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Two seasons ago, the Sacramento Kings won just 17 games. The Kings were the worst franchise in the sport. Besides Kevin Martin, there was little to know young talent on the roster that had shown promise and the coaching situation was far from stable.
But right now, the Sacramento Kings are building something. The Kings are headed in the right direction. And that’s because of their dreadful performance in the 2008-2009 season. Though they did not win the lottery, the Kings did receive the fourth overall pick in the draft and with that pick, they drafted guard Tyreke Evans. Sacramento was given a similar prize this summer when they landed the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, which they used on big man DeMarcus Cousins.
Thanks to those two potential franchise cornerstones, things are looking up in Sacramento. That being said, there is one question that must be answered before placing the Kings no the fast track that the Thunder took last season is figuring out how to build a successful team around Tyreke.
Evans is a bit of an odd player to understand at this point. When you look at the Kings, you see some young and up-and-coming talent that should come together as a playoff level squad if they all develop correctly. Evans is the best player on the team and is already one of the best in the league but figuring out what kind of superstar or solid #2 option is the kind of player to pair him with. Though the sample size was small, Evans did not produce well with Kevin Martin as his backcourt mate.
Martin is one of the NBA’s most efficient scorers and seemed like a perfect fit on paper to be a high volume spot-up shooter with Evans creating looks for him. But the relationship didn’t exist and Evans finished off his rookie campaign averaging 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game playing more of an off guard role with Beno Udrih playing point guard.
Rookie DeMarcus Cousins is the newest experimental piece the Kings are hoping will fit in seamlessly with Evens. Cousins has some issues with his attitude and is not always motivated but a fantastic low post scorer that has a bevy of moves on the block. His touch around the basket is tops in the rookie class and thats a big reason why he will likely be the top scoring rookie in the league. Additionally, Cousins was a great rebounder in college and should be the same with the Kings.
The question now becomes whether or not Evans can take advantage of Cousins on the block, which means forfeiting possessions that he would likely use to get to the rim. There is reason to believe that Evans will be able to make that sacrifice. Last season, Carl Landry had the 13th highest usage percentage among power forwards and Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes were both in the top 20 for usage percentage at the center position. Cousins is the most talented and will likely be the most efficient of this group and if Evans can distribute possessions evenly between himself and Cousins, the Kings offense should improve in efficiency after finishing 21st in that category last season.
If that holds up, then the Kings may have found themselves one of the more promising young duo’s in the league during their last two drafts and the talent around them is very promising, producing yet another similarity between Sacramento and the Thunder.
Promising young forward Omri Casspi looked to be a solid 3/D player during his rookie campaign last season. Casspi was exposed to the riggers of a long NBA season for the first time in his life and that effected him down the stretch, where his numbers, specifically offensively, declined. That being said, he finished the year with a 37% success rate from deep and was a hard worker on the defensive end, earning him a 97% defensive multiplier.
Casspi will likely take on a reserve role this season as the Kings sixth man so that Donte Greene can start at small forward. Greene has the potential to be one of the league’s best defensive players as he has very unique height for the small forward position at six-foot-11. Greene has to learn how to defend at this level but the physical attributes he has makes him very different than every other three in the league. Greene also showed the ability to hit the outside shot, stroking three’s at a 38% clip last season. With Greene and Casspi pairing up at small forward, the Kings have a steady dose of length, defense, athleticism and outside shooting to throw at opposing wings.
28-year old Beno Udrih had a career year in 2009-10 and his performance most likely wasn’t a fluke. With Tyreke Evans playing alongside him, Udrih was able to pick and his spots and defenses were often caught off guard when the six-foot-three came into the lane instead of Evans. Udrih is an above average mid-range shooter that hit 44% of his 16-23 foot jumpers last season. When Evans isn’t running the pick and roll with Cousins, Udrih will be, which creates a totally different dynamic. Evans’ goal when running the pick and roll is to create space in the lane so that he can attack the rim and draw fouls. For Udrih, its to either dish the ball to the cutting big man or to pull-up from the mid-range, where he was very effective last season. With Evans moving down to shooting guard permanently this season, Udrih should thrive again in an on/off-guard role.
Spelling Udrih and Evans at either guard spot will mainly be Francisco Garcia, who played only 25 games last season because of a broken arm. Garcia has some ball-handling skills, so Evans can still play off the ball when Garcia comes in, but when Evans drives, Garcia presents a solid three-point option on the kick. Garcia shot 39% from three last season and 40% the season before.
And aside from Cousins, the Kings have several effective low-post options. Jason Thompson is a face-up big man that could pair well with Cousins, who prefers to do his work on the block. Thompson shot 39% from 16-23 feet last season at the age of 24, Thompson still has some room to grow as an interior scorer. Undersized labor man Carl Landry will likely continue to play highly efficient and underrated basketball for the Kings this season. Despite being just six-foot-nine, Landry has a great feel for the game, specifically when under the basket, and showed great touch from the mid-range during his time with the Kings last year. Landry shot 4.8 shots per game from 16-23 feet and converted them at an above average rate (44%).
