The Sacramento Kings have gotten off to a slow start to the 2012-13 season. It's not too shocking considering the team's lack of success in recent years, but it is somewhat discouraging because the Kings looked to be an improved team coming into the season.
As with most everything, the Kings' play this season has been neither black nor white. Some things have gone well; some things haven't. But mostly there's a large gray area, especially so early into the season and without a larger sample size to go off of.
The same can be said of the individual players on the Kings. Most of the players have done some good things and some bad things during the first part of the season. In effect, they've been neither black nor white.
That said, there are some players that have stood out either for their good play or for their bad play during the opening stretch. That's what this slideshow's devoted to: pointing out the studs and duds during the Kings' first slate of games this season.
Evans has been the Kings' most complete player through the team's first three games. We knew he could score, but what he's done on the defensive end has really been encouraging.
Evans showed excellent off-ball defense when guarding Luol Deng in the Kings' opening night game against the Bulls. He did a nice job sticking with Deng and playing the passing lanes, making it difficult for him to receive the ball. Against Indiana, Evans showed off his on-ball defense, getting three steals and blocking two shots.
The team as a whole seems a lot more resilient on the defensive end. They are constantly rotating and they play hard throughout each possession and throughout the whole game. Evans also falls into that category, because with his size and quickness, we knew he could be a very good defender, it was just a matter of putting in the effort. He's doing that now.
He's also been solid on the offensive end, despite only averaging 13.7 points per game. He's shown off his quickness in ball-handling in getting to the basket and has done a nice job in transition.
His jump shot, which has always troubled him, but is something that he worked on during the offseason, has had mixed results. He's nailed some shots, but he still seems to lack confidence in it, not always shooting open jumpers when he gets an opportunity.
But overall, it's been a solid start to the season for Evans.
Cousins' inclusion as a dud lets you know we're dealing with a small sample size. But small sample size or not, Cousins has underwhelmed to start the year.
Because of the expectations that come with Cousins, his first three games have been disappointing. At first glance, it looks like he's playing pretty well, as he's averaging 15.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.
But he's only shooting 38.9 percent from the field and he's doing it on an average of 18 attempts per game. That's too many wasted possessions. As a center, Cousins needs to be more efficient, especially if he's going to routinely jack up 18 shots a night.
With Cousins, it's not only about the stat sheet. We want to see DeMarcus take a step in the right direction in terms of grasping the mental side of the game. His physical skills are undeniable; it's his ability to stay composed that will help him the most. So far, he's been unsatisfactory in this area.
He's still committing too many fouls (4.3 per game) and he's still committing the frustration fouls. Those inevitably land him on the bench and give the opposition free opportunities to score.
Another example of his lack of focus was his shot in double overtime against the Pacers. Trailing by six with less than 15 seconds left, Cousins jacked up a contested hook shot. In that scenario, two points doesn't help you, you need to shoot a three.
DeMarcus still gives crazy effort and it's obvious that he cares when you watch him play. But he's gotten off to a bad start this season. At least it's only three games, so he's got plenty of time to turn it around.
What's so encouraging about Thornton's play to start the year is that he's doing it in a new role. After being a starter since the Kings traded for him in the middle of 2010-11, Thornton is now coming off the bench for Sacramento.
But even in his new role, Thornton is still scoring points. In fact, he leads the team with an average of 18.7 points per game. And despite coming off the bench, he's second on the team in minutes per game at 34.0, which is an indicator of how valuable he's been to the Kings.
The one thing we knew about Marcus entering the season was that he had a skill to hit big shots with the game on the line. He would always rise to the occasion. Well, he's been keeping it up through the first three games this season.
Against Indiana, Thornton hit two huge three-pointers. The first one tied it at 91 with 48.6 seconds left in regulation. Then, in overtime, Thornton nailed another one, knotting it at 96 with 26.4 seconds remaining.
Whenever the Kings need a big shot, they can turn to Marcus Thornton. He's money in the bank, as he's shown time and time again.
This isn't the way Jason Thompson wanted to start his season. He's been non-existent on offense, he's gotten into foul trouble and his rebounding has been way down.
After setting a career-high field-goal percentage of .535 last season, Thompson hasn't been able to find that same consistency in the early goings this year. He's only shooting 40.9 percent from the field and is only averaging 7.3 points per game.
Thompson's total-rebound percentage has also dropped to 10.4 percent, which is the worst he's posted during his career. For Thompson, that equates to an average of 7.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. Last season, Thompson averaged 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes.
The Kings don't ask too much of Thompson. They don't ask him to be a volume scorer, but they do want him to be efficient when he shoots. His .409 field-goal percentage won't cut it. He's also asked to provide rebounding, which he—or the team in general, really—hasn't been doing with any regularity.
His defense, however, has been solid. So at least all isn't lost for Thompson.
I know Chuck Hayes and "stud" don't usually go together, but Hayes has been a bright spot to start the season.
Hayes is like Thompson, in that not much is asked of him, he's just expected to fulfill his role. Thompson hasn't been doing it; Hayes has.
Hayes has been providing excellent defense. He showed it all game against David West of the Pacers. West, who likes to shoot 15-20-foot jumpers coming off the pick-and-roll, was unable to get a clean shot when Hayes was guarding him. Chuck was constantly in his face, harassing him.
Then, when West would try and take advantage in the post, Hayes had more than enough strength to prevent West from backing him down for an easy shot at the rim.
Hayes has also been solid on the boards, hauling in an average of 10 rebounds per 36 minutes, including three offensive boards per 36 minutes.
If he can provide solid defense and rebounding, Hayes will help this team. So far, he's been doing just that.
The Kings need Isaiah Thomas to facilitate their offense. Thomas has failed doing that through the first three games, and in turn, Sacramento has failed to get its offense rolling.
Up to this point, IT has been a turnover machine. He's averaging 3.3 turnovers per game. What's more is he hasn't been distributing the ball effectively. Through the three games, Thomas is averaging only 1.7 assists. You'd like your point guard to post at least a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. Thomas is posting the reverse of that: a one-to-two assist-to-turnover ratio.
Thomas has been able to penetrate to start the season, which gets the defense to collapse. The problem is that he hasn't been able to find the open man when that happens. Against an excellent defensive team like Chicago, that's understandable. But against Indiana and Minnesota, it's unacceptable.
The Kings don't want Isaiah to score much on his own. They want him to set up his teammates. He needs to start doing that if this team is going to turn its offense around.
Stud: Thomas Robinson
I like what I've seen out of T-Rob. His crazy athleticism has been on display, especially during his one-handed alley oop from Marcus Thornton during the third quarter against the Pacers. He's also been a spark to both the offense and the defense when he gets on the floor, and has found a way to consistently get to the free-throw line.
He's clearly still a raw player, but his play to start the season has been encouraging, especially since the starter, Jason Thompson, has played so poorly.
Dud: James Johnson
James Johnson has a place on this team. But Keith Smart has to find another role for him because he just doesn't cut it as a starter.
The thing about Johnson is that he's all defense and no offense. Now, his defense is really good. He's more athletic than I thought and his length really bothers whoever he's guarding. His defense alone make him a solid rotational player.
His offense is really bad. He has ball-handling ability and can get to the hoop, but he really lacks confidence in his jump shot. If you thought Tyreke lacked confidence in his shot, just take a look at Johnson. What makes it even worse is defenders seem to know this and just completely back off him when he's far from the basket, allowing them to help out on other players.
Ideally, the Kings could find some way to get Johnson on the floor either in situations where he's not asked to score, or where he's with an offensive-oriented lineup that doesn't need all five guys to contribute. Either way, something needs to be done because he's not cutting it right now.