The Sacramento Kings have been a tough egg to crack. Some nights they play up to their capabilities and surprise by beating a good team. Other nights they look lackadaisical and get run off the court by teams they should be competitive with.
The same can be said of the players. A few guys, like Travis Outlaw and Ben McLemore, started the year strong but have hit a lull of late. Others, like Jimmer Fredette, have started to find their stride over the last stretch of games. Then there are the Big Three—Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay—who have been consistent throughout the season.
Because of such fluctuations, grading the Kings isn't an easy thing to do. There are a couple things to consider. First, there are expectations entering the season and how the player stacks up to those. How they're performing compared to earlier in the season should also be part of the equation.
With that in mind, let's get to the grades. Make sure to provide feedback in the comments section as to how you would grade each player.
Quincy Acy has been a nice addition for the Kings. He doesn't play huge minutes, but he does have a positive effect on the team when he's in the game. Most notably, he provides on both ends of the court, which is what the Kings need from their backups.
Acy only plays 15.6 minutes per game, but he averages 3.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. He's also shooting 51.3 percent from the field.
Yet, while his minutes per game are eighth on the team, among current players, his 1.0 win shares is sixth on the team. That shows he has more of an impact in his time on the court than some other players who get in more frequently. That's a good thing to have from a backup.
It's an even better thing from a throw-in like Acy who's only making $788K. Sacramento needs more players like that since its Big Three can do a lot of the heavy lifting, and all of them figure to take up a big chunk of the salary cap next season (since Isaiah Thomas is eligible for restricted free agency this offseason).
All-Star Game or no All-Star Game, DeMarcus Cousins is a star in this league. In fact, he's probably the only star the Kings currently possess. Sure, Thomas and Gay are above-average players, even borderline stars, yet you could name five to 10 players at their respective positions who are better. At center, you'd be hard-pressed to name one or two better than DMC.
He's averaging 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks. Cousins also leads the team in win shares per 48 minutes (.170). However, what stands out most, at least in the win-shares department, are his 2.3 defensive win shares. No other player on the Kings has even contributed 1.0 win shares. Pretty remarkable.
It's not like Cousins is only filling the stat sheet without helping the team. Consider that Cousins has missed seven games this season and the Kings are 0-7 in those games. They may not be great when he's on the court, but they're awful when he's off it.
Jimmer Fredette has been one of the better bench players for the Kings. The BYU product continues to consistently get better.
He's been the team's fourth-most efficient offensive player, as his 15.9 PER trails only Cousins, Gay and Thomas. He's also shooting an otherworldly 46.9 percent from three-point range and 47.2 percent overall.
Fredette still doesn't provide much on defense, and he'll never be a prototypical point guard. Yet that was pretty apparent heading into the season, so to expect otherwise would be foolish. Based on what he's capable of and what he's provided, Fredette has been solid, though.
It looks as if the Toronto version of Rudy Gay is long gone. The Sacramento iteration still scores a lot of points, but he's getting there in an efficient manner.
Gay is averaging 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He's also shooting a team-high 51.5 percent from the field. That's way better than the 19.4 points on 38.8 percent shooting he posted with the Raptors.
What Gay's done in Sacramento is better than anything he's done previously in his career. The player the Kings have now brings enough value to justify his $19.3 million option for 2014-15. When he was brought over, that wasn't necessarily the case.
The Kings haven't been great since acquiring Gay, but not all of that is on him. In actuality, very little of it is on him. Paired with Cousins and Thomas, the Kings have a formidable three-headed monster. They just need to surround them with better, more affordable pieces.
Aaron Gray's level of play has dropped since the last time we did these grades. In fairness, not all of that can be put on him. A lot of that has to do with increased exposure when Cousins was out of the lineup. Gray is serviceable as a backup center; when his workload increases beyond that, he becomes less effective.
Gray can rebound the ball well (10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes). He's also a solid on-ball defender, holding opposing centers to a PER of 10.0 (league average is 15), according to 82games.com. The problem is his own PER is 0.6, and his offensive win shares are minus-0.3. In other words, he provides on defense, but his lack of offense may detract enough to make it a moot point.
Of course, Gray should provide value simply because of his defense. The Kings could certainly use good defenders, and Gray has proved to be one when on the court. They just need to limit it to small doses. That's when the center provides the most value.
We're still dealing with a small sample size for Carl Landry, as he's only appeared in 12 games since coming back from injury.
Landry's only averaging 12.5 minutes per game, but he's putting up 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in that span. He's also shooting 46.2 percent from the field. All of these numbers are career lows for Landry, indicating he's still not 100 percent.
