Although the Sacramento Kings have missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, there's definitely talent and upside on this roster.
Only two of the players (John Salmons and Francisco Garcia) are in their 30s. Other guys, like DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton, should be above-average players in 2012-13.
Plus, the Kings have a few young players in Isaiah Thomas and Thomas Robinson that should develop into excellent contributors for the foreseeable future.
But how will the roster shake out? Which players will be the most instrumental in determining the Kings' success (or lack thereof) this season?
Keep reading to find out...
Note: The slideshow is open to interpretation on how you define "important". I took it to mean: the players that will be the most instrumental in determining the Kings' success this season. Because of that, the slideshow isn't a reflection of who's going to get the most playing time. Rather, it's a reflection of the players that, if they play as expected, could have the biggest impact on the team's performance in 2012-13.
Tyler Honeycutt's impact on the Kings in 2011-12 was minimal. In fact, you could go so far as to say it was non-existent. That's because Honeycutt only played in 15 games and played a total of 88 minutes during his rookie season.
Although Honeycutt's now entering his second season in the NBA, he's unlikely to see much of an increased role. Sure, he's versatile in that he can play both small forward and power forward. Unfortunately for Honeycutt, the Kings have a ton of forwards on the roster.
Thomas Robinson, Travis Outlaw, John Salmons, James Johnson and Jason Thompson will likely be ahead of Honeycutt on the depth chart. Also, Tyreke Evans is supposed to switch to small forward this season and be Sacramento's starter at the 3.
So while Honeycutt may be entering his second season, and he may be able to play both forward spots, with so many players in front of him in the pecking order, he's likely to only garner garbage-time minutes.
Really, it's kind of sad that Travis Outlaw is the 13th-most important player on the Sacramento Kings. After all, it's not like the Kings are perennial playoff contenders. This is a team that hasn't made the playoffs in the past six seasons, and barring some unforeseen turnaround, it's likely to be at least seven.
However, this is what Outlaw's career has come to. He was a DNP-Coach's Decision in 27 of the Kings' 66 games last season. And even when he was on the court, Outlaw's play was horrendous.
He had his worst year since his rookie season, and at that time, Outlaw was jumping from high school to the NBA. Outlaw only averaged 4.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game last year. While those stats certainly aren't star-caliber, they look good compared to Outlaw's pathetic shooting.
Last season, Outlaw only shot 34.3 percent from the floor and 26.7 percent from three-point range. From a guy that's a career 42.5 percent shooter and a 33.8 percent three-point shooter, Outlaw's production in 2011-12 was unacceptable.
Like Honeycutt, Outlaw can play both forward positions. Also like Honeycutt, Outlaw is in the back of the depth chart at both spots. If he can find his stroke, Outlaw could provide some value to this team as a three-point shooter off the bench. But seeing how he's shot 29.5 percent over his last 312 three-point attempts, don't hold your breath.
It's tough to know what to expect from Francisco Garcia. For one, he seems to get hurt every single season. That makes it hard for a team to have high expectations for him. Secondly, Garcia had the worst year of his career in 2011-12.
With Garcia's injury history and with his down year last season, it's hard to imagine him being an important cog on Sacramento's roster. Plus, now that Garcia is 30 years old, it's getting to the point where you have to start questioning whether his body is becoming worn down from all of his various ailments.
He can still provide some quality on-ball defense, and he has the ability to guard shooting guards and small forwards. Considering the Kings were the worst defensive team in the NBA last year, both in terms of points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage, any warm body that can defend should get some playing time.
But since he shot the ball so poorly (37.6 percent from the field; 29 percent from three-point range) it's hard to see him providing much value on offense. Now, those figures are well below his career averages, so his shooting could return to its normal levels.
But given that Garcia's getting up there in age, and considering his history with injuries, it's hard to see him having a meaningful role with the Kings this season.
Johnson should have a role with the Kings this season. But due to what he's lacking on the offensive end, his role should be hit and miss.
Some nights, especially when the Kings are playing teams with good wing scorers, we can expect to see Johnson get plenty of minutes. But on nights when Sacramento is struggling to score points, don't expect to see Johnson in the game much; he'll only exacerbate the problem.
Johnson is turnover-prone on offense and he tends to force ill-advised shots that are outside of the team's flow. On top of that, both of Johnson's main deficiencies happen to be areas where the Kings struggle as a team. So don't expect him to get too many minutes unless it's for defensive purposes.
However, Johnson shines on defense, so he should still find a niche with the Kings. He's big enough to guard power forwards and he's quick enough to stick with small forwards. He also uses his length and quickness to average 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes.
Based on his career track record, John Salmons could be an important piece on the Kings this season. But judging off of what Salmons did in 2011-12, it's hard to envision him playing an important role in the upcoming campaign.
