With second-year head coach Mike Malone at the helm, the Sacramento Kings are looking to take the league by surprise this season.
Led by a collection of relatively young talent, Sacramento will look to build upon two straight 28-54 seasons, and go from NBA court jester to basketball royalty.
The team’s transformation starts with their new look back court. After losing breakout guard Isaiah Thomas, in free agency to the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento has been able to re-load and give their back court a boost with Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions.
Neither guard has ever been an established starter in the NBA, but both have the ability to run an effective offense. Last season, Collison was the back-up to Chris Paul in Los Angeles.
When the superstar guard went down with an injury, Collison showed he has what it takes to be an effective NBA guard. During the month of January, Collison was able to put a solid average of 14.4 points and 6.1 assists per game.
His 1.6 steals per contest also showed he has the defensive chops of a legitimate starter.
While Collison will likely start the season as the King’s starting point guard, fellow free-agent signee Ramon Sessions will also look to gain minutes at the guard position. Sessions has never been a true number one starter in the NBA.
Over his last four seasons, Sessions has averaged 12.8 points and 4.6 assists in only 26 minutes per contest. The additions of Collison and Sessions will give Sacramento a firm one-two punch at point guard.
With the point guard position filled, the Kings will look to some young talent to fill the void at the shooting guard. Currently, the team will have second-year shooter, Ben McLemore and rookie Nik Stauskas man the position.
McLemore had an underwhelming rookie year only averaging 8.8 points on the season. He did show some of his enormous potential during the final month of the schedule, where his average increased to 13.9 points.
There were rumors throughout the off-season that team was trying to trade the young guard. Ultimately, the team gave McLemore a second look, and pair him with the team’s top draft choice in Stauskas.
Stauskas, a Canadian-born sharpshooter from the University of Michigan, averaged 17.5 points for the Wolverines last season while shooting a healthy 5.8 three-pointers a game. Stauskas, despite being a rookie, is likely the Kings best shooter and will see plenty of minutes during his first NBA season.
With all the depth at the guard position, coach Mike Malone will need to get creative. Because of this, Malone has begun incorporating three guard sets. A plan which he detailed during a recent interview.
“You have two very effective ball handlers, pick-and-roll players with Ramon and Darren; and you have the shooter component with Ben or Nik, So it allows us to play that position less basketball … as opposed to having that true small forward in the game.”
The three guard set certainly gives the Kings some versatility on offense, however the team does posses one of the better scoring small forwards in basketball in Rudy Gay.
Acquired last season in a trade with Toronto, Gay proved to be an offensive spark for the Kings.
Despite taking 16 shots a game, which places him 16th in the NBA, he was able to shoot a very respectable .455 from the field.
While Gay averaged a putrid 2.9 assists per game last season, he was able to accumulate a solid 6 rebounds. The best part of Gay’s game is his versatility, as he is not only an effective scorer, but a good rebounder. If Malone wants to use a three-guard set, he might wish to use both Gay’s scoring ability and rebounding in the offense.
The best place to play Gay in that instance would be power forward.
There is also much incentive to play Gay in the frontcourt, as the team boasts a very unstable collection of forward’s on its roster including Reggie Evans, Carl Landry, and Derrick Williams. Gay is likely the most athletic of the bunch, however Malone may want to use him sparingly down low.
Gay lets opponents shoot a terrible 62.1 percent at the rim, so a move to power forward is strictly to spread the floor and create offense.
Regardless of Gay or any other player’s impact down low, the team already has a potential defensive force on it its roster.
DeMarcus Cousins might be the best center in basketball. Last season, Cousins averaged a sensational 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per contest.
While he isn’t the best defender at the rim, opponents only take 7.5 shots against him. That number is less than that of DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan, and Dwight Howard. His mere defensive presence is enough for most team’s to shy away from playing him one on one down low.
The only thing keeping Cousins from elite status might be himself, as his 16 technical were tied for 1st in the NBA. If he can keep himself in check this year, and avoid any suspensions, then we might be looking at the best big man in the league.
Cousins might be the only player on this Kings team with a set position. All of the other players will see time at many spots on the court.
When the season starts Malone’s starting line-up will likely be similar to the following.
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Ben McLemore
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Reggie Evans
C: DeMarcus Cousins
Mike Malone will certainly have his hands full this season. He has a lot of talent in the backcourt, but the team does lack depth down low. As mentioned before, Gay will likely be used often at the power forward spot, as Malone might wish to use three-guard sets.
The use of Evans is strictly that of a rebounder, as the team does not need him to score. The team’s bench is very deep as a lot of valuable pieces that can contribute.
PG: Ramon Sessions/Ray McCallum
SG: Nik Stauskas
PF: Derrick Williams
C: Jason Thompson
The backcourt depth once again shines through as the team boats an impressive collection of shooters and distributors. The addition of Casspi gives the team a decent three-point option off the bench. However, the frontcourt still lacks legitimacy, as Derrick Williams, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been a bust, and Jason Thompson has not proven to be anything more than an average NBA player.
The Kings are a long way from a title but they have certainly improved their roster. The addition of pass-oriented guards Collison and Sessions will give players like Gay, Stauskas, and McLemore more chances to shoot.
Despite the weak frontcourt, Cousins is only getting better, and a full year of his contributions will only improve the team.
If the guard position can score enough points, and if someone aside from Cousins steps up in the frontcourt, than Sacramento could be Kings once again.
Although, in a Western Conference loaded with talent, they might be regulated to the dungeon once more.
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