Discussing the current state of the Kings

Well here we are. Another training camp, another day of uncertainty surrounding the Kings, and wah-lah!whaddyaknow!sonovabitch it’s October and Media Day. And then pre-season where fans openly wonder about rotations that are not done for anyone’s benefit but Keith Smart, the coaching staff and basketball management. Also the players who are trying to do whatever the coaches might be asking of them at that time.

Good times.

Let’s kick this off after the jump.

 

The Maloofs should remain as owners right?

Next question.

Geoff Petrie should be the Kings GM still? Right?

Answered that back in January. And no, Petrie should have been fired on the spot for firing Westphal the way he did. What a gutless jerk asshole thing to do. Moving on….

Is Keith Smart a long term solution?

This is an excellent question. I want to dive into depth on this because it’s a topic that is being shortchanged I think because of A) Smart’s unnecessary extension and B) that Smart doesn’t have a high end quality reputation like Jerry Sloan, Stan Van Gundy or Nate McMillan. While all three are exceptional head coaches to be sure, do they have more success here than Keith Smart? Sloan is too old IMO, SVG is too volatile with no rock to back him when things get tough, and McMillan typically prefers a slow pace precision style offense that fits the Kings about as well as a little girls tutu fits on Chuck Hayes or DeMarcus Cousins.

So that leaves the Kings with a head coach with his share of issue’s to solve over the years, owners without enough resources to continue owning the team, and management that is beyond it’s most effective approach in the era they most belonged as management (10 years ago).

Every dog has it’s day, and I’m hoping it’s more than that for Keith Smart. I’m convinced the guy can coach, and I’m convinced that he could help this Kings team. But none of it works without……

Are Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins cornerstone/All-Star/franchise players?

Well, let me answer this honestly and frankly before delving into my opinion of where each stand. One, I think both have cornerstone type talent as All-Star players, and I think  Evans is the only player currently on the Kings with the talent to be a franchise player.

So let me tackle the most important part of the previous paragraph: Could Evans be a franchise player? Yeah, I guess he could honestly, but I wouldn’t be betting on it anytime soon no matter how hard he’s worked over the summer. My biggest issue’s with Evans was not his offensive difficulties beyond getting to the basket, but everything else. He loafs on defense, and frankly looks bored waiting to get the ball back. Evans needs to be the best player on the defensive end for the Kings, and if it weren’t for DeMarcus Cousins (who has stiff competition from Evans) for worst defensive effectiveness, Evans would be the least effective defensive player on the Kings who happens to get real minutes. Marcus Thornton is a much worse defender, in theory, than Evans, but unless Tyreke Evans bothers to get his ass in gear on the defensive end much of his talent is wasted.

Let me be clear here: I think Evans has top 10 in the league talent (unlike Cousins), and I think he could be a 2 way player similar to what LeBron James is (for reference; not in complete impact). But Evans has to be remarkably better to the point where he might not even resemble himself in previous seasons, and the chances of that happening are very small in my eyes.

I’m at the point where unless Tyreke Evans shows franchise player production for 2 seasons, I don’t see it happening. Gotta believe it to see it, and I don’t believe it will happen unless a significant long term body of work says otherwise.

Why is Cousins not a franchise player?

There are a couple of reasons as I see it. One is that Cousins has little impact on the defensive end, and while I think taking charges is worth something, it’s nothing if you don’t do anything else. If anything, I’m always enticed to think of taking charges as pussy copout ball. That’s the category of Cousins’ taking charges is in. It’s mostly bullshit ass sliding under guys to get the ball back to make up for bad defensive positioning and/or lazy attitude on the defensive end for 10 possessions in a row. If a big man isn’t changing the game defensively for his team, his value drops precipitously IMO.

