Gallinari is in the same boat, and has carried the Nuggets at times throughout his career, and Asik is one of the most valued post players in the game due to his physicality and skills around the basket. Ajinca has come back strong in the NBA after a brief stint in France midway through his career, and Pekovic, though probably near the end of his ropes in the NBA, put up some solid seasons with the Timberwolves. Very good depth, very good class, probably the best in the past 15.
Successful players drafted: Ricky Rubio, Omri Casspi, Jonas Jerebko.
Notable players drafted: Victor Claver, Rodrigue Beabouis, Christian Eyenga, Sergio Llull, Nando de Colo, Emir Preldzic, Nick Calathes
Reasoning: Rubio is a NBA starting point guard and continually getting better and Casspi and Jerebko have revitalized themselves in the NBA as streaky off-the-bench gunners. But not a lot of depth here keeps them dead set at a C rating. That being said, amazing how many current Euroleague studs came from this class. Former Euroleague MVPs Llull and de Colo stand out the most from this draft as major Euroleague success stories with Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow, respectively.
Notable players drafted: Tibor Pleiss, Ryan Richards, Pape Sy, Nemanja Bjelica
Reasoning: Kevin Seraphin is your class’ most successful draft pick. Yikes (nothing against Seraphin of course). To be frank though, not a lot of international players were drafted though, as John Calipari’s Kentucky squad (John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton and Patrick Patterson) seemed to flood the draft along with a lot of one and done college talents this year. Tibor Pleiss and Nemanja Bjelica saw some time in Utah and Minnesota respectively, but I do not see them being in the NBA much longer.
Successful players drafted: Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Donatas Motiejunas, Nikola Mirotic, Bojan Bogdanovic
Notable players drafted: Jan Vesely, Davis Bertans, Tanguy Ngombo, Ater Majok, Adam Hanga
Reasoning: Some very, very good big international men came from this draft. Every successful player listed above plays a major role for their team, and is one of the better paid post players in the league (with Biyombo due for a bigger paycheck after his sterling performance in the playoffs). I counted Kanter in this category because he never played a game for Kentucky, and I think his time with Fenerbahce helped him more than his time with Calipari. Bogdanovic is a nice stretch big who is coming off his best season in New Jersey after averaging 11.2 ppg, and he could be primed for a big season as he enters the last year of his three-year deal with Brooklyn. Another aspect that puts this class in the A range is the fact that Bertans and Hanga, both of Baskonia, could be making their way to San Antonio this year, and thus enhance this class even more. Even Vesely, considered a NBA bust, has rebounded his professional career with Fenerbahce, as he led them to two straight Final Fours and a second place finish in the Euroleague last year, and also made the All Euroleague First Team as well.
Notable players drafted: Tomas Satoransky, Jeff Taylor, Ognjen Kuzmic, Furkan Aldemir, Tornike Shengelia, Tomislav Zubcic, Ilkan Karaman
Reasoning: I like Fournier, but that was it. He didn’t go until 20 and no other international player went in the first round. Some interesting talent taken in this draft, especially Satoranasky who is carving out a good career with Barcelona in Spain. But yeah, not a lot to really get excited about internationally from this class.
Notable players drafted: Lucas Nogueira, Sergey Karasev, Livio Jean-Charles, Nemanja Nedovic, Alex Abrines, Marko Todorovic, Bojan Dubljevic, Jannis Timma
Reasoning: It is looking more and more that two best players from this draft will be the “Greek Freak” and “Stifle Tower”, who have long-term All-Star potential. Schroder probably is in the Top-10 currently of players from this draft, with potential to be a Top-5 players from this draft if he inherits the starting position from Jeff Teague (whom the Atlanta Hawks seem to be shopping around this off-season) next year. And Raul Neto started more than half the games this year for the Jazz and at the very least looks to be a serviceable back up point guard if his shooting doesn’t come around. What helps boost this class too is the potential of Nogueira who could be better next year with another year of experience and more opportunity (he has mostly played in the D-League). I also like Alex Abrines, a Euroleague Rising Star this season, who is coming off his best season for Barcelona this season. At 22 years old, I would not be shocked to see him explore a NBA opportunity within the next few years.
Reasoning: A whole lot of potential here, but still relatively unproven. Capela and Jokic had good seasons last year, but they have to display that they can do it on an annual basis. Nurkic and Exum had injuries derail their seasons last year after promising rookie campaigns, but they seem young and early enough in in their careers to recover. Saric will be making his much anticipated debut in Philadelphia this year for the Sixers, and Inglis and Taveras might see more time in the NBA next year after mostly languishing in the D-League over the past couple of seasons. Thus, this class could either be pretty good or pretty bad, it’s too early to tell at this point. Nonetheless, I like its potential, and give it a B- rating for that, as well as for solid Euroleague stars like Bogdanovic of Fenerbahce, Gentile of EA7 Milan and Dangubic of Crvena Zvezda.
Successful draft picks: Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja
Notable draft picks: Nikola Milutinov, Willy Hernangomez, Juan Pablo Vaulet, Arturas Gudaitis, Dimitrios Agravanis, Luka Mitrovic.
