It’s hard to remember the last time a preseason game drummed up this much excitement. After being put through the ringer for years — especially this summer — Sacramento Kings fans were just grateful they had a team to send into Oracle Arena on Monday. Once the ball was tipped, it became just another preseason-quality game. The Kings looked more polished with their new coaching staff, but of course there were plenty of negatives to improve upon. The Golden State Warriors took over late and coasted to a 94-81 victory, but Kings basketball is back in Sac and that was enough Monday.
SO, WHAT’S NEW? – It was immediately easy to see some great signs from the new-look Kings roster and coaching staff. Sacramento showed a solid commitment on the defensive end, especially in the half court. Player movement just seemed to have purpose — rotations and pick-and-roll coverage was better than fans have grown accustomed to seeing. On offense, execution was understandably subpar, but the ball moved. It was rare to see any isolation plays, as it seemed clear that a point of emphasis for the new staff was making the extra pass to create better scoring opportunities.
COUSINS AS THE FRANCHISE PLAYER – DeMarcus Cousins (23 MIN, 9 PTS, 2-10 FG, 4 REB, 1 AST, 5 TO, 2 STL, 2 BLK, 5 PF) enjoyed an offseason of praise, support and received a contract extension that makes him the Kings clear primetime player. To his credit, he looks to be in great shape — his body is trim and toned, and he moved really well up and down the court. He also maintained his poise despite early foul trouble and some overly aggressive play from the Warriors defense. On the down side, Cousins still has trouble creating his own shot in the post. He was thwarted countless times by Andrew Bogut and other GSW post defenders. As a result, he was forced into some ugly fadeaway shots. His athleticism and overall skill level will always give him an edge, but the development of some post moves would really take him to the next level.
ISAIAH GETS A LEG UP – With Greivis Vasquez resting his ankle (not a serious concern), Isaiah Thomas (30 MIN, 15 PTS, 6-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 6 AST, 3 REB, 6 TO, 1 STL) was given the start at point guard. The fan favorite immediately took to making that lineup spot his permanently. Thomas pushed the ball beautifully in the first half, making two pinpoint dishes for easy baskets on fast breaks. In the second half, Thomas looked for his offense a little more, and for the most part he was successful. In the end, it was a classic IT performance — plenty of energy and multiple highlights — and it will be on Vasquez to match it whenever he gets to take the floor.
KINGS ROOK SHINES – Ben McLemore struggled for most of the Las Vegas Summer League, most likely because he was forced to be the No. 1 option on a team full of NBA wannabes. Monday, McLemore (24 MIN, 13 PTS, 4-8 FG, 3-6 3FG, 3 REB, 4 TO, 2 STL, 2 BLK) got his first action playing with legitimate teammates, and the first-round pick looked awesome. From the jump, it was clear McLemore has a level of athleticism that puts him with the NBA’s elite. His hustle helped him create turnovers defensively. To complement that, McLemore showed tremendous skill coming off screens, catching and shooting. There were sloppy moments where he got out of control — that’s to be expected for a rookie. But the foundation is there for a really good player, and one who should contribute this season.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – The Kings new defensive mindset was no more evident than in Jason Thompson (27 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-6 FG, 9 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL). The Kings veteran got the start and really excelled defensively, playing great pick-and-roll defense and reading multiple Warriors interior passes. He’ll continue to be the glue for Sacramento, whether he starts or comes off the bench … Ray McCallum (18 MIN, 7 PTS, 2-6 FG, 5 AST, 2 REB, 1 TO, 2 STL) probably isn’t ready for minutes in a regular season game, but he held his own against former King and defensive pest Toney Douglas. McCallum is clearly not a scorer, but he can handle the ball, play stout defense and run some offense. Good project … John Salmons (23 MIN, 0 PTS, 0-5 FG, 3 AST, 3 REB) started at small forward and provided his typical uninspiring play. A zebra can’t change his stripes — expecting Salmons to play with some newfound energy is foolish. Hopefully he at least serves as a reliable veteran for steady, mistake-free basketball … Jimmer Fredette and Carl Landry joined Vasquez among Kings who didn’t play … The Kings play again Thursday against the Lakers in Las Vegas.