The NBA season is young.
Some of you will say that it is too young to rush to judgement about any team, especially a team as youthful and inexperienced as the Sacramento Kings.
And you're probably right.
But I'm going to do it anyway.
This report card is based not on potential or what this team might do in the future.
It is based only on what the Kings have done on the court so far this season. It has been a season full of ups and downs. There have been moments that were truly spectacular, and moments that were mind-bogglingly terrible. It's all here, and it's all accounted for.
Now that that's out of the way, on with the slideshow!
The other day I was sitting on the couch, watching the Kings get their asses handed to them by some random team, when my fiancée asked me how Jimmer was faring in the NBA.
“He’s alright,” I replied. “He just doesn’t seem to totally fit. It seems like every game he’s a step too slow, a bit too hesitant to pull the trigger, like his court vision is just a moment behind where it needs to be.”
“So what you’re saying is that he’s too white.”
This conversation encapsulates everything that Jimmer Fredette is on the basketball court. He’s a shooter who is too hesitant to pull the trigger. He’s a point guard with no handles and shaky ball control.
He’s not just white, he’s damn near translucent.
I don’t know if Jimmer will ever be able to contribute to a quality NBA team. What I do know is that on the Kings, as they are currently constructed, he doesn’t fit. The Kings already have loads of one-dimensional scorers. And it seems like if Jimmer is ever to find his way at the pro level, he will have to do so as an one-dimensional scorer.
I’m not writing him off yet, but things aren’t looking promising.
Oh, Demarcus. Demarcus, Demarcus, Demarcus. What the hell are we going to do with you?
Cousins has already had the league’s most publicized meltdown, cost a bad coach his job and has gotten into foul trouble in roughly 100 percent of the games he’s played.
He’s also looked dominant at times. He’s looked so dominant that it makes you think “hey, maybe this guy is worth all this trouble.” And that is a lot of trouble.
Based on performance alone, I’d give Cousins a solid B-. But factoring in his standard level of knuckle-headedness drops his grade significantly.
I love Demarcus. I really do. I think that one day he will be a truly great player. I’m just growing more and more concerned that when that day comes, he won’t be wearing a Kings uniform. There’s only so much B.S. one franchise can put up with before they understandably cut their losses and move on.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Chuck Hayes is a beast of a man. The dude is a mack truck, an immovable object, a 6’6" player with the ass of an obese seven footer. And I love him for it.
He’s also the only player on the Kings who legitimately cares about defense. On most teams, a player who is content to rebound, get himself in position to succeed and bang bodies with any and all bigs who cross his path would be an incredibly valued asset.
On the Kings he’s the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit.
But I don’t fault (or downgrade) him for this. In this case, it isn’t so much that the puzzle piece doesn’t fit, it’s more that the puzzle is fundamentally broken.
I’m giving Hayes high marks, if only because I’m scared that if I don’t, he will back that thang up, and box me out with extreme prejudice.
Kings announcers Jerry Reynolds and Grant Napier are extremely fond of pointing out that when John Salmons gets his shot going, the Kings will be much harder to stop.
Here’s the thing: Why would you think that he will get his shot going?
He’s a career 44 percent shooter who is in his 10th NBA season. He was an offensive black hole during his first stint with the Kings, and it seems that little has changed the second time around. Maybe his shot isn't coming back.
Salmons is allegedly a do-it-all player who actually doesn’t actually do anything exceptionally well. My prejudices against him are vast and well documented, and I’m not going to waste any more time telling people why he sucks, when they could just watch him play for 10 minutes and see for themselves.
On the bright side of Kings basketball, Tyreke is back, baby!
Evans began the year looking lost and uninspired by Paul Westphal’s leadership. He was hardly alone in this regard.
But since new head coach Keith Smart took over, Evans seems to be up to his old tricks again.
Sure, you could point out that he hasn’t become the true point guard the Kings desperately need, but that would be missing the point. The point is that maybe Tyreke just isn’t a point guard and never will be. Maybe he just needs to do what he does, and have success on his own terms.
