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Can the Kings Inch Nearer to League Respectability in 2009/10?

Alister AlbertCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 12:   Francisco Garcia #32 of the Sacramento Kings pauses in the game with the Los Angeles Lakers on December 12, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 112-103.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

With the NBA regular season rapidly approaching (countdown of 15 days), and the global sporting atmosphere once again being permeated with the “oooohs and aaahhhs” of the magnificence of the sport from preseason games, basketball fanatics brace for the side-winding, action and gossip packed eight months which the NBA always has on display.

Over the next few days I will bring you a preview of each team through my lens and dissect them with the five most important questions affecting their season. These will consist of four performance-based questions (based of insight on personnel, possible trades, rumours, key player(s) analysis, etc) and one prediction as to what their final regular season record will be; which signals playoff positioning and season outcome.

So we await the four-game opening night on October 27th, which importantly is a date between Eastern Conference powerhouses Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also, the knowingly star-studded ring ceremony for defending champs Los Angeles Lakers at their palace—the Staples Center takes place (who also play their resident “peasant” rivals, the almost new-look Clippers team). Let’s now take a look at the teams and their fates for the 2009-10 season. Starting with the team who last year had the most reasonable chance at landing the number one draft pick in this past NBA Draft Lottery.

NB:  All predictions and results made are subject to injuries and trades that may occur during the upcoming season

 

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Record: 17-65, fifth in Pacific Division, 15th seed Western Conference

Just when I thought there would be a freak accident with a jump in success and wins, one happens in the weight room! The once-glorious monarchs of the league were further reduced to league jesters with an unconscious and hardly amusing record of 17-65, that took them further away from the Western Conference summit which they constantly traversed in the early stages of the decade. With swingman Francisco Garcia breaking his arm and subsequently undergoing successful surgery that places him on the Inactive List for a  projected four months, the Kings’ chance at stability and a chance of redemption took another treacherous blow.

With Rookie Tyreke Evans drafted as the No. 4 pick after missing out on Blake Griffin with an unlucky bounce of the lottery balls, the Kings hope that he and healthy Kevin Martin and other key players can bring some excitement and success to a team that can hopefully only rise from last year’s disastrous campaign.

5. Can the Kings overcome Garcia’s injury?

Simple: No, they can’t. Francisco is the team’s second scorer (12.7) behind Kevin Martin (24.6) who played over 50 games last season, after Miller and Salmons were traded to the Bulls for Andres Nocioni and Drew Gooden. With those guys gone and an often injured core, Garcia would’ve had to increase his offensive production exponentially to help Martin, Spencer Hawes, and Jason Thompson. With a credible 44 percent from the floor last year, I believe his average would stay around the same or decrease with more aggressive play and increased shot attempts as the starting small forward for the team.

With a possible 17-7-4 out of the lineup, the inexperience of this team, lack of star power and trying to work into new coach Paul Westphal’s new system, most odds are against this team and need all the scoring they can get. With a team averaging 86 PPG (this preseason) and an opponent differential of +7.50, the once high powered Kings offence needs more than just a spike in retired jerseys in the rafters of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac to get through another long year. Definitely an injured and thereafter recuperating Francisco Garcia will be missed unless a deal is done. Stephen Jackson anyone? Highly unlikely, but that’s the calibre player needed.

4. Can Kevin Martin return to his explosive self and at least participate in 65-70 of the team’s games this season?

For now, let’s say he can. In a 89-86 loss to Portland most recently in the preseason, Martin showed just how much of a reliable offensive threat he can still be with a 28-point performance in 35 minutes, shooting 10-17 field goals and 5-8 three pointers. Talk about efficient. After that All-Star-ish performance and knowing the injury situation with Hawes rolling on a bummed ankle and Garcia’s debilitating arm injury, Martin can’t afford to not be healthy and must take absolute precaution. By monitoring his minutes, training adequately to keep loose and Westphal managing the minutes and ensuring he is out of all garbage time situations, I believe a productive 65 game season is attainable.

3. Is Beno Udrih or newcomer Evans the starting point guard?

Beno Udrih for his career has averaged 7.9 PPG, 2.9 APG and 1.9 RPG. For his stint in Sacramento he had a noticeable increase in production with the starting point guard position his for the taking, after backing up Tony Parker for his first three years in the league. His numbers at Arco; 11.9 PPG, 5 APG and 3 RPG. Further, but most importantly his production so far for this year, with him competing for the starting position with rookie Tyreke Evans in the preseason: 8.5 PPG, 3 APG and 1 RPG in 22 minutes of play.

