By Sadë Mills
From 2008’s Patrick Ewing Jr. to 2016’s Skal Labissiere, the Sacramento Kings Draft picks have been nothing short of legends. Out of the 18 players who have been drafted to the Kings since 2008, eight of them proudly played for their D-league affiliate, the Reno Bighorns.
Since the team’s inception in 2008, the Kings have always been an affiliate of the Reno Bighorns. This partnership culminated in mid-October of 2016 when the Kings were officially announced as the new majority owners of the Bighorns.
As if the bond between the Kings and the Bighorns wasn’t strong before, northern Nevada’s pro team went through a color identity change to match their parent squad and create an even more fortified connection.
“The color identity change is aligned with everything we believe in and how we want to be perceived,” says Bighorns Head Coach Darrick Martin.
The Kings are dedicated to developing their players by assigning the franchise’s draft picks to the Bighorns multiple times throughout the season.
“Having a D-league team is phenomenal,” Coach Martin says, “Players have the opportunity to come in and work towards their success at the NBA level. We bridge the gap between the college level and the NBA.”
In 2016, 13th overall draft pick Georgios Papagiannis was assigned to the Bighorns ten times alone. Additionally, 28th overall selection Labissiere was assigned four times and Malachi Richardson, the 22nd overall pick, was assigned three times.
During the course of the season, all three players quickly became fan favorites in both the Reno and Sacramento communities. The development that has formed from these players is strongly recognized and proves the importance of D-league affiliation.
“I think coming down and playing early in the season with the Bighorns improved their (Papagiannis, Labissiere, Richardson) skill set and also their confidence. Playing for both Reno and Sacramento also created fan interest. We have a lot of Sacramento Kings fans in Reno and they were able to see players they wouldn’t otherwise get to see,” Coach Martin comments on how the draft picks playing in Reno helps the Bighorns and players.
As a testimony to the impact significant minutes in the D-league can have on a player’s game, Labissiere became the first 2016 draft pick to score more than 30 points when the Kings played the Suns in Phoenix in mid March.
While the trio above each had successes throughout last season, the impact was not limited to the first round. Isaiah Cousins, drafted in the second round by the Kings in 2016, attended training camp and then played for the Bighorns to continue developing as a player. Cousins was the final roster’s leading scorer, averaging 17.0 points per game.
Other notable Kings draft picks to suit up for the Bighorns include Ray McCallum in 2013, Tyler Honeycutt in 2011, and Hasaan Whiteside in 2010.