The other problematic trend is that Cousins doesn’t seem to finish very well around the basket due to his weight issue’s (which are problematic to be sure), but due to the fact that  Cousins isn’t very explosive athletically when compared to other NBA players. That’s the real issue, and combined with better shot selection Cousins can mitigate some of that. You throw in Cousins’ dynamic and outstanding passing skills, I think that makes a lot of sense for Cousins to focus on shooting his 16 foot jumper a lot more than taking the ball from the FT line and trying to dribble his way to the rim. Cousins has spent a lot of time doing that the last two years, and that’s one reason (other than the fact that Cousins isn’t just as explosive as some like to pretend he is) Cousins struggles in the efficiency department of scoring.

That said, I would like to see Cousins have better stamina (35 minutes for 10 games in a row? Yessir….), better shot selection, and better attitude on the court that doesn’t piss, moan, and whine at every single detail of every single possession at every single NBA referee. That would be a good start, yes?

I don’t expect Cousins to be a high impact defensive guy every night, but I would like to see effort. I don’t think Cousins real gifts are effecting the game defensively, but that’s just nature of the beast. That’s what  Cousins is more or less. When you have him on your franchise, you either find a way to work around it (which is what the Kings in theory seemingly are trying to do ), or accept it for what it is and work around it anyway. But it would be nice for Cousins to give significantly better movement when nobody is really watching him off the ball than he currently does.

And one last thing on Cousins here: Stop the silly under your own basket and mid court fouls. F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

If Cousins and Evans are the Kings two best players, who are the third through five guys on this roster?

Great question. I’m sure Keith Smart would like to know that. In theory, and I say in theory, it would look something like, on talent alone, Thomas Robinson, Isaiah Thomas and then (probably) Marcus Thornton.

There are a lot of guys thought that could go into that 5th spot, and that would be the real question. To me, both Robinson and Thomas have a chance to solidfy themselves as a top 4 guy by the end of the season (Robinson especially; Thomas is really close already IMO).

One guy who could jump into the top 5 with a quality season is James Johnson. The guy has all the talent to be a top 5 player on a NBA team if he’s ready to make the jump. If he can, and I think he could depending on how he responds this season, we could see Johnson be that top 5 player.

Aaron Brooks is a possibility too I suppose, and so could John Salmons or Jason Thompson for that matter. But, right now, I’d go with Robinson, Thomas and Thornton as the next best three players (if you wish to consider Evans and Cousins your best players) if we are really talking long term. Just for this season? Who cares……

Can Thomas Robinson make a jump as the starting PF?

Maybe. Maybe not. For a team that really wants to run as Keith Smart has said and maintained all summer (and well before that), both the defensive rebounding and overall intensity Robinson brings is a must if the Kings want to be more effective in the fast break department. If Robinson becomes a starting quality PF by the end of the season, I’ll be surprised, but not saddened. That’s what the Kings need ultimately, and it will make them better in the long run for a variety of reasons.

Given that T-Rob was the 5th overall pick, being a starting caliber player by the end of the season is not unreasonable, but I’m always of the opinion you do not count your chicks before they are hatched so to speak.

Is Jason Thompson a starting PF?

No, but he is a high caliber 6th man/3rd big off the bench, and that’s what the Kings ultimately see him as is. If the Kings didn’t see Thomas Robinson as the PF of the future, they wouldn’t have drafted him. They would have drafted (most likely) John Henson instead. Either way, it is what it is. Thompson is a solid consistent veteranish player that the Kings were hoping they would get in Chuck Hayes, and with Hayes/Thompson off the bench that could make the Kings bench a very formidable one if Hayes recovers from a very trying lockout season.

Can Chuck Hayes rebound from a poor season a year ago?

Sure he can. Will he? I don’t know. But I suspect we will know a lot of these answers by the end of the November with regards to Hayes. I suspect that Hayes does recover in part because he will be (likely) playing with Brooks, Thornton, Salmons and Robinson/Thompson. That will help him a lot as opposed to the guys Hayes played with a lot last season (like JJ Hickson and Jimmer Fredette for instance).

Can Jimmer Fredette regain his status as a highly touted with a lot of pedigree prospect?

