Final Regular-Season Grades for Every Sacramento Kings Player
Despite finishing with the identical 28-54 record they posted in 2012-13, there were some positive developments for the Sacramento Kings this season. Most notably, players such as DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas took big steps forward.
The Kings also improved as the season went on, most notably on defense. The team finished 23rd in defensive rating, but it ranked 19th in the metric since the turn of the year. It's an encouraging sign considering head coach Mike Malone's forte is on the defensive end.
However, the Kings still need to upgrade their roster to take that next step. That said, there were some bright spots on the team—players who look to be worth building around, or those who improved as the season went on.
Seeing as how a coach or team can only accomplish so much without talented players, now is a perfect time to evaluate the roster heading into the offseason. The best way to accomplish that is by providing a grade to each player.
But before we get to the grades, let's do a quick rundown of the criteria. First and foremost, only current Kings players were considered. Furthermore, each player had to appear in at least three games with the team, even if he's still on the roster.
As far as the grades are concerned, each player is graded against himself based on reasonable expectations for his performance. In other words, how a player performed compared to his teammates or the rest of the league is irrelevant. For the most part, the scope is the entire season. Yet those who improved or regressed dramatically down the stretch will be judged accordingly.
With that out of the way, let's get to the grades.
It's safe to say Carl Landry's 2013-14 season with the Kings was disastrous. The forward was hurt for much of the year—he only appeared in 18 games—and he wasn't very good when he was on the court, specifically on offense.
Landry's 11.7 points per 36 minutes were far and away the worst of his career. A lot of that can be attributed to his usage percentage of 14.5 percent, which is the lowest of his seven seasons. Yet his offensive rating of 112 also points toward this year's downturn.
In actuality, Landry wasn't that bad. He still had a positive net rating (higher offensive rating than defensive rating), and he made over 50 percent of his field goals. Yet he set the bar pretty high coming into the season, so based on the criteria of living up to expectations, he doesn't quite pass the test.
Personally, I've been critical of the Landry signing. A lot of that is due to the fact that the Kings simply don't need another player of his mold taking up that much cap space. He and Jason Thompson are both duplicates, and the team doesn't need both of them on similar deals. Yet the jury is still out on his overall career with the Kings. Landry could still turn it around, but it's fair to say he was below average this year.
Considering he had such sporadic playing time, grading Aaron Gray's performance isn't an easy task. That said, he logged 335 minutes with the Kings, so we can glean a decent bit off his overall sample size.
Simply put, Gray was slightly below average when compared to his career averages. His 6.4 points per 36 minutes is considerably less than the 10.0 he's posted during his six years in the NBA. The same can be said of his .431 field-goal percentage.
Gray wasn't brought in for his offense, though. His real skill as a backup center is in rebounding and defense. In those categories, he was par for the course, with his 11.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes eerily reflecting what we've come to expect.
Since most of Gray's duties are on defense and rebounding, that he was still in line with expectations in those areas is more important than his decrease on offense. Still, his downturn in production on the offensive end counts for something, so his grade will take a hit.
Believe it or not, Jason Thompson may have actually had the worst season of his career. That's splitting hairs considering JT seems to fall within the same range every single year, yet that's what the stats are saying.
His 0.64 win shares per 48 minutes are only better than his rookie year. Thompson's 10.5 points per 36 minutes, 103 offensive rating and 11.1 PER were all career worsts.
However, JT's rebounding (9.5 boards per 36), blocks (1.0 per 36) and defensive rating (108) were all in line with what we've come to expect. His defensive rating was actually a bit better than his career averages. In that sense, Thompson was his same consistent self. He also did a decent job spelling Cousins, as 33 percent of his minutes came at center.
But if we're looking at Thompson's season compared to the rest of his career, it's fair to say his dip on offense makes it below our expectations.
Statistically speaking, Derrick Williams went backward in 2013-14. That doesn't mean he's become a worse player, but stats are objective, and they're all we really have to go on to provide a fair assessment. With that being the case, Williams' grade might seem lower than what the eye test tells you.
His 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per 36 minutes were career lows. Williams' three-point stroke, while never a strength, took a big hit this year as well, as he hit only 26.3 percent of them. Luckily for the Arizona product, his long-range shot became a smaller part of his game, with only 20.5 percent of his field-goal attempts coming from downtown.
