The Sacramento Kings looked across the country to find talent from three of college basketball’s bluebloods in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, using their three first-round picks on Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox at No. 5, North Carolina wing Justin Jackson at No. 15 and Duke forward Harry Giles at No. 20. Although the Kings entered the night with just the fifth and 10th overall picks, they traded No. 10 to Portland for the right to pick up the two Tobacco Road rivals.
The trio are no strangers to each other on the floor – Jackson faced Fox and Giles a combined five times last year – but will now join forces in hopes of revitalizing a franchise that has not finished better than .500 in 11 years.
Jackson, this winter’s ACC Player of the Year, is the most polished of the three picks but is also the oldest at age 22. Fox starred at point guard in his lone season for the Wildcats, and although Giles did not enjoy as much success in college, he may have the highest ceiling of any of them. The 6-10 forward will join unproven frontcourt options that includes another Kentucky one-and-done in Skal Labissiere as well as 19-year-old Georgios Papagiannis.
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Here are what columnists and reporters from The News & Observer, Sacramento Bee and the Lexington Herald-Leader had to say about the draft:
Luke DeCock, The News & Observer:
It was a good night for the “old” ACC.
Of the conference’s historic 10 first-round picks Thursday – breaking the NBA record of eight set by the ACC in 1995 and SEC in 2012 – all but two came from the Semi-Original Nine.
That included six from the Triangle and seven from North Carolina (eight counting Pinetown’s Bam Adebayo, who played at Kentucky).
The talent outflow – five freshmen, four sophomores and one junior – was a reasonable representation of the overall quality of the league that led to an all-time record NCAA tournament performance in 2016 and has accounted for two of the past three national champions and four Final Four teams over that span.
Sometimes, that kind of college performance doesn’t translate into NBA potential. In this case, it did. Duke’s Luke Kennard and Wake Forest’s John Collins came out of relative nowhere by NBA standards to play their way into the first round. In the one-and-done era – the ACC had five of them: Duke’s Jayson Tatum, Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr., UNC’s Tony Bradley and Duke’s Harry Giles – those guys did it the old-fashioned way on a night for old-fashioned ACC schools.
John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader
Long known as a dysfunctional organization, the Kings put together an impressive collection of talent from blue-blood programs. That started with the No. 5 overall pick when the Kings tabbed Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox. They then traded their 10th pick to Portland for the 15th and 20th selections. They grabbed North Carolina’s Justin Jackson at No. 15 and Duke’s Harry Giles at No. 20. Early in the second round, with the 34th overall pick, Sacramento picked up Kansas guard Frank Mason.
Fox will be a star in the league. He’s ultra quick, can defend and has the personality to be the face of the franchise. Jackson is a solid player who can score from the perimeter. Giles has battled chronic knee problems, but if healthy has tremendous upside. Mason is a tough, mature player who should be an able backup to Fox.
Ailene Voisin, Sacramento Bee
De’Aaron Fox isn’t the first dynamic point guard to dress like a King. Reggie Theus and Jason Williams were magicians of their generations. Mike Bibby was a smooth-shooting, stutter-stepping genius. Isaiah Thomas remains a 5-9 marvel, who unfortunately slipped out of town before becoming a phenomenon.
But locating an elite lead guard has been a struggle, a sort of extended Sacramento recession.
Since Bibby last tormented defenders in old Arco Arena a decade ago, the Kings have experimented with Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Pooh Jeter, Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, Thomas, Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison and Ty Lawson. For various reasons – age, injury, ability, coaching, politics – the search continued until a sticky hot Thursday evening, when a speedy, charismatic freshman from Kentucky slid to No. 5 and into the waiting arms of the Kings. Finally.
“I just want to help a city turn a franchise around,” Fox said later Thursday. “I’m finally where I want to be.”
The 6-3 Fox averaged 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.4 turnovers as a freshman. He shot 47.8 percent from the field, 73.9 percent from the free-throw line and 24.6 percent from three-point range.
Fox was a third-team All-American selection by CBS Sports, USA Today and ESPN. He was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference by both the Associated Press and the league’s coaches in addition to making the coaches’ SEC All-Freshman Team. He earned SEC Tournament MVP honors after averaging 22.0 points per game en route to the title and scored 39 points on 13-for-20 shooting vs. UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen, an NCAA tournament record by a freshman.
North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, selected with the 15th pick, became the Tar Heels’ highest-drafted player since 2012. Jackson was the only college junior taken among the top 15 picks on Thursday night, and so he arrives in the NBA with more college experience than anyone selected ahead of him.
That could bode well for both the 6-8 Jackson and the Sacramento Kings, who acquired his draft rights from the Portland Trail Blazers. A little more than a year ago at this time, Jackson went through the NBA pre-draft process and received feedback from teams and scouts about where he could improve.
He heard the same things over and over: become stronger and, even more important, improve his jump shot. Then Jackson decided to return to school and went to work. He spent many a long night inside UNC’s Smith Center, completing shooting drills that allowed him to become UNC’s most prolific 3-pointer shooter in a single season.
He arrives in the NBA not as a finished product, but as a player who first began to realize his considerable potential during the past year. If he carries that momentum into Sacramento, Jackson should be able to contribute immediately.
Harry Giles arrived at Duke with the talent that had scouts saying he could be the first pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. But he also carried medical baggage from tearing the ACLs in both knees during his high school career.
Before Duke could even hold a week of practice, Giles needed arthroscopic surgery to clean up his left knee. That kept the athletic 6-10 forward sidelined until December.
Once active, Giles started six games and played in 26, but he only averaged 11.5 minutes played per game. However, he showed flashes of his past greatness on a few occasions. Like when he had 12 points and 10 rebounds in 17 minutes against Georgia Tech in January. Or, in the ACC tournament semifinals against North Carolina, when he grabbed seven rebounds, blocked four shots and recorded a steal in 15 minutes.
That win over the eventual NCAA champion Tar Heels helped propel Duke to an ACC championship. With positive medical reports entering the NBA Draft, Giles is intent on experiencing even more success in the NBA with the Kings.
The view from Sacramento:
Kings beat writer Jason Jones on the three first round picks:
Why De’Aaron Fox fits with the team: The Kings have been searching for a dynamic playmaker, and Fox is seen as one of the best in the draft. His speed will be a plus for the Kings, who want to score more in transition.
Why Justin Jackson fits with the team: The Kings lack size on the wings and with Rudy Gay set to become a free agent, the team needed a replacement to groom. Jackson played three seasons at UNC and might be more ready to contribute than a freshman.
Why Harry Giles fits with the team: Injuries slowed him in college, but, if healthy, Giles is a top-five talent. The Kings could also use some size at power forward to go with Skal Labissiere.