Possibly, but I’m not convinced that’s Sacramento unless the Kings insist on holding onto Jimmer for premium value. Since Jimmer is not a premium value type of player, I’m not sure that’s a wise idea. Not many players start the way Jimmer did and then regain their sense of footing, but anything is possible so I won’t write Jimmer off.

My problem isn’t Jimmer. It’s this roster. Jimmer really doesn’t fit with the roster given that A) he’s a small G and B) he’s a score first G with better players in front of him as it is. That said there are other players out there Jimmer could work with and I’m convinced if the Kings seriously consider trading Jimmer for whatever reasons there are (and then some), it would be worth doing.

Is Aaron Brooks a starting PG in the NBA still?

Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know honestly, and neither does anyone else right now. Based on the last NBA game Brooks played, the answer is no. But part of dealing with players is having faith, and having faith that  Brooks can be a valuable contributor is a big part of what the Kings are attempting here I think.

If nothing else, Brooks will fill the role some fans were hoping for Jimmer Fredette and if he has a good season Brooks will likely opt out of his contract and hit the NBA market next year.

This is really a low risk high reward situation, and that’s all the Kings can really afford to do right now anyway. Beyond that, even if the Maloofs had actual NBA owner resources, the reality is that the Kings were limited in the moves they could really make anyway. Brooks makes some sense even though I don’t love the move.

Will Travis Outlaw fare better than he did a year ago?

Probably not, but Outlaw is not the problem with this roster. Outlaw is more of a symptom of the Maloofs and Petrie looking for veterans in a cheap inefficient manner. I have no problem with Outlaw as he has continued to work and improve on his poor play of recent seasons. Just acting in a professional manner and continuing to work is all you can ask of Outlaw at this stage. Outlaw is continuing to do that.

What does Francisco Garcia have left?

I’m not sure honestly. Not a whole lot to quite a bit potentially. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Garcia moved at the trade deadline in February if the right trade comes along. And, I wouldn’t be surprised if Garcia plays spot minutes throughout the year but lacks consistent minutes overall as the season moves on.

Either way, I think it’s a safe bet to say that Garcia will not be on the Kings roster come July 2013. That’s too bad in many ways because Cisco is the type of veteran role player glue guy the Kings have been missing since Evans was drafted in 2009, but that exercise ball accident really screwed Cisco’s career up more than I think we can ever know. Such is life I suppose.

Can James Johnson take the SF spot in training camp?

Johnson will get the opportunity. There will be some talk, especially if Johnson has a successful season, that one reason the Kings were willing to take a risk, after Johnson had fallen out of favor of Dwayne Casey in Toronto, was the presence of Alex English. There is no doubt that taking a shot at Johnson with one year remaining on his contract was a better prospect than the Kings re-signing Terrence Williams for a multi-year deal after T-Will pretty much was who he was in Sac. (That the Kings found a better “risk” makes sense, but I’m surprised they did honestly.)

Will Johnson ever shoot the “3″ well? Probably not, but that is something a player can focus on if he chooses to. I’m sure Johnson will hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 31-33% this season from 3, and if that’s the case I can more than live with that.

That said James Johnson  brings defense, shot blocking (yes he’s the best shot blocker on the roster), and serious athleticism to a roster that was somewhat devoid of athleticism. Other than Thomas Robinson, James Johnson is the other turbo charged athlete the Kings have and that will make a difference somewhat I think. We’ll see though.

If nothing else, Johnson’s emergence as a starting SF could mean that the Kings have A) no other option or B) that Johnson earned the spot in helping the Kings to a real and important improvement.

What should Marcus Thornton’s role look like?

There are some that are insisting that Thornton should start, but in my mind MT23 is Vinnie Johnson 2.0.

This is who Thornton reminds me of. A super sub scorer who can do incredible things offensively. But the key part of that statement is a “super sub scorer”. That definition, by definition, means that player comes off the bench, and that alone means I think Thornton should come off the bench.