Salmons looked absolutely lost on offense. He couldn't shoot the ball with the same consistency that he'd shown for his first nine seasons and he lost the ability to get to the free-throw line on a regular basis.
As with James Johnson, any value the Kings get from Salmons is likely to come on the defensive end of the court. Even then, although Salmons is still a capable defender, he isn't as good as he used to be.
It could just be that Salmons has declined to the point that he's no longer a productive player. That tends to happen as players get into their 30s, and Salmons will be 33 years old in December.
At the same time, Salmons really seemed to lack confidence in his abilities last season. Maybe he regains some of his poise and returns to the player he once was.
But he'll have to prove it on the court. As we enter the 2012-13 season, Salmons is unlikely to have a consequential role with the Kings.
Even though Jimmer Fredette had a disappointing rookie campaign, he should still provide value to the Kings.
If Fredette hasn't improved his game much this offseason, he'll still give the Kings a consistent three-point shooter. Considering the Kings only shot 31.6 percent from three-point range last season (29th in the NBA), if Fredette can duplicate his three-point percentage of .361 from last season, it should help fill an area where Sacramento was lacking.
But if Fredette made some improvements to his game, he could end up being a solid contributor for the Kings.
It will be interesting to see what happens, but from my perspective, Fredette looked to be lacking in confidence last season. Granted, he made plenty of physical mistakes. But just mentally adjusting to the NBA could help him improve on his consistency.
After all, when Fredette had games where he was "feeling it", he would score in bunches. But those games didn't occur with any regularity.
He's got the skills to supply some offense and three-point shooting for this team; he just has to go out and do it.
The Kings selected Thomas Robinson with the fifth pick in the 2012 draft. While he's got an extremely bright future in the NBA, Robinson isn't likely to have an important role, especially to start the season.
Sacramento will likely give Robinson an opportunity to ease into the NBA. With Jason Thompson ahead of him on the depth chart, expect his role to be small at the beginning of the season. Then, as Robinson adjusts to the speed of the game, he'll see an increase in his minutes.
One area where Robinson should be able to help immediately is rebounding. He was an excellent rebounder while in college. That's a skill that generally translates to the NBA. It also doesn't hurt that Robinson has a 6'10", 237-pound frame to work with.
He's also got some post moves and enough range on his shot to consistently knock down jumpers from 18 feet.
If this list were forecasting to the 2013-14 season, I'd expect Robinson to be towards the top of the rankings. But with the presence of Jason Thompson, there's no need for Robinson to play an important role on the Kings as the season gets underway.
In the case of Chuck Hayes, he'll have an important role on and off the court for the Sacramento Kings this season.
On the court, Hayes should give the Kings a solid backup center. He's been a very capable rebounder since he entered the NBA with the Houston Rockets seven years ago. Despite his 6'6" height, Hayes has averaged 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, including 3.5 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes.
Hayes has also proven to be a solid post defender since coming into the NBA. Although he doesn't block many shots, he has the strength to defend in the post.
Because of his ability on defense, and with rebounding, he'll have a consistent role coming off the bench for the Kings.
Off the court, Hayes brings a veteran presence that any coach would love to have. It's especially important on a team like the Kings, because Sacramento has a lot of youth in its frontcourt.
The Kings also have a player in DeMarcus Cousins who has struggled with immaturity in the past. Granted, Cousins seemed to improve as last season went on, but it's nice to have Hayes there to keep him in line.
Jason Thompson will be the starting power forward for the Kings in 2012-13. Granted, Thomas Robinson could be a future star at the position, but Thompson will man the 4-spot for this season.
Thompson seems to be one of those players who isn't great at anything but one that's good at everything. He's a solid rebounder, he can score the basketball, he can defend and he's a pretty decent passer. In short, he's a good player to have on your team.
Plus, if last season is any indication of things to come, Thompson seemed to become a more efficient player on offense as the season went on. He had a career-high field-goal percentage of .535 for the season.
But following the All-Star break, Thompson seemed to get in a real groove. He shot 55.7 percent from the field and averaged 10.3 points and 7.7 rebounds. He also had a six-game stretch where he averaged 17.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and posted a field-goal percentage of .688.
Thompson's solid play should continue. At some point during the season, Thomas Robinson could supplant Thompson in the starting lineup. But, even if that happens, Thompson will always have a consistent role and regular minutes for the Kings.
Pretty much the only position that's up for grabs in the starting lineup is the point guard spot. With Aaron Brooks on the team, and with Isaiah Thomas entering his second season, the Kings have two solid options.
Regardless of who ends up starting at point guard, both Thomas and Brooks will have significant and similar roles on the team.
Based on what we saw from Thomas during his rookie year, he's got the skills to be a good player in the NBA. Despite being "Mr. Irrelevant", because he was the last player selected in the 2011 draft, Thomas contributed from the get-go.
