- PG – Isiah Thomas (or Aaron Brooks)
- SG – Marcus Thornton
- SF – Tyreke Evans
- PF – Jason Thompson (or Thomas Robinson)
- C – DeMarcus Cousins
The shooting guard, small forward and center positions look fairly settled. The PG position (Isiah Thomas and Aaron Brooks) and the PF position (Thomas Robinson and Jason Thompson) are up for grabs.
Overall, this is a very weak starting lineup. No player here is a top 10 or even top 15 player at their respective position. Clearly a lottery team and probably one of the weaker ones at that.
DeMarcus Cousins is the the main star on this team. He is a very talented player with clear All-Star potential. A 20-10 threat who should become a quality defender in time. However, in the immediate, he is less of an impact player.
Cousins is one of those guys who makes a large amount of positive contributions (rebounding, shot-creation, prolific scoring, passing ability, some interior defense) but also makes a large amount of negative contributions (shot selection, jump-shot happy, low FG%, inefficient scoring, high turnovers, defensive mistakes, doesn’t anchor a defense). Those negative contributions negate a large portion of his positive ones and make his net impact fairly small for a player of his talent.
The main thing I’ll be watching for Cousins this year is whether and how much progress he makes in fixing some of those negatives that are holding back his game. He has so many flaws that I don’t believe it’s realistic to expect him to fix it all in one year. It’s a multi-year development situation. But clearly, Cousins is a very gifted player and worth waiting on. He’ll be one of the best centers in the league in the near future.
The next marquee talent is Tyreke Evans. He is a power based guard who uses his size and physical power to great effect. A quality defender/rebounder with very good ball-handling and shot-creation skills. A good playmaker for a wing. His decision making, floor leadership and ball-happy ways cause some problems for him at PG but I believe Tyreke has the right mental characteristics (composure, team-orientated, unselfish) to address those issues with good coaching and experience. Unfortunately, the Kings have already given up on that and written Tyreke off as a PG and have decided to make him a wing instead.
The Kings, namely Keith Smart, have further compounded their premature decision (and mistake) by forcing Tyreke Evans to play the small forward position in order to fit Marcus Thornton into their starting unit (as a SG). If we go back a second, I described Tyreke as a power-based guard, someone who was reliant on using his physical size/strength to create advantages against smaller guards. Well, as a small forward, Tyreke is undersized and can’t play that. And this is the way that he has played his entire career and how he has been successful on the basketball court.
As a defender/rebounder, Tyreke Evans is below average at the SF position. He has spent even less time on the ball offensively so his ball-handling, passing and scoring skills have gotten less use. Overall, a far less effective player than he was at either guard position (where he has All-Star caliber talent). A great misuse of a talented prospect.
The next position of interest is the starting power forward slot because the Kings should be looking for a specific skill-set to complement DeMarcus Cousins’ and Tyreke Evans’ skill-sets but have instead decided to go the other way.
Offensively, the two players need a PF with a strong jump-shot to keep proper spacing on offense. The PF doesn’t need to have three point range but he does need to be able to knock down a 15-18 foot jumper consistently. Tyreke Evans needs this because he has a dodgy jump-shot and having bigs who can’t create proper spacing makes it difficult for him to get into the paint for high percentage hoops + free throw attempts. Cousins needs a jump-shooting four because it creates extra space for him in the paint and forces him to spend more time down low (which every Kings fan wants to see) instead of in the high post. Without that jump-shooting PF, Cousins has been forced to spend more time in the high post because he is the Kings most skilled big men in terms of passing ability and jump-shooting. Defensively, mostly Cousins here, the Kings needed someone who can help show Cousins the way. A good defender and communicator.
So what did the Kings do last season? They traded Casspi for JJ Hickson (can’t shoot, dodgy defender) and signed Chuck Hayes (awful jump-shoot, gifted defender) to a $20 million contract. They have followed that up this summer by signing Jason Thompson (iffy jumper, dodgy defender) to a large contract and drafting Thomas Robinson with the 5th pick in the draft (dodgy jumper, so-so defender).
That comes across a bit harsh on Thomas Robinson. I like him as a long term prospect for Sacramento but solely in terms of the immediate future (this season) … Thomas Robinson isn’t a good fit. I do like him as a Paul Millsap-like prospect at PF and think he’ll be a good addition for Sacramento given time. Just not right away.
Anyway, either way they go, with Jason Thompson or Thomas Robinson, they starting PF is going to be a below average starter who doesn’t really complement Cousins from an offensive or defensive standpoint.
This brings us back to the guards.
I’ll start with Marcus Thornton. A good scorer who can give a team 17-20ppg on solid scoring efficiency. However, Thornton is also a weak defender, below par possession creator, non-passer and limited ball-handler. His negative non-scoring contributions negate a lot of his good work as a scorer. Marcus Thornton is ideally either (1) a starter on a strong defensive team desperate for additional scoring punch, or, (2) a really good backup SG and bench scorer. In Sacramento, Thornton is unable to play a role that really suits him and struggles to work with Tyreke Evans. A bad fit.
Aaron Brooks and Isiah Thomas will compete for the PG position. Jimmer Fredette may also feature but I am expecting him to come off the bench so I’ll stick to the two others. Aaron Brooks is a ball-dominant score-first point guard who needs to be able to monopolize possession to bring the best out of his game. He was able to do so on a Houston Rockets team without Yao Ming but has struggled to fit in when asked to share the ball more. Brooks is a very weak defender/rebounder and is badly undersized.
