Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

 
SACRAMENTO KINGS
28-54
Pacific Division
Coach: Mike Malone
Power Ranking: 23




The Kings had an interesting off-season, letting DeMarcus Cousins favorite Isaiah Thomas go to the Suns for basically zero assets in return.  They then spent a lottery pick on a SG for the second year in a row, with Noah Vonleh on the board, who could have adequately filled their void at PF.  However, they rebounded from those mistakes by signing Darren Collison to a fair deal to replace Thomas, and added good depth with Ramon Sessions on a 2-year, $4.3M deal.  Now in the second year under Mike Malone, the Kings look to expand upon improved play after the acquisition of Rudy Gay in December of 2013.  While the improvements were only minimal (.300 Win Pct. without Gay, .355 with), Gay's production was much more in line with expectations after a horrific run in Toronto.

After flirting with a trade for Josh Smith on several occasions over the summer, the Kings are still thin in the frontcourt.  The lack of help for Cousins in the post may be the Kings' biggest weakness on an otherwise talented roster.  With Cousins at C and Gay at SF, you could argue that the Kings have a top five player at two separate positions, an argument most teams couldn't make.  However, they'll need production up and down the roster in order to compete in the Western Conference and improve on last year's 28 wins.  If the Kings can get quality play from one of their young SGs and find a PF who can provide reliable minutes, they may push over the 30 win mark for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

 

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STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%
102.9(19th) 106.3(23rd) .331 .218 53.2% 27.8% 76.6% 13.9%

The Kings were mediocre on offense in 2013-14, finishing 19th in the league in Offensive Efficiency.  Sacramento struggled to shoot the ball, finishing 27th in the league in 3-point shooting at 33.3%.  The Kings also struggled to take care of the ball, finishing 18th in the league in TOV%.   Thanks to the efforts of DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings finished 3rd in the league in Free Throw Rate and 4th in the league in OReb%.   Sacramento played just above the league average pace, averaging 94.4 possessions per game.

Sacramento was even more mediocre on defense, as one of the worst ten defenses in the NBA.  The Kings defensive struggles started on the perimeter, finishing 21st in the NBA in opponent 3PAr at .272.  Indicative of their inability to limit opponent three point attempts, Kings opponents shot the 2nd highest percentage in the NBA from deep, connecting on 38% of their attempts.  The Kings also struggled to turn teams over, ranking 25th in the league in opponent TOV% at a slight 12.5%.  Much like on offense, the team's strength on defense comes on the glass, as the Kings ranked 3rd in the league in DReb%.

STYLE OF PLAY

Mike Malone is a defense-first coach, so his team's struggles on that end of the floor in his first season must have been very frustrating.  After being a part of Mark Jackson's staff with the Warriors, Malone would like to recreate the stout defense he had in the Bay Area, but he doesn't exactly have the pieces to work with like he did with Golden State.  Cousins and Gay aren't exactly top notch defenders and the Nik Stauskas pick doesn't signal a move in the right direction.  As Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty notes, Malone's defensive preference to clog the lanes doesn't work on this team.  With Stauskas and McLemore using the team's minutes at SG, they may not be able to keep teams out of the paint enough, a problem that is exacerbated by the Kings' lack of a shot blocking presence.

Sacramento's best hope of competing may be to focus on improving a steady, if unimpressive, offense which is carried by Cousins.  Malone's philosophy demands that the Kings get out and run when they have the opportunity, a trait aided by the team's excellent defensive rebounding.  Malone stresses that it's important for the Kings to run only when the opportunity presents itself, as opposed to living and dying by the philosophy.  In the halfcourt, Malone likes to keep the ball moving, and play inside-out, a style that should accentuate the skills of DeMarcus Cousins as the team grows.


PERSONNEL
Acquisitions: SG Nik Stauskas (8th pick), PG Darren Collison, G Ramon Sessions, F Omri Casspi
Departures: PG Isaiah Thomas, C Aaron Gray, F Quincy Acy, F Travis Outlaw

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
PG: Darren Collison
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%TOV%
11.4
16.2
19.7%
57.5%
21.9%
14.3%
Collison has always been solid as a backup, but this will be his second chance at proving that he can lead a team as the main PG and that his run in New Orleans when CP3 went down wasn't a fluke.  It didn't work out in Indiana, but if the Kings are going to succeed, they'll need Collison to be at his best.

