The Critical Improvement Each Young Sacramento Kings Player Must Make

Jon WilsonContributor IIISeptember 21, 2012

The Critical Improvement Each Young Sacramento Kings Player Must Make

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    For years the Sacramento Kings have had one of the youngest teams in the NBA. Last year, they had the youngest, according to hoopism.com

    For the coming season, the Kings have eight players under the age of 26. 

    The Kings are a team that has missed the postseason for six consecutive seasons, and if they are to break that streak it will almost certainly have to come at the hands of these many young players. 

    In the following slides, I list what each of those eight players under 26 needs to improve upon in order to elevate the team as a whole and hopefully get them closer to breaking that streak of missing the postseason. 

DeMarcus Cousins: Improve Attitude and Commit Less Fouls

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    DeMarcus Cousins hasn't taken long to show that he belongs in the NBA. 

    In two years, he's become one of the top offensive post presences and rebounders in the NBA, and he has a mid-range jump shot that has to be respected.  

    However, he's had concerns with his attitude—most notably his run-ins with his former coach Paul Westphal—and is largely considered one of the main reasons Westphal was fired. 

    Chairman of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo even said Cousins was "immature" at the start of Olympic basketball training this past summer, when Cousins was playing with the Select team, as noted by USA Today.   

    Cousins handled the situation well, as Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee noted in July, and his extra workouts this summer seem to show that he's on the right path to having a breakout season. His seemingly good relationship with current coach Keith Smart is a good sign as well. 

    Going somewhat hand-in-hand with with keeping his attitude in check, is lowering the number of fouls he commits per game. 

    He was fourth in rebounds per game last season and third in amount of charges taken per game, but he also led the league in personal fouls; was second in technical fouls; and tied for first in flagrants. 

    Hopefully, his commitment, his work ethic and his effort to improving his attitude also takes care of the fouls concern. If it does, Cousins may very well be headed towards an All-Star season. 

Tyreke Evans: Jump Shot, Jump Shot, Jump Shot

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    Nothing new here. Tyreke Evans needs to develop his jump shot. 

    If you take a look at Tyreke Evans' choice of shots, his most successful ones are at the rim, according to Hoopdata. After that, none of his shot choices past three feet succeeded at a higher rate than 30.3 percent last year. 

    Tyreke is one of the best slashers in the league, but because defenders have not been forced to respect Evans' jump shot, it's made it easier to back up off of him and cut off his driving lane. Evans' success rate at the rim was higher than it's ever been last season, but his attempts were down from his rookie year, according to Hoopdata.

    Also, Evans has tended to run isolation plays more than any other, according to MySynergySports.com.

    If he can get his jump shot to a level of respectability, it will force defenders to keep close to him, which will in turn open up his driving lanes again, which he'd prefer to take advantage of anyway. 

    If defenders decide to stick with cutting off his lanes, a respectable jumper gives him every opportunity to score when the ball is in his hands. 

    Evans has worked out harder than he has in any offseason thus far. Kings fans can only hope to see his improvement on the court. 

Marcus Thornton: Defense

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    Marcus Thornton can flat out score.

    Thornton was the Sacramento Kings' leading scorer last season and was the Kings' go-to guy when they needed a clutch basket. 

    Unfortunately, the Kings ranked dead last in defense last year and Thornton wasn't much of a help. 

    Thornton had one of the worse defensive mistakes of the season last year when he fouled Denver Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo on a last-second three-point attempt with the Kings up by three. Afflalo made all three free throws and the Nuggets eventually won in overtime. 

    Beyond that, Thornton has been inconsistent with being able to stay in front of his man and keep him from scoring. 

    According to BasketballReference.com, Thornton was fourth-to-last on the Kings in defensive rating and third-to-last in defensive win shares.  

    For a team that gave up the most points per game in the league last season, such a poor defensive output from a guy who ranked third on the squad in minutes per game and first in scoring simply won't cut it. 

Isaiah Thomas: Keep the Turnovers to a Minimum

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    Last season Isaiah Thomas showed why teams were wrong to let him fall to the last pick of the draft. 

