Over the next month, we’ll be talking with a variety of people who cover each NBA team to talk a little bit about their team, and how they expect the season to go. We’ll also find out what they believe will be the most intriguing matchup when the Orlando Magic meet up with their respective team. We continue the Pacific Division with the Sacramento Kings. We’re joined by Steven Covella of Complex Media Groups BallerMindFrame. You can follow Steve on twitter @StevenCovella, and BMF @BallerMindFrame.
Saturday, December 6th @Sacramento
Friday, March 6th @Orlando
Last Season: 28-54; Finished 13th in Western Conference
December 21st: Sacramento 105 Orlando 100
January 10th: Orlando 83 Sacramento 103
Point Guard: Darren Collison
Shooting Guard: Ben McLemore
Small Forward: Rudy Gay
Power Forward: Jason Thompson
Center: DeMarcus Cousins
Below Steven answers some questions for us on the Kings.
A: There are plenty of debates to be had about the skills Collison brings and how his game differs from Isaiah Thomas, but I’ll be more interested in how Thomas’ intangibles are replaced. Thomas was arguably the hardest worker on the team – he’d usually be the last one off the floor at practice – and he was its emotional leader. DeMarcus Cousins was emotional and a leader, but not necessarily the heart and soul of the team.
Thomas played with a ton of emotion, but it was all positive, and he turned it into unrivaled energy. There were more than a few games last season that the Kings would have lost by 30 to 40 points had it not been for Thomas’ explosive play and never-say-die attitude.
I’m not sure Collison can bring all that to the team, but I also don’t think he has to. Someone does, though. Maybe it will be a team effort. Thomas was one of the few players Michael Malone could count on to bring it every night, and Sacramento needs more of that to keep progressing.
Oh, and Thomas was probably the only one besides the coaching staff that could tell Cousins how it is, and actually get through to the big man.
Q: DeMarcus Cousins is playing with Team USA in the World Cup, as is Rudy Gay. How big of an impact do you see this having on both of them, and what can they bring back to the team to help them progress more?
A: I think it will bode well for the leadership in Sacramento’s locker room. It would have been nice to have a couple more vets older than Cousins on the team, but it should prove a valuable experience nonetheless.
It seems like Cousins respects Mike Krzyzewski, and has a reverence for the team, which should make the impact of playing for the US all the more powerful.
Also, I’m sure the Kings hope that playing with guys that can defend, for coaches that are preaching it, will translate in some way to the regular season also.
Being around a winning atmosphere will be good for Cousins too. He’s very competitive and emotional, a combo which leads to those tantrums when the Kings lose … which they do a lot.
As for Gay, the same things apply; and it’s an unexpected, but extremely fortunate get for the Kings, that he snuck onto the roster.
Q: When the Magic and Kings meet, what’s one matchup you’ll be watching closely?
A: I’m looking at the shooting guards, or whatever the Magic are calling Victor Oladipo now. Oladipo will probably be the best player from that abysmal draft, but Kings fans have tricked themselves into thinking Ben McLemore could be.
He flashed some great athleticism and has a smooth looking shot – until it clanks off the rim. He really struggled putting together consistent showings last year. He had a propensity to disappear. Some of that’s being a rookie, some of it is playing with Cousins, Gay and Thomas, but some of it was also his timidity.
McLemore and Oladipo, for me at least, will always have some connection, coming out of that draft: Two shooting guards that actually have a shot of carving out an above average career from a far below average class.
Oladipo, I think, has a better shot of achieving that success because of the way he plays the game. Their games seem to contrast each other; Oladipo’s energy versus McLemore’s passive ebbs and flows.
When the Magic and Kings play each other, that’s what I’ll be looking for, how McLemore has grown. And I’ll do it by measuring him against his contemporary, Oladipo.
Q: What can we expect from the Kings in the Western Conference? Are they a team that could surprise some people and make some noise, or are they still a few years away?
A: Unless some weird conference realignment happened that I didn’t hear about, I’m guessing the Western Conference is still an unforgiving juggernaut. I can’t speak for the locker room – I’m sure the guys in there think they have a chance at the playoffs – but no one outside of it should have any delusions.
On paper, I’m not sure they got better, and they may have even gotten worse. The loss of Thomas is a serious issue that Sacramento will need to make up for them to even approach a .500 record.
Gay and Cousins will probably play better together with an offseason under their belts, particularly since they’re getting reps together on Team USA.
I think another year of Malone drilling defense into his team will help, but there’s only so much he can do with someone like Derrick Williams wandering around aimlessly on defense.
Cousins was one of the best big men in the year last year, and only stands to improve. If he does that and Gay replicate’s his success from last season, then they could surprise some people.
But a surprise for this team would be winning 35 games or more in a brutal conference.
How far could a team with a starting lineup of Collison, Nik Stauskas (I think he’ll eventually take McLemore’s starting job), Gay, Jason Thompson and Cousins, and a shallow bench, go?
They’ll be fun to watch, win some games against good teams, and Cousins will probably make the All-Star team, but they won’t sniff the 10-seed.
If they would have kept Thomas and drafted one or two positions higher, I think they could have been as much as five wins better. I know the fickle draft lottery is out of their control, but being bad, but not bad enough to get a top seven pick may have extended the Kings’ rebuilding process by a couple years.
Simply put: they need more talent.
They’re a couple years away from a playoff push, but it’s not like this season will be a train wreck.