As a team, the Sacramento Kings have been up and down through the first portion of the season. They've had good games and bad games. The same can be said of the roster—there have been some bright spots and also a few players not performing up to expectations.
All of this illustrates what we already knew heading into the season: The organization is heading in the right direction, but there are still areas that need to be upgraded in order to bring it back to prominence.
To highlight this, the Kings made a trade, acquiring former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams for lockdown defender Luc Mbah a Moute.
The trade signifies that the team isn't yet where it needs to be. But it also shows that ownership and management is committed to getting it there. In that vein, the Kings have plenty of players who will be part of that solution, which will be reflected in their grades. Yet others, who haven't lived up to expectations, will be evaluated accordingly.
It's all a part of self-evaluation, which the Kings will need to constantly do to turn things around. Now that we've got enough of a sample size to go by, there couldn't be a better time to give an initial grade to each player.
(Note: Grades are based largely on expectations for the players entering the season. Established veterans will be judged differently than rookies. Players who have shown to be starters in the NBA will be weighed differently than those who've been career backups.)
Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
All stats accurate through games played on Nov. 28, 2013.
After signing a max contract extension prior to the season, the expectation for DeMarcus Cousins was that he would be the franchise player. Through the early portion of the season, and his contract, he hasn't disappointed.
Cousins is setting career highs across the board. His 21.3 points per game and 25.1 points per 36 minutes are both the best he's ever posted. The same can be said of his PER, which is 24.5.
A big part of this, specifically the increase in scoring, is DMC's 34.9 usage percentage. That total leads the NBA, showing the Kings are relying on Cousins more than any other team is relying on its best player. On the one hand, it shows Sacramento is lacking many other viable options compared to other teams. On the other hand, Cousins is being paid like a franchise cornerstone and he's delivering.
Yet we all knew Cousins had this type of potential in him. So while it's a good sign, it's not really surprising. His effort on the defensive end, however, is much more encouraging.
He's posting career highs in steals (1.7), defensive rating (99) and block percentage (3.2 percent). Cousins also leads the team in steals, blocks, rebounds and defensive rating. So along with outperforming his own career benchmarks, he's also playing better defense than all of his teammates.
In short, he's been the team's best player and its franchise player. The Kings couldn't ask for anything more, and Cousins' grade will reflect accordingly.
There wasn't reason to expect much from Jimmer Fredette entering the season. He wasn't exactly a star during his first two years, and the Kings had already announced they weren't picking up his option for 2014-15. With Fredette not showing much and the team proclaiming he didn't have a future with it, the chances of him playing a big role seemed pretty slim.
Yet Fredette has actually done pretty well through the first part of the season. He's hitting on 50 percent of his three-pointers, albeit in only eight attempts, and is setting career highs in win shares per 48 minutes (0.62), assist percentage (22.2), steal percentage (2.8) and defensive rating (106).
Perhaps most importantly, coach Mike Malone has started calling on him more of late. Fredette has played sizable minutes in the last four games and has supplanted Marcus Thornton as the fourth guard off the bench in each of those contests.
In terms of offense, both in volume scoring and efficiency, Fredette was better last season. Yet we're still dealing with a small sample size. Through the first portion of games, he's never been better on defense. He may not be perfect, but he's certainly performing better than expected.
Chuck Hayes has come out of the gates a bit slow this season. He's played in 12 of the team's first 13 games and provided a solid option to back up Cousins in spurts, yet his overall production is down from what he's posted in his first two seasons with the Kings.
Hayes has been solid on defense, recording a defensive rating of 104 and 2.7 steals per 36 minutes. However, his defensive rebounding has been down and he's really lacking on offense.
Hayes, who's never been an offensive force, was always a good passer. He's seen his assists plummet to 1.4 per 36 minutes after posting 3.3 last season. According to NBA.com/stats, he's only giving his teams 1.0 assist opportunities per game. He's also hitting on only 27.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and putting up career lows in PER (6.8) and offensive rating (80).
He's still providing leadership to the team, and the Kings have seen him perform better than this in the recent past. Yet you still can't help but notice that Hayes has underwhelmed during the first few weeks of the season.
One player who definitely hasn't disappointed through the first part of the new season is rookie Ben McLemore. He's been better than expected, and that's with McLemore entering the season with quite a bit of hype.
McLemore's already supplanted Marcus Thornton in the starting lineup, something that wasn't projected until at least the second half of the season. He's also shown flashes of the talent that got him drafted No. 7 overall in the first place. The rookie's scored in double figures in five of his 13 games and has stayed aggressive throughout the season.
As is often the case with rookies, especially those who played only one season in college, there will be ups and downs. McLemore's certainly had those. But he's only had a couple games that could be characterized as bad.
Most encouraging is his confidence and his stroke from downtown. McLemore's hit on 37 percent of his three-point attempts. Despite having games in which the shots aren't falling, the rookie continues to shoot. So not only does he have the skill to make threes, but he also doesn't allow it to affect his play if he's having an off night.
