The Sacramento Kings are Back: Preseason Game One Outlook


On April 15, 2015, the Sacramento Kings punctuated its turbulent 2014-15 NBA regular season, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in Staples Center, by a score of 122 to 99.

From that game, the team’s starting point guard, Ray McCallum, is gone–traded to San Antonio in early July. From that game, starting center Jason Thompson, starting power forward Carl Landry and starting shooting guard Nik Stauskas, too, are gone–all dealt to Philadelphia in a payroll-cutting, asset-sacrificing salary dump that afforded newly-appointed VP of Basketball Operations Vlade Divac the funds to attain much-needed free agent reinforcements.

From that game, leading bench scorer Derrick Williams and reserve center Ryan Hollins are gone, as is Andre Miller, the 39-year-old floor facilitator acquired last February to help facilitate the transition for new head coach George Karl.

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Of the nine active Sacramento players from that game 173 days ago, seven are gone.

The point is this: the Kings, its roster, its staff and its fans have been subjected to a lot of “stuff” since that game, including (but certainly not limited to) devastating trade rumors, franchise-endangering relational rumors, mean people in the mediamean people in Las Vegas, and two Republican Presidential primary debates. Which was the unequivocal worst? You decide.

There’s been good stuff, too, including the drafting of Willie Cauley-Stein, the signing of Rajon Rondo, of Marco Belinelli and of Kosta Koufos, the re-signing of Omri Casspi, and the continued progress of the Golden 1 Center, among others.

Whether you agree or disagree with some or all of Sacramento’s offseason actions, most all of us have looked forward to this date or, at the very least, what it represents: Sacramento Kings basketball is back.

At 7 p.m. tonight, in Portland’s Moda Center, the visiting Kings commence the first of six preseason games–this one against the Trail Blazers, a franchise that has seen its own share of turnover recently.

Here’s what you should watch for:

The Rotation

New players means new rotations and player combinations, in which some guys play together, some don’t, and some guys’ minutes are staggered, depending on certain situational demands.

For the Kings, this is most evident at the forward and center positions, where Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler, Quincy Acy and Duje Dukan join an existing group of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi and, to a lesser extent, Eric Moreland.

Who plays together? For how long do they play together? How does an ever-increasing “small ball” inclination affect certain rotations? Depending on how often Rudy Gay plays as a power forward, we may get a glimpse into the latter.

In a media session video provided by ABC10, the head coach offered some context.

“I mean, I think everybody’s gonna get their opportunity. I think everybody knows I would like to play Rudy some at four. But, what’s our best team? I don’t know,” Karl said. “If our best team is Kosta and Cuz and bringing Willie off the bench or if my best team is Willie starting and Kosta leading the team off the bench, I don’t know. I like to play a strong hand from the bench, I think it’s important.”

Cousins more or less echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“You won’t know what happens until game one. Preseason it’s gonna be different lineups. I mean, you just never know,” Cousins said. “The coaches are looking at different looks, different lineups, different scenarios for games, situations where we wanna have all shooters around or we may wanna go big, we may wanna be fast, it’s different scenarios.”

This game cannot accurately forecast player combinations for the entire upcoming season, but it could still hint at Karl and his staff’s thinking.

It starts with the starters: Cousins and Gay are guarantees. Rondo and McLemore are probabilities. From there, between Koufos and Cauley-Stein, who sees the court first? Where does that place Cousins? Does Rudy start at the four, opening a starting spot for Casspi or Belinelli?

This game won’t give us many answers. That’s fine. Hopefully it gives us a hint at one or two.

Ben McLemore

In year two, having played in and started 82 of 82 regular season games, Ben McLemore’s statistics underwent a giant jump as an NBA sophomore.


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Now, based on reports from Sacramento’s training camp, Ben appears primed to make another jump.

“Potential” is a term often tagged to the über-athletic, and has a way of damaging a player’s reputation instead of ideally optimizing it. You’re judged on what you could be, not what you are, as you fall victim to unfair, perhaps unrealistic expectations.

For better or worse, Ben fits this category. Other categories he fits? Hard-working, self-sacrificing, good shooting, and still growing.

Keep an eye on Ben McLemore tonight.

Cousins’ Role

Under Mike Malone and the head coaches before him, DeMarcus Cousins functioned primarily as a traditional, back-to-the-basket post-up center who punished an opponent’s lone defender and passed out of double teams to find open shooters. He played as an exception to the big men of today’s NBA, in offenses that rarely ran as a result.

So, when Karl was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings, legitimate concerns over Cousins’ style of play in Karl’s style of offense arose, and seemed to spark the resulting toxicity in their relationship that has since cooled from what was a boil. That was then. The partnership has since undergone a blissful renaissance, as has Cousins’ reported game.

Historically, 6-foot 11-inch, 270-pound centers don’t take threes, and rarely have they looked “great” doing it. The pessimist would inform you of Cousins’ career 19 percent three-point percentage, reminding you how Jason Thompson came into training camp last year having allegedly “added a three-point shot to his game.”

The optimist would counter with something like “yeah, but this is DEMARCUS COUSINS,” pointing to his illustrious membership in a club of only three:

At this point, after watching those two missed threes, the pessimist has the upper hand. Let’s see what Cousins can do tonight.

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Next: Is Willie Cauley-Stein Out Of Shape?