Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

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Most Important Player: DeMarcus Cousins holds the most power over the Sacramento Kings this season and, depending on his demeanor, we’ll know what their future holds by February. An emotionally centered Cousins could wreak havoc on the league and signal a bright future for the Kings—and easily earn a maximum contract extension next summer. But if he continues his immature behavior, he’ll likely be traded by the deadline, and Sacramento will look to move in a new direction. From owner Vivek Ranadivè on down, the new regime in Sacramento has been outspoken in their support of Cousins, positioning him as the team’s leader and franchise cornerstone. Depending on his attitude and play, we’ll know by February whether the Kings will be wigging out for Wiggins or trending toward becoming a playoff contender.

X-Factor: Cousins is Sacramento’s main course, but they’re still in need of a nice side to complement him in the frontcourt. Jason Thompson found his footing in the starting lineup last season, but ultimately was underwhelming in his fifth year in the league. Thompson’s rebounding rate was the lowest of his entire career. He’s one of the Kings’ biggest players, and yet he only took 3.3 shots at the rim last year. Thompson needs to focus his efforts on being more consistently active in the paint. This season, his playing time will be threatened by two capable forwards in Carl Landry and Patrick Patterson. Perhaps Thompson will see the competition as an opportunity to improve and firmly implant himself in the starting lineup, in which case Sacramento would have a formidable frontcourt pairing. Equipped with a versatile game, Thompson could fit nicely with Cousins, but to do so he must put more emphasis on his play in the post.

Rotations: Options abound for first-year head coach Michael Malone when it comes to lineup possibilities. He’ll likely opt for experience at shooting guard rather than the raw skills of McLemore, which would result in a starting backcourt of Greivis Vasquez and Marcus Thornton. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who can guard up to three positions, will start at small forward because of his defense and rebounding, two things Malone has made top priorities since joining the organization. Nothing changes up front, where Thompson and Cousins round out the starters. The Kings have plenty of depth on the bench with the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Landry, Patterson, John Salmons and their two rookie guards, McLemore and Ray McCallum.

The depth of Sacramento’s bench in turn creates opportunities to experiment with various situational lineups. An intriguing small and quick lineup could feature Thomas at the point with Thornton, McLemore, Mbah a Moute and Thompson on down the line. On the other hand, a lineup of Vasquez, McLemore, Mbah a Moute, Thompson and Cousins would present opponents with daunting length and size.

While Malone will have plenty to experiment with, there is some pressure to find out what works as soon as possible. Keith Smart’s tenure at the helm of the Kings was cut short when he began to lose players due to constantly erratic minutes and lineups.

What Needs to Go Right: The players need to buy into Michael Malone and his system. Sacramento has shot itself in the foot with moves dating back to the firing of Rick Adelman, having employed six head coaches in the seven years since. The trend needs to stop. Malone has a stern approach, but his track record speaks for itself and the team can become respectable defensively for the first time in nearly a decade if they put forth the effort.

It’s Really Bad If …: Salmons averages over 25 minutes a game. Despite the perception, he’s not nearly as staunch a defender as he’s been in the past, and he can be a ball-stopper on offense that takes away from better options. If Salmons is getting the lion’s share of minutes at small forward it means that Mbah a Moute is either injured or underperforming, which, either way, leaves the Kings with a gaping hole at small forward.

Bold Prediction: Cousins is a new man and has a borderline All-Star season, earning a max contract offer this summer. Malone gets the Kings to commit on the defensive end and they finish better than 20th in the league in defensive efficiency—something that hasn’t happened since the 2005-06 season, when Metta World Peace rocked No. 93 and was still known as Ron Artest. Sacramento wins 37 games, establishing themselves as a talented young team that will compete for a playoff spot in 2015.


DeMarcus Cousins
Strengths: Plenty of post moves, great hands, decent mid-range shot
Weaknesses: Immaturity, relies too much on jump shot, immaturity
Season Prediction: With his head on straight, Cousins will put together his best season yet, but he’ll still need to work on getting more efficient shots and improve his defense.

Jimmer Fredette
Strengths: In-the-gym range, free throws
Weaknesses: Size, defense, play-making
Season Prediction: There’s simply no room in the backcourt for Fredette to get a legitimate shot at proving himself on the Kings this season. Expect him to ride the pine or get dealt.

Chuck Hayes
Strengths: Setting screens, defense, attitude
Weakness: No offense outside of a half-hook move, he’s a 6’7″ center
Season Prediction: Best case scenario for Hayes is that he becomes Cousins’ backup. Worst case, he warms the bench and contributes in practice and the locker room.

Carl Landry
Strengths: Versatile offensive game, effort, experience
Weaknesses: Defense, rebounding
Season Prediction: Landry will come off the bench as a good sixth man option and bring veteran leadership to a young team.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Strengths: Defensive versatility, rebounding
Weaknesses: Offense, particularly shooting the ball
Season Prediction: Mbah a Moute’s defensive and rebounding abilities perfectly match Malone’s talking points this season, so he’ll start at small forward and set the tone on defense.

Ray McCallum
Strengths: Getting to the rim, pick-and-roll offense, mid-range game
Weaknesses: Passing outside of dribble penetration, long-range shooting
Season Prediction: McCallum has the ability to contribute in his rookie season, but it’s hard to see him beating out Vasquez, Thomas, Thornton or McLemore. A stint in the D-League may do him good.

Ben McLemore
Strengths: Shooting, athleticism, defense
Weaknesses: Dribbling, shot selection
Season Prediction: McLemore struggled to adjust in Summer League, and he’ll do so still in his rookie season. He’ll eventually adjust to the speed of the NBA and his shots will start falling, but expect the Kings to be patient with him and don’t expect him to win Rookie of the Year.

Travis Outlaw
Strengths: Defense, length
Weaknesses: Everything else
Season Prediction: Outlaw will ride the end of the bench and help out occasionally in defensive situations or in case of emergency.

Patrick Patterson
Strength: Shooting
Weakness: Rebounding
Season Predictions: It’s hard to imagine Patterson not being utilized, but he’s behind Thompson and Landry at power forward on Sacramento’s depth chart. Malone will have to get a little creative.

John Salmons
Strengths: Cutting, he’s a veteran
Weaknesses: Man defense, occasional ball-stopper
Season Prediction: Salmons shot well from three last year, but it won’t carry over to this season. He can be a decent second team contributor and a veteran presence.

Isaiah Thomas
Strengths: Speed, shooting, penetration, pick-and-roll scoring
Weaknesses: Distributing, size
Season Prediction: Thomas never seems to catch a break. Vasquez was brought in and he’ll have a tough battle for the starting point guard spot on his hands. Ultimately, he may work better as a spark plug off the bench.

Jason Thompson
Strengths: Mid-range shot, energy, rebounding
Weaknesses: Consistency, avoids the paint
Season Prediction: While he may not be Sacramento’s long-term solution at power forward (but hey, maybe he is), he’ll lock down his place in the starting lineup this season and improve upon his inconsistent play last year.

Marcus Thornton
Strengths: Streaky shooter, attacking the rim, clutch
Weaknesses: Streaky shooter, defense
Season Prediction: Malone will go with Thornton’s experience at shooting guard. Thornton will have a few game-winners and mind-boggling hot streaks as well as mind-boggling cold streaks.

Greivis Vasquez
Strengths: Passing, size
Weaknesses: Defense
Season Prediction: His distribution and past success will make him the season-opening starter at point guard, but he’ll need to improve his defense to hold on to the position the entire season.

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