With this preview, 3 Shades of Blue concludes its analysis of the Grizzlies’ Western Conference foes, but we’re not done yet! Tune in next week as we turn our eyes towards the Eastern Conference, beginning with the Boston Celtics on Monday…
Enemy: Sacramento Kings
Coach: Keith Smart
Potential Starting 5: Isiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, Demarcus Cousins
Other Key Players: Thomas Robinson, Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, James Johnson, Chuck Hayes
Threats: All-around athleticism, Interior muscle, Exterior scoring threats
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 2-1
There are very few players in this league that I am a full fifty shades higher than the rest of the basketball world on, but one of them is Demarcus Cousins. I stated back at the time of the 2010 NBA Draft, that I would take him over anyone else available. I liked him over John Wall, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, and the rest of that class. A couple years into their respective careers and I maintain that stance whole-heartedly. Outside of the potentially transcendental Anthony Davis, I have similar feelings about Thomas Robinson, who similarly fell to the Kings at the fifth overall pick. Cousins and Robinson should develop into a powerful, physical, formidable front line for the Sacramento Kings going forward, which is something to be excited about. Unfortunately for Kings fans, the rest of their future is far more bleak. In the last post I asserted the Steve Nash era with the Suns to be somewhat of a limbo situation, but in reality I should have reserved that term for the Kings. The outlook for them is unnervingly cloudy. With very little overall direction for the roster and even more uncertainty about where they’ll be playing long-term, there is plenty of reason for concern within the organization. Aside from Thomas Robinson falling into their laps, Kings management retained Jason Thompson, signed point guard Aaron Brooks, traded for defensive specialist, James Johnson, and rounded out the offseason by ultimately holding onto Tyreke Evans, who might be the mayor of the trade block at this point.
In analyzing the roster for this coming season I’ll start off with the good… which of course then leads me to Demarcus Cousins again. Cousins is an offensive juggernaut and is very active on the backboard. Add that to the fact that he is wholly regarded as a knucklehead, and you have a true parallel to our own Zach Randolph. The difference between the two, however, is that Cousins has true center size and slightly better athletic ability. Thus when engaged, Demarcus Cousins can really dominate out there on the court. However, the key to that statement lies within the qualifier. His “it’s whatever” temperament caused he and coach Paul Westphal to run into problems and nearly pushed him onto the trade market, before the team decided to part ways with the coach instead. Coach Keith Smart is going to have to be consistently effective in this communication with Cousins if the Kings want to be competitive. The best word I can think of to describe the rest of the front-line is muscle. Thompson not so much, but Robinson and Chuck Hayes are both rock-solid in terms of frame, and will if nothing less add physical force in the paint off the bench. Looking at the rest of the roster, you see a glut of scoring guards. Isiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, Aaron Brooks and Tyreke Evans all have similar tendencies, and must find a way to play in synergy with one another. Potentially more importantly than that, Keith Smart must find a way to have them play effective perimeter defense for 48 minutes. That’s a tall task. On the offensive side of the ball, all of the above guards are able to put the ball in the rack. As a result, those of which that can bring more to the table will find themselves playing the most minutes. Thomas was able to prove himself last season by not only scoring, but adding a good number of assists to his line, and if he can continue to find his teammates more consistently, he will only help his cause. Tyreke has tapered off dramatically after his all-world rookie campaign for various reasons, and has little chance of recovering without a change of scenery and with the ball in his hands more often. Aside from being a superstar for my roommate’s NBA 2k team, Fredette’s overall lack of effectiveness thus far has to really make one appreciate the way in which Stephen Curry has been able to translate that style of play from college to the pros. Finally, the acquisition the versatile weapon James Johnson goes to show that the Kings to care a little bit about defense, but I’m unsure that he will be enough to elevate them on that end of the floor.
The Kings stole a game from us last season mounted on the shoulders of a 31 point scoring outburst from Marcus Thornton. Personally I don’t expect us to give up 31 points to Marcus Thornton very often, and would be surprised if the Kings steal a game from us this coming season. Besides the mammoth Cousins, who possesses the agility to beast on Marc and the size to devour Zach, our Grizzlies’ roster matches up pretty favorably against Sacramento. With the Kings’ glut of undersized guards, Tony Allen and Mike Conley enjoy a rare backcourt matchup where they do not face a collective size disadvantage. And if Tyreke’s at the 3, Rudy should be able to elevate that jumper over him all day. System-wise, I’m usually fearful of teams with guys that can shoot the three, but these fears are related to teams that get their guys moving without the ball. The Kings shooters largely require the ball in their hands to be effective, and I trust our defenders in man to man situations. Our depth should also bode well for us against this opponent, securing us the leg up in just about every facet of the matchup. In short, barring something stratospheric, the Kings will be punching their ticket for the Shabazz Muhammad sweepstakes next summer, and there is no excuse for us to lose to them.