SACRAMENTO - They held the elevator for me. That is the first impression I will take away from the Sacramento Kings 2016 draft class. As we rode up three floors to the Kings Experience Center overlooking the new Golden 1 Center, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Cousins looked bright eyed and so young.
We spoke about the rising temperature in Sacramento. Triple-digit heat isn’t exactly suit weather, but when we arrived at the fourth floor, they went to get changed in their Sunday best and prepare mentally for the barrage of questions from local media.
A table for five was set in the main viewing room of the building. Name plates had already been set in front of microphones for all three picks as well as one for both Vlade Divac and Dave Joerger.
“Last year was easier, we had only one guy, today we have three guys,” Divac opened the media session.
It was your typical meet and greet. All three players seemed nervous on stage, but when they broke off into smaller groups, they dropped their guard a bit and fielded a myriad of questions.
Papagiannis speaks in a heavy accent, but that didn’t stop anyone from understanding that he is ecstatic to land in Sacramento. His first NBA jersey was from the Kings, although he couldn’t remember which number it was. Standing 7-foot-2 with a healthy build, the rookie from Greece is a mountain of a man.
“Being drafted by the Sacramento Kings was a great thing for me, a dream come true,” the 18-year-old center said.
He plans on moving his family to Sacramento, including his parents and little brother. The intention is to get the youngest Papagiannis into a local school where he too can learn the game of basketball.
“I think he’s got a lot of skills,” Joerger said of his prized rookie. “It’s going to take some time and we’re going to need some patience, but at the same time, he’s proven that he’s going to get better everyday.”
While Divac was quick to compare Papagiannis to Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol on draft night, the Big George likens himself to Marc’s brother Pau.
“I like Pau Gasol, I think I’m kind of like him,” Papagiannis said.
Sacramento shocked plenty of people around the league with their selection of Papagiannis with the No. 13 overall selection, but the rookie said he was likely going in the Top 20. In pre-draft, he had worked out for Phoenix (picks 13 and 28 pre Kings trade), Chicago (pick 14), Boston (picks 16 and 23), and Detroit (pick 18), plus his pro day where plenty of other team’s were in attendance.
While the Kings may have chosen Papagiannis above his projected draft slot, Labissiere tumbled down the board to them at No. 28 and Sacramento couldn’t be happier. Divac has taken a beating nationally for loading up on young bigs when he clearly had other positions of need, but coach Joerger seemed excited to land a prospect like Skal.
“We feel like we’re getting a steal there with the talent and skills that he has, the length and the way that the game is being played now,” Joerger said of Labissiere. “It’s playing small ball. You’re going to see, he’ll be definitely playing the stretch position for us at the forward and at times, if you watched the Finals there’s positionless basketball going on. He can play center us very easily.”
The 7-footer from Haiti has a smile that lights up a room. He’s bright and despite picking up the English language at the age of 13, he is extremely articulate. If he can become the player that most people thought he would be at Kentucky, the Kings have added a major player for the future.
“Skal is the most talented college player this year in the United States,” Divac said. “We are very fortunate to have him that late. We thought he was going to be gone long before we had the chance.”
Filling out the threesome was senior point guard Isaiah Cousins. Living in the shadow of the high-scoring Buddy Hield at Oklahoma, Cousins was almost completely overlooked on draft night before the Kings chose him with the next to the last pick.
“I can just show people that I can run the point, just be a leader out there,” Cousins said. “I’m very versatile and making the right plays for my teammates.”
The Kings have a giant hole at the point guard position. Rajon Rondo is an unrestricted free agent, Seth Curry is a restricted free agent looking to cash in and Darren Collison is facing legal issues and a possible suspension.
“Isaiah’s got tremendous size, I really enjoyed watching him in Chicago at the pre-draft,” coach Joerger said. “It’s a position we need support at and a position now you need some size at. And he’s got that. He’s got a level of toughness to him that I love - a lot of intangibles.”
Cousins will get a shot to prove he can run a team during summer league in Las Vegas where the Kings will field a team filled with young player.
Missing from the festivities was Malachi Richardson, the No. 22 selection of the Kings. He will have to wait to meet the Sacramento media until after July 1, when his trade from the Charlotte Hornets becomes official. The rights to the high-flying guard were acquired in exchange for veteran Marco Belinelli, who unfortunately broke his jaw this weekend in an exhibition game overseas.
Big Nasty on the move?
News broke on Sunday evening that former Kings player and current assistant Corliss Williamson may be on his way to the Orlando Magic to join Frank Vogel's staff. While he has yet to ink a deal with the Magic, it is sounding likely that he will leave Sacramento to move closer to home in Arkansas and for a new opportunity.
Williamson was hired before the 2013-14 season to work under then head coach Michael Malone. He survived Malone’s firing, as well as the Tyrone Corbin and George Karl era’s and is still welcome on current staff under Joerger. He has been working with DeMarcus Cousins for the past few seasons and with the influx of young bigs, the Kings will be looking for another coach to handle the team’s post players....or will they?
“DeMarcus, he’s going to be the coach of these young fellas, and we are very comfortable with that,” Divac said with a grin.