Culture of Hoops

Two Cents: Put me in, Coach

two centsTwo Cents will be a recurring piece on Baller Mind Frame’s Sacramento Kings blog in which its writers will give their thoughts on all things Kings. For all of BMF’s Kings coverage, check out the blog.

The Sacramento Kings’ regular-season opener is just a week away and decisions need to be made. Multiple reports have suggested Michael Malone will implement lineups he plans to use this season in the final two games of the preseason, starting tonight against the Golden State Warriors. There has been competition at nearly every position on Sacramento’s depth chart, leaving a few starting spots up for grabs. Steven Covella, Adam Michael Levine and Nirvan Sorooshian have their own thoughts on who should fill out the starting lineup to open the season. Here’s their two cents.

Point Guard

Steven: The Kings’ point guard competition has been a little underwhelming since Greivis Vásquez has been out for much of the preseason with an ankle injury. The last few games he’s made appearances, but has only played in the second half once and has averaged just over 15 minutes a game so far. We just haven’t seen enough out of him to know how exactly he’ll fit in with this team. He’s started every game he’s played in, though, so maybe the Sacramento coaching staff has seen enough to start him in the opener next week.

But for my money, Isaiah Thomas should start. He gets looked over season after season, and no, that’s not a joke about his height. He’s done great when he has started in the past and this preseason hasn’t been any different. Thomas looked impressive running Sacramento’s offense the first two games of the preseason and has continued to off of the bench. He’s been aggressive, constantly attacking the basket and keeping the tempo up, and his assists numbers have improved. Maybe he’s best suited to exploit opposing teams off the bench, after they get lulled to sleep by Vásquez’s meandering, patient play, but I say give Thomas a chance to lose the starting job he’s earned.

Adam: Vásquez should be the Kings’ starting point guard. I love Thomas as much as the next guy, but Vásquez brings more to the table in terms of playmaking ability, passing and size. By starting Vásquez, Michael Malone will create a major mismatch when the Kings are on offense as he is 2-3 inches taller than most point guards in the NBA.

Nirvan: The starter at the point guard position for the Sacramento Kings is as clear as the fact that DeMarcus Cousins is the best man the Kings have at center (but we’ll get to that later). While Thomas has looked solid in his time as a starter for Sacramento, the newly acquired Vásquez should be the clear pick to take over the starting role, provided he can keep his ankle healthy for enough time to prove to Malone that he is still the young star he was in New Orleans. With last year’s ridiculous assist totals and passing display, Vásquez proved that he is on a higher level than most young point guards in the league, as he is on par with Ricky Rubio to become one of the best passers in the game.

Shooting Guard

Steven: Ben McLemore has had a strong showing over the course of the preseason. In summer league, he didn’t see a shot he didn’t like and missed a ton of them. So far, his stroke looks as advertised coming into the draft and his shot selection has improved. Still, to start the season, the Kings may be better served to go with the veteran Marcus Thornton. Thornton has played in Malone’s defense before, which should ease his transition into it, and his NBA experience will likely make him more reliable than the rookie once the regular season starts. I do think, however, that McLemore could get that starting spot sooner than I expected back in July.

Adam: This is the toughest decision for me. On one hand, I love what McLemore brings to the table when he plays – the Kings could really use a dead-eye shooter next to Vásquez – but I think it will be Thornton who gets the starting spot. Thornton can provide a veteran presence and be a 20 point per game kind of player, which is something that is really needed in this lineup.

Nirvan: With a passing attack as deadly as Vásquez’s, the Kings could use a solid spot-up shooter at the shooting guard position to offer Vásquez a reliable target to hover along the three point line. It should and will be McLemore. Immediate playing time for McLemore is a key, as establishing himself early in his career as a three-point threat will only boost his confidence and raise his potential ceiling even higher. Many argue that Thornton’s perimeter presence is just as strong as McLemore’s, and for the most part, it is. What McLemore can bring to the Kings’ starting five, though, is an ability to beat his defender off the dribble in almost every situation – he’s one of the quickest offensive players to come out of this year’s draft. With McLemore beating defenders, getting himself into the lane and onto the free throw line, I think the choice is clear for the Kings at two-guard.

Small Forward

Steven: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been out for most of the preseason with an injury, subjecting us to way more Travis Outlaw than anticipated. Surprisingly, Outlaw’s looked pretty good during the preseason considering the number of DNPs he racked up last season. John Salmons hasn’t looked half-bad either, but let’s be serious: who wants either of those guys starting this year? I’ll take the not-yet-acclimated Mbah a Moute and his defense over the alternatives.

Adam: None of the candidates have been overly impressive in the preseason. I think that if Mbah a Moute is healthy, he gets the starting nod because he has the best size and defense. If Mbah a Moute is not ready to go then I see Salmons getting the start at small forward.

Nirvan: Vásquez and McLemore bring viable offensive options to the Kings’ roster, but Malone will probably stick to what he knows best here: defense. One player who focuses on defensive intensity is Mbah a Moute. (Quite a mouthful, I know.) When this guy is in the grill of another forward, battling to get the Kings offense the ball back, fans will forget the complexity of his name and focus on watching him pick pockets and hassle forwards, all providing Sacramento with easy transition buckets.

Power Forward

Steven: The preseason competition at power forward got less interesting pretty quickly when Carl Landry went down to an injury that would turn out to keep him out of action for the next few months. Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson have been mostly underwhelming. Patterson, however, did have a big game against the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday, showing a perimeter game that might compliment Cousins nicely. Ultimately, though, while Thompson hasn’t met expectations offensively, he’s rebounded consistently – something I think the Kings need more of in their starting lineup than scoring. I’m going with Thompson.

Adam: While I think Thompson is a better player than Patterson, I also think that Patterson is the better fit next to Cousins in the starting lineup because he can spread the floor to open things up in the post. Thompson is an excellent third big man and will help off the bench.

Nirvan: It is likely that Thompson will get the starting nod at power forward, as he provides the Kings with a solid option and production every night. His length gives him an edge over Landry, and Thompson’s presence down low should pair well with Cousins – the two need to improve Sacramento’s rebounding. Thompson could average a double-double, and his potential on the boards could give the Kings the second-chance buckets they’ve been missing for who knows how long.

Center

Adam: The only way Cousins doesn’t get the start is if he gets hurt in one of the last two preseason games. Kings management just gave him a lot of money so there is no way we don’t see Cousins in the starting five.

Nirvan: It’s unsurprising that the starting spot at center will go to Cousins, a player with as much superstar potential as anybody in the league. Not only do I think Cousins will be a year-long starter for the Kings, but this year is as good a time as any for him to take a step in the right direction by clearing his head of everything but playing his game the best way he knows how: with intensity and tremendous skill. This preseason has shown Cousins’ growth on the offensive side of the ball, as he has mightily improved his mid-range jumper and is consistently winning battles down low. With a brand new mentor in Shaquille O’neal, Cousins just might break out and become the superstar he can be.

Steven: H.N.O.E. … Hamady N’Diaye over everything.

That’s our two cents, what’s yours? Let us know in the comments below.

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