We're now far enough into the NBA season that we can draw some conclusions from what we've seen. That makes it the perfect time to do our first installment of the power rankings for the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings are an interesting team to figure out. For one, their on-court play leaves you scratching your head at times, mainly because they're constantly coming back from huge deficits only to come up just short. If only they could keep the game close to begin with...
But beyond that, they're intriguing in the way they're compiled. When looking at the roster, the top three or four players are fairly defined, as are the last two or three players. From there it's just a jumble, with sound arguments to be made for where any player could fall in the middle.
To try and guide the power rankings, I came up with a couple guidelines. I ended up weighing two things: production so far this season and future value to the team. Some players may have played better than others, yet they're not part of Sacramento's future. Conversely, others have been worse this season but factor into the future plans. I attempted to judge that accordingly.
Regardless of how I looked at it, the same player kept coming out at No. 1. That isn't up for much debate. However, given the fluidity of this thing, most of the rest of it is. Therefore, let me know in the comments section how you'd align the power rankings.
Unless noted otherwise, all statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
All stats reflect games played through Dec. 3, 2013
14. Ray McCallum
Rookie Ray McCallum has yet to enter an NBA regular-season game. The Kings sent McCallum down to the D-League for a few games but recalled him after he averaged 22 points, five rebounds and 3.7 assists in his three-game stint. The skills are certainly there for McCallum to play in the NBA. The problem is that Sacramento's logjam in the backcourt is preventing any real opportunities for playing time.
13. Hamady Ndiaye
Unlike McCallum, Hamady Ndiaye's actually been on the court this season. However, he's only played 52 minutes across nine games. For the most part, his chances come when the game's already been decided or in short spurts to spell DeMarcus Cousins.
Just making the team is an accomplishment for a player who only received a training camp invitation. The fact that he's not last in the power rankings or minutes played is a near-miracle.
12. John Salmons
In terms of playing time or production, Salmons probably shouldn't be slated this low. The problem is he's having his worst season across the board in scoring average, points per 36 minutes, player efficiency rating and field-goal percentage.
Just shy of his 34th birthday and with an expiring contract, Salmons also doesn't figure to be part of the future in Sacramento. He'll continue to get minutes, but he'll need to play significantly better to rise in prominence within the organization.
11. Chuck Hayes
Chuck Hayes doesn't get a ton of playing time. In fact, the only Kings players who have played fewer minutes on the season than Hayes are Jimmer Fredette, Ndiaye and the newly arrived Derrick Williams. Yet Hayes has appeared in 14 of 16 games for the Kings, so although he doesn't get extended playing time, he factors into nearly every contest.
Hayes' main value to the team is his interior defense. Judging by defensive rating, only DeMarcus Cousins has a better score than Hayes' 104. If he can sustain it, that's his best rating since the 2008-09 season. He's also posting a career-high and team-high steal percentage of 3.6 percent.
The dynamic at backup shooting guard lately has been all or nothing. Either Jimmer Fredette backs up Ben McLemore and Marcus Thornton sits all game or Thornton is the backup while Fredette rides the pine.
But on the occasions when Fredette has been in there, he's actually done a commendable job.
Judging off cumulative statistics, this has been Fredette's worst year. He's averaging the fewest minutes, points per game and points per 36 minutes of his career. However, the rate statistics are telling a different story. His win shares per 48 minutes (0.62), assists per 36 minutes (4.9), total rebounding percentage (7.9) and steal percentage (2.8) are all career highs.
Perhaps most notable has been his progression on defense. Fredette was a defensive liability in his first two years with negatives in defensive win shares generated. He also averaged defensive ratings of 114.5 over those years. This season, he's got a defensive rating of 106, and in terms of win shares, he has actually produced more value on defense than offense. That's a far cry from what we'd come to expect.
Marcus Thornton has been a difficult player to figure out this season. In his first two-plus years with the Kings, Thornton could flat-out score. He averaged between 20.1 and 19.1 points per 36 minutes across that span.
This year, he's seen that number plummet to 13.8.
I already went into this in my player grades piece, so I don't really want to belabor the point. But to rehash it quickly, Thornton has become too reliant on the three-point shot. He's not attacking the basket with the same regularity, and he's not getting to the free-throw line. All he's doing is standing on the perimeter and jacking threes.