Additionally, anything the Kings get from rookie Hassan Whiteside, a young, immature, shot-blocker that has a lot of room to grow, is a plus and they still have veteran Samuel Dalembert, who will miss the first six weeks of the season with a groin stain. When he returns, Dalembert will continue to be a great rebounder and shot block (though he led the league in goaltends last season).
The Kings have a pair of potential superstars in Evans and Cousins and a group of players around them that form a team with a lot of success in its future. Their climb to the post-season will not be as rapid as Oklahoma City’s but with another solid first round draft choice and with only $16.6 million on the books for next season, the Kings are a couple of acquisitions away from vaulting into the post-season.
I think Cousins has a shot to be the best player out of this draft class in 10 years (outside of Wall). There’s something about him that, despite his character issues, makes me think he has this gig down. The Kings did end up drafting another center later in this draft and they traded for Samuel Dalembert’s contract a week or so ago, but I think at least one of those guys is going to be traded before the season starts or at the deadline. Cousins has the size, the footwork and ability around the basket to make a lot of noise in the NBA and I think he will. Cousons will likely be the top scoring rookie this season and will be close to the top in rebounding as well. Evans was excellent during his rookie campaign with the Kings, playing well enough to run away with the Rookie of the Year Award despite a late charge from Stephen Curry. Tyreke averaged 20 points, six assists and five rebounds a game last season while shooting 46% from the field. This was the first time since LeBron James’ rookie campaign that a first year player averaged 20/5/5.
Tyreke spent most of his time on offense in isolation sets. He went one-on-one with his man 534 times last season, which was 34% of his plays according to Synergy Sports Technology. He scored .86 points per possession, a top 100 mark in league, which is pretty good considering he did not have an effective jumpshot and almost all of his points came at the rim. In fact, Evans averaged over eight attempts per game at the rim, which is more than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade averaged.
The six-foot-six point guard also took advantage of his height against the league’s smaller guards by taking the ball into the post. Though it was not used nearly as much as it should have, Evans posted up 81 times last season and scored .99 points per possession, a top 25 rank in the league.
On the other end of the floor, Evans was very advanced for a 19-year old. Evans routinely had the assignment of defending the other team’s best player. He drew top level point guards like Gilbert Arenas and Chris Paul while also having to spend time on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. In one-on-one situations, Evans only allowed .68 points per possession, the 25th best mark in the league while holding the opposition to 31% shooting.
And this summer, Evans, who shot just 32% from 15-23 feet last season and 26% from three, has worked extremely hard to recover the jumpshot that was actually his most effective weapon in high school. With a jumper that falls 40% of the time, paired with his deadly combination of size, strength and quickness that allow him to dominate a game at the rim, Evans could be one of the top five scorers in the entire league.
One would have to figure that Evans will be the go-to offensive option last season once again. Evans was paired with one of the more efficient and high volume scorers in the league for the first part of last season but his play and need to control the basketball for the majority of a game ended up forcing Kevin Martin out of town. So it seems as if making him a secondary guy isn’t an option, and, to be honest, if that jumper is working, it’d be a waste of his talent to put him in the backseat.
He’ll have help, though. Fifth overall pick DeMarcus Cousins seems like he will turn into a gifted offensive force in the lowpost either at the center or power forward spot. Guard Beno Udrih will likely start alongside Evans, making him a shooting guard on defense and a point guard on offense while Udrih flips between the two spots throughout the game. Omri Casspi and Donte Greene can both fill it up from the wing for stretches.
Power forwards Jason Thompson and Carl Landry will provide two different dynamics at the four spot. Landry will bring toughness and rebounding with his undersized frame while Thompson can use his length and diverse skillset to score the basketball at a good rate. And off-season addition Samuel Dalembert will provide a defensive presence in the paint with his shot blocking and rebounding and will pave the way for the rookie Cousins.
The Kings aren’t a title contender just yet. Another back-up guard that can fill it up from the perimeter off the bench would be preferred and Cousins and Thompson will need a year or two to be completely developed. But they have quite the starting point with Evans.
Tyreke, in a game that has shifted to the quick and athletic point guards, is kind of a unique breed. Instead of being the next Chris Paul or similar to John Wall, Evans has the height of Kobe Bryant, the explosiveness of Dwyane Wade and the relentless need to attack the rim of Lebron. He’s a special breed, this Evans kid, and he’s going to be very fun to watch this upcoming season.
- Tyreke Evans will average 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists for the second straight season.
- DeMarcus Cousins will flirt with the 20 point per game mark for the majority of the season.
- Omri Casspi will shoot 40% from three-point range this season.
- Samuel Dalembert will be dealt to a contender at some point during the season for a second round pick and a valuable young role player.