As the season went on, Thomas' role with the team increased. By midseason he was promoted to the starting lineup and averaged 14.8 points, 5.4 assists and only two turnovers per game. He also shot 47.7 percent from the field and 40.6 from three-point range as a starter.
Any team could use that type of steady production, especially the Kings. So expect to see a lot of Isaiah Thomas in 2012-13 whether or not he's in the starting lineup.
It's hard to figure out who will have a more important role with the Kings between Isaiah Thomas and Aaron Brooks. As was mentioned in the previous slide, both are fighting for a spot in the starting lineup and both figure to have prominent roles on the team throughout the season.
However, if Brooks can reproduce what he did for Houston in 2009-10, then he should be the starting point guard for the Kings. Of course, that was a few years ago, so whether or not Brooks can do it remains to be seen.
It would seem that Brooks is still young enough to possess the skills he showed three seasons ago, especially because he lost his starting job due to an injury and not lack of production.
But Brooks did spend the lockout-shortened season in China. Considering that he didn't play against NBA-caliber competition, it could be that Brooks needs a little while to ease back into things. If that's the case, expect Isaiah Thomas to get the nod at starting point guard.
We'll have to see how it all shakes out. But either way, the Kings are lucky to have two point guards of this caliber.
Thornton should provide two very important roles for the Sacramento Kings this season.
The first one is that he's a reliable scorer. Throughout his three-year career, Thornton has averaged 19.5 points per 36 minutes. And it's not like he's a bench player whose production dips when he gets exposed with more playing time.
Thornton played an average of 34.9 minutes last season and averaged 18.7 points. He did it fairly efficiently, shooting 43.8 percent from the field, 34.5 percent from three-point range and 86.5 percent from the charity stripe.
He can also score in a variety of ways. He's got enough quickness to drive to the hoop. He's got a consistent enough shot to bury three-pointers. He's also got an excellent mid-range game with jumpers, runners and floaters.
What Thornton also provides the Kings is a clutch scorer. He wants the ball in those situations and he's shown a tendency to produce.
In clutch situations (which are defined as fourth quarter or overtime, last five minutes of a game, neither team ahead by more than five points), the team was plus-15 in net points scored with Thornton on the court. The Kings also posted a 14-8 record in such situations when Thornton was on the court.
So not only will his ability as a volume scorer be important to the Kings, it's his ability as a clutch performer that will have the biggest impact on Sacramento in 2012-13.
The Kings need guys who can help them finish out games. Thornton fits that bill.
One could make a solid argument for either Marcus Thornton or Tyreke Evans as Sacramento's second-most important player. But Evans should get the nod because of his overall potential.
Nobody can doubt Tyreke's God-given ability. He's incredibly quick, and he's got the ball-handling skills to utilize that quickness. Essentially, it's near impossible to stick in front of Evans unless you give him a huge cushion.
Unfortunately, opponents can get away with giving Evans that cushion because he hasn't shown the ability to make them pay with a jump shot. It's something he's supposed to be working on in the offseason. But we've heard that before from Evans. He needs to prove it on the court.
Plus, if the Kings are going to make any noticeable headway this season, it's going to be because DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans elevate their play. Based on the improvements Cousins made from his rookie year to last year, it's almost expected that he takes another step in his development. You can't really say the same for Evans.
On top of that, Evans is supposed to be switching to small forward this year. I think he's got the skills to handle the change. But skill has never been Evans' problem, he's always had plenty of that. It's whether or not he can translate that skill into performance.
Could it really be any other player? Of course Cousins is Sacramento's most important player in 2012-13.
Between Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins the Kings have two players who could be All-Stars this season. The difference is that I expect Cousins to become an All-Star while I'm merely hoping with Evans.
Cousins is one of the five-best centers in the NBA. Depending on who you ask, he could be top three, behind only Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard.
He was a force on the boards last year, averaging 11.0 rebounds per game, including 4.1 offensive rebounds per game.
He was a more than capable scorer. He averaged 18.0 points per game and did it with a refreshingly polished post game. He showed the strength to back defenders down and the touch to make shots around the basket.
At times, he was still plagued with forcing bad shots. He would also become frustrated and commit frustration fouls. But he's still 22 years old and he came into the NBA with a reputation of being immature.You could say that he's validated that reputation, especially during his rookie season.
But I saw a definite improvement in Cousins' attitude once Keith Smart took over as head coach. If he can continue to straighten that out, the sky's the limit for Cousins. After all, nobody questions his talent; it's his ability to stay focused.
I expect Cousins to stay focused this season. I also expect Cousins to be the key to the Kings' 2012-13 season and their future. That's not to say the Kings will or won't make some noise this season, it's to say that without DeMarcus Cousins, you can forget about it.
He's by far the Kings' most important player this season.
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