Evans, the prolific guard from Memphis has produced 13 PPG, 3 APG, and 5 RPG. Not extravagant numbers…yet. Tyreke Evans will be the starting point guard of this team maybe somewhere around the first 10 games of the season, after he adjusts to opposing teams going 100 percent in the regular season. Remember, Sacramento is in rebuilding mode and are looking for a long term nucleus to take them into the new decade. Evans was drafted for that reason, and with a league which has seemed to embrace throwing Rookies “in the fire” more than ever before, rather than sitting and observing before getting heavy minutes, Evans will maintain his 30 MPG as he is already doing this preseason.

2. What do the Kings lack the most and how do Westphal, the Maloofs, and management resuscitate them from their coma of losses?

Last year the Kings were tied with the Thunder for 25th in the league in Field Goal Percentage, with a 44.7 percent efficiency score, magnifying the poor shot decision, lack of ability to finish plays and the degree of difficulty the players imposed upon their game. With that noted, the next stat that stood out to validate their poor shooting was their league rank in three-point efficiency, with them ranking 11th in attempts and a mediocre 14th in percentage with 36.8 percent. The player likely to hit most of his shots, who remains on this team this year (with Ike Diogu 60 percent, who just played 10 games for the Kings anyway and Drew Gooden with 55.6 percent, moving on to other teams) was Jason Thompson with 49.7 percent.

However, glaringly but positively ranking 7th in the league in free-throw attempts and fourth in completed free shots with a near 80 percent team efficiency, the Kings are being aggressive and getting to the hoop and converting while taking very difficult shots which happen to draw the whistle. Their energy therefore isn’t the problem but their concentration and fortitude to finish plays and their high volume of shots beyond the arch is the Achilles heel.

Westphal will need to roll out a disciplined offence that will engage players in getting higher percentage shots, while the Maloof’s and Management having to run up some phone bills trying to trade for some executing big men, who can also help remedy their disgraceful rebounding state (ranked 29th), which will also generate second chance points. Westphal’s experience with him taking the 1993 Barkley, KJ, and Majerle loaded Suns to the Finals and a winning percentage of 63 percent of 426 games coached, has an admirable resume that has the competence to teach this young team. Known for notably clashing with then superstar Gary Payton whilst in Seattle from 1998 to 2000, Westphal won’t have such egos to manage, making his “player’s coach” life a little easier to mould and grow with this Kings team.

1.  Predicted team record?

30-52, fifth Pacific Division, 15th seed Western Conference (RSVP for NBA Draft Lottery 2010, front row seat)

With what I believe will be another very exciting and close Western Conference race this year, I believe most of the bottom-feeder teams will show improvements in their regular season results compared to last year. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Thunder will ward off the energetic Kings. With a notable increase from last year and 1 year more of experience and the gelling of players and coaches, hopefully the Kings can steer on to the right track, also heading into the free agent bonanza of summer 2010. Some may think 30 wins generous but again with a healthy team, and a possibly 100 percent recovered Garcia after All-Star break heading into March…it’s possible.

Footnote:  The Kings have proven scorer and Jordan Brand endorsed, Kevin Martin on their squad. After signing with Jordan Brand in 2008, when Martin has been on the court, he brought back memories of Bibby donning the black and purple player exclusives (hereafter PE’s) on the hardwood, we “sneakerheads” year after year have drooled over. After breaking necks with his exclusive Air Jordan 23 that year, expect Martin to come through with possible exclusives of the 2009, Element, 6Rings and other Jordan Brand footwear during the course of the season.

I was shocked also to see in NBA Live 2009 Spencer Hawes running up and down the court in a pair of quickstrike Jordan 20’s, but now with Adidas, expect some Commander PE’s.

The team, most likely will be littered with Nike Blue Chip 2’s (e.g. on Rookie Omri Casspi, Sean May and Jason Thompson) Marvin Ely in those sweet Hypermax’s and the ever-present Hyperize will continue to make an appearance on Tyreke Evans- hopefully to get his own PE’s too.        

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