At this point, it's hard to judge Landry too harshly. Really, it's hard to judge Landry at all. For that reason, I'm reserving judgement until we've got more to go on. He gets an "incomplete" this time around.
If Carl Landry gets an incomplete, the argument could be made that Ray McCallum deserves one as well. The rookie simply hasn't played many minutes this year. However, let's assess his play as best we can since he's been active for much of the season.
McCallum has been solid whenever he's received "extended playing time." Of course, for McCallum, extended playing time is anything more than five minutes on the court. He's had seven such performances.
He had a six-point, three-rebound effort against Utah. He also had two points, four assists and one block in a contest opposing Houston. Other than that, none of his games have been very remarkable. He's scored a basket here, dished out an assist there and grabbed one or two rebounds.
Ultimately, this is just a learning year for McCallum. It's kind of like a redshirt season except he's getting some playing time. The tools are there for success, and hopefully the rookie can use some of his experience to help next season.
As far as this season's concerned, he's done a bit less than I expected; he's also played considerably less than I figured, though. But considering his playing time, production and expectations, he's been about par for the course.
As should probably be expected of rookies, Ben McLemore's play has fluctuated throughout the season.
In the early stretch, McLemore was good, earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for his play in November. Then McLemore went into a lull and lost his starting job. Over the past couple weeks, he's started to come out of his funk a bit.
He's averaging 7.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 assist on the year. The rookie is also shooting 36.6 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from three-point range. Over his last 11 games, he's putting up 8.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists along with a field-goal percentage of 37.4 and a three-point percentage of 28.1.
His recent uptick in production still isn't great. But this sort of thing is probably expected from a player who only had one year of college experience. Sometimes he earns an "A" for his performance in games; other times he earns an "F." That means his grade should be somewhere in the middle.
Travis Outlaw got off to a great start this season, but he's really slowed down in recent weeks. In fact, he's only appeared in 12 of the team's 21 games since New Year's Day.
In that span, Outlaw is averaging 3.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in 13.2 minutes of action. He's also only shooting 34.1 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from downtown. Those percentages are closer in line with what we'd come to expect from the 29-year-old entering the season.
With Derrick Williams and Carl Landry ahead of him off the bench as backup forwards, the opportunities for Outlaw will likely continue to be scarce. That'll be especially true if he doesn't capitalize on the chances he does get.
Like with Cousins and Gay, it's hard to find fault with Isaiah Thomas' play this season. IT has steadily improved throughout his career and throughout the season.
He's now averaging 20.3 points and 6.2 assists. Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving are the only other players averaging more than Thomas in both those categories. That should help put things into perspective.
Thomas could still improve as a pure distributor. He could get better on the defensive end. Doing those things would obviously make him a better player. Yet what he's doing now is more than adequate. He's already contributed 5.7 win shares. Considering the Kings have only won 17 games, it's safe to say Thomas has more than pulled his weight.
Statistically speaking, Jason Thompson's production has dipped a bit this season.
His 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds are both career lows. Yet there's no real discernible difference from his play this season compared to any others. His field-goal percentage (.507) and total rebound percentage (14.3) are right in line with his career averages. The real culprit is his career-low 14.5 percent usage percentage.
Thompson isn't being asked to shoulder as much of the offensive load. But all of his production is pretty similar, even if the counting stats have decreased a bit. So for the most part, he's providing pretty much what we've come to expect of the six-year veteran.
Really, nothing has gone right for Marcus Thornton this year. No matter how you cut it, the Bayou Bomber is having his worst season.
His scoring numbers are down, both overall and on a per-36-minute basis. His field-goal percentage and three-point percentage are both career lows. Thornton came into the season as a slightly above-average player in terms of PER (16.3). This year he's only post a PER of 9.9.
There's really no sense in belaboring the point. If you want a more thorough explanation of what's behind some of these woes, you can check out an article I did on the subject. But it doesn't take a magnifying glass to see how much Thornton's struggling.
Derrick Williams has been a solid contributor for the Kings. He's been the team's most consistent bench player since Thomas was elevated to the starting lineup, and he's also having the best season of his career in a lot of respects.
Williams' 0.95 win shares per 48 minutes since coming to Sacramento is a career high. He's also getting to the free-throw line more frequently than ever before and making the most of his shot opportunities, as his career-high true shooting percentage can attest.
It's hard to look at Williams as a cornerstone worth building around. If that's how you look at him, considering he was the No. 2 pick in the draft a few years back, then you're going to be disappointed. But if you view him as a good rotation player off the bench, then he's fulfilling his duties.
Basically it all depends on perspective. Since mine is more the latter than the former, I think Williams has been about average in comparison to my expectations.
If you want to talk Kings basketball, you can find me on Twitter @SimRisso.