Sacramento Kings Extended Offseason: What Each Player Can Work On
The last memory for Kings fans could end up being that heartfelt season finale they played against the Lakers in mid April. With the lockout, a lot of people are talking like the players and owners are prepared to wait this thing out.
While the overarching issue is constructing a working collective bargaining agreement, the 1998 lockout and 2011 lockout are much different.
Thirty-two games were lost in the 1998-1999 season, which is a far cry from the entire season. Cleveland Cavalier Antwan Jamison stated that the players are much more united and ready for this lockout than the one experienced his rookie year.
While players may be readying themselves for what could be a long and messy string of negotiations, they should also be taking this extra time to work on their games. Considering the Kings are coming off a 24-win season, each player has something they can work on greatly.
Head Coach Paul Westphal: Some Semblance of an Offense, Consistent Rotation
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While the team's defense looked decent often last season, even good at times, their biggest weakness was having some structure on offense.
While the Kings offense's of the early 2000s was a free flowing style of play, there was still a offensive scheme, the Princeton/Motion offense.
The Kings had the personel to run it and were young, flashy and exciting.
This current Kings team is young, can be exciting but wildly inconsistent and often stagnant on offense.
I'm almost positive that Westphal doesn't have a play that involves Tyreke Evans' dribbling around for 18 seconds before shooting a contested 20-foot fadeaway, but with the regularity this occurs it almost seems designed.
The bigger issue arguably is the lack of a consistent rotation. The eight to 10 players that would play in each game changed on a near game to game basis. No exaggeration here.
Young players are inconsistent and also insecure, along with just about any other athlete. When almost the whole team is unsure of their role, it is difficult for a group of players to gell.
This coming season there will be hopefully minimal change in the starting lineup, and a consistent rotation could be formed. The only big change I could see would be in the backcourt.
If the Kings are able to retain Marcus Thornton, I could see him as a starter to begin the season, then eventually shifting to a sixth man role as a the necessary scoring punch of the bench.
This would then allow Jimmer Fredette to come in and start at the other guard spot, once he is ready.
DeMarcus Cousins: Consistency, Shot Selection
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Cousins was one of the better rookies last season, and many seem to forget he became more grounded and effective towards the end of the season.
There is still a lot of work to be done though.
His passing really emerged in the second half of the season and his rebounding numbers increased, but his fouling was still an issue. Granted he averaged more fouls per game earlier in the year, often he would pick up one or two a game, trying to buck people or bulldoze them.
Using his body in the paint is key, he has great footwork and great size that he doesn't need to try and careen into people to score.
On the issue of scoring, he need to be more effective.
Cousins has a tendency to float around the perimeter and fall in love with the jump shot. He may have a sweet stroke and deep range on his shot, but he is too quick to pull the trigger as appose to passing it or looking for his shot on the block.
He shot 43 percent on the season from the floor, which is about four to five percent lower than it should be. If he stays closer to the basket and improves on his body control, he will limit the amount of fouls he draws and be able to stay on the floor longer.
J.J. Hickson: Defense, Consistency
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Another player that came on strong toward the end of the season for the Cavaliers, Hickson was a great pickup for the Kings. He, along with Salmons, will hopefully help solidify their front line, as Samuel Dalembert appears to be on his way out.
Hickson is a talented offensive player, great rebounder and a solid athlete.
The North Carolina State product is a suspect defender at times though. He got into Byron Scott's doghouse because of his lack of defensive intensity at times during the season.
On a team that is already mediocre at best defensively, Hickson will have to become an adept defensive player if the Kings want to be a solid team on both ends of the floor.
With the expected departure of Dalembert, the Kings are kind of short on defensive minded post players. Hassan Whiteside is advertised as a defensive player, but considering he played only one minute his rookie season, it may be a stretch to think he will be playing a lot more this year.
John Salmons: Attitude, Team Connection
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Salmons is a talented basketball player.
I'm not saying his great, but he is a particularly skilled player in certain aspects. He is a great one-on-one defender, solid ball handler and isolation player.
Salmons biggest issue seems to be his attitude at times. When he becomes a background or supplementary player, he is much less interested and becomes less effective.
Salmons is a solid shooter who should be great for helping space the floor and someone that can penetrate off sideline kickouts. He will be effective so long as he understands he is key to the teams success, even though he may not be the first, second or even the third option.
The Kings need the consistency and stability he offers and they lacked at the small forward spot last season.
If he is mentally there and understands what they need at that spot and that he can offer those things, he will be a great fit back in Sacramento.
Tyreke Evans: Shooting/Shot Selection, Defense
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Evans was advertised as the Kings future after his promising rookie season but then took a step back this past season.
He is a good player that could be great. He has handles like pots and pans, is capable of scoring on just about anyone when he gets to the hoop and has the size and length to be a top tier defender.
Despite all this, there are some glaring weaknesses with the young prospect.
Although the big focus of the Kings past offseason was the development of his improved shooting form, his shooting percentages were lower across the board, aside from a marginal improvement from behind the arc.
I don't want to get down on the guy too much, he dealt with plantar fasciitis for the majority of the season, which will severely limit a player's physical ability. The only way for his heel to heal: rest.
He had surgery and had a quick recovery to be able to comeback, but realistically he should have been shutdown earlier in the year so he could recover faster and not push a him to potentially strain or injure something else.
I know players deal with injuries on a game to game basis, but considering how this team wasn't exactly competing for a playoff spot sitting Evans wasn't going to hurt anyone.
With that very long preface, I will now begin breaking down his real problems.
He has a tendency to slack on defense while he has the timing and physical gifts to be a great defender, the intensity and drive isn't always there.
