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Sacramento Kings: Why The Team Still Can’t Win
- Updated: February 14, 2014
To me, the Sacramento Kings are the single most intriguing team in the NBA. On paper, the Kings have a very solid core in DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Isaiah Thomas. While we all know that games are not played on paper, I’m still perplexed every time I check the Western Conference standings and see the Kings near the basement.
Heading into the All-Star break, the Kings are just 18-35, tied with the Lakers for the worst record in the conference. So how exactly are the Kings, with Cousins, Thomas, and Gay all playing the best basketball of their careers, tied with a team that can barely field a proper rotation on most nights?
For starters, the Kings have statistically the toughest schedule in the entire league. Their .534 opponent winning percentage bests any other team in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference. The scheduling disparity doesn’t even come close to telling the whole story though. After all, the Utah Jazz have the second-toughest schedule
in the league and despite having a clearly inferior roster, the Jazz are still a game and a half up on the Kings.
Though maybe therein lays the problem with our perception of the Kings, maybe they are the ones with an inferior roster. While looking at some advanced statistics for the Kings, I whole-heartedly expected to find out that neither Cousins nor Thomas were as good as their box score numbers suggest because of defensive shortcomings.
In the case of Cousins, I could not have been more wrong in my assumption. The fourth year man out of Kentucky has by far the best defensive rating on the team, with his 102 points allowed per 100 possessions a full 3 points better than the Kings’ next best defender. In addition, DeMarcus’ 2.3 defensive wins more than doubles up the next-best King in that category. As for Thomas, his defensive numbers do not by any means indicate he’s a stalwart, but at the same time they don’t label him a liability.
So we’re still pretty far from any real answers. Cousins, Gay, and Thomas clearly are not the problem. In fact, five out of the eight lineups that feature the Kings’ “Big 3”, if you will, are actually outscoring opponents overall this season. The numbers say that the culprit is basically every King not named Isaiah, Rudy, or DeMarcus.
Derrick Williams, Jason Thompson, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette, Ray McCallum, Ben McLemore, Marcus Thornton, and Grevis Vasquez all allow North of 110 points per possession; or in other words, eight points more than Cousins. Ultimately, what is handicapping the Kings is that more often than not when one of their Big 3 takes a seat, they are forced to play 2-3 dreadful defenders.
If there had to be one poster child for the Kings’ struggles, it would undoubtedly have to be Ben McLemore. Not only is the rookie guard struggling mightily on the defensive end (second worst defensive rating on the team), he is failing to make up for it in the slightest offensively.
McLemore is shooting a putrid 36% from the floor in his rookie campaign, as well as just 33% from deep. While I do believe that McLemore will eventually live up to where he was drafted, it had to be very disappointing for Kings’ fans to see a guy who was billed as an explosive offensive talent struggle on that end of the floor.
If the Kings ever want to leave the basement of the Western Conference, they are going to need to make-over the bottom half of their roster. I truly believe that in time, a core of Gay, Thomas, and Cousins can be a playoff team. What the Kings need to start doing is surrounding that core with defensive-minded guys instead of guys that are always looking for their shot first. Go take a look thru the Kings’ roster yourself; almost every single one of their second-tier players are shoot first, pass second, defense third. That simply will never ever be a winning formula in the NBA and in that sense; the Kings really do have an inferior roster.