Reasoning: Porzingis obviously captured the basketball world by storm, and was the second-best rookie of this latest draft class behind Karl Anthony Towns. Hezonja struggled to find minutes in his rookie year, but with Frank Vogel now in charge, he will have a better shot to see time on the court (Scott Skiles notoriously did not like playing rookies or young guys). I think Mitrovic and Hernangomez have potential to make it to the NBA, but they still are 2-3 years away, and need to get stronger if they want to make that adjustment.
“I wonder if the NBA will ever come back to Kansas City…”
During the first month in my move to Kansas City, I went to a bar nearby in Kansas City, Kansas called “Chicago’s“. It was a small bar that just served alcohol, no food (as typical with most bars in the Strawberry Hill area), and was mostly frequented by alums of Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, one of the oldest Catholic high schools in the State of Kansas. At the bar, I got into a conversation with somebody who was a heavy NBA and Oklahoma City Thunder fan (weird for me because I went to Gonzaga and most fans were Sonics fans and the Thunder brought up so many bad memories for them), and he said the quote above, and followed up with positive affirmation that it was going to happen soon in the near future.
“We built the Sprint Center, it’s a NBA-style arena. The downtown area, though not my thing, can attract people before and after games. It’s a sure thing man. They have to bring a NBA team back to Kansas City!”
Back then and to this day, I do agree with him in some regards. The Sprint Center is an arena that can adequately host a NBA franchise (or NHL franchise, should Kansas City ever want one) and is a considerable upgrade over the Kings’ former home, Kemper Arena. The Power and Light District is a good venue for NBA fans to get a bite before weekday games and a drink after them. And with the opening of the KC Streetcar, there is an avenue of public transportation that could ease game day parking anxiety for fans. If there ever was a time for Kansas City to acquire a NBA franchise, the next few years would be it.
However, I do not remain hopeful a NBA franchise will come back to Kansas City, even though I did buy this Charlie Hustle shirt a couple of days ago. For starters, the NBA is probably doing as well as it ever has in its organizational history. The game is slowly becoming the most global sport in the world, especially with FIFA and soccer having all kinds of organizational issues. NBA superstars are becoming household names, and their popularity and imprint on social media and the web has made the league more accessible to fans than other professional sports like the NFL and MLB which seem like “Insiders-only” clubs. (Though the NFL is a lot worse than MLB). And teams are playing good basketball, much better than the college variety that is being seen today. The Warriors clearly are one of the NBA’s best teams, but if you look around the league, there is growing parity, as multiple different teams have made the playoffs within the past five years. Competitively, the NBA is as good as it has ever been, and that has made it a hot ticket with not only passionate basketball fans, but casual fans who are looking for sporting excitement during the Winter and Spring months.
But, with all that being said, these factors hurt the prospect of a NBA franchise coming to Kansas City. With the game being better than ever, franchises are less likely to sell or move from their current locations. As of this moment, every NBA franchise seems to be on solid footing in their current location, and with revenue in the league getting higher and higher each year, NBA owners would be foolish to move during such a renaissance in the league’s history. And with that being said, expansion doesn’t look to be the best idea for the league either. There is a considerable diversity and depth of talent in the league, as each NBA team has a marketable Superstar they can build their franchise around. (With the exception of maybe the 76ers…but hey, maybe Dario Saric and Ben Simmons can reverse that trend!) Expansion would only dilute the talent pool in the league, and make the league less competitive, which wouldn’t help the national or global imprint the league currently has.
This was evident back in 1995, when the league expanded to 30 teams with the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. The league really didn’t have enough talent, and though the Raptors were able to climb toward respectability eventually, the Grizzlies struggled to find talent, and this inevitably led to their move to Memphis, as they could not generate enough fan interest to support their lackluster on-court product. If the league were to expand to two more teams, the same issue would rear its ugly hand, and it could be decades before the league adequately recovers competitively (the late 90’s and early 2000’s saw a lot of competitive imbalance due to expansion).
And lastly, there are other cities they right now would be more attractive sites for the NBA than Kansas City, as painful as that it is to write. Seattle is the front runner for relocation and expansion as they have the right figurehead (Chris Hansen) and fan base to attract a NBA franchise. Other cities like Anaheim (which almost got the Kings before the Maloofs decided at the last minute not to sell), and possibly Vancouver (with basketball now more popular than ever in Canada, the idea of a second franchise again in Vancouver makes sense; David Stern, in one of his last years as commissioner, also remarked that moving the franchise out of Vancouver was one of his biggest regrets). So, Kansas City isn’t exactly top on the queue of possible “relocation” or “expansion” spots, and that should deter any NBA fan in Kansas City of dreaming about the possibility of professional basketball being resurrected in Kansas City in the near or even distant future. Yes, Kansas City has the resources, but it may just be that the NBA and Kansas City will never be the right fit, which is unfortunate as Kansas City is becoming one of the more landmark and major cities in the Midwest, and it could expand the game’s popularity in the “Heart of America”.
That being said, even though the future for the NBA in Kansas City looks bleak, there is a rich NBA tradition in the city as one of the major franchises during the 70’s and 80’s. And one of the cooler things that happened in their history was their “joint-city” franchise from 1972-1975 when the Kings were known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. So, let’s take a brief look back at the history of this franchise when they were truly the “Heartland’s” NBA franchise.
