Is Vlade Divac Building a Modern Copy of the Early-2000’s Sacramento Kings?
Friday morning, before the start of his daily morning show “The Drive” on KHTK, Carmichael Dave burst into my production studio, eager to share his Sacramento Kings epiphany; general manager Vlade Divac is going to sign Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic to a max deal this summer, completing his rebuild of the late-90’s, early-2000’s Sacramento super team.
At first, he had me rolling my eyes, believing this was nothing more than a creative radio debate in the making. But, as he continued his theory, it started making more and more sense. So, let’s play mad basketball scientist for a bit.
That incredible Kings team, that might be the best team ever to not win a championship in NBA history, was a collection of solid talent that combined to form one of the most cohesive units in the league. The starting five will forever be legendary in Sacramento, featuring Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Peja Stojakovic, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac. But how is this year’s Kings team, that is fighting for their first .500 season since 2006, at all similar to the 61-win legends of Sacramento history?
Mike Bibby – De’Aaron Fox
The Kings acquired Mike Bibby in a trade with the Vancouver Grizzlies in 2001 for the flashy Jason Williams, a move that brought a clutch scorer and confident floor general into the fold. Bibby fit perfectly with the Sacramento core, helping space the floor while the majority of the offense was ran through Webber and Divac. Bibby was typically the go-to guy late in games, and also had sneaky speed in transition.
There is nothing sneaky about De’Aaron Fox’s speed. His ability to get up and down the floor in the blink of an eye has drawn attention and praise since high school. Fox has enjoyed a significant jump in production between his rookie year and this season, most noticeably as a shooter and passer. His three-point percentage is up from 30% to 36%, points-per-game is up from 11.6 to 17.6, and assists-per-game is up from 4.4 to 7.3.
In his seven seasons with Sacramento, Bibby averaged 17.6 points, 5.4 assists, and shot 37% from beyond the arc. It’s a small sample size, but Fox putting up similar numbers in just his second season, while also being the go-to guy in clutch situations, makes Dave’s comparison legitimate. If Fox could become a better version of Bibby, Sacramento fans couldn’t be more pleased.
Doug Christie – Harrison Barnes
From elite defender to TV broadcaster and KHTK radio host, Doug Christie has been a part of Sacramento for a long time. While not known for his offense, Christie was an extremely reliable free throw shooter and a gritty, lock-down defender, that anchored that early-2000’s lineup. Although Christie was a shooting guard and Harrison Barnes is a forward, Barnes has already embraced that primary defensive role with this modern group.
Christie averaged 10.6 points, shot 44% from the field, had 16.4 defensive win shares (number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense) and a 1.9 defensive box plus minus in five seasons with Sacramento. Barnes, who is a more efficient scorer, has averaged 13.6 points per game over his career. Since joining the Kings (21 games), he is scoring 14.8 points on 46% shooting from the field and 40% from three-point range. Most importantly, Barnes’ defense has had an immediate positive impact. Before trading for Barnes, the Kings had a defensive rating of 110.4, good for 21st in the NBA. Since Barnes’ debut, Sacramento has jumped to 11th, with a 109.1 defensive rating.
Peja Stojakovic – Buddy Hield
In an era where the three-point shot wasn’t nearly as important as today, Peja Stojakovic was one of the best in the league from beyond the arc. His corner three was nearly automatic, and his shooting made him a perfect fit with Webber and Divac. Drafted by the Kings in 1998, Peja’s 2.1 threes per game and near-40 three-point shooting percentage punished teams who made the mistake of leaving him while trying to double-team Webber.
This season, Buddy Hield has emerged as one the best, and most prolific, shooters in the modern day NBA. Hield is averaging 3.4 made threes a game this season, while shooting 42% from deep. Just last week against the Phoenix Suns, Hield broke Peja’s franchise record for three-pointers in a single season (240 in 2003-04). While the Kings are leaning heavily on Hield as a primary scorer this season, his potential Peja-like fit alongside rookie big Marvin Bagley makes the comparison intriguing.
Chris Webber – Marvin Bagley
Chris Webber was the star and foundation of the Sacramento Kings’ success, and is arguably the greatest King of all time. Of course, current NBA rookie Marvin Bagley isn’t that right now. But the 2018 2nd overall pick has the potential to provide a similar level of star production with the right system and supporting cast.
Webber averaged 23.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and shot 47% from the field in seven seasons with Sacramento. Webber played an average of 38.8 minutes-per-game over those seven season. Bagley, in the 12 games this season that he has played more than 30 minutes, is averaging similar numbers; 22.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 54% shooting from the field.
C-Webb was one of the primary passers for the Kings during his tenure, averaging nearly five assists a game. While Bagley doesn’t appear to be on the same level as a passer, he has recently shown his ability to space the floor and knock down a three, shooting 47% from deep over the last month. Webber’s best Kings season as a three-point shooter was 1999-2000, where he shot 28%.
Bagley has a long way to go if he wants to become the player that Webber was, but there are many in Sacramento that believe Bagley can and will be the best player in this current Sacramento core, and one of the best Kings ever.
Vlade Divac – Nikola Vucevic?
Here is where Carmichael Dave’s theory really took form. The Kings are approaching the 2019 offseason, where they don’t own a first round pick and have a lot of money to spend in free agency. Attracting big names to Sacramento has never been easy, and the organization has consistently turned to trades and the draft to acquire talent. Who is the best free agent that the Kings have ever signed? Vlade Divac in 1998.
Divac’s numbers were nothing special for the Kings, but his reliability on the floor, and his cohesiveness in the locker room, made him instrumental to Sacramento’s success. His renowned ability to connect with teammates and keep a group together, mixed with his natural veteran leadership, are what landed him the job as the President of Basketball Operations of the Kings in 2015. Divac has been trusted to build the Kings back into a championship contender and, looking through the lens of Dave’s theory, the only piece missing is the Vlade-esc center.
Enter Nikola Vucevic. The talented, seven foot, 260 pound center is averaging 20.7 points and 12.1 rebounds per game with the Orlando Magic this season. Over his eight season career, Vucevic is averaging more points, more rebounds, and is shooting a higher percentage than Divac. Vlade does have the slight advantage in assists and blocked shots.
The obvious concern with the Kings signing Vucevic this summer, other than the expectation that it would take a max deal to bring him here, is Vucevic’s potential fit with the run-and-gun Sacramento system. While the Kings in the early-2000’s weren’t known for their fast break offense, they did push the tempo often with Vlade on the floor. It’s not an exact comparison, based more off of the eye test than specific stats, but having Vucevic as the primary rebounder and outlet passer shouldn’t have any negative effect on the other four Kings’ ability to run and score quickly in transition. The fast break has to start somewhere.
Other loose comparisons can be made, like current Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic to prolific scorer and former sixth man of the year Bobby Jackson. Or even the young Harry Giles, who plays with a lot of heart and hustle, compared with Scot Pollard, who was the crazy bruiser off the Sacramento bench for many years.
While Vlade wouldn’t publicly admit to it (unless it worked), the idea that he is trying to recreate his old Sacramento squad is certainly intriguing. Call it a stretch, or just another attempt of ours to hold onto the glory days of old, if you wish. But you have to admit, the numbers are telling and the concept is entertaining.
We can all agree that, if the future of the Kings is on-par with the 1999-2004 years, then there’s a lot of good times, and potentially a championship, on the horizon. You sure wont find me complaining about Vlade’s roster-building creativity.