For the first time in a long time, it looks like the Sacramento Kings have actual depth on their roster. They've got a couple players in DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans who could be integral pieces on most teams. They've also got some reserves who would also have significant roles on other squads.
Because of the added depth, there are a few different options for how head coach Keith Smart wants to align his rotation. In fact, Smart has shown as much by tinkering with his starting lineup and bench rotation throughout the team's preseason games.
As the season gets going and the team begins to get into a groove, Smart will figure out which role each player is best suited for. When that happens, it will likely look something like this:
Note: You'll notice the slideshow is organized by position. Because of that, each player is pigeonholed into one position, even if he's likely to play multiple positions.
However, their minutes per game are indicative of their total minutes, not just minutes at their listed position. So, just because a player's listed in one spot, it doesn't mean I've forgotten about his ability to play other positions. It also doesn't mean that his projected minutes will only come at that one listed spot.
It's tough to say exactly where the Kings will go with their point guards. This much is certain: Sacramento has a few capable players that can play the point. Isaiah Thomas and Aaron Brooks figure to be the mainstays there, but Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette can also play the point, along with putting in minutes at other spots.
Isaiah Thomas: 24-28 MPG
Whether or not Thomas will be the regular starting point guard remains to be seen. In the three preseason games, Thomas started once while Aaron Brooks started twice. But Travis Outlaw also saw a couple starts, so it's tough to base much off of preseason minutes.
Regardless of the role he fulfills, Thomas will get a steady diet of minutes throughout the season. He showed to be a clutch player last season. Thomas also was a consistent jump shooter, which is something the Kings were short on last year. Although he played a bit better as a starter last season, Thomas also showed the ability to perform off the bench. So either way, expect him to be productive.
Aaron Brooks: 22-26 MPG
As was previously mentioned, who will be the regular point guard has yet to be determined. Like with Isaiah Thomas, Brooks will see his share of minutes, regardless of the role he fulfills.
I suspect Keith Smart will tinker with the minutes throughout the beginning of the season before settling on a regular rotation. Even then, it'll be a somewhat fluid situation. Some nights Thomas might get the lion's share of minutes; others it might be Brooks. Either way, both will be productive players and both will get ample playing time.
Jimmer Fredette: 12-16 MPG
Fredette's minutes will be dispersed between both point and shooting guard. Obviously Fredette is better suited as a point guard in terms of size, but his skill set allows him to play off the ball as well.
It's tough to know what to expect from Fredette. I suspect he'll be better than he was as a rookie because a lot of his pitfalls seemed to be more mental than physical. I doubt he ever becomes even an average defender, which should ultimately cap his minutes into that of a bench player, unless he makes huge strides on offense.
But given his ability to shoot the ball and his ability to penetrate, he should get plenty of opportunities to contribute. But if he's still timid with his shot and if he stays indecisive with the ball while driving to the hoop, then he may have a diminished role. This team could use Fredette's production. He just needs to show that he's an improved player.
Like with point guard, Coach Smart hasn't really tipped his hand as far as who will be the regular starting shooting guard. Although, it seems like Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans are the only real options. It will be interesting to see what Smart decides. For now, here's how it's likely to shake out:
Tyreke Evans: 34-38 MPG
Evans should play a lot of minutes this season. The nice thing about his skill set is that it allows him to play the 1, 2 or 3 because he's got the necessary size to match up with 1s and 2s and the quickness and ball-handling ability to match up with 1s. With his versatility, Smart can mix and match the lineup while still keeping Evans on the floor.
Since Tyreke is the second-best player on the team, the Kings are hoping for big things from him. He's got the skills to produce, but he'll need lots of minutes on the court for that to happen. Expect to see a lot of Tyreke this season.
Marcus Thornton: 29-33 MPG
Depending on how Smart decides to set up his starting five, there's a chance that Thornton could even end up coming off the bench. If that happens, it would be because of the team's depth in the backcourt and would not be an indication of Thornton's standing on the roster.
As it currently stands, Thornton is probably the Kings' third-best offensive player. He also provides things that other Kings lack: namely clutch shooting, a lethal mid-range game and a consistent jump shot. Starter or reserve, Thornton will get ample minutes for this team. You can also expect to see him on the court anytime Sacramento needs a big shot at the end of a game.
Francisco Garcia: 10-14 MPG
Garcia's kind of puzzling. Throughout his career he'd always been an excellent wing defender and a consistent outside shooter. His defense, although not as spectacular as in years past, was still solid. His outside shooting, however, was atrocious. He only hit 29 percent of his three-point attempts and 33 percent of his shots from 18-23 feet.