With a knack for getting to the lane and great body control, Evans is a tough cover for just about any player. When his defender sags off and forces him to shoot however, Evans struggles.
If he does drive, pushing him towards his left or with help on defense Evans has a hard time converting, as any player would when taking on two or three defenders at one time.
The Memphis product will need to improve on his jump shot greatly and look to pass more when he gets in the lane. Often he leaves his feet with no where to go and tries to find someone to bail him out and will either turn the ball over or do too much too late.
Evans will still be a star in this league if he manages to work on and correct these areas of his game. And at 22, he still has plenty of room to grow.
Marcus Thronton: Defense
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Thornton was the shot in the arm this team needed right at the deadline. The Kings were able to snag him from the Hornets for the underperforming Carl Landry.
Many teams had been asking about his services, only to be turned away. New Orleans was asking for a first-round pick in many scenarios but was able to make the trade straight up swapping Thornton for Landry.
A strong, quick undersized guard, Thronton showed he could play on or off the ball often and demonstrated a scoring ability the Kings desperately needed. He also made for a nice backcourt partner for Tyreke Evans with his spot up and shooting ability.
Thornton probably has more things he can work on, but from what I saw and heard this past season, his defense needs work.
He certainly has the lateral quickness to be a solid defensive player, and to compensate for his size he needs to be sharp mentally.
He didn't play much after a spectacular rookie season, due to the fact that he skipped out on mandatory meetings related to defense this past summer.
The biggest issue I noticed outside of generally bad defense at times was his inability to get through screens. For someone as small and quick as Thornton, he could not fight his way through picks.
I'm not entirely sure if it was indecision or just inability, but he should either plan to go below the screen always or really try and be on top of his man to slip through it.
If he can figure out this issue, I would say his man to man defense would be greatly improved. He averaged a fair amount of steals by playing the passing lane, but he also gambled a lot on trying to make those steals.
Jason Thompson: Post Play, Shot Selection
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Thompson may have lost his shot at being a starter with the acquisition of J.J. Hickson and the step backwards he took this past season in terms of production.
Thompson does a lot of things better than most or nearly all big men. He runs the floor well, he can pass, has a decent outside shot and can handle the ball in the open court better than just about any post player.
The problem: he struggles with basic elements of basic needs from a post player.
He has virtually no back to the basket game and often doesn't utilize his strengths that he has. Considering he is quick for his size and can put the ball on the deck, he has a tendency to settle for his jump shot more often than trying to get to the rim.
While he is a respectable shooter, he is not effective enough from outside to be shooting from there on a consistent basis. Sometimes he is on fire from outside, and I am fine with him shooting, but that isn't the case usually.
Put the ball on the deck and take the ball to the basket more. You're dragging one of the two big defenders outside, if nothing else you have the potential to be creating for other people on the team.
While this is probably a pipe dream at this point, his biggest glaring weakness is his shot under the basket. Thompson has poor footwork around the hoop and zero to no moves in the immediate basket area.
Often he will spin into his man and face up against him to try and score, which is a difficult shot to make more often than not. He struggles to clean up off teammates misses as well, unless he gets an uncontested dunk.
The inability to post up is a real issue for any post player, but he has enough tools and capabilities to do other things to cover that glaring weakness.
His defense isn't stellar either, but he gets by. He really should work on his defense over anything else, but it isn't weak enough to really harp on.
Considering that Cousins and Hickson will be the main offensive options for the Kings, Thompson should probably begin to focus his energy on being a solid defensive option off the bench.
Jimmer Fredette: Defense, Point Guard Play
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One of the big stories from this years draft was Jimmer Fredette. He is a hard working player that can light up the scoreboard. On the other side of the ball, Fredette is not so recognized.
At BYU, Fredette was not called upon to defend and actually was discouraged from playing defense that could get him into foul trouble.
While BYU couldn't afford to have him get into foul trouble being the sole offensive option, at the next level he will have to learn to be a key piece in the offensive attack while playing solid defense as well.
He has been criticized and accused of being nonathletic or not athletic enough to play at the next level. In training camps, many scouts were surprised to see his athletic ability and even looked like he had lost weight.
In college, Fredette "played" point guard but didn't really facilitate that much. He averaged more than five assists per game and displayed some solid playmaking ability, but he will have to continue to take those steps at the next level.
Stephen Curry is a great player for Fredette to model himself after. Coming out of college Curry was thought to be an undersized, less than athletic and someone that might not be able to adjust at the next level as he was considered a 2-guard at Davidson.
At the next level though, Curry was able to shift into a facilitator role show that he is capable of playing on and off the ball, along with finding his teammates.
Fredette doesn't need to be the next Steve Nash, as some have compared him to but simply be able to share the burden of running the offense with Evans. And work on his defense.
Francisco Garcia: Vocal Leader, Offensive Agressiveness
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Garcia is the team captain in Sacramento and the team leader in the locker room. While he is vocal on the court, he is someone that should be calling people out more frequently while playing.
He is a solid defensive player and perhaps could be the leader on defense, like an Ed Reed or Ray Lewis perhaps?
He can run a little point and is a solid spot up shooter from the outside. So long as a freak accident doesn't occur this season (See: bursting medicine ball), Garcia should be seeing consistent and meaningful minutes.
Garcia's probably met his peak at this point and will not be growing all that much at this point in his career. As a defender and spot up shooter, Garcia will more than fill a vital role for Sacramento, but on offense, he could stand to be a bit more aggressive when looking to score.
I'm not asking for him to dominate the ball, but he could look to slash to the bucket more or perhaps be looking to put people in place while playing off the ball.
Part Two: Coming Soon
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Be on the look out for the second part of my article, where I wrap up the needed improvement from the rest of the bench and talk about who is on the bubble and who I think should be coming back.