2017-18 Preview: Sacramento Kings

By Darryl Howerton #21

When the Kings dealt perennial All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans for guards and draft picks, it enabled Sacramento head coach David Joerger to play his remaining two best players—centers Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos—a bit more, while also carving out playing time for two of his minor-league bigs, lean power forward Skal Labissiere and giant 7-1, 240-pound teen Georgios Papagiannis. The quartet enjoyed individual and team success together down the stretch, which leads to continued optimism as they open the 2017-18 season with similar high hopes. In the meanwhile, Kings GM Vlade Divac has rebuilt the rest of the team using a similar mentor-and-pupil philosophy via draft and free agency. Now, the Kings bring over Joerger disciples Zach Randolph and Vince Carter from Memphis to teach the young forwards and wings (injured Harry Giles, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin Jackson, not to mention young returners Buddy Hield ad Malachi Richardson), while former Indiana/San Antonio import George Hill and holdover Garrett Temple are doing likewise with rookie point guards De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason.

Kings 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Garrett Temple Buddy Hield, Malachi Richardson Skal Labissiere, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis
Newcomers George Hill, De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason Vince Carter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Jackson Zach Randolph, Harry Giles
Gone Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Langston Galloway Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo Anthony Tolliver
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: Only the Lakers (-8.0 scoring margin per 100 possessions), Magic (-7.1) and Suns (-6.3) were playing worse—net ratings-wise—than the Kings (-6.1) after the All-Star break (once Cousins was traded). But if it is any consolation, the post-Cousins Kings did not suffer much offensively (104.1 offensive efficiency ranked 21st in the NBA) as compared to the Cousins Kings during the 2016-17 season (104.8 offensive efficiency; 17th). This upcoming season, by leaning on four old pros—such as Hill, Temple, Carter and Randolph—Joerger is hoping once again he can create the type of environment where his young team—of high-character prospects haling from winning programs—can prosper. Hill and Temple both have the combo skills that make each natural fits for the speedy Fox, the penetrating Mason and/or the hard-working off guard Hield. Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Carter provides the template that Joerger would love to see his younger wings develop into (Jackson, Bogdanovic and Richardson), though none of these Kings wings could ever dream of reaching the Carter’s ceiling in terms of career acheivement or vertical leap.

Defense: Similar to the offense plateau, the post-Cousins Kings (110.2 points allowed per 100 possessions; 26th in the NBA) were not that far off from the Cousins’ Kings in defensive efficiency (108.6; 24th). Most of the credit for that has to go to the holdover centers who had good Real Plus-Minus scores (Koufos, +2.83; Cauley-Stein, +0.90; Papagiannis, -0.30 as a 19 year old). With those anchors, Joerger has the freedom to implement many of the same schemes he employed in Memphis when Marc Gasol was his starting center and Koufos his backup in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Likewise, can Carter coach Jackson into becoming a Tony Allen-like defender? Can Hill get Fox to use his offense dynamo speed for similar playmaking skills on D? Only time will tell if these 15 men can ever create a top 10 defensive unit. But at the very least, Joerger knows he already has some good foundational parts for what he ultimately needs.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Upside: When 10 of your team’s players have two, one or zero years of NBA experience, your team has a roster filled with upside potential. At the top of that list have to be 20-year-old Labissiere, a 6-11, lengthy prospect who had the team’s third-best Player Efficiency Rating at 16.8 in 612 minutes (Cousins was first, 26.5; Gay second, 17.9, who has since signed with San Antonio), and the 20-year-old Papagiannis, whose 12.7 PER and -0.30 DRPM as a teenager was especially impressive. The Kings also have a close eye on 24-year-old Hield, who had a .600 true shooting percentage in his 25 games in Sacramento post-trade; 19-year-old lotto pick Fox; first-round rookies, 22-year-old Jackson, 19-year-old Giles and 25-year-old Bogdanovic.

Durability: Before one panics about the lack of durable characters in Sacramento—outside of reliable Koufos—keep in mind most of his team is made up of college-aged sophomores, juniors and seniors whose bodies should be able to withstand 82-game seasons. As for the other vets who may miss one or two (or even three) dozen games this season, remember this is a Sacramento squad that is just looking for improvement on a 32-50 season in 2016-17, whose best effort the last 10 years was 38-44 in 2007-08. The bar is low, and should Sacramento need to tank during this last season of NBA tanking, the Kings do indeed have their own first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Synergy: Nobody on this team meets the 5,000 Minute Rule requirement, but centers Koufos (2,900 minutes in Kings uniforms) and Cauley-Stein (2,832) are probably a year or two away from clearing the standard. That lack of cohesion is sure to put a damper on all these young Kings and new Kings as they try to merge together. There really are no remaining signs of the old Sac stand-ins after last season’s big trade and this summer’s free agency blow up of the team as we knew it. Farewell, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi and Darren Collison, among others.

Experience: Who knew the Sacramento Kings would actually have three players rank amongst the top 35 NBA active players in playoff minutes. Granted, none of this trio played any of their postseasons in a Kings uniform, nor will they likely be imparting any of their experience beyond mid April. Still, it is impressive that three new Kings like Carter (3,033 postseason minutes, 20th), Hill (2,843; 27th) and Randolph (2,450; 35th) have logged this many playoff minutes, considering Sacramento has not made the postseason since 2006.

Win Frame: 30-35 wins

 

 

 

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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