    "Mr. Irrelevant" actually looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate as soon as he began getting the opportunity to permeate the starting lineup. He even finished the season with the second-highest player efficiency rating on the team. 

    It's hard for me to spot a ton of hitches in his game because of the impression he made last season.

    However, I believe he's going to be the Kings' starting point guard this year, meaning he'll need to continue to set up others and keep his turnovers to a minimum. 

    As far as assists go, Thomas led the team in assist percentage. To that, I say: Keep it up young man. 

    But in the way of turnovers, Thomas was fifth-highest on the team in turnover percentage, just behind Tyreke Evans, according to basketballreference.com.  

    He'll need that number to improve in the coming season to really begin to reach his full potential as the Kings' starting point guard. 

    He's an excellent shooter who's shown he can hit big shots. He plays pesky defense. He is a skilled ball-handler with several tricks up his sleeve. Heck, he even led the Kings in win shares last season, according to basketballreference.com.  

    If he can keep the turnovers to a minimum, the sky's the limit for the second-year Thomas. 

Jimmer Fredette: Regain Confidence in His Scoring Ability

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    Jimmer Fredette led the nation in scoring in his final season at BYU. In his first season in the NBA he looked like a fish out of water. 

    Simply put, the Jammerman needs to get his confidence back. 

    There's no way in the world that a shooter as gifted as Fredette should have only shot 38.6 percent from the field last season, even if it was his rookie year.

    Fredette did manage to finish sixth in assists for the Sacramento Kings last season, but he was dead last as far as Kings point guards are concerned.

    And regarding player efficiency rating: The only player who played more minutes than Fredette did last season with a lower rating was John Salmons. 

    Too often, Fredette dribbled himself into bad situations, left his feet while dishing bad passes and missed far-easier shots than the ones he made at BYU. 

    Hopefully, one season of no longer being the best scorer on his team and losing his minutes to the last pick in the draft will be enough to get his mind—and his game—back where it needs to be. 

James Johnson: Jump Shot

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    James Johnson will likely be in the Sacramento Kings' starting lineup, as the team is desperately in need of a legitimate small forward. 

    Johnson has the body of a small forward, is a good defender and can slash his way to the rim.

    What he doesn't have, is a consistent jump shot. If Tyreke Evans' jumper looks improved, then he could make up for Johnson's lack of a jumper. But Johnson shouldn't bank on that. 

    The Sacramento Kings will need one of either their starting shooting guard or starting small forward to be able to have an effective mid-range game. 

    Even though I believe Evans is the one who would benefit most from being a better shooter, Johnson would be doing the team a great favor if he assumed that he was the one who needed to improve his jumper. 

Tyler Honeycutt: Everything

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    Tyler Honeycutt didn't have a good rookie year.

    He only played 88 minutes all season; fewest on the Kings.

    He also had the worst field-goal percentage on the entire team and was only better than Hassan Whiteside in free-throw percentage. 

    So, what is the one critical improvement Honeycutt needs to make? Everything. 

    I don't see him starting the season as an essential piece to the Kings being able to win games next year. So he'll have to make the most of his garbage-time minutes to show that he belongs on this team. 

Thomas Robinson: Don't Try to Do Too Much Too Soon/Focus on Interior Presence

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    The Sacramento Kings were ecstatic to have former Kansas Jayhawk Thomas Robinson fall to the fifth pick in this year's draft. 

    In his final season in college, Robinson averaged 17.7 points per game, 11.9 rebounds and over 50 percent in field-goal percentage. 

    And then he showed up to the NBA Summer League and largely looked out of character. 

    Robinson was drafted for his athletic and rebounding abilities, yet in the summer he played like he was going to be the one dominating the ball offensively.

    He lost his rhythm and suffered from far too many sloppy turnovers.

    The Sacramento Kings were the sixth-highest scoring team in the league last year, but ranked last in points allowed per game and were one of the lowest in rebounds per game.

    Robinson will have plenty of years to show that he has an offensive game in the NBA.  

    But during his upcoming rookie season, he needs to keep his focus on rebounding, defending his position and taking stress off of Cousins.