Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

Sacramento, led by mayor and former All-Star Kevin Johnson, managed to stage a rare successful movement to keep the Kings in town, so there they stay. Following the drama with the Maloofs trying to send the team to Seattle (ending with George Maloof in a closet) new ownership turned the team over to GM Pete D’Alessandro and head coach Mike Malone.

A conscious effort is being made to surround DeMarcus Cousins with high character teammates in an attempt to focus him on maximizing his considerable skills. If this experiment succeeds, the team could have a high-value asset locked up long term. If not…well, it probably won’t get any worse.

The Kings chose not to match New Orleans’ off to former ROY Tyreke Evans, giving Cousins an audition as the team’s undisputed franchise player. Having one less gunner on the perimeter won’t hurt, and the addition of Ben McLemore through the draft should help open up the spacing. McLemore may struggle unless the coaching staff makes a concerted effort to include him in the offense and get him easy looks early. The passivity that gave teams pause prior to the draft could be crippling on this team.

Cousins’ play will likely serve as a microcosm of the team as a whole. He is immensely talented, but too often he settles for inefficient shots on offense and loafs on defense. The offensive stuff will work itself out – last year the team finished in the top half of the league in efficiency, and new additions McLemore, Greivis Vasquez, and Carl Landry will add firepower and ball movement to complement the existing talent.

If Cousins can take a step forward by looking to focus on getting inside and punishing defenses this could be a very strong team offensively. He shot 46.5% from the field last season, but only converted 32.1% outside of 10 feet. This obviously needs to change, either by improving his outside shot or simply avoiding these shots altogether.

The offense may be in solid shape, but improvement on defense is how Sacramento can climb out of the cellar. Mike Malone would be doing well if he could coax a squad that was neck and neck with the woeful Bobcats for worst defense in the league last season out of the bottom third in the category.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was brought in to help shore up the defense, but his offensive limitations will make it difficult to spot him significant playing time. The same goes for the team’s incumbent defensive specialist, Chuck Hayes, who improved the defense by over six points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Unfortunately he only scored 5.9 points per 36 minutes, so the Kings could only find about 17 minutes a night for him.

Sacramento was so bad last season that simply getting the team to commit to something resembling a unified scheme and receiving a middling effort from Cousins could shave a few points of their defensive rating alone.

Changing a culture takes time, and the Kings are going to experience some growing pains. For this season, the big goals will be to begin improving the defense and establishing whether or not Cousins is the guy to build around long term. Long-term contract or not, talented bigs can always be moved. In the process obtaining a high draft pick to add to the team’s stockpile of assets would be nice. Lucky for Sacramento, in a loaded Western Conference it shouldn’t be too hard to land near the top of the draft.

Predicted Finish: 22-60 | 4th place in Pacific Division | 14th place in Western Conference