The Whiteboard: How will Davion Mitchell change things for the Kings?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

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Winning the NBA Summer League title isn’t the most prestigious honor but the Sacramento Kings, in the midst of a 15-year playoff drought, are probably thrilled to have won something. But even better than the wins was the performance of Davion Mitchell.

The No. 9 pick in the draft played just under 25 minutes per game across five games, averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 assists, 1.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game, and made 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) from beyond the arc. His turnovers were low (1.4 per game), he played active, aggressive defense and looked very much like someone who could play meaningful minutes for the Kings this season.

But is he enough to change the trajectory of a franchise that has struggled to even stay on the treadmill of mediocrity over the past two decades?

Did the Sacramento Kings reach for Davion Mitchell?

The Kings selected Mitchell with the No. 9 pick, a somewhat surprising selection in that the team’s three best players are all guards and he wasn’t necessarily a consensus lottery pick. For a team that took Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic and Trae Young and traded back for Georgios Papagiannis at No. 13 within the last five years, the appearance of falling in love with a player regardless of conventional wisdom is concerning.

Mitchell was ranked No. 10 on a consensus big board made up of NBA media members but just No. 23 on a similar board compiled from draft specialists — no player had a bigger difference between his ranks on the two boards. Even if general media members had a better bead on his perceived value than the draft experts, it still seems like there could have been some wiggle room for the Kings to perhaps find a way to trade back and pick up an extra asset or two while still landing the player they wanted.

Of course, there are a lot of moving parts to that scenario and it’s possible the Kings are simply right here. Maybe Mitchell is the player they think he is and this won’t look like a reach at all in hindsight. But, again, given their track record with these kinds of decisions, it’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Can Davion Mitchell play in a three-guard lineup?

The other issue with selecting Mitchell was his overlap with what appears to be an ascendant backcourt — Tyrese Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox. Haliburton turned out to be an impressive shot-maker, someone with 50/40/90 potential, as well as defensive and creation upside. He looks like a perfect complementary fit next to Fox’s blazing speed and aggressive scoring approach and at 6-foot-3 (Fox) and 6-foot-5 (Haliburton) they have the size to handle a variety of matchups.

Reportedly, Mitchell’s defense on Cade Cunningham last season convinced the Kings he was up for the challenge of defending bigger players and he certainly looked up for a defensive challenge of any size at Summer League. This all seems to imply the Kings see the solution to their backcourt logjam being a lot of three-guard lineups.

The Kings played Fox, Haliburton and Buddy Hield together for 643 minutes across 50 games last season, about 13 minutes per game. In those minutes, the Kings were outscored by an average of just 1.5 points per 100 possessions but surrendered an average of 119.2 points per 100. There is almost no way Mitchell replicates the off-ball shooting gravity of Hield but he project to be decent enough on offense that if swapping him out for Hield provides a defensive upgrade it could make these lineups not just viable but a big advantage.

The question is: who is going to defend 3s in those lineups? Mitchell may have looked impressive on Cade Cunningham and with his motley supporting cast at Oklahoma State. But that’s a far cry from Paul George, Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant. Mitchell has the most bulk to deal with bigger players but he’s also the smallest (6-foot) with the shortest wingspan. This means it’s just as likely that Haliburton is the one who is often sliding up the positional scale on defense. That could work but, again, it all makes the rationale for taking Mitchell seem a little shakier.

What does the arrival of Davion Mitchell mean for Buddy Hield?

The wild card for the Kings is what they’re able to get in a trade for Buddy Hield. He’s one of the best shooters in the league with significant gravity on and off the ball. The Kings have reportedly explored trading him in the past and there were even rumors of conversations with the Lakers before they ultimately pivoted and traded for Russell Westbrook. He’s almost certainly going to be shopped this season and it seems likely he’ll be moved by the trade deadline, if not sooner.

Hield should be able to fetch some frontcourt help who could help cover for the weaknesses and accentuate the strengths of a 3-guard lineup with Mitchell in his place. It’s a longshot but maybe the 76ers get desperate enough that they’d consider trading Ben Simmons for Hield, Marvin Bagley and a pair of future first-rounders? A similar, but more modest, package might work if the Raptors change course on Pascal Siakam. If the Pacers get serious about trading Myles Turner, offering up Hield and Bagley for Turner and T.J. Warren or Jeremy Lamb could help both teams.

In the short term, it seems likely that a Mitchell for Hield substitution in the Kings’ rotation is a net negative. But maybe only a small one and Mitchell is six years younger, tens of millions of dollars cheaper and allows the Kings to turn Hield into something else that fills a different hole.

Summer League didn’t completely confirm that Mitchell could be successful in the role the Kings seem to envision for him, but he made that case. Still, however optimistic the Kings are about him, he’s just a piece of the puzzle. Another year of improvement from Fox and Haliburton is essential and turning Hield and Bagley into another long-term piece or two is what will ultimately shape the ceiling for the Kings the next few seasons.

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