The Kings franchise began in 1948-1949 as the Rochester Royals out of Rochester, New York. In just the franchise’s third year of existence, the Royals won the NBA Championship in 1951, which has been the only championship in franchise history. In 1956, the Royals moved to Cincinnati where they became the Cincinnati Royals. During their 15-year run, the franchise was mostly led by former Bearcat and future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who averaged 29.3 ppg, 10.3 apg and 8.5 rpg in his 10 seasons with the Royals from 1960-1970 (he finished his last four seasons in Milwaukee). The franchise in Cincinnati experienced some success, as they made the playoffs six straight seasons from 196-1967 during the peak of Robertson’s career. However, they never made it past the conference finals, and after Robertson went to Milwaukee, the Royals suffered a couple of miserable seasons before they decided to move further west to Kansas City.
Because of the baseball team already being the Royals, the NBA team renamed their franchise the Kings in their move to heart of the Midwest. Originally, the Kings were supposed to play in three locations: Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis. However, the plans for St. Louis fell apart shortly before the 1972-1973 season their first year in Kansas City and Omaha. The Kings split their games during their first two seasons between Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City and the Omaha Civic Auditorium. While a classic arena, Municipal, even at the time, was hardly a NBA venue, as it only seated 7,316 people for games (nearly 2,000 less than the Omaha Civic Auditorium).
Now to people nowadays, the idea of a split-city franchise seems unheard of. With how big public funding is with arenas, and how much economic impact a NBA franchise has on a city, today, such a thing wouldn’t exist. Cities invest too much in their sport franchises to “share” with another city, and the splitting of revenue from merchandise and taxes would be an accounting nightmare. However, back in the day, when the NBA was still trying to compete with college basketball for fans and revenue, this was a lot more common, though in more minor instances. For example, the Boston Celtics used to regularly play games in Hartford, Connecticut (to reiterate the Celtics’ legacy as “New England’s Team”), and the Clippers used to split their home games between Los Angeles and Anaheim (the Clippers toyed with moving permanently to Orange County for a while as their Anaheim crowds consistently outdrew their Los Angeles ones). Even the Golden State Warriors are called “Golden State” for a reason, as they originally were going to split their home games between Oakland and San Diego after they moved from San Francisco (though they ditched this idea before even implementing it and simply made Oakland their exclusive home).
That being said, Kansas City-Omaha was really the only NBA franchise that had the two city identity, even if it only lasted for a few years. And to be honest, the idea really was a smart one. With Kansas City and Omaha being both border cities, the Kings were not just catering to two cities (like in the Clippers’ situation) or even two states (like the Celtics), but rather four states (Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa). By being in Kansas City AND Omaha, the Kings really were trying to be the Midwest’s NBA team, and even though it was short-lived, the three years undoubtedly had some kind of impact in generating NBA fan interest in communities where the NBA, let alone basketball in general, is not necessarily enticing or a priority.
(And another underrated contribution: the Kings in Kansas City-Omaha introduced the name underneath the number, as seen below; even to this day, the Kansas City Omaha Kings jerseys stand the test of time in terms of their aesthetic value)
The Kansas City-Omaha Kings struggled in their first two years, finishing 36-46 under head coach and former Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy, and then 33-49 in a year where the franchise saw three different head coaches. Cousy stepped down after a 6-14 start, they had 4 games led by interim coach Draff Young (which they lost all 4), and then the year was finished by Phil Johnson, who went a respectable 27-31 for the remainder of the year.
In Johnson’s first full season though, the Kings tasted their first morsel of success in the Midwest. In Kansas City, the Kings went from playing at the old Municipal to the newly opened Kemper Arena, state of the art at the time, and a much bigger venue than either Municipal or the Civic Auditorium in Omaha (Kemper sat 16,785 people). Because of access to this new arena in the West Bottoms, the Kings only played 11 games in Omaha during the 1974-1975 season, a significant downgrade from the previous two years, and a sign of things to come: the Kings decided to play solely in Kansas City and dropped the “Omaha” from their name the next season.
But in their last year as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, they went 44-38 and made the playoffs, where they matched up against Bob Love, Jerry Sloan and the Chicago Bulls, whom they lost to in 6 games. However, it was the first winning record for the Kings in their history in Kansas City/Omaha area, and it set the wheels in motion for what would be more lasting on court success in Kansas City in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
The Kings had some good players during their run in Kansas City and Omaha. They had Jimmy Walker, who was a standout at Providence College and Sam Lacey, a double-double machine in the post for the Kings. Also, in 1974-1975, they had two future NBA coaches on the team in Rick Adelman, who eventually would coach the Kings to their most successful period in franchise history in Sacramento, and Mike D’Antoni, the architect of the “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns.
Archibald was originally drafted in 1970 in the second round when the Kings were still the Royals in Cincinnati in 1970 out of the University of Texas El-Paso (which was formerly Texas Western, which was profiled in the film “Glory Road”). Archibald was a New York streetball legend who made his name on the playgrounds throughout the city, especially in the South Bronx. Unlike some high school players out of New York, Archibald’s high school accomplishments did not match his playground ones, as he only played one and a half-years of basketball at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, and nearly dropped out of high school completely due to truancy. However, despite getting cut as a sophomore from the varsity team, Archibald eventually became a team captain and All-City player, though his poor academic performance during his early high school years ended up hurting him from getting more major college offers.