Again, try this as a bench unit: Aaron Brooks, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson/Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes. That’s not a bad bench 5 by NBA standards any way you slice it. It’s not like other teams don’t have quality players coming off the bench. Kevin McHale came off the bench for much of his career in Boston. Manu Ginobili is the best modern example of such phenomenon.

There are such occasions where you have valuable players coming off the bench, and I think Thornton coming off the bench is one of those moments.

You can consider this the biggest endorsement why Tyreke Evans should not play SF next season IMO.

Will Tyler Honeycutt work his way into the rotation?

I doubt it at this point. I’m not saying that Honeycutt can’t work his way into the rotation because that is always possible. What I would say that I think the Kings need is for Honeycutt to show how advanced he really is, and despite the setbacks (missing Summer League did hurt) I think Honeycutt can work his way into the rotation.

Why? Well for one thing Honeycutt can A) shoot the ball, B) play defense, and C) handle the ball slash facilitate. Those are all qualities that in the long run, especially if Evans is at the SG spot and Isaiah Thomas is at the PG spot, the Kings would need and Honeycutt would fit perfectly with those two if they are the long term starting Kings backcourt.

Anyway you slice it, Honeycutt could find himself in the Kings rotation if somebody falters, or, and I think this is more likely, somebody misses a long time with an injury and Honeycutt has to step in and take those minutes.

That said, if Jon Santiago is right and the Kings are disappointed enough in Honeycutt to invite Tony Mitchell to camp as a result, that could spell the end of the Honeycutt experiment. Which is what it is, but that is not an ideal development for a team that desperately needs the right fit around Tyreke Evans assuming Evans develops. (I’ll grant I’d rather have the problem of fitting a player around a superstar than worrying about that fit. But you need both ultimately, and Honeycutt does seem like that kind of player that would do such things. But if Tyreke……you get the point I’m sure.)

Will the Kings finish very badly on the defensive floor again?

Excellent question. I don’t know. A lot depends on Tyreke’s commitment on that end, whether or not DeMarcus can make any progress on that end, and frankly whether or not the starting unit can mesh into a quality unit that actually makes the defensive end a priority.

But, this is a question that can be better answered once a month into the season is complete. On paper, this team should be significantly better than 29th in DRtg, 30th in eFG% defensively, and 29th in DRB%. But that’s just on paper. In real life? I’ll just shrug. I don’t know how this team will shake out right now, and nobody else does either unless they are using last season as the starting projection point. I’m not sure right now I want to do that for a variety of reasons starting with the personnel brought in addressed a lot of real weaknesses in theory and until that theory proves otherwise valid it’s difficult to say what will happen.

Can the Kings finish better offensively?

Yeah, probably I suppose. Finishing in the top 10 (a difficult challenge to be sure) of ORtg is the only way I think you can guarantee the Kings are making real improvement, and given that the Kings finished 21st in ORtg that’s a mighty large challenge.

One problematic trend that has to stop is the Kings tendencies to work too hard for shots. Cousins and Evans are the guiltiest parties of this, but they are not alone unfortunately either.

That’s why I think Keith Smart’s strategy of wanting to run a lot more makes more sense. Getting every player (whether it’s Evans, Cousins or even James Johnson or Thomas Robinson) involved is a lot easier said than done playing in the halfcourt, and not every player plays well without receiving touches for a significant period of time. One way to increase a players touches and not decrease your efficiency is to get out in the open court. This is a team that has players who are built for the open court (Thomas, Evans, Johnson, Robinson, Thompson, and Brooks), and not only that this is a team that has numerous quality defensive rebounders too. The recipe for being a quality running team has certainly started off with many of the right ingredients to be successful at it.

Last but not least, what do the Kings do well and not do well?

This is what I find so hard to judge about this season using last season and individuals who played in the NBA last season or in recent seasons. It’s just so hard to project when one player, Johnson, fell out of favor in Dwayne Casey’s rotation, another player in China (Brooks) last season in part due to the lockout, and the other expected impact player the Kings brought in was the 5th overall pick in Thomas Robinson. With young players, you can’t expect anything until you get it essentially.