SG: Ben McLemore
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%2P%
8.8
7.7
16.9%
48.5%
32.0%
41.9%
McLemore was horrendous as a rookie, struggling to score inside and outside.  Even as a low usage option, McLemore struggled with his efficiency.  It was only his first year in the league, but with Nik Stauskas breathing down his neck, he doesn't have long to figure his game out.

SF: Rudy Gay
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%FTr
20.0
18.3
27.6%
54.0%
15.1%
.328
Gay really finished the year strong in Sacramento, showing that he still has some mileage left.  His reputation as a ball hog even went away, as he posted the highest AST% of his eight year career.  The Kings need him to replicate last year's productive season.

PF: Jason Thompson
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%2P%
7.1
11.1
14.4%
52.3%
14.8%
50.6%
 The situation is so bleak at PF that the Kings probably would have been best off just keeping Thomas Robinson and starting him.  Thompson is the best (if you can use that word in this context) of a weak bunch, unless Derrick Williams puts it together in year four.

C: DeMarcus Cousins
PPGPERUSG%TS%
DRB%
AST%
22.7
26.1
32.7%
55.5%
30.5%
17.8%
The casual NBA fan has zero appreciation for just how great Cousins is.  He's one of the best rebounders in the league and is an extremely efficient scorer despite his crazy Usage Rate.  Not to mention his excellent AST% for a C.  On top of that, his exuberant personality should be way more endearing to fans than it currently he is.  He's not a bad guy, he's just passionate and misunderstood.  Boogie for MVP.

BENCH
PG: Ray McCallum
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%TOV%
6.2
9.7
17.6%
43.9%
21.0%
10.9%
When you look at his season as a whole, it looked like what you would expect from a rookie, 2nd round pick PG.  However, when given the minutes in the final stretch of the season, RMC put up some big numbers, including a 27 point performance and multiple 10 assist games.  The late addition of Sessions may turn him into a trade chip.
 
G: Ramon Sessions
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%TOV%
12.3
16.0
22.7%
53.9%
25.7%
13.5%
Sessions should be a steadying presence off the bench, although much like Collison he isn't a distributor either.  With the Kings a year or two away from competing, wouldn't they have been better off leaving these minutes for McCallum?

SG: Nik Stauskas (college stats)
PPGRPGAPGFG%3P%2P%
17.9
2.5
3.3
47.0%
44.2%
50.0%
Stauskas was an assassin at UofM (yes, I'm a bit biased), getting the job done as a scorer and a distributor.  He may be the best pure shooter on the team, and if his game translates to the NBA, he'll be one of the better passers on the team.  At worst, he's a bigger Jimmer Fredette, at best, the Kings have their starting SG of the future. 

F: Derrick Williams
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
8.0
11.5
16.2%
52.4%
10.0%
.537
Now in his fourth season, Williams needs to start producing or he may not have many years left in the league.  He's not a very good outside shooter, but he insists on trying it.  He'd be better served attacking, considering his .411 career FTr.

PF: Carl Landry
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
4.2
11.2
14.5%
56.3%
13.8%
.283
Landry didn't live up to the four year, $26M deal he received from the Kings in the summer of 2013.  If he can return to the form he showed in his Golden State years, he should be the starting PF.  If he can't, he's of no use to the Kings. 
 
SEASON EXPECTATIONS

The Western Conference isn't kind to young teams with only two truly reliable starters.  And unless Nik Stauskas has a major rookie season and locks down the SG spot, that's what the Kings have.  While Darren Collison is a solid player, he likely won't have the impact that Isaiah Thomas had last season.  Unless DeMarcus Cousins has an MVP caliber year, there's practically no chance the Kings can compete for a playoff spot.  In the Pacific Division, only the Lakers are evenly matched with this Kings squad, as the Suns, Clippers and Warriors are all legitimate contenders for a playoff spot or more.  I'll take the Kings to finish with a similar number of wins as last season, finishing in the 28-32 range.


SUMMARY

With DeMarcus Cousins locked into a long-term deal, the Kings need to make the necessary improvements to get DMC to the playoffs, or this will be his last contract with the Kings.  Whether Mike Malone is the guy to get that job done will be seen this season.  Can he get the Kings to improve a poor defense and help fine tune an offense that will have to rely on its two stars?  Nik Stauskas could help fix an offense light on shooting, and how he fixes the defense is anybody's best guess.  If Malone doesn't have any answers, he may find himself on the hot seat by the end of the season. 

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