Tiny was the epitome of the “streetball” city player, as he was known for his strong dribbling ability and toughness on the court despite his size, and one had to wonder how he would mesh in the middle of the country where there were more farms and corn than concrete and basketball playgrounds. He didn’t have any local ties to any of the colleges (like Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa, Iowa State, or Nebraska), which is how many expansion franchises cater to local fanbases. However, Archibald played some of his best basketball in Kansas City, especially during the franchise’s time in Kansas City and Omaha, and Kings fans seemed to endear to him, despite his unfamiliarity to them, since day one.
In his first season as a Kansas City-Omaha King, Archibald proved he was one of the league’s superstars, which helped put the Kings, (and consequently Kansas City and Omaha) on the national media’s radar. He made the All-Star team that year and led the league in minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, assists and points scored (he averaged 34 points per game and 11.4 assists per game). Archibald was a one-man team of sorts and he did so from the point guard position and as one of the smaller men on the floor on a night in and night out basis. Archibald regressed a little bit the following season (not a surprise considering all the turmoil going on with the coaching situation), but in the final year as the Kansas City and Omaha Kings, Archibald was the key component to the Kings 44-38 record and appearance in the playoffs. He scored 26.5 ppg and averaged 6.8 apg, while playing all 82 games. In the playoffs, Archibald was the Kings’ best player, as he averaged 20.2 ppg during the six-game series.
While he continued his success on the court as the Kings made the move on a permanent basis to Kansas City, one could argue that Archibald saw his best years when they were split between Kansas City and Omaha. When you watch highlights of Archibald, he continues to amaze, and it’s easy to see how he influenced the game today. His ball handling skills, his jump shot, his scoring ability, his speed on the court. Archibald had a grasp of the game that not many players, let alone point guards, have had in NBA history. We hear all the time of players like Pete Maravich and Jerry West and Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson impacting point guards of today. That being said, Archibald also deserves to be in that mix, especially when you consider his size, his impact on professional basketball in the Midwest, and his ability to overcome a lot of odds and roadblocks in his personal life to be successful. Tiny is in the Hall of Fame for a reason and the video below should be further reason why.
It’s fun to watch him play back then. The way he creates with the ball, the way he cuts through defenders on the way to the basket, the way he scores with such versatility and ease, and how he displays such bravado on the court and humility off of it. It reminds the younger generations that there were entertaining one-man shows in the NBA prior to Jason Williams and Stephen Curry.
It’s too bad there are not more tapes and highlights of Archibald in the NBA vault.
Professional basketball most likely will not be coming back to Kansas City anytime soon, if ever. And the same could be said for Omaha as well, which doesn’t have any professional sports franchise other than a minor league baseball team. And yet for three seasons, NBA basketball was played in the Midwest between two cities and among four states. For three seasons, the Kings were not just a city’s NBA team, but an overlooked geographical area’s, and they produced some memorable teams and some memorable players. Yes, there were no championships in Kansas City-Omaha, nor were there any championships when the franchise was solely in Kansas City. And that is too bad, especially since championships can save franchises financially and spiritually (fans won’t want to part with a team that won a championship for their community).
But, Kansas City and Omaha Kings fans were a witness to professional basketball. They were a witness to the playoffs, where the Kings won two home games in front of the raucous Kemper Arena faithful (they used alternate home and away games every game rather than every two like today). And they were witness to a Hall of Famer playing the best and most entertaining basketball of his career in the Heart of America, the Midwest, typically seen as the “Flyover States.”
For three years, Kansas City and Omaha had something truly wonderful, not to mention something people currently in Kansas City and Omaha will never see in those cities again.
I know Kings fans say they envy those Kings fans who were around when the Kings were in Kansas City. I know I can say I envy those Kings fans who will be there for the new arena opening this October in Sacramento (though I know I will see a Kings game at some point in the new arena, so my envy is not that high).
But I think those currently in Kansas City and Omaha, especially those who grow up here in the post-Kings era, can definitely say they envy those who were Kings fans from 1972-1975. Because they missed out on so much, and will never get that opportunity down the road in Kansas City and Omaha. Those three years were a simply a comet of basketball wonder in the Midwest.
And I envy that, even as a Kansas City transplant.
The Sacramento Kings have been in the news circles today, and for reasons that don’t involve Boogie, George Karl or who they might be hiring as head coach. Rather, Chris Creamer of Sports Logos.net leaked the new logos that the Kings will most likely unveil next year in the inaugural year at the Golden 1 Center. Now just FYI, the Logo will NOT be in black and white. Apparently, the logo itself is just copyrighted, and it appears that they will be undergoing some more time to decide what the color scheme will be. So don’t freak out. The Kings aren’t going black and white ala the Brooklyn Nets, but I will discuss a color change idea at the end of this post.
The new primary logo?
I really believe this logo is an upgrade over the previous primary Kings logo that has been in use since they changed colors from Blue and Red to Black and Purple. I liked that the basketball and crown are more primary than the previous logo, and I like the more modern sans serif font and that there is less of a profound size difference between the Kings and the Sacramento lines (you could barely read the Sacramento on the previous logo from afar). The logo is a lot simpler than the previous logo, but I like how there’s less “noise” (i.e. other superfluous items added like the lances and such).
