Grading Sacramento Kings' Roster After James Johnson and Aaron Brooks Signings
UPDATE: The Kings have additionally acquired James Johnson from the Raptors and Aaron Brooks in free agency. These acquisitions should fill some much-needed gaps at PG and SF -- grades for newest players are added to the slideshow.
"The Kings got Robinson. The Kings got Robinson." Almost two weeks after the draft, I still have to say it under my breath to believe it.
The astonishment of this year's No. 5 pick hasn't blown over me. In the breaking news room here at Bleacher Report, I was forced to keep my cool and stay quiet -- two things I'm terrible at anyway. The Cavs took Waiters, and oh man I was juiced. When you add the excitement of Thomas Robinson to an inability to stay calm, it's a miracle I didn't cause the site to explode.
The truth is, the landscape of the Kings looks deceptively great, much like the actual landscape of Sacramento: open space and more trees than you could ask for...and yet, it's so hot that it's often unbearable.
Hopefully, T-Rob provides some shade for ailing Kings fans. It's looking like Geoff Petrie has intelligently decided to take a vacation this summer instead of sitting inside all day and rebuilding his team from the dirt up (a la Daryl Morey).
Let's dive into mid-free-agency grades for the Sacramento Kings roster. Grades are based on projected support each player can provide for the team, not past performance (still reeling from that one, Sabean).
DeMarcus Cousins: A
Despite how irritating he's been in the past, Cousins is way too talented to be ignored.
Yes, Team USA Chairman Jerry Colangelo thinks DMC has "a lot of growing up to do," and he's right. On the other hand, Cousins almost played his way onto a team that houses 12 of the top 15 players in the NBA (Bosh, Wade and Howard are all injured).
The fact is, Cousins averaged 18 and 11 last season on a team that had three other scoring threats in Evans, Thornton and Thomas.
He's absolutely not a true center, but he's playing there because he's a big, tough dude and they asked him to transform his game into a 5 instead of a 4. It will be very interesting to see how being a franchise player for the third year in a row will affect him.
It's a little scary that Petrie has promoted a different franchise player every year for the last three (Tyreke, DeMarcus and the pretty-much-but-not-quite-yet-failed-experiment-that-is-Jimmer).
Cousins and Robinson have major potential down low. If they figure out how to clog up the middle against teams like the Clippers and Thunder (and play a little perimeter defense), they have real potential to beat these drive-heavy squads.
He should also play well with newly-acquired PG Aaron Brooks. Brooks has a proven track record with assist-happy centers so this should brighten up DMC's day. (Seriously though, it seems like he's always mad at something/someone. Maybe that's a good thing competition-wise).
Aaron Brooks: B+
I'm very excited about what Aaron Brooks (highlights here) brings to a Sacramento team looking to slip into the playoffs.
You can read his back story in this article but essentially Brooks had a breakout season with the Rockets a few years back and hasn't seen the likes of his 19.6 ppg since then. On the other hand, he was very cheap at just over $3M/year for 2 years. (Plus, he's a Pac-10/12 guy. Perhaps he'll mesh with Thomas as a result).
Some things to get excited about:
Brooks is a great shooter. He shot almost 40% from three-point land in 2009-10 with the Rockets. Name a spot-up three shooter that the Kings have now (that isn't named Salmons, if you'd even dare call him that). You can't.
He plays extremely well with big men. He only played 25 games in Phoenix last season but on the Rockets he worked well with Luis Scola. He makes cuts to the basket, knows when to ask for screens and isn't selfish with the ball.
With Cousins and Robinson both displaying good passing skills (hopefully T-Rob develops his game even futher), we may have a Bill Walton/Lionel Hollins situation on our hands. In short, he spreads the floor and makes it difficult to guard his speed.
On the defensive end, he's not a proven leader. On the other hand, neither is anyone else on the squad, save maybe Evans and Cousins.
The guy is a steal, assuming he doesn't completely flop. After being out of the NBA and playing in China for a season, it's possible Brooks will need some time to acclimate. Hopefully it doesn't take him long since every game will count as the Kings look to sneak into the playoffs in the eight spot.
Note: if you've never read The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam, you should read it now. It's an in-depth look at the '76-77 Blazers team that won the title with Bill Walton and Lionel Hollins at the helm. Walton is annoying now, yes. Back then, he was cementing a legacy as one of the best passing centers of all time.
Tyreke Evans: B+
I was initially tempted to knock Reke off his perch a little bit and give him a lower grade.