And recently, Evans has been doing it with style. He has been rebounding with vigor, slashing to the basket with aggression and most importantly seems genuinely invested in the game.
2012 has been a roller-coaster ride for the Kings, but the return of Tyreke Evans has been one of the season's lone bright spots.
Marcus Thornton was born to chuck the basketball.
He will chuck it from anywhere, at any time. He is a pure scorer who is capable of carrying a team offensively if he gets hot, which makes it OK that he shoots early, often and without conscience.
Look, Thornton isn’t a great fit for this team. But that doesn’t make him bad. It makes him stuck on the wrong team. He’s a one-dimensional scorer on a team full of one-dimensional scorers. A black hole in a galaxy of nothing but black holes.
I like Thornton because he doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He’s not JJ Hickson, inexplicably taking 15-foot turnaround jumpers with 19 seconds left on the shot clock. He’s not Jimmer Fredette, one of the most prolific shooters in NCAA history who is suddenly afraid to take an open three-pointer.
He is a scorer who scores. A shooter who shoots. He is what he is. And like the Kings themselves, he is a few complementary pieces away from thriving.
I’m lumping Jason Thompson, Donte Greene, Travis Outlaw, Francisco Garcia and Isaiah Thomas together in this group. They will receive one grade because they are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Obviously, their games are different. They play different positions and take different roles. But they are the same in one key way: if you were to split them up and disperse them amongst other NBA teams, they would all play the same part—they would be quality eighth or ninth guys off the bench.
On the Kings, they are often asked to play bigger roles, which really isn’t fair to them. They aren’t bad. They aren’t great. They are somewhere in between. They are minute-eaters and fringe players who are being asked to contribute beyond their means.
They are perfectly passable.
In some ways, I’ve been extremely impressed with Hickson.
He hustles. He rebounds. He has a surprisingly effective jump shot if he’s left open.
I call his jumper “the gift and the curse.” When defenders leave him open, it’s basically free points. But after he’s hit one or two of them, he gets it in his head that he can hit all of them, and begins taking shots that are truly, truly terrible.
There are times when Hickson brings skills to the table that are exactly what the Kings need. The times when he throws down putback dunks and uses his impressive hops to rebound over larger players. This is the good J.J. Hickson.
And then there are times when he is exactly what the team doesn’t need. Seriously, J.J.—on a team with Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton, you don’t need to be taking defended jumpshots. Ever. Seriously.
In fact, The Gift and the Curse is my new nickname for Hickson. The good news is that he is still young, and like the rest of Sacramento’s roster, still developing. I think his future is bright, even if his present is inconsistent.
One thing that I didn’t really touch on during my individual player grades is how truly, truly awful this team is on defense.
Offensively, the Kings are capable of keeping up with anyone in stretches. They are athletic, they can run and their fast breaks and offensive sets are visibly improving with every game they play together.
But defensively they are, and I write this without any sense of hyperbole or exaggeration, consistently the worst team I have ever seen.
Opponents don’t just get quality shots against the Kings. They get shots that are completely unguarded. Shots that are taken without a defender within a five-foot radius of them. It is truly frustrating.
It is frustrating because defense is all about hustle and effort. There are teams right now in the NBA who don’t have great defensive players, but manage to put together solid team defense because they hustle back after missed shots, don’t complain about no-calls, communicate with each other and never leave the man with the ball.
These are all things that the Kings do on a nightly basis.
Offensively, the Kings have as much potential as any team in the league. But basketball is played on both ends of the floor.
So even though the future of the Kings might be bright (then again, it might not be), even though Tyreke is back and Demarcus has flashes of brilliance and Thornton is a gifted scorer, I can’t give this team a passing grade.
They are close. Very close. And I think with time and more practice (and the addition of a true point guard), they will get there.
But at this moment, they aren’t there. At this moment, they are an incomplete, one-dimensional team. And I have to grade them as such.