Another reason I like this logo is it sort of tributes the Kings’ history, as it is a play on the Kings’ original logo. Take a look at the progression from the original Cincinnati Royals logo to the current version.
As you can see, very similar to the previous incarnations, but with a couple of key differences: the “Sacramento” (or city name in general; Cincinnati and Kansas City did this as well with their logo) being beneath the crown, not above (something I approve of; I like that I can focus on the logo and that’s it, while the text in the previous logo sort of distracts you into looking at two places, which I think is never good from an aesthetic point of view), and some space in between the points of the crown (not really a fan; it makes the crown look a bit like “sinking ships” which is a bit of a microcosm of where the Kings are at as an organization, a hat tip to the Sactown Royalty community for noticing this and making that correlation).
Here are also a couple versions of some of the secondary logos which are spin offs the main primary logo, including a “Sac” version of the primary, which could be on the side of the shorts, and the simple crown, which most likely will be on the back of the jersey. Color scheme will be interesting and really determine how good these will turn out, but I like the fact that they’re embracing the “Sac-Town” moniker by creating a logo with that nickname.
Introduction of the “Lion” alternate logos
Slamson has always been the kind of mascot that makes the general NBA fan think: why a lion? Well, because it’s considered the King of the Jungle. Hence, Slamson is an easy correlation when you use common sense, but you’d be surprised when you hear people who don’t use common sense ask “Why do the Kings have a lion as a mascot? Why don’t they use a Knight or a King or something?”
Thankfully, it looks like the Kings will be putting the kibosh on that confusion by incorporating the lion into their alternate logo. I really think they did a good job with the creation of this alternate logo. This easily could have gotten campy and carried away, but the new logos are still able to be classy while still having a little fun with it. I really like the standing lion with the dribbling basketball that has a bit of a 3D look to it (notice the staggered feet). The lion head logo is cool too, and I like how they were able to incorporate a basketball face design into the mane. I’ll be curious to see how they involve this into the uniform scheme and how prominent it will be. Will it just be a secondary logo on the shorts or back? Or will they have it on the jersey in a Retro-Raptors sort of way?
Will there be a color change?
The Kings have been doing a lot to pay tribute to their past over the past couple of months. During the last couple weeks of the season, they primarily wore their old powder blue retro jerseys, and painted their court with the powder blue and red and put the old primary logo in center court. While I know it was a fitting way to say goodbye to Arco Arena (I know…it’s Sleep Train Arena now but it will always be Arco to me), especially considering the seats have never changed from the old blue and red color scheme, I think it brought up the issue of whether or not the Kings should go full boar and make the color switch not just a temporary thing, but perhaps a more permanent one.
Personally, I am a fan of the retro-modern look teams have done in professional sports as of late. I love that Buffalo Bills went back to their old blue and white scheme from the 60’s and 70’s. I think the Philadelphia 76ers going back to their old Phila uniforms (a tribute to their Julius Erving days; remember, the Sixers are trying to remind their fans that they used to be good) has been an upgrade, and that their switch to the red, blue and white was a good change from the black-blue-and gold stuff they did during the Iverson era. We’re even seeing the Bucks go back to their 80’s color scheme (getting rid of the “Christmas” scheme was a plus), which has been successful in my mind, and the Hawks revert from their generic blue and red scheme to their old red and yellow days, though I am not a fan of the “Day Glo” yellow they have chosen to go with (why not just go the classic yellow? Their old uniforms were on point.)
But I am not simply a fan of the Kings going back to powder blue and red simply for nostalgia sake. Here are a couple of reasons I think the Kings should entertain the idea of going to the blue and red scheme again starting next year.
I really think the Black and Purple scheme mirrors the Los Angeles Kings color scheme too similarly. Now, if the Hockey Kings were based in San Jose for example, I would be cool with it. However, they are in Los Angeles, and the fact that we have the same “look” as a Southern California sports organization is downright offensive to me as a Northern California sports fan. Even at times, as I was trying to buy Kings stuff, it was difficult to discern what was “Sacramento” Kings gear and what was “Los Angeles” Kings gear (this was mostly true when it came to beanies, as I had a hard time finding beanies that said the full “Sacramento Kings” on it). There was even an occasion where I wore a Kings beanie along with a Sharks jersey and some guy made a comment about it (“Kind of contradicting isn’t it?” he told me; at first I thought he was being a dick, but in retrospect, he had a good point). I think the Kings going blue and red (especially the powder blue) would be a nice change that would end this confusion and distinctly separate our organization from the southern hockey one.
The Bucks did this with their color scheme, adding a light blue addition to their green and gold uniform scheme. Why? To pay tribute to the Great Lakes Milwaukee is next to. Sacramento is known as the “River City” in California, and what better way to pay tribute to that by adding that “River” blue to the color scheme. To be honest, I get it: purple represents “royalty”. But the Lakers are purple. The Suns are purple. The Hornets have purple in their scheme. No teams though have the powder blue scheme as their primary color, and not only would that make the Kings distinct in comparison to the rest of the league, but it would also be a reference to the American and Sacramento Rivers that give the Kings the identity as the “River City”, hence building into the “pro-Sacramento” identity even more.