Despite the fact that I remain a proponent of trading either Tyreke or Thornton (and Evans seems like the logical one since he'll stand to make a ton of money next summer), I think he improved last year.
His stats don't necessarily show it, but there are two categories where he definitely showed up last season: His shooting and FG percentages increased markedly, and he turned the ball over quite a bit less while only seeing a small decrease in minutes.
Tyreke is playing the point, and it's abundantly clear to everyone that he shouldn't be there. With the late-season emergence of Isaiah Thomas at PG, Tyreke should expect to handle the ball far less frequently which means he can focus on making cuts, setting screens and feeding the ball inside to T-Rob and DMC.
He's had a lot on his shoulders the past three seasons and hopefully by turning down the heat another notch from last season, he'll thrive. Thornton, Salmons and Tyreke all play relatively selfish games.
I just really don't want to see the Kings turn out like Isiah's 2005-2006 Knicks: 10 of the same player chucking up threes and pretending like they're at and-one mix-tape games.
(Just for fun: that roster was ridiculous: Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Anfernee Hardaway, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Nate Robinson and Jalen Rose. That's seven guys with very similar games. That's not a basketball team; that's a freakin' pickup train wreck.)
Jimmer Fredette: D
With the acquisition of PG Aaron Brooks, Jimmer may disappear permanently from the Kings' rotation. His summer league game looks somewhat weak (he's not playing well with others) and I'm concerned that he ultimately won't fit in with this team.
He was generally erratic last year and didn't do the job that he was supposed to on the team.
Looking to the future, I'm not sure Jimmer fits in with this team in any way unless he channels his inner J.J. Redick and completely re-defines his game. Redick was a one-trick pony in college like Fredette. With the ability to bomb long threes and hit them consistently, they captured the hearts and minds of (white) basketball-loving America.
If he learns how to create his own shot, the idiot that wrote this article might actually be right.
Francisco Garcia: D
I've spent a lot of time bashing Garcia. I'd rather not start off a season hating on him, particularly since Sac is paying him $6 million a year for two more years.
He had a major down year last year, and the best thing he brings to the squad next year is a locker-room voice. If DMC freaks out and tries to get Keith Smart fired, it's possible that Garcia and Salmons will be able to calm him down. (I just realized how bad it will be if Cousins has an episode next year and Robinson is on his side. The entire Sacramento Valley needs to be ready for this.)
I happen to know that he's a pretty good guy, and I'll never forget the vocal role he played a few years back when everyone thought for sure that the Kings were gone. Hopefully he fills a solid role as the longest-tenured King.
Chuck Hayes: C-
Hayes is another King that barely passes, essentially because he's a Sacramento area guy and hopefully he can bring some defensive prowess and leadership to the DMC-Robinson combo.
Chuck has stuck around the league for so long because he's a 6'6" center that has successfully defended everyone from Dirk to Gasol to LeBron. Hayes is your assassin guy—he'll get into the game, and his only job will be to make it tough for the other team's scorer to get good shots. And he'll put his giant behind in your face and make you fade away if you're down low.
Robinson has four inches on Hayes and hopefully can learn a little something from Hayes' Barkley-esque approach to bang ball.
Tyler Honeycutt: C+
Everyone's favorite UCLA product is headed for some moderate production. (I took a chance on Jimmer during the offseason last year, and it didn't pay off. This one probably won't either, but it's worth a shot.)
He suffered a substantial setback when he broke his foot and won't have a shot at playing on the summer league squad, which makes my case look even worse, but his potential is still there.
James Johnson: B
James Johnson reminds me a lot of J.J. Hickson. He doesn't score much, he rebounds even less and he probably isn't going to provide a ton of minutes for the Kings.
What he will provide is some serious defensive presence and an excitable and capable scorer off the bench. There's even a good chance that he could start at SF for the Kings.
Salmons started at three for a decent portion of the season until he got demoted to a bench position, which is probably where he'll stay. With the addition of Aaron Brooks at PG, the Kings starting lineup could look as follows:
1 - Thomas
2 - Evans
3 - Thornton (doesn't really matter who plays which position for these two)
Johnson could definitely start games against teams with bigger rosters (Mavs, Lakers, Thunder, for example) and he'll provide some attention on defense for Keith Smart. The Kings head coach said he'd focus more on defense last year but he never had a full training camp to do so. Let's hope he does just that and Johnson provides a solid example for the young squad.
