Due to the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, it's en vogue for everyone to look around to try to find the next young team to make the jump to playoff contention a year before everyone expects. Who is the team most suited for a similar turnaround next season? It's probably the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings went just 25-57 last season, but the record masks what was ultimately a promising season for the club. For one, General Manager Geoff Petrie clearly unearthed a future star in Tyreke Evans. Many criticized the Kings for choosing Evans, a player who many felt didn't have a position in the pros, over Spanish point guard prospect Ricky Rubio, but Evans made Petrie look like a genius last season, becoming just the fourth player in NBA history to average over 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his rookie season. The other three? Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and LeBron James. Pretty nice company.
Evans still has to prove he can play well with his teammates -- his inability to mesh with shooting guard Kevin Martin caused the long-time Kings star to be shipped out of town -- but he's clearly a special, special talent.
For another, other Kings' youngsters such as Donte Greene, Omri Casspi and Jason Thompson showed promise. All three of them showed inconsistency too, but there's the makings of some decent complementary pieces around Evans. Throw in a bounce-back year for point guard Beno Udrih, who emerged late in the year as a good complement to Evans' ball-dominating style, and the midseason acquisition of interior scorer Carl Landry, and on paper, the Kings made strides. It didn't show up in the record right away, as a late-season swoon ruined a promising start, but the signs were there.
Now, the Kings will add DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert to that mix. Cousins was arguably the second-best player in the NBA Draft, but personality issues caused him to slip to the fifth pick. Assuming the Kings can keep him under control (which they should), he'll end up being a huge steal. Dalembert was acquired in a trade with the 76ers, and brings much-needed interior defense, as well as a big expiring contract.
Between Dalembert, Cousins, Landry and Thompson, the Kings now have a deep frontcourt that collectively brings rebounding, scoring, toughness and shot blocking. SB Nation's Kings blog Sactown Royalty believes the frontcourt is now a major strength.
The Kings' biggest strength this season should be the glass, given the massive frontcourt upgrades. Carl Landry remains an issue on the boards, but Dalembert (a top-5 rebounder) and Cousins should more than make up for it, Jason Thompson does well in the area, and Hassan Whiteside shouldn't be too shabby. Omri Casspi and Tyreke Evans are also strong rebounders at their positions.
Finding minutes will be a challenge, and so will figuring out the right combination of players. But in a league where frontcourt depth is becoming more of a necessity to challenge teams like the Lakers, the Kings appear to be ahead of the curve.
But to get to a point where they can challenge the upper echelon of the West, the Kings will need to improve their on-court cohesion. As Sactown Royalty writes, organization was an issue last season.
The Kings don't execute well consistently. If it's not Tyreke barrelling to the rim or Beno Udrih running a pick-and-roll, the offense gets stagnant and boring. And sometime Tyreke's barrelling plays into the defense's hands, or Beno's picks-and-rolls look like snuff films.
Cowbell Kingdom adds that the Kings need to improve in two major offensive areas: outside shooting and drawing fouls.
The Kings finished 16th in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 34.9% and decided to upgrade the position with Antoine Wright - who had a career year with 33.5% last season in Toronto. At the charity stripe, the Kings had the 18th most attempts last season but finished 28th in free throw shooting in 2009-2010. With the attention Tyreke Evans will receive throughout each game (especially if that jumper is actually fixed) there will certainly be open shots on the perimeter and fouls on the interior to stop easy shots Evans creates. The Kings have to simply convert (especially in the fourth quarter) these easy chances to open things up for their star and create pressure on the opposing defense.
If Cousins is all that, he should help the team get to the free-throw line even more often. However, it's true that outside shooting will need to improve, especially because of how often Evans gets into the paint.
At the end of the day, both Sactown Royalty and Cowbell Kingdom are looking for progress, not playoffs. Here are their record predictions:
- Sactown Royalty: 35-47
- Cowbell Kingdom: 37-45