Sacramento Kings: 5 Steps to Finally Turn Things Around
The Sacramento Kings have had young talent the past few years, but they haven't been able to turn that into winning seasons.
Fortunately for Kings fans, it doesn't always have to be that way.
For the first time in years, the team has been aggressive, addressing its need for another big man, small forward and point guard by drafting forward Thomas Robinson, signing forward James Johnson and signing guard Aaron Brooks.
In fact, the addition of Brooks almost ensures 48 minutes of up-tempo point-guard play; something I haven't seen from the Kings since the Mike Bibby-Bobby Jackson days.
I know it takes a lot of roster investment and a lot of things to go right for a team to contend for a title, but that doesn't mean the Kings haven't at least made strides toward becoming a better team.
Here are five more steps the Kings need to make to get back to playing winning basketball.
More Leadership Presence
Tyreke Evans needed to be more vocal. DeMarcus Cousins was—and still is—trying to shake his immature label. Isaiah Thomas showed that he had potential as a leader, but he was a rookie. Marcus Thornton averaged the most points per game, but never seemed to be the one rallying the team.
The Kings had candidates to be team leaders, but never had anyone step up.
A young team like the Kings needs a voice to keep everyone in check. It needs a voice to remind everyone that they are being paid to win, not just show up in a jersey on game day.
The Kings don't have a ton of veteran presence on their roster, so young players like Cousins, Thomas, Evans and Thornton will need to talk the talk as well as walk the walk on the court.
Cousins has already talked about being tired of losing. If the rest of the team feels the same way and acts on those feelings, the whole roster might show more accountability.
Improvement on Defense
I kept thinking to myself, "Is anyone going to even try to contest a layup?!?!"
While the Kings don't have the most efficient offense, they are capable of putting up a ton of points. But their Achilles heel for several years now has been their play on defense.
They finished sixth in the league in scoring last season but last in points allowed.
DeMarcus Cousins is capable of being a good defender and is an excellent rebounder, but he didn't have a lot of help down low last season.
Forward-center Chuck Hayes was a little heavier than normal—partly because of a preseason condition and a midseason shoulder dislocation—and not as spry as he was in Houston.
Forward Jason Thompson showed more toughness and rebounding prowess than his previous years, but consistency was a concern.
Center Hassan Whiteside didn't make an impact at all other than an occasional block, which is probably why he won't be on the roster this season.
The Kings' wing defense wasn't great, but Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans were at least able to fluster players one on one.
The addition of James Johnson should bolster the defense at small forward. But Cousins, Thompson, Hayes and rookie Thomas Robinson will be in charge of making it a lot tougher for teams to score in the paint.
Wing defense aside, the results are generally positive if teams are forced to take more jump shots because of a team's interior defense.
Offensively, the Kings didn't have a problem putting points on the scoreboard last season. Their problem was scoring efficiently.
The Kings averaged 98.8 points per game but only shot 43.6 percent from the field. They were sixth in the league in scoring, but 26th in field goal percentage.
Far too often, the Kings settled for isolation plays and forced shots over ball movement and finding the open man. This was partially because they didn't have a true starting point guard until Isaiah Thomas took over the role midseason. But it was more because stars Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins were all score-first, pass-second players.
They dribbled the clock away, allowing the opposing defense to get a breather before settling for a forced shot.
For the Kings to get back into playoff contention, they will need to maximize their possessions and not just score a lot, but score more effectively. That is more likely to happen if Evans can come into the season with a respectable jump shot.
If the Kings can spread the floor more—which they should be able to do with either Aaron Brooks or Thomas at point guard—they can get a higher percentage of good shots. This in turn will make opposing defenses work harder and give the Kings more time to transition back on defense.
Increased Ball Movement
The closest thing to a true point guard the Kings have had in years is Beno Udrih.
Except for him, the Kings haven't had guys who create shots for others. Heck, the Kings would be a lot better if they just passed the ball around a few more times rather than dribbling the shot clock away on isolation plays.
Isaiah Thomas improved this area for the Kings after he took over as the starting point guard last season. If he gets more playing time from the get-go this season, he'll be able to make the Kings a better passing team.
DeMarcus Cousins is a skilled passer for his size, and I believe his maturation on the court this season could present more opportunities for him to get double-teamed and set up other teammates.
Aaron Brooks is more known for his scoring ability than his assist numbers, but with him and Thomas constantly running the point for the Kings, their high-energy play could open up opportunities for others.
Moving the ball around keeps opposing defenses on their toes. But more importantly, it creates opportunities for better shots.
While a few of the Kings hung out off the court last year—namely Jason Thompson and former King Donte Greene—on the court most of the Kings players played like they barely knew each other.
DeMarcus Cousins was busy trying to get past his public incident with former coach Paul Westphal and prove that he was mature enough to be an elite center. Tyreke Evans was busy trying to figure out his role and position. Marcus Thornton was putting up shots nearly every time the ball touched his hands—though to his credit a lot of those shots went in.
There was a lot to be desired in the area of ball movement.
For much of the season, Kings players looked like it was every man for himself on the court.
But is seems as if times may be changing in Sacramento.
Head coach Keith Smart preached team chemistry over the course of last season, to the point where he took Cousins out to dinner and encouraged his players to spend time together outside of basketball.
In fact, this summer 10 Kings players voluntarily got together to scrimmage and work out together—something long-time television voice of the Kings, Grant Napear, said he had never seen in all of his years covering the team.
Chemistry is the icing on the cake. It's the glue that will hold every other area of needed improvement in place. It is one of Smart's No. 1 priorities.
With another year together, let's hope Kings fans will get to see the team not only build chemistry, but take all of these steps in order to once again fight for a playoff spot.