Another NBA season will soon be in the books. And with it, comes another disappointing performance by the Sacramento Kings. The Kings entered the season with a lot of positive momentum. DeMarcus Cousins emerged as a legitimate All-Star caliber player, and was looking to build off his previous season. The Kings had also signed point guard Darren Collison to help set the tone on the defensive end. The addition of rookie shooting guard Nik Stauskas, and the continued development of Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum also added to the excitement for the upcoming season.
Things started out well for the Kings, as they got off to a 9-5 start. Unfortunately, Cousins then had to miss significant time with viral meningitis. To say the Kings struggled without Cousins would be an understatement, and they slid to an 11-13 record. This slide was enough to get then Head Coach Michael Malone fired, sending the Kings into complete disarray. Fast forward six months and the Kings find themselves in a very similar position as last summer. New Head Coach George Karl will get his first off-season with the team, and will look to build around DeMarcus Cousins in a new higher tempo offense. After finishing with the third worst record in the West, the Kings clearly have some needs to address this off-season if they hope to compete in the ultra-competitive Western Conference next season.
Three point shooting was one of the biggest needs facing the Kings last off-season, and it remains one of their biggest weaknesses entering this off-season. Rookie shooting guard Nik Stauskas was unable to find much of a groove offensively, as he shot just 32 percent from three on the season. To be fair to Stauskas, he started shooting the ball better towards the end of the year, but as a whole, it was a lackluster rookie campaign. Despite his inconsistencies, second year guard Ben McLemore was able to build off his rather rocky rookie season and made improvements across the board in 2014-15.
As a team the Kings shot 34 percent from behind the arc, which ranks 21st in the league. To make matters worse they only made 5.6 per game, which ranks 28th in the NBA.
Spacing the floor and making threes is nearly essential for an effective offense, especially when your leading scorer is a center. The Kings must surround Cousins with shooters to help spread the floor. Too often teams would double and even triple team Cousins, forcing him into poor shots or turnovers. George Karl teams love to push the pace and shoot the three and it should be no different this upcoming season.
It seems as if every year the Kings have the same weaknesses, and this year was no different. The Kings seemed to be turning the corner under coach Malone, however the improvements they made on the defensive end reverted quickly after his firing. The Kings finished the season ranked 27th in defensive efficiency and allowed 105 points per game. You simply can’t compete in the West with that kind of defense, and the Kings need to improve as individuals and as a team. Cousins made great strides on the defensive end this season, as he increased both his block and steal totals. Despite these improvements, Cousins will never be an elite rim protector, something the Kings desperately need. The Kings finished 27th in the league in blocks per game, averaging a paltry four blocks.
Interior defense is not the only aspect of Sacramento’s defense that is lacking. Opponents shot 35 percent from behind the arc against Sacramento, making nearly nine per game. Darren Collison, who was viewed as a defensive upgrade, made little improvements to the Kings pitiful team defense. Ben McLemore did make some improvements on the defensive end, but was by no means a defensive stalwart. Sacramento’s guards need to improve on limiting opponents three pointers, but also need to stop opposing guards from getting into the paint. DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson averaged four and three fouls per game respectively. Having both your starting big men in foul trouble on a nightly basis can be devastating for a team, especially when their best player is the one fouling out. Playing good team defense is just as much about effort and communication as it is pure skill, and it will be important for the coaches to emphasis that this off-season.
The biggest need facing the Kings this off-season is something that they always seem to struggle with. From the ownership, to the front office, to the players, everyone needs to make sure they buy in and get on the same page. Kings fans rejoiced when the Maloofs finally sold the team just a few years ago. This change in ownership brought forth hope and stability for the future. Unfortunately, the Kings have already had three head coaches since Vivek Ranadive purchased the team. While many poor performances may be part of the reason for Malone’s firing as head coach, there were reports that the largest contributing factor was philosophical differences between Malone and General Manager Pete D’Alessandro. George Karl was then hired midseason to hopefully return the Kings to prominence. While there have yet to be any major disagreements, there has been some speculation that recently appointed VP of Basketball and Franchise operations, Vlade Divac, is the lead man for Sacramento’s front office.
Whoever the primary decision maker is has to ensure that everyone is on the same page, from ownership all the way down to the players. The Kings are in a crucial spot as a franchise as they have to surround superstar DeMarcus Cousins with enough talent to make a push for the playoffs before their window closes. With a proven winner in George Karl, and a superstar in DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings are in a position where they could make drastic improvements with a few good decisions. With a young core and the 6th pick in this years draft, the Kings will have penty of talent to compete for that elusive playoff spot. Addressing these needs through the draft and free agency, as well as improving on an individual level, the Kings could be in great position to put a winning team on the court as early as next season.
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