Travis Outlaw: C
Outlaw showed up half way through the season from New Jersey. Thornton, Cousins, Thomas and Evans did the majority of the scoring for most of the season and thus took the spotlight off of everyone else.
His size gives him the potential to help down low during games where the Kings start off slow (almost every single one), so I gave him a passing grade.
He's also a veteran that's been around for almost a decade, which will help a mostly starry-eyed, young Kings squad.
Thomas Robinson: B
I think it was obvious from the early stages of the draft that the only guys that had a shot at really helping the Kings were Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Thomas Robinson. Davis was gone the second he entered the draft, and Drummond ended up falling all the way to the Pistons at No. 9.
The Kings have been deficient down low for a very long time. You know it's bad when you're begging for Geoff Petrie to re-sign Sam Dalembert.
A couple of very exciting things about Robinson's game, if they're not already obvious:
1) He shoots a mid-range jumper very well (or at least better than Cousins has). It's kind of reminiscent of Chris Webber, despite how slow his release was.
2) He goes to the hoop a lot better than Cousins does. He doesn't weigh as much and relies on quickness as opposed to brute strength. Obviously that'll change at the pro level, but Robinson banged bodies with some of the best college players in the country.
3) You know how the Kings miss a lot of shots? With DMC and T-Rob in the key, you could say rebounds won't be an issue anymore.
As is the case with just about 90 percent of college-to-pro guys, I'm still a little skeptical about his game being translated to the NBA.
On the other hand, he really proved something against Anthony Davis and Kentucky in the title game: He was outscored (18 points) only by teammate Tyshawn Taylor (19) and out-rebounded (17) by nobody (including Davis, who had 16).
John Salmons: B-
Just two years ago, Salmons averaged almost 20 points a game. What?
Salmons, Garcia, Hayes: They're all going to play leadership roles simply by the virtue that they're veterans.
He'll start sparingly, but he can score off the dribble and create a shot. That's why he gets a B- and why I think he might have something tangible to contribute.
Isaiah Thomas: A-
I'm not a Grant Napear apologist. At all. In fact, I can't stand Grant Napear. And that's weird because he's been broadcasting Kings games for the better part of my life. For some reason though, when he calls Isaiah Thomas' energetic plays, it gets me fired up.
There were a number of times this year where I was astounded with how low he went in the draft (dead last at No. 60).
In the end though, Thomas' play is what freaks me out about being so excited about Robinson—you never know when the reverse of Thomas will come back to haunt you.
Jason Thompson: B
Thompson started over two-thirds of the games last year in a lockout-shortened season. I would guess that he's not going to be starting nearly as many this season with Robinson now on the squad, but he can still provide some hustle minutes off the bench.
When Gerald Wallace was with the Kings almost a decade ago, it was like the Harlem Globetrotters were on the floor (or, for those of you who need a modern example, it was Lob City).
Every once in a great while, Thompson feels like a similar player on the court. And hey—with Thomas starting to feel the oop, you never know what could happen this year.
One note: Jason Thompson is getting a $6 million-a-year deal? What is this, the Wild West of NBA lockouts? What are these owners/GMs doing? I love Jason Thompson, but to me, if 95 percent of the league doesn't know who the hell you are, you shouldn't get paid more than $1 million a year, plain and simple.
Marcus Thornton: A-
He's always been a scorer, and he doesn't turn the ball over much. How can you not be excited about Thornton? His shooting is streaky for sure, but like Evans, he can rely on making cuts and going to the basket a lot more than other guards do.
With another big body down low in Robinson (Cousins has done an excellent job of distributing the ball to both Evans and Thornton), I only see good things.
Overall grade for the Kings this season: B-
With the addition of Johnson and Brooks, the Kings fill some voids that have been empty for far too long. Obviously it's quite exciting that the Kings have added a backup PG/SF combo and a starting PF in less than a month. On the other hand, there's still a lot of leg work to be done, much of which is Keith Smart's responsibility. He has a rag-tag group of players that he needs to bring together if he's serious about making a playoff run.
It's impossible to tell if Robinson will gel with this crew, and with Evans trade rumors flying (as well as the obvious elephant in the room of relocation and/or sale), things could get nasty. There are a lot of positives this year. I'll try to stay out of the heat so I don't go crazy.
(Note: I left Donte Green, Hassan Whiteside and Terrence Williams off this list. Green tweeted that he's leaving (thank the lord), Whiteside literally didn't play last year and I think Williams is gone. Just a hunch).