Playoffs: Did not qualify
Draft picks: Thomas Robinson
Signings/trades: Aaron Brooks, James Johnson
Donte Greene, Hassan Whiteside
Projected starting lineup
C - DeMarcus Cousins
PF - Jason Thompson
SF - Tyreke Evans
SG - Marcus Thornton
PG - Isaiah Thomas
What to expect
You're not going to. The Kings are so stocked with talent that it's scary.
But for some reason, no one is talking about this team heading into this season. You hear about teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors who can challenge for lower playoff seeds, but you don't hear a peep about Sacramento, a team that may have the most offensively gifted center in the league in Cousins (yes, even moreso than Andrew Bynum).
We're talking about a team that could be an absolute force in the Western Conference in another two or three years. The Kings have an incredible young center in Cousins, a ridiculously talented backcourt with the likes of Thornton (the most underrated scorer in the league) and Thomas, plus a player whom many have forgotten about in Evans.
Let's talk about Cousins and the type of season he could have this year, first.
This is a 6'11", 270 lb. man who can handle the ball like a guard. He has even led fast breaks for Sacramento. Cousins can also score the ball in many ways, whether he is banging down in the post, grabbing offensive boards (something he is the best in the league at), or hitting 15-17 foot jumpers. Sure, it would be nice to see him shoot more efficiently, as he shot only 44.8 percent from the floor last year, but that should come with time.
Cousins averaged 18.1 points and 11 rebounds per game in 2012, and those numbers will likely look even better this season. Think something like 22 and 12.
Then you have Thornton, a guard who can explode for 30 at moment's notice. Why in the world the New Orleans Hornets traded him to the Kings for scraps during the 2010-11 season is beyond me. This kid has the ability to become one of the NBA's most prolific scorers.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for Sacramento last season was the play of Thomas, a 5'9" point guard who was the last pick of the 2011 draft.
In 37 games as a starter in 2012, Thomas averaged 14.8 points and 5.4 assists per game, this while shooting the ball at a 47.7 percent clip. Think about that for a minute. A 5'9" guard shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor in his rookie season. What's frightening is that he is likely only going to get better, and with scorers like Cousins and Thornton supporting him, he might end up being a huge X-factor for the Kings.
All of this and I didn't even mention the rookie Robinson yet, a forward who may very well supplant Thompson in the starting lineup at some point during the year. While his potential isn't through the roof, he just has that solid all-around game that makes you feel like he was a safe pick for Sacramento at No. 5.
Of course, as with any team, there has to be something that could go sour this season, and that something is Evans. He was disgruntled last year when he was forced to play small forward, and unfortunately for him, that is the role he finds himself in entering this season. The Kings could try and deal him, but if the team is playing well, you'll probably see the 2010 Rookie of the Year stay quiet.
Defense is also a concern with Sacramento, as it ranked last in the league in opponent's field goal percentage in 2012. Fortunately for Sac, Cousins is slowly but surely improving as an interior defender, and that could end up making all the difference between a horrible defense and an adequate one.
Key player: Thomas
Cousins has already broken out and is on his way to superstardom. Thornton has already demonstrated that he can be a consistent scorer. It's Thomas who needs to build on his impressive 2012 rookie campaign and be that third guy who puts the Kings into playoff contention.
Because of his blinding quickness and great handles, Thomas is an extremely difficult cover. With him slicing through opposing defense, Cousins taking care of business in the post and Thornton doing his thing, Sacramento could have a very potent offense this season.
While Thomas may never be an elite point guard, he has a very good chance of becoming one of the more reliable scoring little men in the league. It will be very interesting to see if he can take that next step this year.
Johnson never really got a chance with the Chicago Bulls, but he played rather well in his two seasons with the Toronto Raptors. He put virtually identical numbers in both years there, averaging 9.2 points in 2010-11 and then 9.1 in 2011-12. He averaged 4.7 rebounds both times, and his shooting percentages were 46.4 and 45 percent, respectively.
Johnson is really a solid player. The 25-year-old also averaged 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game in 2012, displaying that he can actually contribute in each and every phase of the game.
Due to the fact that Johnson is really the team's only small forward behind Evans (unless you count Travis Outlaw, a player who won't get much burn at all this year), he will probably see a good amount of floor time. Look for him to have a solid campaign.
Playoffs: Could sneak in as a No. 8 seed
If the Kings played in the Eastern Conference, I'd pencil them in for a playoff spot. However, the fact that they play in the much deeper West is going to make things rather difficult on them to actually get in. That being said, Sacramento is ready to compete for a postseason berth right now and no one should be surprised if and when this team is in it up until the very end.
At the very least, the Kings are going to be one of those teams that no one wants to face, not even the upper echelon clubs. Cousins is an absolute nightmare to defend and his supporting cast is very solid. When it comes to raw talent, few teams can match Sacramento's potential.
The Kings might not make the playoffs this season, but in a couple of years, look out. We could have an absolute powerhouse on our hands, provided that Cousins continues to mature.
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