The good news for Sacramento basketball fans is that the Kings have the No. 2 pick. The bad news? The Kings have the No. 2 pick.
The team bucked the odds at last month’s NBA Draft Lottery and jumped from the seventh spot to second. It’s Sacramento’s best draft position in nearly 30 years, since the Kings took Pervis Ellison first overall in 1989. Fans are pumped — but maybe they shouldn’t be.
Consider what NBA pundit Bill Simmons has been saying on his namesake podcast recently: “Sacramento is the perfect team to pick number two. It’s this pick that is a perennial black cat pick. It’s always bad luck.”
Simmons makes the case that the second spot has some of the foremost busts in league history. Sure, he likes to throw shade at the Kings and other long-struggling franchises at any opportunity. But does he have a point?
For every Kevin Durant — drafted second 11 years ago — there’s a litany of face-palm selections at the two, including:
The Los Angeles Lakers nabbing D’Angelo Russell in 2015. The Milwaukee Bucks opting for Jabari Parker over Joel Embiid in 2014. The Charlotte Bobcats selecting Michael Kidd Gilchrist in 2012. Derrick Williams in 2011, Evan Turner in 2010, plus Hasheem Thabeet in 2009 and Michael Beasley in ’08. That’s an unlucky seven-year run.
And it doesn’t take into account Darko Milicic in 2003, arguably the quintessential draft bust, also at the No. 2 spot: He jumped from six different teams in less than 10 seasons before finally retiring to pursue a career in kickboxing.
That second pick, it just might be cursed, right?
“It’s mostly a blessing,” said Dave “Carmichael Dave” Weiglein, radio host at KHTK Sports 1140. “But there’s a little bit of a curse there in the sense that there’s more pressure.”
Weiglein says that, if you flub a seven or an eight pick, it’s a bummer. “If you flub a two pick, that can set your team back generations and get people fired,” he explained.
But he is optimistic. He says there are legit prospects in this draft who Sacramento might nab at the second spot: the 6-foot-11 Duke University star Marvin Bagley Jr., who can score, or University of Texas standout Mo Bamba, who is like a condor with his 7-foot-10-inch wingspan.
But the best option for the Kings, according to Weiglein, is a 19 year old from Slovenia.
“Luka Dončić is the most decorated and hyped-up pro to ever come out of Europe,” he said, adding that he thinks Dončić is the “safest pick” at No. 2.
Dončić currently plays for Real Madrid and recently was awarded MVP of the second-most-competitive basketball league on the planet. He launches three pointers. He makes these daring passes. And he reportedly has a little attitude. A lot of fans want Sacramento to snag Dončić at the two spot.
But there’s also rumblings that the Kings might take Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., despite his medical issues, or trade down, possibly with the Orlando Magic.
Fans, however, are wary of general manager Vlade Divac or majority owner Vivek Ranadivé getting too creative. “What I worry about with the Kings as usual is not over-thinking it and not going out the box. Just pick the guy,” Weiglein said. “Pick the guy, and if you end up missing on him, you can say, ‘Well, that was the consensus, you can’t blame us.’ But if they reach, and then the guy they were going to pick at No. 2 ends up being a superstar, well then that’s unforgivable.”
But back to Simmon’s take: Is there any data that indicates whether drafting second is a black cat?
At least by one measure, there is. Using Value Over Replacement Player, a stat that sums a player’s total contribution on the floor, No. 2 picks are not only less valuable than No. 1 picks, but also more likely to be role players than all-stars.
Looking at players’ first five years in the league, second picks average around 5 VORP, or about a third of the value of a first pick. That’s the equivalent of someone like a Keith Van Horn, Stromile Swift or Emeka Okafor — not a bad player to have, but definitely not the star you might hope for that high in the draft.
That’s also less than what you might expect based on how other draft slots perform. A 538 analysis that takes into account the value of all draft picks predicted that an average No. 2 pick would be about 80 percent of a No. 1 — which is better than how a No. 2 pick has performed historically.
The data indicates that Sacramento fans should be hopeful of drafting the next Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo but might want to temper expectations.
And knock on wood before just after the Phoenix Suns pick on Thursday night.
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