If you're an excellent marksman, the three-point arc is a good place to be. When you're only making 30.8 percent of your three-pointers, though, it tends to put a dent in your production.
Thornton's main value to the Kings is his scoring ability. If he's not scoring, he's not providing much. He's not much of a distributor (1.6 career assists per game), rebounder (3.1 per game) or defender (112 defensive rating). He's also played musical chairs with Fredette in the backup shooting guard role.
He may get his offensive game going as the season goes along. I wouldn't bet against him in this regard. But the fact of the matter is that he hasn't played well through the first six weeks of the season.
Not seeing Travis Outlaw on "The Last 4" slide is a big change from what we've come to expect from the forward during his first two years in Sacramento. Outlaw's been one of the team's more effective players in his chances on the court.
He's second on the team in win shares per 48 minutes (0.157), trailing only Isaiah Thomas. He also paces Sacramento in offensive rating (120) and is tied for third in defensive rating (106).
What's contributed to his resurgence on offense is his long-lost three-point stroke. He's made 40.9 percent of his attempts from downtown so far after making only 27.3 percent in his first two years with the team.
On defense, Outlaw is holding opposing small forwards to a PER of 2.8 (league average is 15) and power forwards to 19.4, according to 82games.com.
And overall, the team's defensive rating is 109.6 with him off the court and 106.6 with him on it. The offense is equally improved; it's at 102 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench and 109.2 with him on the court. That comes out to a net points per 100 possessions of plus-10.2, which is the best on the team.
We can't just assume that a similar effect would carry out if the Kings increased his role. But there's no denying that the team's been better with him on the court when he's had his chances.
Like with Fredette and Thornton, Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson seem somewhat interchangeable. Not that they both bring similar skill sets to the table, but in the respect that both have assumed the role of starting power forward for different stints this season.
Patterson has had his game going in spurts, but he's yet to find any sort of consistency. He had a solid 21-point, seven-rebound effort against the Clippers. A few games later, Patterson torched the Warriors for 18 points on 8-of-8 shooting while hauling in seven rebounds.
Other than those two games, the power forward has scored 10 points or fewer in every contest.
His real weapon, and what differentiates him from Jason Thompson, is his ability to extend his game to the three-point line. Patterson hit 38.6 percent of his three-pointers last season; so far this year he's only made 22.9 percent of his treys. He's also shooting the three with more regularity, as 32.7 percent of his field-goal attempts are from downtown compared to 21.2 percent last season.
Patterson's still making a respectable 52.8 percent of his two-pointers. Maybe he should make that a more prominent wrinkle in his game until he can find his stroke from the outside. He brings more offensive upside than Thompson but is behind him in rebounding and defense, so Patterson needs to get his offense going if he wants to increase his playing time.
Jason Thompson simply has yet to get his game going on the offensive end. That's not to say Thompson was expected to average 20 points, but he's certainly played better than this in virtually every other season.
For his career, Thompson's largely been a league-average player on offense. His PER of 14.4 indicates as much. Yet this season he's seen that figure plummet to 9.0. He'd also posted an offensive rating of at least 106 in every other year, but so far this season he's only sitting at 91.
His saving grace has been his rebounding and defense, which are in line with his career numbers—in the case of defense, he's been even a bit better than usual.
His 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes pretty much mirror his career average of 9.4. Yet his defensive rating of 107 is a career best, and according to 82games.com, he's holding opposing power forwards to a PER of 12.4. Last season, they posted a PER of 15.4 against him.
One could easily make an argument for Patterson over Thompson—especially with JT's struggles on offense, which trump even the shooting woes of Patterson. However, he's providing more on defense and rebounding, which are both problem areas for Sacramento. For that reason, he's slightly ahead of Patterson.
Derrick Williams' placement on the power rankings is more of an indication of his standing within the franchise than it is a reflection on his play. After all, he's only appeared in three games for the Kings since being acquired from Minnesota.
Williams has been the team's primary small forward in those three games, and the results have been somewhat mixed. He had 12 points, four assists and six rebounds in his Sacramento debut against the Clippers. In his third game with the Kings, this one against the Thunder, Williams posted 13 points but failed to gather a rebound or dish out an assist in almost 27 minutes of action.