There are other indications, however, that say Williams may not have been as bad as the counting stats indicate. His career-low usage percentage could partially explain a decrease in scoring. He also had a career-best offensive rating, showing that while his point production may have dipped, his efficiency actually increased.
Most of Williams' work with the Kings came at the 4. That's not necessarily a huge difference from past years. However, his playing style also reflected it as well. Beyond the decrease in three-point attempts, he also had an average shot distance of 10.5 feet, which is well below his career average of 12.0 feet during his first two years, showing he did most of his work close to the basket.
Some of these factors make grading Williams difficult, as a new role would likely provide new expectations. But rules are rules, and based on the way we're grading, Williams was worse than expected.
Quincy Acy ended up carving out a nice niche for himself on the Kings roster. The forward ended up appearing in 56 games for the Kings and averaged 14 minutes per contest.
While never a prolific scorer, Acy actually finished second on the team in offensive rating, at 109 points per 100 possessions. That's a solid number, but it pales in comparison to the 120 he posted as a rookie with Toronto. Then again, Acy only logged 342 minutes last season, compared to 847 in 2013-14. The larger sample size could explain the drop in efficiency.
As far as defense and rebounding were concerned, Acy was solid, posting a defensive rating of 107. That's slightly up from the 105 he had as a rookie. Yet his rebounds were up, as he had a total rebound percentage of 14.4 percent. On the defensive glass, specifically, he was better, collecting 19.5 percent of all boards, versus only 16.5 percent last season.
When considering 79 percent of his playing time came at the 3 with the Kings, opposed to only 5 percent with Toronto, it's encouraging to see his effectiveness at the more versatile position.
Ultimately, Acy provided the Kings about what they could have expected. He was pretty much as advertised on defense and the glass, while his efficiency dipped slightly on the offensive end.
Jared Cunningham didn't log a ton of playing time after coming to the Kings, but he appeared in enough games to qualify for a grade.
The second-year player logged 58 minutes with the Kings over eight contests. He averaged 14.9 points, 3.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds per 36 minutes in Sacramento. As a rookie with the Mavericks, he was at 22.2 points, 1.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds per 36. On the surface, it looks like Cunningham took a step backward.
However, a deeper look reveals that he was actually a more effective player this season. His .145 win shares per 48 minutes, 119 offensive rating and 109 defensive rating were all considerably better than what he did in Dallas.
Since we're still dealing with a small sample size for Cunningham, grading him is a difficult task. It's about gauging the counting stats against the advanced ones. Since both have their merits, it's almost as if they cancel one another out, giving him a grade right in the middle.
Perhaps no player benefited more from lowered expectations than Travis Outlaw. Simply put, he was not very good in his first two years with the Kings. However, the forward was better this past season.
Outlaw's scoring this past season doesn't show the true impact of his play. In fact, his 11.6 points per 36 minutes were the lowest of his time with the Kings. But the 29-year-old once again found his shooting stroke, hitting 35 percent of his three-pointers.
He was also much better in other areas. His 5.7 rebounds per 36 minutes were up over his previous highs with Sacramento. The Kings also posted a defensive rating of 105.6 when he was on the court, compared to one of 106.7 points per 100 possessions when he was off the court.
Furthermore, his win shares per 48 minutes of 0.67, while not great, are considerably better than the 0.37 he posted a year ago.
Reggie Evans was certainly a pleasant surprise for the Kings. Originally viewed as somewhat of a throw-in as part of the Marcus Thornton trade, Evans proved to have plenty of value for the Kings.
Evans did what he always does on the glass, bringing in 13.3 rebounds per 36 minutes and 20.9 percent of his rebound opportunities, which closely resembles his career numbers.
However, where he really stepped up was on the offensive end. Evans posted a .527 field-goal percentage, which is a huge increase over his career mark of .468. He also averaged 9.6 points per 36. Compared to the 7.6 points he's posted over his career, that's a nice uptick.
The fact that the Kings got anything productive from Evans was a positive development. That he was even better than he's been throughout his career is noteworthy.
Rudy Gay actually played the best offensive basketball of his career in Sacramento. That's good to know since he'd already set the bar relatively high.
His 20.1 points, 3.1 assists and 48.6 field-goal percentage all either set or tied career highs. Gay's 5.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes were also a new high, as was his free-throw percentage of 83.6 percent. So not only did he get to the line with more regularity, but he also knocked down his free throws at a higher clip.
