NBA Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

Last Season: 28-54, 4th in division; Leading scorer—DeMarcus Cousins (22.1); Leading rebounds—DeMarcus Cousins (11.7); Leading assists—Isiah Thomas (6.1)

Changes: Added—Eric Moreland (signed), Nik Stauskus (draft), Ramon Session (signed), Sim Bhullar (signed), Resigned—Rudy Gay (player option), Lost—Aaron Gray (free agent), Alonzo Gee (waived), Isiah Thomas (free agent), Scotty Hopson (released), Wayne Ellington (waived), Willie Reed (waived)

Positions

Point Guard: Darren Collison, Ramon Sessions, Ray McCallum

Collision is a pretty good backup point guard. The problem is, Collison’s production doesn’t really rise with his minutes—he is efficient, but he’s put up very similar numbers with the Clippers when starting 35 games, the Mavericks when starting 47, and the Pacers when starting 56 and 79. I’d rather see a player with a higher variance between years he started most of the season and years he didn’t which would suggest that more minutes equals more points and assists. But whether he starts 0 games or 82, I expect Collison will be putting up 10 and 5, which is below average for a starting point guard.

Sessions has been useful for teams in the past in a backup role. He’s always had a “potential” label, but by this point he is what he is—he’s very similar in skill level to Collison which leaves the Kings hoping that  24 minutes of Collison plus 24 minutes of Sessions is as good as 35 minutes of an All-Star level point guard +13 minutes of a below average backup.

I’d still rather take one quality starter plus any backup over two quality backups/below average starters.

Shooting Guard: Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskus

McLemore’s rookie season wasn’t stellar by any means, but I wouldn’t call it an unmitigated disaster. He had a 32% three point shot on 143 attempts—if he can increase the percent and volume in his second year, cut down a bit on bad shots, learn to get to the rim more he can still develop into a good NBA player. He has a big advantage over Collison and Sessions in the “hope” column just because he was a rookie last year, not a veteran, he’s still young enough to break bad habits, to put in the work to improve an already decent shot, and overall change who he is as a player.

All that said, you want more than 8.8 points on 7.7 PER from a starter.

Stauskus was a pretty high pick, but you never know what you will get from a rookie. At least there will be minutes available to give him a chance to show what he has and develop into whatever his ceiling might be. I don’t particularly watch college basketball and don’t feel performance in college is terribly predictive of NBA performance, so I try not to spend too many words predicting how good college players will be.

Small Forward: Rudy Gay, Omri Cassipi

Rudy Gay is ironically underrated at this point. He’s a sieve on defense and takes a high volume of often bad shots. But when your starting point guard and shooting guard can’t score more than 10 a game, having a small forward who can pour in 20 a game, even on a high volume of shots has a lot of value. His efficiency numbers aren’t quite up to 20, but that’s a huge improvement from what Gay has put up in the past. His shooting percent overall went up by 10% when he came to Sacremento last season, and the dip in 3 point % from that same move, the total overall benefit of his taking better shots, getting to the rim more than off sets a dip in 3 point percent. Make no mistake, Rudy Gay is a good starter and the Kings need him to be very good if they are going anywhere this year.

Casipri is a decent to above average defender and has a good three point shot (43%). He’s pretty much exactly the level of player you would expect as a primary backup for a position.

Power Forward: Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Derrick Williams, Eric Moreland

The Kings have managed to assemble a group of three veterans averaging below 10 a game plus an undrafted rookie for their options at the four this year. It’s really hard to say who will win this starting job, but it’s pretty clear whoever it is they will be a below average starter. At least there won’t be a fall off when whoever that is goes to the bench?

Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Reggie Evans, Ryan Hollins, Sim Bhullar

DeMarcus Cousins is one of the best centers in the league, certainly when you factor in his age, and his scoring ability that even other elite centers tend to lack these days Cousins has a huge value for the Kings. If you want proof of his value consider that he lead all centers in points in PER, was 4th in rebounds, and third in assist (though almost half of Joakim Noah who was 1st in assists). The only knocks against Cousins are his turnovers, fouls, and low shot blocking. But for everything else he brings

Evans is listed as a Center on the depth chart right now, but he’s a power forward at best (only 6’ 8”). So really the Kings have 5 possible sub-par options there. Hollins is our “true seven footer”, so a non-scoring defensive backup I’ll expect to take the minutes when Cousins needs a breather or (more often) needs to sit down for fouls.

Bhullar is an interesting rookie going into this year. While Hollins and many other players in the league are 7’ 0”, Bhullar is 7’ 5”. His size meant it was inevitable that someone would give him a chance in the league, but he went undrafted for a reason and will likely be raw and as a third option behind a veteran backup and the best center in the league he likely will play only in rare circumstances (most of them involving DeMarcus and 4-6 fouls at a guess).

Outlook: The Kings actually had one of the most stable rosters from last year to this, only losing one notable player. Unfortunately when what you had last year wasn’t enough to get even close to the playoffs that’s a bad thing. They have the best center in the league, but then are between below average and horrible at every other starting spot outside of Rudy Gay. Best case scenario Boogie Cousins finds another gear, learns to stay out of foul trouble, ups his scoring from 22 to 30 per game, ups his rebounds closer to 15 per game and makes himself an MVP candidate, while Rudy Gay controls his bad shots and plays the perfect second banana, while someone in each of the other spots pulls out 12 a game and the Kings get a low playoff seed.  More likely they end up in the lottery yet again, with McLemore coming out a definitive bust and looking for a better complement to their talented young big man.

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