Of course, a color change will be difficult to happen because the logistics and the cost would be quite high, especially considering how much money the organization and city has spent on building the Golden 1 Center. That being said, while I think the black and purple scheme is fine, and certainly represents when the Kings were most successful (i.e. the early 2000’s), I think a change to the powder blue and red would be fitting, not only in terms of making us distinct as an organization in the NBA (not to mention from the LA Kings), but would also pay tribute to the geographic area of Sacramento as well, which would continue to boost the #SacramentoProud community when the Golden 1 center opens next season.
With the Draft coming up on Thursday, I felt it was time to look at some of the Kings’ previous draft classes. In this post, I am going to focus on the 2009 draft and specifically Tyreke Evans, the Kings’ first draft pick (No. 4 overall) out of Memphis. Though Evans was a highly heralded prospect out of college (and even high school), he is best remembered for being drafted over All-Star players Demar Derozan, Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday (who he is teammates with ironically) and famously Stephen Curry (yes…All-Star, Regular Season MVP, NBA Champion and father of cute kid Riley Stephen Curry). And yet, Evans has been productive in his NBA career (he ranks 11th in Win Shares in a loaded draft class that also includes Blake Griffin, James Harden and Ty Lawson just to name a few) despite injuries, and he did win the 2009-2010 Rookie of the Year award, which gave a lot of Kings hope in his future initially. So he hasn’t heard total bust status in the Greg Oden or Adam Morrison mold, but it’s obvious that the Kings got hosed in what was a legendary draft class.
Let’s take a look at the brief, but lasting legacy Evans left with the Kings and if there is anything the Kings or Kings fans can learn from Evans’ four years in Sacramento.
The Theus-Natt Disaster, Looking to Rebuild and Settling for Fourth
The 2008-2009 season, you could argue with good and valid reason, was the worst in the history of the franchise. After a 6-18 start, the Kings fired second-year head coach “Hangtime” Reggie Theus and assistant Kenny Natt took over in the interim to disastrous results. Under Natt, the team finished 11-47 and 17-65 overall, the worst record in the NBA that year. The Theus-Natt-led Kings that season were catastrophic on all kinds of levels and let’s compile a list of what they were putrid at:
They ranked dead last in SRS (Simple Rating System) at negative-8.60.
They were awful defensively, as they rated dead last in defensive rating, allowing 114.7 points per 100 possessions, and were second to last in points allowed per game, allowing 109.3 ppg.
Kings fans noticed this too, as they ranked second-to-last in attendance. While you could contribute the empty seats mostly to a lousy team with no recognizable stars, this season was also the beginning of the Maloofs losing money and looking to sell and possibly move the Kings.
The Kings had a couple of pieces to build around. Rookie Jason Thompson had a decent, though unspectacular rookie campaign, helping satisfy fans who thought the product out of Ryder was an over-draft at No. 12. (For a while former GM Geoff Petrie was really good at drafting unheralded guys and getting the most out of them). Thompson averaged 11.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg and put up a 49.7 percent field goal percentage while average 28.1 MPG. Furthermore, Thompson was the only King to appear in all 82 games that season. Second-year center Spencer Hawes complemented Thompson in the low block, and greatly improved from a lackluster rookie campaign. In his second year, Hawes appeared in 77 games and started 51 and put up a similar stat-line to Thompson, averaging 29.3 MPG (over double his 13.1 MPG average his rookie year ) as well as 11.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.9 apg and 1.2 bpg. With his balance skill set and surprising passing ability for a big, Hawes reminded many Kings fans of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber, who also were adept passing big men during the Adelman-era Kings.
Beyond Thompson and Hawes though, things looked rather bleak roster-wise. The Kings the past couple of years tried to toe-the-line in NBA no-man’s land, trying to still be competitive as a playoff team even though they didn’t have the firepower to get past the first round. Theus kept the team respectable in his initial season as coach, helping the Kings go 38-44 after the 1 year disaster of Eric Musselman when the Kings went 33-49 after making the playoffs the year previously. But it was obvious that the Kings needed to go a different direction after 3 seasons with Ron Artest (i.e. Metta World Peace) and playing in that 8-12 seed level. The Kings traded Artest to the Rockets before the season, and as the team floundered, they also traded John Salmons and Brad Miller (a long-time Kings standout) for practically peanuts (i.e. Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Michael Ruffin and Cedric Simmons). Martin was heralded as the “star” of the group and he put up gaudy numbers (24.1 ppg and team-leading 19.1 PER and 4.7 win shares), but he only played in 51 games, and his frail frame and lack of defensive value made Kings circles wonder if he really was the “man” going forward.
Due to a mixture of incompetency and subtle tanking, the Kings earned the worst record and thus, the most ping-pong balls in the lottery. It was obvious that Blake Griffin was going to go first, and even though the Kings were already set with Thompson and Hawes in the post, Griffin was such a special player that they could make room for him amidst their crowded front court. However, as typical with the Kings, luck bounced them out of the Top-3 (LAC, Memphis and OKC earned the top-3 picks), and they had to settle for the fourth pick, which put them out of the franchise-changing Griffin sweepstakes.