As the season goes in, it would be nice to see more consistency from McLemore. But that's likely to come. After all, he's played only 13 games of professional basketball, and he's yet to develop any go-to moves other than his three-point shooting.
The talent's certainly there for McLemore to keep getting better. Plus, he's already created plenty of playing time for himself so early in the season. The future is bright for the rookie, just as the first stage of his NBA career has been encouraging.
Hamady Ndiaye is a developmental player for the Kings. He's spent part of three seasons in the NBA but has accumulated only 123 minutes, including 40 this season.
Most of Ndiaye's opportunities have come in blowouts. Even then, his most extended play was a loss to the Grizzlies in which he logged 24:35 of game action. The contest saw him score two points, block one shot and collect six rebounds.
Ndiaye's played in four of the last five games for the Kings. This could be a sign of increased playing time to come for the center. As someone with a 7'0" frame, Ndiaye has upside. However, the only thing that concerns me is that he's already 27 years old. That's not old by any means, but he's still incredibly raw and is entering his physical prime. It's hard to project a ton more production coming from him.
Still, based on what was expected of Ndiaye entering the season, he hasn't been a lost cause. Just making the team was an accomplishment. Getting playing time like he has is a bonus, even if he's yet to wow in his opportunities.
Travis Outlaw is in the same boat that Jimmer Fredette was in entering the season. It was hard to envision a scenario where he'd have a sizable role with the Kings. However, Outlaw's been a pleasant surprise so far.
Outlaw's appeared in all 13 of the team's games so far. Two years ago he played in barely half of Sacramento's games and last season he only saw action in 38 of the 82 games. That alone is indicative of his role on the team.
The forward's also producing in his chances. He's only averaging 6.5 points per game and 15.3 per 36 minutes. Yet he's hitting 46.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts. Over his previous two seasons, Outlaw had a .381 field-goal percentage and a .273 three-point percentage.
His .170 win shares per 48 minutes are a career high and second on the team. He's also pacing the team with an offensive rating of 122.
Unlike in his first two years, the Kings are playing him at both forward spots. According to 82games.com, Outlaw is posting a 29.6 PER at power forward while holding opposing 4s to a PER of 19.4. At small forward he's doing worse on offense with a PER of 13.2, yet he's been much better guarding the position, holding opposing 3s to a PER of 13.8. This otherworldly success is unsustainable over a full season, but it shows how well he's performed so far.
Considering the Kings weren't expecting to get much out of Outlaw, the fact that he's actually been one of the better players on the team is a very pleasant surprise.
Patrick Patterson has really struggled shooting the ball in the early part of the season. His inability to stretch defenses with his three-point shot has largely contributed to him going from a starter at the start of the year to a reserve over his last six games.
After adding the three-pointer to his repertoire before the 2012-13 season, Patterson came out and hit 38.6 percent of his attempts from downtown, including 44.4 percent after he was traded to the Kings. This year he's only hitting 19.4 percent of his three-pointers.
His field-goal percentage on two-pointers (.519) has actually been pretty solid, but he needs to find a way to get his outside stroke going. Without it, there's no reason to play him over Jason Thompson, who's a better traditional power forward.
It's way too early to write his whole season off, especially considering what he did last season. But it'd be a lie to say he's played well through the first slate of games.
John Salmons was pretty bad in his first two years back in Sacramento. He's been even worse so far this season.
His .316 field-goal percentage is atrocious and completely unacceptable. Granted, he's unlikely to shoot that bad all season, but he's been on a downward trend in this regard for a couple of years now, posting descending percentages of .441, .415, .409 and .399.
What made his poor overall field-goal percentage somewhat acceptable last season was his three-point percentage of .370. He's seen that drop to .308 percent this year.
Salmons hasn't been awful on defense. According to 82games.com, he's holding shooting guards to a PER of 9.2 and small forwards to 15.9. But when you're only posting PERs of 7.8 at shooting guard and 7.4 at small forward, it kind of becomes a moot point.
With what's essentially an expiring contract (next year is non-guaranteed), there's no reason to let him go. However, there's also no compelling reason to give him much playing time.
Isaiah Thomas just continues to get better. That's saying something considering the point guard averaged 13.9 points and 4.0 rebounds last season and is now coming off the bench this year. Yet his averages of 17.9 points and 4.6 assists are both career highs.
So far, Thomas has been Sacramento's second-best player. He's also been the second-best bench player in the NBA in terms of scoring, trailing only Ryan Anderson, who averages 19.2 points. Not to mention Thomas has been incredibly consistent, tallying double figures in 12 of 13 games.
Thomas leads the team in win shares per 48 minutes (.184) and also total win shares (1.4). He's also getting to the free-throw line with more consistency than any other Kings player, averaging .478 free-throw attempts for every field-goal attempt. It's hard to do that as a guard who's typically working in space.
