NBA analysts will tell you Luka Doncic is as close to a sure thing as you’ll find in the NBA Draft. The 19-year-old Slovenian guard can shoot, pass, create and guard, and he has already produced at the professional level, putting up 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game last season for Real Madrid, despite being a mere teenager in a league full of adults.
And yet after the Suns selected Deandre Ayton No. 1 overall Thursday, the Sacramento Kings did not take Doncic. Instead, they grabbed Marvin Bagley III, a talented but less heralded Duke forward whose most important qualification seemed to be his willingness to work out for the Kings.
— Sacramen2 Kings (@SacramentoKings) June 21, 2018
Now before we go any further, we should note that we can’t possibly know how these players’ careers will play out. Sometimes the highly touted No. 2 pick becomes a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and other times the highly touted No. 2 pick averages 6 points per game in his career and becomes a punchline. Even the most informed NBA Draft guru doesn’t know for sure which prospects will pan out and which ones won’t.
But with that said, it’s hard not to feel as though the Kings made this decision for the wrong reasons. Most analysts had Doncic as a better player than Bagley, and some even ranked him ahead of Ayton. But Doncic, like several other draft prospects, declined to work out for the Kings or share his medical records in an attempt to deter the team from selecting him. Bagley, by contrast, cooperated fully with Sacramento, hoping to be picked as high as possible. In the end, the Kings went with the guy who wanted to be there over the guy who didn’t.
But it’s not as though Doncic wasn’t going to play for the Kings. Despite some posturing, the guard seemed set on playing in the NBA no matter who picked him. If Sacramento had drafted him, he would have suited up for Sacramento, and if the team started winning, he would have changed his attitude quickly.
In choosing Bagley over Doncic, the Kings gave in to the public perception of their franchise instead of pushing back against it. They signaled to other teams that they’re willing to pass up the best players available and signaled to future prospects that they’re prone to be pushed around. Maybe we’re judging harshly because of the Kings’ brutal recent draft record. Or maybe the Kings just keep giving us reason to judge harshly.
And so Bagley heads off to Sacramento, while Doncic (who was selected No. 3 overall and promptly traded) packs for Dallas. The two play different positions, have different backgrounds and have landed in different situations. But as long as they’re playing they’ll be linked by Sacramento’s bold choice Thursday night.