This is the end of the beginning for the Sacramento Kings. Whereas this year was the surreal romp of an underdog miraculously realizing that they're as good as just about any overdog, the Kings will feel the burden of expectations going forward. Losing to the Warriors in seven hotly contested games feels like a pyrrhic victory now, but eventually pyrrhic victories just become losses. As such, the Kings' rebuild is complete; they've been rebuilt. They're too good for juicy, high lottery draft picks; their former abundance of space has been used up on real, good NBA players. With the 24th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Kings face the tough decision of weighing whether they should prioritize the present by adding an immediate contributor or keep an eye on the future by trying to develop a rawer prospect. Luckily, projected mid-to-late first round draft pick Leonard Miller would fulfill both of the Kings' criteria.
Playing for the G League Ignite, Miller emerged as one of the most productive players in the entire G League, averaging 16.9 points (on 63 percent True Shooting) and 10.1 rebounds in just 29.7 minutes per game. Although presumptive number two pick Scoot Henderson was Ignite's star and undisputed main attraction, Miller was every bit Henderson's equal on the court, if not his better. Most promisingly, Miller steadily improved as the season went on. While he initially struggled as he made the massive jump from playing local Canadian high school competition to playing in one of the best leagues in the world, he closed out the season on a massive heater; in Miller's 11 games after the All-Star Break, he averaged 20.7 points, 13.0 and 2.3 assists per game, all major improvements from his pre-All-Star stats.
Despite being seen as a project, Miller was immediately good; advanced stats are admittedly sparse for the G League, but Miller was second on Ignite in composite box score stats like PER and FIC, ranking only behind Ignite veteran former Oregon State center Erik Mika. This is the crux of what makes Leonard Miller as special as anybody in the draft outside of the lottery: he's good enough and big enough and athletic enough to fill an immediate need for the Kings (or anybody else, really), yet raw enough to grow into a star over time.
At this point in his career, Miller has more or less coasted on his natural talent, which, to his credit, is abundant and varied enough to make him an All-Star in a serious professional league. Since Miller has only played serious competitive basketball for about seven months, he understandably has not yet grokked all the nuances and subtleties of high level basketball. His defense needs an Adderall prescription—away from the ball, he mixes in bouts of needless hyperactivity alongside his longer periods of space-y forgetfulness; on the ball, he bites on ball fakes and comes lurching out of his defensive stance. And yet, he still was a largely neutral defender, quick enough to switch onto guards and handle aggressive pick-and-roll coverages like blitzing the ball-handler and big enough (6'11 with 7'1 wingspan) to provide genuine secondary rim protection.
Similarly, his offense is bogged down by his evolving understanding between shots he can take and shots he should take. After playing as a ball-dominant point-forward in Canada, Miller transitioned to a more standard big man role with Ignite. But even as Miller feasted on drop off passes and pick and rolls, he made sure to showcase the full scope of his skills. Goofy foot scoop finishes, languidly expansive euro steps, floaters with either hand: all moves in Miller's bag. When Miller dribbles, he looks unlike any other big man in the league; in fact, he looks unlike just about any other guard in the league, besides herky-jerky masters like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Markelle Fultz. Thanks to his ludicrously flexible ankles and body control, Miller toggles between directions and speeds simultaneously and seemingly at random; containing Miller off the dribble is the basketball equivalent of trying to eat soup with a fork.
By taking Leonard Miller in the draft, the Kings could find the frontcourt solution to their Domantas Sabonis problem—Miller can cover for Sabonis defensively yet still play off him offensively, careening around dribble handoffs and sneaking behind defenses on cuts. With his ability to rip and run off defensive rebounds, he would immediately fit in their go-go offense.
In this sense, Leonard Miller offers an immediately solid foundation, but has the potential to branch off in a nearly unlimited number of directions. Even his shooting, a definite weakness at this point, has the potential to morph into a weapon; Miller's natural shooting touch is very good, but is betrayed by a busted, irregular shooting motion. Here's a player who can grow into a super athletic energy big who cleans the glass and throws down lobs, but could also grow into his ball skills and become something like a turbo-charged Kyle Anderson, but could also develop into an overpowering superstar like Giannis Antetokounmpo who's simply bigger and more mobile than everybody else. Draft him because he's good; believe in him because he could be a star.