Even with Greivis Vasquez joining the team, Thomas was expected to be one of the integral pieces. He was penciled in as the Kings' sixth man to start the season. If he keeps this up, he might just be the NBA's sixth man, meaning he'll take home the league's Sixth Man of the Year award.
With the exception of when the Kings go small and move Travis Outlaw to power forward, they haven't really had much production from the 4. That's because Jason Thompson, like Patrick Patterson, is struggling to get his game going.
Thompson wasn't expected to be a star or anything. Yet it was a pretty safe bet that he'd be consistent on offense, defense and the boards. He's certainly done his share as a defender and rebounder, but he hasn't found his touch yet on offense.
His .468 field-goal percentage, .571 free-throw percentage, .177 free-throw rate and 8.8 PER are all career lows. Naturally, the same can be said of his averages of 6.8 points per game and 11.5 per 36 minutes.
However, his 15.4 percent total rebound percentage is higher than his career average, and his block percentage is directly in line with what we've come to expect. Not to mention his 106 defensive rating is the best of his career.
Like with Patterson, we've seen too much of a career sample size to be convinced that Thompson won't turn it around. However, judging on how the first part of the season has gone, he isn't yet living up to expectations.
Marcus Thornton may be more perplexing than any player on the team. In the past, If there was one player on the team who could be counted on to score, it was Thornton. In whatever role or in whatever game situation, Thornton would put the ball in the bucket. That's not the case this year.
He's only averaging 10.3 points per game and 13.1 points per 36 minutes, both of which are career lows. Yet his .468 field-goal percentage on two-pointers is pretty similar to what we've come to expect. His three-point shooting is the real culprit.
There are a few reasons why the three-point shot has increasingly bogged down Thornton's game. For one, he's only hitting 28 percent of his three-point attempts. That'll tend to put a dent in your scoring average.
But on top of that, Thornton's become increasingly reliant on the three-pointer. So far, 52.6 percent of his total field-goal attempts have been from three-point range, which is a higher percentage than at any point in his career. Since long-range shots don't draw as much contact, the Bayou Bomber isn't getting to the line nearly as much. His free-throw rate of .116 free throws per field-goal attempt is also a career low.
So it's really quite simple: Thornton's not hitting his three-pointers, yet he's become reliant on them for his offensive production. That's a recipe for disaster considering that, while Thornton is a solid long-range shooter, he's not elite from from that distance. He'd hit only 36.5 percent of his three-point attempts entering the season, which is good, not great.
The real strength in his offensive game used to be its versatility. He had the quickness to drive to the hoop, the ability to hit mid-range floaters and he could shoot threes well enough to keep defenders honest. That's no longer the case, but it's not because he's lost the skill set—it's because he's pigeonholed himself into an offensive role for which he's not suited.
Considering Thornton's main value to the team is his scoring ability, if he isn't scoring, he's not providing much. Well, he hasn't provided much so far. That's a major disappointment with his past of lighting up the scoreboard.
How you evaluate Grevis Vasquez's season so far largely depends on your expectations for him entering the season. Did you expect a seamless transition and Vasquez putting up comparable numbers to last season, or did you factor in the new team and his recovery from offseason ankle surgery?
For me, I viewed it as unrealistic for him to change teams and automatically be the same player we saw last season. That's even more of the case with him recovering from a surgery, which limited the amount of work he could put in during training camp and the offseason.
Still, Vasquez hasn't played that badly. He's third on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game) and leads the Kings in assists (5.2). Furthermore, his .473 field-goal percentage is tops on the team, and he's hit a terrific 57.7 percent of his two-point attempts. If he can get his three-point stroke going (only 28.2 percent so far), then he'll really have something.
Another encouraging sign is that Vasquez has provided 11.9 assists opportunities per game, according to NBA.com/stats. However, the Kings are turning those chances into only 11.7 points per game. Of the top 25 players in assist opportunities per game, Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas are the only ones whose points off assists per game are lower than their assist opportunities. Meaning, the Kings simply aren't capitalizing on the open looks.
With more time to build chemistry, the number of opportunities he gives his teammates will increase. But they also need to start capitalizing on them.
Vasquez isn't doing great, but considering all he's been through, he's not doing that badly either. In fact, he's pretty much in line with what I expected at this early juncture.
Two players have yet to take the court for the Kings, so they're receiving grades of incomplete.
Ray McCallum did a stint in the D-League. However, after averaging 22 points, five rebounds and 3.7 assists in three games for the Reno BigHorns, the Kings recalled him to Sacramento. The second-round pick should still have a future role on the Kings. But with four other guards ahead of him on the depth chart, the team will need to create some space for him to get a chance to play.
Sacramento acquired 2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Williams has yet to partake in a game with the Kings. He's underwhelmed in the early part of his career, but he's only 22 years old. Plus Sacramento needs to take chances if it wants to improve. Trading a defensive specialist in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a prospect like Williams is the type of move the Kings should be making.