“Stuck Between a 1 and 2”: Evans vs. Curry
With Griffin out, it was obvious that the Kings needed to focus on the perimeter (Center Hasheem Thabeet was a consensus Top-3 pick, but with Hawes, he wouldn’t fit in the Kings’ plans anyways). Beno Udrih was expendable, as he put up a lackluster 12.3 PER and 1.2 win shares in 73 appearances the previous season. So, the shift focused on upgrading the point guard position, (James Harden was known as the most polished player in the draft, but with Martin manning the same position, there didn’t seem to be a lot of outcry for Harden from Kings fans at the time).
That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the draft was loaded with point guard prospects such as Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, just to name a few. However, the “pure” point guard prospects certainly had their concerns. Rubio wasn’t averse to playing in Sacramento, but he was still signed with his Spanish club DKV Joventut, and he would have required a $6-8 million dollar buyout to come state-side. Though Rubio certainly had the most upside out of any of the point guard prospects in the draft (he was only 19, and he impressed people with his performance with the Spanish National Team in the Olympics the previous summer), it didn’t seem like the Kings were all that hot on Rubio sporting a Kings hat on Draft Day. Jennings was another impressive prospect who ended up skipping out on college to play a year in Europe, but stories about his struggles with Roma as well as maturity issues seemed to push him out of the No. 4 pick discussion.
So the discussion centered on two guys who were considered point guard prospects in the draft but really weren’t pure point guards in college: Memphis’ Evans and Davidson’s Curry.
If you look at Evans and Curry’s Draft Express profiles, it is funny how they both are labeled “stuck between 1 and 2”. Evans made the transition to the Point midway through the year at Memphis and helped Memphis rally to a No. 2 seed in the tournament (though they did get bounced in the Sweet 16 by Missouri). Evans size and ability to get to the rim was lauded and pointed out as a key reason why Memphis was able to not miss a beat after their National Runner-up campaign a year ago. Furthermore, Evans’ strong season at Memphis was constantly compared to Derrick Rose, who led the Tigers as the point the previous season. Evans averaged 17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 3.9 apg, and some people at the time preferred Evans to Rose due to Evans’ size and rebounding ability, which was superior to Rose in college.
As for Curry, he was known for his strong performances in the 2008 tournament, but he played mostly off-guard that year and had a much deeper, polished Davidson team. In 2009, with a lot of players gone, Curry took the reigns as point, and suffered some growing pains, as the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament after making the Elite 8 the previous year. Despite missing the tournament, Curry was lauded for carrying the shorthanded Wildcats, as he averaged 28.6 ppg and 5.6 apg his junior season, all career highs.
Curry had the shooting touch, NBA pedigree (his dad was long-time NBA sniper Dell Curry) and the “star” value to merit the No. 4 pick in the draft, but Evans had the size, the tutelage (Calipari was being dubbed a “point-guard whisperer after getting successful one and done season from Evans and Rose back-to-back) and the versatility that attracted Kings fans more. Even if Evans didn’t pan out as a point guard, the thought amongst Kings fans was that he would develop into a versatile enough wing that would eventually push Martin out-of-town, and then the Kings could get the point they wanted down the road. In Mock Drafts, the consensus seemed to be Evans at 4, even with the sharp-shooting Curry available.
Quick Start, Regression and Internal Strife Lead to Departure
For a season, it looked like the Kings made the right decision. Evans got off to a hot start with a couple of buzzer-beaters, and his strong, confident demeanor was backed up by an impressive 20.1 ppg, 5.8 apg, and 5.3 rpg line in 72 games for the 25-57 Kings. Evans was most impressive in the beginning of the year, as were most of the Kings, as they got off to an 8-8 start and were 18-34 at the All-Star break, not bad considering that was 1 win better than they had all season a year ago. But new head coach Paul Westphal failed to keep any momentum as they struggled in the second half (they went 7-23 post All-Star break) and on the road (7-34 away from Arco). Evans also suffered regression after the All-Star break, with his scoring declining (from 20.3 to 19.8) and shooting regressing as well (53.8 to 51.3 True Shooting pct. from first to second half). The silver lining in all of this? Evans’ rebounding jumped (from 4.8 to 6.2) as well as his assists (5.1 to 6.9). Despite all the concerns with his “tweener” status, Evans showed hope to Kings fans that he could be the Kings primary playmaker (the assist jump was a nice sign) as well as bring different strengths to the Kings lineup (such as rebounding).
Despite Curry’s solid campaign (17.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, 43.7 3-PT percentage), Evans’ hot start and gaudy triple category numbers (points, rebounds, assists) earned Evans the Rookie of the Year award. After that season though, Evans simply struggled to replicate his rookie year in the subsequent seasons with the Kings. Evans battled through injury (he suffered through plantar fascitis) and played in only 57 games through a rough 24-58 campaign. Evans’ numbers tumbled down as his PPG (17.8), RPG (4.8), True Shooting (48.2%) and PER (14.4) all regressed greatly. And to make matters worse, the Kings, hoping Evans would turn into their versatile point guard of the future, rarely played the position. After earning 10% of his floor time at point his rookie year, Evans only played the position 1% of the time his sophomore season. This proved to be a trend, as Evans hasn’t played point guard more than 1% of the time until this season (where it bumped up to a whopping 2%).
As Evans floundered, Curry improved, posting 18.6 ppg and a 19.4 PER his sophomore campaign under Keith Smart. But a coaching change to Mark Jackson his third season, who gave Curry more leash and ability to be creative really marked the difference in Curry going from fringe-star to bonafide-star. Since his third season, Curry hasn’t posted a PER less than 21.2 and has totaled 49.1 Win Shares from his third-year on. And Curry has been a two-time All-Star, won a MVP award and helped the Warriors win their first title since 1975.
