Shuffling the Deck: The NBA's Most Improved Frontline

Jon DarbeeContributor ISeptember 16, 2010

Sacramento struck gold with the selection of Cousins.
Sacramento struck gold with the selection of Cousins.Al Bello/Getty Images

It has been almost a full calendar year since, in the NBA’s toughest conference, and home to some of the most daunting and physically imposing frontlines, the Sacramento Kings trotted out Jason Thompson, Sean “Big Mac” May, and Desmond Mason in an opening night loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

This was, to say the least, a far cry from the days of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber toying with opposing NBA defenses with the offensive versatility rarely seen in big men in the NBA today. Webber and Divac both possessed an inside-out game, with the ability to score in the post as well as hit a 20 foot jumpshot with consistency. They ran Pete Carril’s high-post Princeton offense to perfection, with the pin-point passing ability of both being the oil which allowed this machine to run so smoothly. They were the cornerstone for a fun, exciting and highly marketable brand of basketball which both the casual and diehard fan enjoyed alike, until father time and injuries put an end to this era of Kings’ basketball.

Fast-forward to the opening night of the 2009-2010 season, and Sacramento was ready to go to war with arguably the worst frontline in the entire NBA.  Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Sean May, Kenny Thomas, and Jon Brockman were supposed to help resurrect the Kings, and jumpstart their eventual run back to the playoffs. No, that wasn’t a joke, even though I can’t fault anyone who finds humor in placing any hope of success on the shoulders of that frontline, as it would have trouble competing in the Euroleague, much less the NBA.  Is it any wonder the Maloof brothers sought out and hired outside influences to help sell out the first two home games of the 2009 season?

Here we are, a little more than ten months later, and Sacramento has a completely revamped frontline, with third year forward Jason Thompson being the only holdover from the previous campaign.The shuffling started with a trade at the February deadline, which essentially sent Kevin Martin to the Rockets in return for Carl Landry.

Landry immediately added toughness and a post presence, both being attributes which were non-existent for the Kings prior to his acquisition.Landry, who was a 6th Man of the Year candidate for Houston before the trade, quickly established himself as a starter for the Kings, and put up an impressive 18PPG, along with 6.5RPG, as the starting power forward.

The Kings followed the Landry trade with a pre-draft trade which sent the chronically underachieving Spencer Hawes, along with Andres Nocioni, to Philadelphia for shot blocking extraordinaire Samuel Dalembert, and future cap space. Dalembert immediately adds a new, and much needed dimension to the Sacramento frontcourt: a defensive presence. Dalembert also ranks in the top three in the NBA in career rebounding percentage, both offensively and defensively.

The 2010 NBA Draft was extremely kind to Sacramento, thanks in large part to David Kahn being one of the more incompetent general manager’s in NBA history. According to Draft Express, Cousins ranked number one overall (in the last eight years) in points per-40 minutes, rebounds per-40 minutes, field goals made per-40 minutes, and placed second overall in free throw attempts per-40 minutes.

Arguably, Cousins is the most dominant big man to step on a college basketball court in the last decade, and should be a consensus top ten center by the end of his rookie season. DeMarcus is not only a physically imposing center who will dominate play in the paint, but also has the versatility to pull opposing big men away from the basket, and either face-up and hit the jumper, or attack off the dribble. How Kahn came to the conclusion that passing on Cousins in favor of chasing down Darko Milicic in Serbia, and offering a four year deal was a good idea, is beyond comprehension. The Kings will reap the benefits of this colossal error in judgement.

The other member of the 2010 Draft class who will join Cousins up front is shot blocking sensation Hassan Whiteside, who inexplicably fell to the 33rd pick overall.

Whiteside blocked a staggering 5.4 BPG as a freshman at Marshall, and registered the longest wingspan of anyone at the Draft Combine, at an amazing 7’7”. While Whiteside was a steal at #33, as some projected him to be a lottery pick, he is a young player drafted mainly on potential. Players with this amount of potential are rarely seen in the second round, and the comparisons to a young Marcus Camby are not as far-fetched as some would like to believe.

Rounding out the Sacramento frontline is Jason Thompson, another versatile young big who posted 12.5PPG and 8.5RPG in his second season in the league. Thompson has the quickness to guard opposing power forwards away from the basket, as well as the size to match-up with opposing centers in the paint. While Thompson is not expected to be in the starting lineup this coming season, he provides Paul Westphal with added depth and versatility in his bench unit, with Thompson’s ability to split time at both the power forward and center positions.

Does Sacramento have the most potent, experienced, and physically intimidating frontline in the NBA? Of course not. But the complete overhaul of its frontline is the most impressive and substantial of any frontline in the league. The Kings now have one of the best one-two punches at the center position in the league, with Cousins and Dalembert. They have one of the toughest and most physical power forwards in the NBA today in Carl Landry. Jason Thompson looks more and more like a young Udonis Haslem every day, with his ability to defend and rebound, while hitting the open jumper and play multiple positions. Waiting in the background for his opportunity will be Hassan Whiteside, young and unproven, but with unmistakable potential.

The rest of the NBA should take notice, as this revamped Kings frontline shares no resemblance to the frontline they had on opening night nearly one year ago, and will cause problems for opposing players and coaches for years to come.