That said, I’ll list some things I like about each player on the top 10 who I expect to see minutes (Thomas, Evans, Johnson, Thompson and Cousins for the starters; Brooks, Thornton, Salmons, Robinson and Hayes for the subs).

Starters:

Isaiah Thomas: Isaiah had the highest TS%, ORTg, the highest WS/48 and showed to be both a quality rebounder and defensive player. Among PG’s, Isaiah showed in the top 30 in both DRB% and TRB%. That’s a lot right there for a “small” player.

I haven’t even mentioned the intangibles like leadership, the hard nosed and intense play Thomas brings or my favorite part about Isaiah’s season last season. In order to guarantee his contract for this season, Isaiah had to play in 50 games and in those 50 games play 15 minutes in each of those 50 games. (H/T Mark Deeks.) Isaiah had 56 said games of the 65 total games Isaiah participated in. My guess is that Isaiah hits that 50 game mark of 15+ MPG by the 55th game of the season. I don’t think that pesky problem of Isaiah starting the season as the 4th G will come up again.

Tyreke Evans: Tyreke can get to the basket with the best of them. The question is the other stuff though.  Can Tyreke space the floor with a mid range J? And, as the likely SG, can Tyreke get others involved when they are open and it’s necessary to pass?

Defensively, just better intensity and focus both on and off the ball, and getting back in transition would be a great start to what can still be a fabulous career.

It’s the little things, the big things, and everything in between Tyreke needs to improve on. The only thing Tyreke doesn’t need to improve is his ability at getting to the basket. Just developing a left hand, a mid range reliable Jumper, playing intense and effective defense consistently, and continuing his rebounding/terrorizing other teams in the open court would please me to no end. That’s an All-Star player on those attributes alone.

James Johnson:  Johnson is an excellent rebounder for his position, an excellent shot blocker, and defensive player. Additionally Johnson’s athleticism helps him get to the rim at a nice rate too. Johnson is a role player, but potentially a very effective role player for the Kings this season.

If Johnson has a very good season, it could mean the Kings are overachieving a bit. Hope for James Johnson to have a very good season.

Jason Thompson: I already said what I had to say about JT earlier this summer, and in this thread at Sactown Royalty. As much as I love JT, I want his playing to do his talking. I’m sure he feels the same way.

DeMarcus Cousins: For as many people who think I’m really down on Cousins, fine. That’s just fine with me. However, there are not many players who have EVER sported an ORB% of 14% or higher at the age of 22 or younger. Cousins is among the top 10 of that group in total minutes in a season (in a shortened season no less), and that means something.

I’m not down on Cousins’ talent; I’m down on Cousins ability to be a franchise player (I don’t see it and I hope I’m wrong believe me), and I’m down on the idea that Cousins’ is on the right track with certainty. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see Cousins clear talents (rebounding, passing, shooting the ball from the perimeter, passion channelled the right way to name a few) either. Oh and that outlet passing? Yeah, that’s special too.

Subs

Aaron Brooks: Brooks can shoot the three, can get to the rack some, and can pass just enough to keep defenses honest sometimes. Mostly Brooks is a guy built for offense and does just that. If Brooks can get 15-20 MPG of quality consistently, the Kings will be a better team by not having to run Isaiah Thomas into the ground nightly.

Marcus Thornton: I just compared him to Vinnie Johnson earlier. What more do you want?

John Salmons: Look at Salmons in March of ’12. That has one important thread to it: Salmons didn’t have to play with Tyreke Evans. One, Salmons played better around veterans, and two Salmons simply didn’t have a guy who who was ignoring him wholesale many possessions as Tyreke often did when Salmons was on the court. I have a hunch Salmons may not be spectacular but reasonably consistent. Given what the Kings are dealing with, I’ll take that from an important rotation player.

