We inch closer to the beginning of another regular season of Sacramento Kings basketball – and thankfully, the first in many years where we’re sure there will be more seasons after this one.
This season will begin with many storylines still to be written—and here at A Royal Pain, you’ll get those storylines answered before they’ve even been fully written.
Here are my five bold predictions for the Kings season.
1. Isaiah Thomas will maintain the starting PG role – and will average north of 7 assists per game
The Kings point guard battle will be the most entertaining subplot to watch all season. On one hand, you have Greivis Vasquez, the most unselfish player to wear a Kings jersey since Doug Christie. He’s got Isaiah beat in size, passing skills, passing instincts and general basketball IQ. Sacramento finally has a player who’s first, second and third instinct offensively is to assist.
That said, the person who will most benefit from Vasquez as a teammate is Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas has Vasquez beat as a scorer, as a shooter and as a defender. He doesn’t have the passing instincts, but he’s much more a complete player. And as we’ve learned over the past three years, you can’t ever count the Pizza Guy out. He’s got a work ethic to beat out the most of the rest of the team combined.
Mike Malone is reshaping the Kings battle plans top-to-bottom, and DeMarcus Cousins said last week that this was the first offense he’s ever actually been in.
This will help Thomas out as much as anyone. Isaiah may beat Vasquez as a scorer and defender, but he’ll have an offensive system to control. He’ll have to run it with the knowledge that if he doesn’t move the ball effectively and with gusto, Vasquez is a timeout away from replacing him. Isaiah has the skills to be an above-average floor general, and all this will be the year he proves it.
The Kings needed an unselfish player like Vasquez to jumpstart the transition into a new, unselfish era of basketball. No one will benefit more from it then Thomas.
2. By the All-Star Break, Ben McLemore will be the starting SG
After a rough Summer League in which he struggled to score, this article looked more and more prevalent by the day.
Skip forward to preseason, where McLemore is playing well averaging 10 points on 43 percent shooting and 50 percent from three. It isn’t just the numbers (which mean minimal in preseason to begin with)—it’s the absolute visible improvement from just a few months ago.
McLemore is the future of the Kings at the shooting guard position, and will get as many minutes as he deserves. As long as he continues to work hard for Coach Malone in practice he’ll be one of the first players off the bench.
When he passes Marcus Thornton defensively is when one should expect him to snag the starter minutes. Thornton has never been a good defender, and while Malone will hopefully have some positive influence there, McLemore has higher defensive potential with his athleticism, length and desire.
Expect the improvement to trend up, up and up for McLemore until he snags away the starting shooting guard job around February.
3. The Kings will make multiple mid-season trades
Warning: Copious use of ESPN’s Trade Machine was used in the creation of these next paragraphs.
Put all your chips in on Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro making multiple trades this season, as in three or more.
John Salmons has potential valuable as a (nearly) expiring contract, and the team will need to clear the logjam at the Power Forward position when Chuck Hayes comes back – either Jason Thompson or Patrick Patterson (expiring next summer) could go without much surprise.
Jimmer Fredette should remain on the trade market until one of two things happens – A., he proves to Mike Malone that he deserves a strong role in the rotation, or B. someone coughs up enough for him in a trade thinking they can make him fit a strong role in their rotation.
And one dark horse possible departure – Marcus Thornton (see prediction No.2). Thornton was a nice sparkplug off the bench for Sacramento last year, but if the Kings want to go to McLemore… doesn’t it make sense to try and find a taker for Thornton for help at the other wing position?
Of course, Thornton’s contract (around $16.7 over the next two years) isn’t pretty, and that might negate any possible deals. But come February, what if some team fighting for the Playoffs finds they need another scorer who can create his own shot and shoot the longball?
Chicago, Oklahoma City and Memphis all come to mind, although both Oklahoma City and Memphis are stuffed to the brim with expensive contracts and no immediate swaps come to mind. Chicago, though… who says no to a Tony Snell, Kirk Hinrich, DJ White and a 2nd round pick for Thornton swap?
Or how about this total shot-in-the-dark: Kings send Thornton and Salmons (or Jason Thompson, if they require more talent) to the Pacers for Danny Granger. Granger is expiring, but he’s a legit SF with legit scoring skills, and Thornton gives the Pacers a scoring SG to play next to star Paul George.
Aside from DeMarcus and McLemore, no King is safe from the trading block this season. I expected more offseason swaps by D’Alessandro, but they’re coming this season.
4. DeMarcus Cousins will show large improvement, both on and off the court
This is a prediction Kings fans have been making for the past three seasons, and while Cousins has improved on the court each season, he’s never fully taken advantage of his skills and become the All-Star player he can be.
This will be the season where Cousins is recognized more for his play than for his off-the-court antics.
This is the hardest prediction to back up with facts, rather than gut instincts, but consider me fully on the Mike Malone coaching bandwagon. Malone will instill an offensive and defensive game plan, as well as a new standard for the team and his superstar center.
We won’t know for sure that Cousins can be the team leader he and Malone both want him to be until he already is that leader. But Malone comes in preaching responsibility in all aspects of the basketball game. His predecessors had preached the same, but none since Rick Adelman have really gotten his team to buy into the team mindset. Malone will be the coach that makes good on his words.
Cousins has the full support of the new organization and his new coach. He’s shown massive improvement in the preseason, and needs to continue it into the regular season. His post-game, shot selection and defensive tenacity have all improved dramatically—and this will be the season where he maintains his growth.
An All-Star appearance may not be likely, yet, but this will be the season he’s in the conversation. This will be the season where he becomes the future All-Star.
5. Not a chance at the Playoffs
Not exactly a bold prediction, but it should be said.
The Kings won’t sniff the playoffs, not in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. Honestly, while it’s hard to predict the Kings will be the worst team in the West… you can make the case for every team in the West to be better than Sacramento.
My playoff picks are Oklahoma City, Memphis, San Antonio, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets – in that order.
That said, the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazer both have the talent. The Los Angeles Lakers will be out of the playoff hunt come March, but they’ve still got Kobe Bryant. The Denver Nuggets aren’t the talent they were last year, but they’re certainly not a terrible team.
The West is just deep in talent – and not just deep, but lacking a really bad team. When it comes down to it, the Kings, the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz are probably the worst teams in the conference… and you can make at least a small argument that the Suns and Jazz could both end with better records then the Kings.
All the tankers (Philadelphia, Orlando, Boston, Toronto, Charlotte) are really out East. In the crazy deep West, Playoffs are in no way a possibility even for the most optimistic Kings fan. What really matters this season is that Cousins shows sustained improvement in every aspect of the game, and Mike Malone gets the team to buy into his system and fight hard in every contest. The record doesn’t really matter after that.