The Kings’ 2023 NBA Draft approach was a bit different than in previous years. No lottery luck. No high draft picks. No problem.
While it’s clear that things are changing around the organization, expectations for the Kings' newest rookies, Colby Jones and Jalen Slawson, remain the same.
“We talked last year about how we've had success, summer league championships, we've had some success obviously [in] the preseason in the G League, but finally last year at the NBA level as well. So look, ultimately, it's about winning,” Kings general manager Monte McNair said at Jones and Slawson’s introductory press conference Tuesday. “And so if you're a good player, you're going to contribute to winning in some way.
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“And you know, it's not just that your team won, it’s that we're seeing how you helped your team win, and how you might then help us win. And I already told these guys, we got high expectations. We got a summer league championship. Our junior team was No. 1 throughout the year. And then you know, we had our playoff drought broken last year, but we need to go further. Whether it's the California Classic, summer league, G League or the NBA team -- expect them to come in and figure out a way to help us win.”
This year, McNair traded up in the second round to draft Xavier guard Jones at No. 34 and then capped the night by selecting Furman forward Slawson 54th overall.
In Sacramento’s last three drafts, McNair selected Tyrese Haliburton, Davion Mitchell and Keegan Murray, respectively, among others. All three players made and, in Mitchell and Murray's case, continue to make key contributions to Sacramento’s newfound success.
Mitchell’s defensive intensity was prevalent from Day 1 all the way to Sacramento’s season-ending Game 7 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Murray made history in his first season, dethroning Donovan Mitchell as the rookie 3-point king.
Though Jones and Slawson weren't first-round selections, McNair expects them to step up and make their own impact in their first NBA seasons. Both rookies welcome that challenge with open arms.
Jones, whose work ethic and drastic shooting improvement McNair praised, is excited about the process of transitioning to the NBA and ready to showcase his talent at the next level.
“I feel like throughout high school and college, I've always had to show my worth and work my way up,” the 21-year-old said Tuesday. So I'm just going to keep that same mindset and mentality and try to work to get better every day."
In his first season at Xavier, Jones averaged just 7.7 points in 27.8 minutes on 33.3 percent shooting from 3-point range. The next season, his 3-point efficiency sank, shooting 29.2 percent from deep but averaging 11.6 points in 33.5 minutes.
Jones' confidence never wavered, though. He continued to put in the work, and it paid off. In his third and final season for the Musketeers, he averaged 15 points on 50.9 percent shooting from the field and 37.8 percent from downtown, along with 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 34 minutes per game.
He attributed his mindset, in part, to his dad.
“I feel like I've kind of always just had that,” Jones said. “Whether that's my dad taking me to the gym when I was younger to work out with my brother, and then, yeah, that kind of just carried that throughout my childhood and throughout college.”
Many draft experts projected Jones as a first-round pick, but he wasn’t discouraged by falling to the second round. Instead, he said he’s “forever grateful” that the Kings gave him an opportunity.
Slawson, a 6-foot-7 forward with a 7-foot wingspan, played five collegiate seasons at Furman. He averaged 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals across 36 games last season for the Paladins while shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from 3-point range.
Before Jones or Slawson heard their names called on draft night, the Kings traded their only first-round selection (No. 24) and center Richaun Holmes to the Dallas Mavericks in a move that spiked their salary-cap space to about $35 million. As free agency quickly approaches, several big names such as Kyle Kuzma and four-time NBA champion Draymond Green have been thrown into the mix as potential targets to land in Sacramento to fill the Kings' power forward spot.
Slawson already has that in mind as he puts in work this offseason.
"Yeah, I mean, obviously, [the Kings are] looking for depth at the four spot," he said. "I feel like [Furman] played really fast. Coach [Mike] Brown likes to play really fast. I feel like that's something I can bring. Be a good decision-maker, obviously pace, able to run the floor pretty well, being a good athlete and then being a versatile defender, too.
"So, those are all things that this organization values and things that I do pretty well."
Jones, whom McNair referred to simply as a "winner," also caught the GM's eye with his two-way play.
"I feel like just my overall game, my versatility on both ends of the floor," Jones said. "I'm just going to try to come in and find any way to contribute to the team's success."
Jones and Slawson ran fast-paced offenses at their respective colleges, something that "excites" them about joining the Kings. Both agreed their games will fit in with Sacramento just fine.
While neither rookie is expected to play as many minutes as Sacramento's past first-year players, nothing is off the table for a team that continues to thrive off its youth.
McNair has high expectations for Jones and Slawson, and the rookies can't wait to fulfill those expectations.
"With both of these guys, I think also we've seen the improvement, and we like that trend for both of these guys," McNair said. "Guys that are sometimes a little older can contribute earlier. We know both of these guys, we've seen them win over the course of their entire college career in different roles as they progressed and, you know, it just gives us more confidence that they'll be able to continue to figure out here.
"And you know, they're going to have to earn it and earn every penny, but we've seen them do that."