Thomas Robinson: What do I expect? Great rebounding, excellent energy and effort, and simply a learning curve that keeps rookies from being premium contributors right away. If Robinson becomes a starter this season, I’ll be beyond ecstatic.

Chuck Hayes: I just want the Chuckwagon back from Houston. That’s it. Not seeing Hayes dribble towards the hoop because he’s left on an island and has no other choice is something I never want to see again. I’m betting it didn’t thrill Hayes to do that repeatedly last season either.

Conclusion…..

What conclusions have I reached? Not many yet. If Cousins and Evans grow up on the court, if Robinson ends up being a starting quality PF quickly, if Thomas regains his status as the starting PG, if Brooks, Thornton and Salmons can provide steady and consistent scoring off the bench, if James Johnson can fit with Tyreke Evans among other things, and if the team can start pulling in the same direction on a consistent basis? Well, a lot of that is what NBA basketball is really about. Finding the right fits emotionally and basketball wise, and figuring out a way to convince a player that the situation they are in is the best situation, that’s about all their really is at the end of the day.

So can it happen? Sure, anything is after all possible. How likely is that? Even if you believe DeMarcus Cousins is on an upward trajectory (a lot of people do right now), that isn’t anywhere near enough to make the Kings a playoff team. And if Cousins is the only “star” the Kings have, long term this team is still screwed because Cousins isn’t dynamic enough of a player to make a great deal difference when you are talking about the Durant/Westbrook/Howard/Love types of the world. And that’s just some of the West. That doesn’t take into account in what Anthony Davis might become pretty quickly for the Hornets, or how Derrick Favors/Enes Kanter develop for the Jazz given their starts to their own careers.

If Tyreke Evans doesn’t develop, the Kings are screwed if expected success is desired. (And when is that not desired?) In other words, this season will be about Tyreke Evans absolute last moment chance to become a superstar/franchise player (and I think that is remote to be fair at this juncture based on what Evans has done over his 3 years), and Cousins will rarely factor into that.

Really, I could stop there because that’s the deal with the NBA. The NBA has been, always and now, a superstar game in a team concept. It’s like saying that oil and water do mix. In reality they do; in a scientific context it’s simply impossible. They occupy two different parts side by side and never mix completely. That’s how the NBA works in a way, and unfortunately players do not realize that quickly. Or, some fans DO realize this and because the talent level varies from roster to roster (it’s more subtle than fans give that credit for) it’s not as easy to tell as you would.

Any way you slice this, if Tyreke Evans doesn’t develop this current incarnation of the Kings won’t work. It’s built off both Cousins and Evans, and if one isn’t capable of handling his end (especially if neither is a franchise player which is the greatest possibility I see happening), the Kings are stuck in limbo-Ron Artest era-land. That’s never ideal to say the least.

Does that mean that Thomas Robinson’s season, or Isaiah Thomas’ season doesn’t matter? Of course it does. But it does mean that a NBA roster has no real upward trajectory beyond mediocrity without star talent, and if there isn’t a real franchise player (or face of the franchise or whatever label you wish to call it today), then the Kings are screwed. Right now, based on evidence to date, I don’t see a franchise player for the Kings. That’s the bottom line. Everything else is what it is. Jason Thompson is solid, Robinson could be frightening next to Evans and Cousins if they ever got their shit together, Thomas is fun to watch and to root for, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and Aaron Brooks are probably going to be as good as a veteran presence you are ever going to get with shiftless crummy owners like the Maloofs, Marcus Thornton is Vinne Johnson 2.0 (for the last friggin time!!!) and this team still comes back to Evans/Cousins.

If Cousins and Evans don’t grab that brass ring, the Kings are screwed. I’m tired of repeating myself so I’m going to stop. I just wonder if stressing it about 8 jabillion times in this piece alone gets that point across. I’m going to guess probably not

Enjoy the 2012-13 Kings, yeah? I’m going to try above and beyond the problems that really exist.

Good day.