Like Brooks, Thomas is also a very weak defender/rebounder and is seriously undersized for the PG position. Thomas is consequently best suited to a backup PG slot where he is an average to good backup PG. As a starter, both players are frequent liabilities due to their weak defense/rebounding. Isiah Thomas does a better job of moving the basketball and living with less time spent on the ball but is not as strong a creator as Brooks is. It will really come down to a choice about what type of PG Keith Smart wants running the show. I think Isiah Thomas is probably the more likely choice at this point.
- PG – Aaron Brooks, (Jimmer Fredette)
- SG – Jimmer Fredette, (Fransisco Garcia), Tyler Honeycutt
- SF – Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, James Johnson
- PF – Thomas Robinson
- C – Chuck Hayes
I’ll start off with Thomas Robinson. As a rookie he is mostly an unknown factor but my expectations for him are – to be a very strong rebounder and possession creator + to do a good job of creating high percentage scoring attempts by running the floor, cutting to the basket and getting offensive rebounds for easy putbacks + struggling to create his own shot against NBA caliber defenders/athletes plus struggling to make midrange and long two point jump shots and to be a dodgy passer + being a competent defender against backup PFs but will probably struggle against more gifted starting caliber PFs during his rookie season. Overall, I think he’ll be a middle of the pack to good backup PF or a weak starting PF.
Chuck Hayes is not a center. He is a very gifted defensive PF with excellent defensive versatility but his lack of length and shot-blocking limits him as the last line of one’s defense. A good rebounder. A lousy offensive player.
Fransisco Garcia is a streaky player who is capable of playing decent defense and knocking down perimeter jump-shots at a good clip. Garcia is a good passer and ball-handler. Intelligent player. Team orientated. Low usage.
John Salmons is a score-first wing who doesn’t rebound or pass the ball. He is a weak team defender. A capable man-to-man defender at SG but a weak one at SF. Overall, a very selfish player who struggles to adapt to his team’s needs. On a dysfunctional team like the Sacramento Kings, Salmons will do more harm than good.
Jimmer Fredette is an unknown. He played at a comparable level to E’Twaun Moore last season which clearly is a very bad thing. However, he is still young and finding his way. I have been hearing good things about his play in this year’s training camp and I am excited to see what type of progress he can make heading into next season.
Aaron Brooks would make a very good change of pace PG off the bench. He has electric quickness and explosiveness combined with strong shot-creation skills and solid playmaking. A very good player to lead the charge for a team’s second unit if allowed to play to his strengths. A strong backup PG.
James Johnson is a combo forward. As a SF, Johnson is a power three with great size and athleticism. A very good defensive player and possession creator. A good passer and ball-handler. But a weak scorer with very limited range on his jump-shot. Capable post-up threat. As a PF, Johnson is a quick four who uses his quickness and ball-skills to good effect to attack slower bigger forwards. A decent defender/rebounder with good room for improvement. The biggest issue facing Johnson is developing his jump-shot. He can be a really good starting forward (at either position) if he adds a quality jump-shot to his arsenal.
Tyler Honeycutt is a second year player. A big lanky two guard with defensive skills. I like him as an NBA prospect. Hoping to see more of him this season.
The goal of a basketball team is for the sum of it’s parts to be greater than the individual pieces. For players to complement one another and bring the best out of each other. To be better as a whole, as a collective, than they are apart.
Unfortunately, the Sacramento Kings are the exact opposite of that. The sum of it’s individual pieces (a .500 team or near to it) are greater than the whole (a 25-30 win team) and the reason for that is simple — they have a built a team full of players who do not complement one another.
I already talked about the problems they have at PF (in the starters section) and how none of their options there really fulfill their needs. But they also have huge problems on the perimeter at each of the guard and wing positions.
- Tyreke Evans being shunted out to the SF position (where he is far less effective) to make way for two low-end prospects in Marcus Thornton and Isiah Thomas.
- Shot first wings + non-passers with limited handles in John Salmons (SF) and Marcus Thornton (PG) who made life impossible for Tyreke Evans at the PG position instead of supplying Tyreke with team-orientated, defensively capable, ball-handling and low usage offensive wings like Wes Matthews (SG) and Tayshaun Prince (SF).
- A backcourt (Brooks or Thomas + Marcus Thornton) that is deficient from a defensive and rebounding perspective.
- Two PGs (Brooks, Thomas) who are best suited to being backup PGs but one will be forced to start due to the lack of a suitable alternative. Both of whom are seriously undersized and dodgy defenders.
- A combo guard in Jimmer Fredette who is going to be forced to play a large proportion of his minutes as a SG in order to keep enough minutes available for Aaron Brooks and Isiah Thomas. Fredette is also another weak defender/rebounder to add to their backcourt’s general woes defensively.
Plus, their is the lack of depth behind DeMarcus Cousins at the center position. No other player with legitimate size. No veteran mentor to show him how to best utilize his physical talents. No physical defender to push him practices and help him improve.
Overall, this is a hugely dysfunctional and unbalanced team that will underachieve relative to their level of individual talent.
A mid (5th to 10th) to high (top five pick) lottery team.