5 Things to Watch for During Sacramento Kings' Final Games
A chance at the postseason may have ended long ago for the Sacramento Kings, but that doesn't mean the remainder of the season is a lost cause.
The Kings can use the rest of the schedule to evaluate the current team and how things may shape up moving forward. This applies to individual players like Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum or Derrick Williams as well as the team's performance as a whole and how coach Mike Malone is adjusting to his first season as a head coach.
There are obviously talented players in place, but if the Kings want to make a big jump next season, it starts with capitalizing on the remainder of the current one. In order to do so, here are five things to watch for during the team's final games.
Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
All stats current through games played on March 11.
Honorable Mention: Royce White
The Kings signed Royce White to a 10-day contract. The second-year player was assigned to the team's D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns.
In two games with the Bighorns, White is averaging 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 27 minutes of action. He figures to get plenty of minutes while he's on his 10-day contract. If he performs well, the team could sign him to another 10-day deal or ink him for the remainder of the season.
There's a good chance we never see White in Sacramento this season. In that sense, he's probably not something "to watch." But how he performs is certainly worth monitoring.
White still has the talent that got him drafted 16th overall by the Houston Rockets in 2012. But his struggles with anxiety disorder have prevented him from appearing in an NBA game thus far. If he shows progress, he could be someone worth keeping around.
5. More Minutes for Ray McCallum
Rookie Ray McCallum has really seen his minutes increase since the All-Star break. Part of that is due to the team no longer being in the playoff hunt, while another component is the buyout of Jimmer Fredette's contract, freeing up more minutes in the backcourt.
Prior to the break, McCallum was only averaging 4.0 minutes per game, and he'd only appeared in 16 of the team's 53 games. However, since the team returned for the second half of the season, the rookie is averaging 22.2 minutes and has played in every contest.
Not only is McCallum playing more, but he's also been performing pretty well. He's averaging 6.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.6 turnovers.
How McCallum develops over the remainder of the season will provide key insight into his prospects going forward.
Regardless of what happens with Isaiah Thomas' contract situation, it's hard to envision a scenario where the rookie could be the starter heading into next season. However, if McCallum performs well, he could set himself up as the primary backup point guard for 2014-15.
4. The Emergence of Derrick Williams
Forward Derrick Williams is still under contract for next season. According to ShamSports, he comes with a $6.3 million cap hit for 2014-15. For a cap-strapped team like the Kings, that's a pretty sizable deal.
Williams has been solid since coming to the Kings. He's averaging 9.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25.6 minutes per contest. He's also shown an ability to get to the free-throw line, averaging 5.4 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes.
His ability to play both forward spots brings versatility that other forwards like Jason Thompson, Reggie Evans and Carl Landry lack. According to Basketball-Reference, 56 percent of his minutes have come at power forward and 33 percent have come at small forward. That's something the Kings could use going forward.
With Thompson, Evans, Landry, Travis Outlaw and Williams all under contract next season, the Kings could try and move some of them to add depth in other areas. If Williams can distinguish himself from the others down the home stretch, he could increase his trade value or carve out a prominent role with Sacramento for next season.
3. Ben McLemore's Performance
Ben McLemore is the other rookie on the Kings roster. Based on where he was drafted and his potential, McLemore figures to carry more clout than McCallum. In fact, it's likely Sacramento wants him to be the starting 2-guard next season. How he performs down the stretch could be a determining factor.
Since the All-Star break, McLemore's been back in the starting lineup with mixed results. He's averaging 7.9 points and 2.8 rebounds. Compared to his season tallies of 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds, there hasn't been much progression there.
It's still incredibly early in the rookie's career, so making any long-term assumptions on what we've seen from him is unrealistic. That said, it'd be nice to see McLemore make some strides down the home stretch. He figures to get plenty of playing time, and showing some improvement would help alleviate some concerns.
2. Continued Progress on Defense
It may not be obvious, but the Kings have actually improved on defense as the season's gone on. Clearly, they're still not perfect, as Sacramento is 24th in defensive rating, but it's making progress.
To put that in better perspective, the post-Feb. 1 defensive rating of 107.5 would be 16th in the NBA. The pre-Feb. 1 rating of 110.5 would come in 28th.
With Coach Malone having a defensive background, it's encouraging to see the team make some strides on that end of the court. It's an area that's long been a concern for the Kings, and finishing strong down the stretch would go a long way in setting a foundation for next season.
Beyond that, it would show that the coach's system works. The Kings don't have markedly better individual defenders than when the season started, yet they're playing better defense as a team. That's a reflection on Malone's system more than anything else.
1. A Strong Finish
The argument can be made that the Kings would be better off losing games down the stretch, thereby securing better draft positioning. However, something could be said for some overall progress.
Sacramento won 28 games last season. The team's at 22 wins right now. By winning seven of its final 18 games, the Kings can top that mark. That should be a goal.
Granted, the Kings don't really gain anything by winning games down the stretch. However, they don't really lose anything either. With the lottery system in place, all a bad record gets you is a higher probability of a top pick. It guarantees nothing. That's something Sacramento has seen over and over in recent years.
As long as their pick lands in the top 12 they get to keep it. Right now there are only four teams with worse records that Sacramento. The team is going to be able to keep its pick regardless of how it finishes.
Therefore, the Kings would be better of finishing strong, then let the chips fall as they may, or in this case, the ping pong balls.
If you want to talk Kings basketball, you can find me on Twitter @SimRisso