As for Evans, well he didn’t quite have the continuity in Sacramento that Curry benefited from in Golden State. Though the Kings upgraded in talent the following year by drafting Demarcus Cousins, the two never really fit and struggled to concede Alpha Dog status in the three seasons they were together in Sacramento. And it made sense. Cousins needs the ball to be productive, and Evans, who showed glimmers of ability to be a playmaker, ended up showing his true colors: as a score-first guard. These two styles were bound to clash (which they did) and considering where both players were at in their careers (just starting out) and without good leadership on the coaching staff or front office, it was just bound not to work out in the long run for both of them despite their talent. Add that with the fact that Evans never seemed to mesh with either Paul Westphal or Keith Smart (who replaced Westphal in the middle of the 2011-2012 season and coached the entire 2012-2013 season as well), and the emergence of another shoot-first guard (Isaiah Thomas) and Evans, who was originally seen as the cornerstone of the franchise, seemed expendable.
And he was. With a new ownership (Vivek), a new coach (Mike Malone) and new GM (Pete D’Alessandro), Evans seemed to be a relic of the old guard that wasn’t worth keeping around. On July 10, 2013, Evans was traded to New Orleans in a three-way trade (along with Portland) that basically saw Evans swiped with more pass-first oriented Grievis Vasquez.
What went wrong with Evans in Sacramento?
After being traded to New Orleans, Evans signed a four-year extension worth a little over $43 million. The money really isn’t that bad when you think about it. Despite the disappointing tenure in Sacramento, he still has a career PER average of 17.3 and has accumulated 21.7 Win Shares. In terms of traditional stats, his career ppg average is 16.8, his career rpg average is 4.9 and his career apg average is 5.2. Yes, Evans struggles from beyond the arc (career 27.8 3 PT percentage), and he still seems privy to taking that shot (he shot 2.9 3 point attempts per game last seasons). But Evans finishes well around the rim (55.8 fg percentage on shots 0-3 ft out) and has demonstrated a decent mid-range (39.8 fg percentage on 16<3-pt shots) to still merit himself as an above-average NBA player. Also, his improvement defensively (he was consistently less than 1 when it came to defensive win shares, but he actually earned 2.2 defensive win shares a year ago) also demonstrates that his game is maturing and becoming more well-rounded in New Orleans than it was Sacramento.
However, why didn’t things work out for Evans after so much promise his rookie season? How come Evans didn’t progress like Curry did in Golden State? Yes, a NBA title and MVP for Evans might have been a bit of a stretch, but you think a guy who earned Rookie of the Year in that draft class would have at least one All-Star appearance in Sacramento, right?
Well, what killed Evans was management’s lack of building around him in the right way. Yes, it’s hard to argue the drafting of Demarcus Cousins, but if the organization was really serious about making Evans the centerpiece of the Kings, they would have drafted somebody more complimentary, such as a Greg Monroe, who would have complemented Evans more with his passing ability from the high post. (And I am NOT supporting drafting Monroe over Cousins BTW…I am just saying that is what they should have done if they were serious about building the team around Evans). And Cousins is really the tip of the iceberg: the drafting of Jimmer Fredette, the acquisitions of John Salmons and Marcus Thornton, these were all decisions that really clashed with Evans truly being the “man” in Sacramento. If you look at Golden State, they took the opposite route of Sacramento. Instead of getting talent that clashed with their “franchise” player, they built around him, even letting talent go (Monta Ellis) in order to build around their star player. That lack of foresight didn’t just hurt the Kings (they have consistently been a lottery team since drafting Evans), but hurt Evans as well, who was never able to find the right cast around him to succeed beyond his individual numbers.
Of course, to play Devil’s Advocate, you could argue that all the chaos in ownership and the front office hurt Evans’ development in Sacramento. You could also argue that they never felt Evans was a franchise guy to begin with, and that when they had a chance to draft Cousins, the writing was on the wall for Evans in SacTown. You could also argue that Evans was subject to bad coaching in Sacramento, and if that he had the kind of coaches that Steph Curry had in Golden State maybe Evans would have closed that gap between them a little more and maybe he would be wearing purple and black still. There are a lot of scenarios of course, and all are plausible. Evans really is a fascinating case because the talent is there, still productive and he is still young at 25 years old. One would think there is still hope for the guy even if he will never, ever touch Curry’s career heights.
And really, a comparison to Curry isn’t fair because they aren’t the same player. Curry really is a point guard who needed time in the position. Evans probably never was and was unfairly expected to be one because he played half a season in the position at Memphis in a pinch. But it’s tough to stomach for Kings fans because they were initially seen as the same type of player in the draft, they were only 3 picks apart, and they were just hours apart in terms of their respective teams’ distance. Maybe the Kings would be celebrating their title and the Warriors would be looking at the lottery if Curry and Evans swapped. Maybe the parade would be a couple of hours north in Downtown Sac rather than in the Bay Area.
It’s those kinds of things that gnaw at Kings fans. And it’s those kinds of things that really make the drafting of Evans over Curry hurt more and longer than it really should.