It's impossible to ignore the similarities between the 2011-12 Kings and the 1998-99 Sacramento squad that nearly toppled the defending Western Conference champion Utah Jazz in the playoffs during the NBA's last lockout-shortened season.
No, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac are not walking through that door, and neither is a young Peja Stojakovic, or even key reserves Jon Barry, Scot Pollard and Vernon Maxwell (looking back, "Mad Max" incredibly finished fifth on the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game in '99). But much like a dozen years ago, when the Kings were coming off a disappointing 27-win season and made several splashy moves prior to the lockout, which triggered a renaissance, Sacramento may once again be a surprise playoff contender.
The Kings similarly ended up with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and selected an electrifying point guard whose exciting style of play is sure to not only ignite the home crowd, but potentially bring the national spotlight back to Sacramento.
While Jimmer Fredette is certainly not the same type of basketball player as Jason Williams, whose flashy passes and playground-style game became "SportsCenter" staples, he enters the NBA as one of college basketball's most popular and recognizable stars. In fact, Jimmer's popularity may have already surpassed J-Will's, as the former BYU star has cemented himself as a pop culture icon. In perhaps the most telling example of his ever-growing fame, rapper Lil Wayne referenced the Kings rookie by claiming he's "shooting like Jimmer" in a recent song.
"Jimmermania" has not surprisingly spread to Sacramento, where eager fans chanted for him to shoot the ball nearly every time he touched it in his unofficial home debut in Donté Greene's "Goon Squad Classic" charity game last week. The sharp-shooting rookie didn't disappoint the crowd, by nailing eight three-pointers en route to 34 points.
A week after drafting Jimmer, the Kings proceeded to trade small forward Omri Casspi to the Cleveland Cavaliers for big man J.J. Hickson. While the deal lacks the star-power of 1998's Mitch Richmond-Chris Webber swap, it likewise gives Sacramento a young, athletic power forward who has shown flashes of future star potential. Hickson, who averaged 16.8 points and 10.8 after last year's All-Star break and 19.5 points and 12.3 rebounds over the final month of the season, joins a formidable Kings frontline that features second-year big man DeMarcus Cousins and fourth-year forward Jason Thompson, both of whom are also coming off strong second halves in 2010-11.