With more of a sample size, we'll get a better idea of how Williams is adapting. Going forward, he should remain in the starting lineup. As a former No. 2 overall pick and still only 22 years old, the guy's got upside.
Beyond that, the Kings don't really have any other intriguing option at the 3, and the team doesn't look to be in win-now mode.
Not only is Ben McLemore a big part of the future of the Kings, he's also an integral piece in the present. The rookie is the team's starting shooting guard and is showing incredible promise.
McLemore was recently named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in October and November. He currently leads all Western Conference rookies in scoring, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage and minutes.
He's struggled at times with his consistency, which is pretty much par for the course for a rookie. However, he's never allowed it to affect his confidence. The rookie averages 13.4 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes, which is third on the team, trailing only DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas.
McLemore's got a sweet stroke from outside, but it'd be nice to see him not rely on it too heavily. So far, 50 percent of his field-goal attempts have been from three-point range. Three-point shooting is an excellent skill to have, but at this juncture in his career, he should also focus on developing other aspects of his game.
Considering he's only 16 games into what appears to be a promising career, McLemore has plenty of time to iron out the rest of his repertoire. As the starter, he figures to get plenty of opportunities to do just that.
It took a little bit of time, but Greivis Vasquez is starting to round into form as the distributor the Kings thought they were acquiring.
Vasquez is averaging 5.3 assists in 26.3 minutes of action per night. That translates to an average of 7.3 assists per 36 minutes. That's still not as good as the 9.4 assists per 36 he posted last season, but it's in the ballpark of his career average of 8.2 per 36. Furthermore, he's protecting the ball, posting a career-low 2.2 turnovers per 36 minutes.
Maybe most encouraging is his placement in advanced statistics. His number of win shares per 48 minutes (0.95) is a career high. The same can be said of his offensive rating of 112. So while his passing statistics aren't as gaudy as last season, he's actually having more of an impact on the game and the offense.
Considering Vasquez is still less than a quarter of the way through the season on a new team, and without a training camp after recovering from offseason surgery, he's done pretty well. He may not provide the scoring of some other players, but there's no one better on the team to lead the offense.
Despite coming off the bench, Isaiah Thomas has been the Kings' second-best player.
For a player with limited size who was drafted with the last overall selection, one would think Thomas would be close to topping out now. Yet he just continues to get better.
His 17.6 points per game are second on the team, trailing only DeMarcus Cousins. His 27.6 minutes per game are also second on the team.
He's done it with increased efficiency. He's made 40 percent of his three-pointers so far, which would be a career high. But he's not overly reliant on threes. In fact, he's getting to the line with more regularity than ever before, averaging 0.45 free-throw attempts for every field-goal attempt. That leads the team, which is quite an accomplishment for a point guard who theoretically does most of his work on the perimeter.
One could even make the argument that Thomas has been the team's best player so far. He leads the team in win shares per 48 minutes and total win shares, meaning not only does he impact the team more on the court than any other player, but he's also had a larger total impact than players who may have played more minutes.
However, anybody who's watched the Kings this season will tell you that there's been one player who's been just a little bit better...
It's hard not to feel like a broken record when doing these power rankings, as DeMarcus Cousins always comes in at No. 1.
Cousins leads the team in scoring (21.7), rebounding (10.1), blocks (1.2), steals (1.6) and field-goal percentage (.485). If that doesn't scream "best player on the team," then I don't know what does.
DMC's undoubtedly taken a bigger role on the team since signing a max contract extension in the offseason. He's been a more mature player and a more determined player on the court. However, what stands out most is his improvement on the defensive end.
His defensive rating of 100 is tops on the team. He also paces the Kings in defensive win shares at 0.7, with the next-closest player (Patrick Patterson) contributing 0.3 win shares. According to 82games.com, Cousins is holding opposing centers to a PER of 20.6, which is still below average but a decisive advantage when you consider he's posting a PER of 24.9 at the position.
If he keeps this up, he's got a legitimate shot of making the All-Star team this season. That's something no King has accomplished since 2003-04. That'd make him the best Sacramento player in quite some time, let alone this season.
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