However, in terms of defense and rebounding, he was a bit under what we've come to expect. His total rebound percentage of 9.1 percent is slightly behind the 9.5 percent he's hauled in over his career. The same goes for his defensive rating of 109, his steal percentage of 1.8 percent and his block percentage of 1.4 percent.
With Gay, his main value to the team is on the offensive end. That doesn't mean his defense isn't valuable—only that it's not what he should be judged upon. In that vein, the fact that he was better on offense than he's been throughout his career means he'll receive a grade that's above average.
After months of stagnate play, Ben McLemore finally got it going down the stretch. It's a positive development for the rookie, and it will also reflect favorably on his grade.
Through games played on March 5, McLemore was averaging 7.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 24.0 minutes of action. The rookie was also only hitting 36 percent of his field goals, 31.6 percent of his three-pointers and attempting only 1.4 free throws per contest.
However, the light went on for McLemore after that. In the 21 games he played in following March 5, he averaged 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 34.5 minutes of action. He also nailed 40.7 percent of his field goals, 32.7 percent of his threes and attempted 2.9 free throws a night.
Of course, McLemore played more minutes down the stretch, which could partially explain his uptick in scoring, rebounding and assists. There was more to it than that, though. His increased field-goal percentage shows that he became a more efficient player. He also became more aggressive with the ball, as his increase in free-throw attempts can attest.
McLemore's grade is much higher than it would have been without these developments. As an aside, it's not as high as the team's other rookie—Ray McCallum, whom you'll encounter later on in the list—even though McLemore's stats were better. That's because McCallum's expectations, as a second-round pick, were lower. Since we're grading based on expectations for each player, his score is higher.
This case of Ray McCallum is one of recent performance trumping overall performance. That's for a couple reasons. One, as a rookie, we don't have prior seasons to judge McCallum against. But secondly, the rookie was sensational when he got increased playing time.
Prior to the All-Star break, McCallum averaged 1.4 points, 0.6 rebounds and 0.4 assists. After the intermission, he posted 8.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Of course, a huge chunk of that can be attributed to increased playing time, yet the rookie also did well in his opportunities.
When Isaiah Thomas was out with injury, allowing McCallum to slide into the starting lineup, he averaged 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.9 turnovers. Those are excellent numbers for a rookie floor general. They're even more remarkable when you consider McCallum was a second-round pick.
McCallum's performance is such that he'd be graded favorably if compared to players in similar backgrounds and situations. Since we're only judging him against himself, the fact that he improved so dramatically will also be looked upon positively.
How do you grade Isaiah Thomas? Do you compare him to himself in past years? Do you see how he stacks up against players at his position? Do you look at how he has performed based on where he was drafted? All of that is irrelevant, as Thomas was superb by nearly any criteria.
His 20.3 points, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals and .453 field-goal percentage were all new career highs. It's also not as if it's all a reflection of his increased playing time, as his points and assists per 36 minutes were also the best he's ever posted.
Coming into the year, Thomas had posted negative-0.1 defensive win shares; this season, he had 1.3 defensive win shares. He also trumped his win shares per 48 minutes, putting up .149, where his previous high was .124.
Thomas improved so much that it's debatable whether he's the best player on the team. That's something you couldn't have said before. What isn't up for debate, however, is that 2013-14 was "The Pizza Guy's" best season.
No matter how you cut it, DeMarcus Cousins was absolutely marvelous for the Kings. Whether you compared him against other centers in the league, which we aren't in these grades, or against himself, DMC would get a very high grade.
This was the year the center put it all together, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks per game. In short, he was clearly Sacramento's best player. But again, that's irrelevant as far as his grade is concerned.
What is relevant is how he performed in comparison to expectations for him. Even in that area, Cousins passed with flying colors. He tied or set career highs in points, rebounds, steals, assists and blocks per game. His 49.6 field-goal percentage and 8.4 free throws per 36 minutes were also career highs.
Even on the defensive end, he made strides, beyond just the rebound/block/steal tallies. His defensive rating of 101 and his 3.8 win shares were far and away the best of his career. According to 82games.com, he also held opposing centers to a player efficiency rating of 18.2 (league average is 15.0). In 2012-13, centers posted a PER of 19.4 against him.
Prior to the season, the conversation about Cousins involved the "P" word—potential. Now it involves a different "P" word—production.
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