Enemy: Sacramento Kings
3SOB Forecast*: 32-50
What’s the story in Sacramento?
The continued support of the Sacramento Kings franchise falls nowhere short of astounding. After a long-standing battle between the city of Sacramento — spearheaded by its former-NBA player mayor Kevin Johnson — and the ever-incompetent Maloof brothers, the fan base won the right to keep the Kings at home yet again.
Now for all their unbridled loyalty, I say it’s about time the fine people of Sacramento are rewarded with something of substance to cheer for, rather than this made-for-TV drama. Don’t you think?
The issue reigning supreme over the Kings organization has simply been one of accountability. Fixing the issue, however, is not so simple. Beginning with the Maloofs, lack of accountability has been a theme trickling down the ladder, and it shows all the way to the sloppy product that has been trotted out on the court over the last few years. With the sale of the team to its new majority owner, Silicon Valley mogul Vivek Ranadivé, the Kings cleaned house with aspirations of setting out on a better course.
With the turnover in the authority ranks, the new figureheads of the operation are Denver Nuggets executive Pete D’Alessandro, who will serve as the general manager, and Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone, who has been long overdue for his title of head coach. D’Alessandro beat out our own Chris Wallace, who reportedly interviewed three times with Sacramento for the gig. Malone, a Queens, New York native like myself, intends to introduce a deep-seated defensive culture to the Kings, and will draw from his assistant coaching experience under the likes of Jeff Van Gundy, Monty Williams, Mike Brown, and Mark Jackson, to do so.
With all the upheaval going on up above, naturally curiosity looms over the implications for standout, but troubling big man, DeMarcus Cousins. The team has already cut ties with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans, which leads one to wonder how far they will go in their house cleaning. With four first round picks from the 2010 NBA Draft residing on the roster, in other words rookie scale contracts that are set to expire, there will certainly be some serious decisions about the future direction of the franchise to be made sooner than later. The powers that be have openly expressed their commitment to building around Cousins, and appear to be good for their word thus far, but a lot can change between now and next summer.
Who are they cooking with?
The home improvements of the roster for the Kings this off-season began with the shocking convenience of Ben McLemore falling their way with the seventh pick in the draft. With this year’s draft being a notoriously uncharacteristic crapshoot at the top of the order, it is entirely possible that McLemore ends up being the guy three years from now that the six teams that picked prior say to themselves, “man, we let that guy slip through our fingertips?” He was not quite Wroten-bad in the Las Vegas Summer League, but for a guy with the reputation of being a knockdown jump-shooter, 19.4% from the arc is not encouraging. One thing that is for sure, though, after watching, is that he is lacking in all things conscience — which in all might not be an entirely bad thing for a confidence player who is bound to take his share of licks as he transitions to the pros. Shaking the demons, he fought through the woes to churn out two dominant performances of 26 and 27 points, respectively.
McLemore will add firepower, but what the team is sorely in need of is that defensive makeover that Malone is looking to bring. They were second to the dead-last Charlotte Bobcats in terms of defensive efficiency last season, allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions. Another step in the defensive direction was the addition of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who is capable of clamping down on just about any threats on the wing, and even some smaller fours.
The other main summer additions, Greivis Vasquez and Carl Landry, jump back to providing more of an impact on the offensive side of the ball, but will be more looked to as a source of stabilizing veteran presence than anything else. Vasquez is young in terms of NBA experience, but is 26 years old with four years of college ball behind him, and possesses some of the most underrated play-making abilities in the game, highlighted by his top five assist ratio among starting point guards last season. When he was in Memphis, he was noted for his sensational pick-and-pop chemistry with Darrell Arthur, and for reference, Landry is even better from fifteen feet out.
The new additions round out the roster in a way that makes if feel complete, and if the young guns buy into Malone’s message, this team just may surprise us, moving quicker on the road to respectability than we all think.
How do the good guys stack up?
The Kings traded combo guard Tyreke Evans over the summer and got surprising value back with former Grizz Greivis Vasquez back. Vasquez should force Isaiah Thomas to the bench where he could be much more effective. Conley however has had little trouble with his former teammate holding Vasquez to a mere 26.1% from the field in four games last season. Marcus Thornton will be joined by McLemore to give the Kings more firepower at SG but the Grizzlies perimeter defense is top notch. Cousins size and speed can give Gasol trouble and have Jason Thompson to defend Z-Bo but size becomes an issue off the bench. The Kings should be improved this season but not enough to take more than a single game against the Grizzlies as long as Memphis keeps their mental focus.
Sacramento was an absolute whirlwind of possibilities throughout last season — and few of those potential outcomes were particularly positive. From the failed bid to move them to Seattle to the uncertain future of DeMarcus Cousins to the overall ineptness of the Maloof Bros. being exposed completely, once and for all — this was not a team with high hopes. However, despite all of that, they did improve over the summer in my opinion.
Greivis Vasquez, while not as good as his remaining (overly wistful) fans in Memphis, nor his gaudy numbers for the Hornets last season would have you believe, he’s certainly an upgrade at the point, which has been a revolving door of inconsistency ever since Mike Bibby went into Witness Protection and they decided Tyreke Evans needed to play off the ball. DMC is an absolute force of nature during the one-third of games that he seems to have his head screwed on correctly. If anyone tells you that they’d rather have their big man than DMC, then they’d better have a guy like Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, or possibly Andre Drummond on their squad. Otherwise, they’re just being hopeful that he’ll never get things figured out. I’m a marginal Ben McLemore fan — and not just for the homophonous rapper jokes I’ll be able to include during commentary now.
So, the Kings are improved….but unless DMC just goes into Unstoppable Beast Mode 9000, they probably shouldn’t win any of the three games between these two teams. They simply don’t have the talent or the chemistry yet to challenge a Grizzlies squad that made the WCF last summer. The matchup of Tony Allen on the rookie McLemore should be fun for all, as will the PG matchup of former teammates and of course the titanic clash between big men. I expect these games to be fun for three quarters, and then for Memphis to ultimately pull away in the final stanza each time.
Jonathan Santiago (of Cowbell Kingdom):
The Sacramento Kings have made some minor changes since they last met the Memphis Grizzlies last year. However, I don’t see them as changes that make them a better team than the Grizzlies this year. As an astutely-coached defensive team, the Grizzlies have always been able to muck up the Kings’ offense in past match-ups. That likely will happen again this year, even with new head coach David Joerger at the helm.
When and Where do they square off?
November 17th: 5:00PM at Sleep Train Arena
January 17th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
January 29th: 9:00PM at Sleep Train Arena
For more Kings content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Cowbell Kingdom.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.