If he can still provide some perimeter defense, there will be a role for 'Cisco. But if he can't find his shooting stroke, he becomes a one-dimensional player and, as a result, his minutes will be inconsistent. For now, I could see him getting 10-14 minutes per game. But that could increase or decrease depending on his shooting.
There figures to be a few different players manning the 3, depending on matchups and how guys are playing. Here are the main options:
James Johnson: 22-26 MPG
Johnson is a new addition to the Kings this season. He's not much of an offensive player, but the one thing he does provide—defense—is what this team is severely lacking.
While he's somewhat of a one-dimensional player because of his shortcomings on offense, you'll notice he's pegged for more minutes than Francisco Garcia, who is of the same mold. The reason for the discrepancy is that Johnson is a much better defender than Garcia and he can also defend multiple positions, meaning his opportunities for minutes will increase.
John Salmons: 16-20 MPG
Salmons really looked lost on the court in 2011-12. He wasn't nearly the same defender that Kings fans had come to know during his first stint with the team. He was also really struggling on offense. As a result, his role with the team diminished as the season wore on.
Salmons isn't at the point in his career where you'd expect him to completely drop off. At 32 years old, he's past his prime, but an uptick in his performance isn't out of the question. Because of that, it's difficult to know how many minutes he'll play.
If he plays like he did last season, then he won't have a large role. If he returns close to his pre-2011-12 levels, then he can help this team.
Travis Outlaw: 10-14 MPG
I'm less optimistic about Outlaw's future with the team than most of the other players that took a step backward last season. It's mainly because while Outlaw is younger than Salmons and Garcia, his performance has been regressing for a couple of years now.
At 28 years old, Outlaw should be young enough to sustain his play. But he's only made 36.9 percent of his shots the last two years and only 29.5 percent of his three-point attempts.
With his defense not being a strength, he needs to provide on offense to have a significant role with the team. Based on his regression the past two years, I'm not too optimistic that it will happen.
Tyler Honeycutt: Incomplete
Honeycutt only logged 88 minutes as a rookie last season. On would think that'd be a worst-case scenario for the 2012-13 season. The trouble is that while Honeycutt has a chance to grab more minutes this season, he's missed most of training camp and summer league due to stress fractures in both his right and left legs.
Because of that, it's hard to get a read on where Honeycutt's game is at and whether or not he's improved enough to carve out a more consistent role on the team.
This figures to be one of two positions with an unquestioned starter entering the regular season. In the case of power forward, it's Jason Thompson. However, expect to see a healthy dose of Thomas Robinson throughout the year.
Jason Thompson: 28-32 MPG
As the starter, Thompson figures to get the most minutes at power forward. He's shown himself to be a solid all-around player throughout his career. He's become a more efficient offensive player, he's a consistent rebounder and he's a solid defender.
But, while Thompson is solid in all areas, he's not particularly excellent in any one area, which is where Thomas Robinson comes in.
Thomas Robinson: 20-24 MPG
Robinson's minutes will probably fluctuate quite a bit as the season goes on. In the beginning of the year, expect Smart to slowly work Robinson into the mix. As he becomes more comfortable with the speed of the game, he'll likely see more playing time.
Robinson's talent is undeniable. He's an absolute beast on the boards. He's also showing a more polished offensive game than was originally expected.
But the thing I like most about Robinson, and the reason I think he'll eventually be a great player, is his attitude. The guy's got incredible work ethic and he's got a chip on his shoulder. In a league where everyone's talented, the right mindset and determination can make all the difference in the world.
Like with power forward, center has an established starter in DeMarcus Cousins. That will be reflected in each center's minutes. However, it's also indicative of Cousins' ability as a player, which looks to be All-Star caliber.
DeMarcus Cousins: 36-40 MPG
To a large degree, Cousins' playing time will be up to him. That's because the only thing that can really hold Cousins back is his propensity to get into foul trouble.
He was able to reel that in a bit last season compared to his rookie year, but Cousins still collected 257 personal fouls, which was the most in the NBA. Granted, fouls will come with hard play, but Cousins tends to get frustration fouls. He needs to cut back on those.
If Cousins can continue to mature and avoid foul trouble, he'll have all of the minutes he can handle. He's the Kings' best player and he's good at everything, meaning Coach Smart won't have to bench him for certain situations. He'll be on the court with defensive lineups, offensive lineups and late-game lineups—assuming he doesn't have too many fouls.
Chuck Hayes: 16-20 MPG
Hayes' value to the team is just as big off the court as it is on the court. He's a consummate professional and an excellent mentor for young players like DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson. He'll also provide value on the court, mostly in his ability to rebound and defend. But with Cousins ahead of him on the depth chart—and also the team's best player—minutes for Hayes should be consistent, but not plentiful.
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