What the Kings should’ve done since 2011

The Sacramento Kings of 2016 are in shambles. They have five centers on their roster, a starting point guard facing domestic violence charges, a coaching carousel with five different head coaches in the last four years, and their star player DeMarcus Cousins is evidently alienated by it all. So what happened?

I believe, with a few tactful roster moves, they could’ve been challenging for a championship over the last three seasons, spearheaded by their big 3 of center DeMarcus Cousins, shooting guard Tyreke Evans, and point guard Jimmer Fredette. Obviously this article has the benefit of hindsight, but my proposals are not dissimilar to what the Kings actually did in the last five seasons, except I propose slight changes, and wiser choices from a front office and coaching perspective. Here they are:

Prior to the 2011-2012 season, the Sacramento Kings had built a promising roster.

DeMarcus Cousins had claimed All-Rookie First Team honours, averaging 14 points and 8.6 rebounds a game in a flashing of his immense and now-realised potential.

Ball-handling combo guard and reigning rookie of the year Tyreke Evans missed 25 games with injury, but still averaged 17.8 points, 5.6 assists, 4.8rebounds and 1.5 steals a game, serving as a great long-term sidekick to Cousins.

They had a hard-nosed rebounding machine in Carl Landry, who they acquired in 2010, who relieved Cousins of rebounding pressure and helped develop a hard-working culture, in the same mold of Horace Grant for the Shaq and Penny Magic.

They had a supporting cast of  savvy point guard Beno Udrih, 3 and D shooting guard Francisco Garcia, tough guy small forward in Andres Nocioni, big man  Jason Thompson, crowd favourite Israeli forward Omri Casspi, shooting center Spencer Hawes, and a recently drafted Hassan Whiteside, who would end up being a max contract worthy player.

They had a solid coach in  Paul Westphal.

The season went by, and they won just 24 games. The aforementioned supporting cast proved to be inadequate, so the team would look to find their starting point guard and small forward in the offseason.

THE HYPOTHETICAL:

The 2011 offseason

The 2011 NBA draft rolled around, and with the 7th pick in the draft, they could’ve chosen Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler, instead of taking Jimmer Fredette in a trade for the Bucks’ 10th pick.

However, let’s assume that the draft played out exactly as it did, as hindsight is a luxury.

I think a big reason why Fredette became a bust is because Isaiah Thomas was better in the NBA out of the gates. Taken with the 60th pick in the Fredette draft, Thomas played 25.2 minutes per game as opposed to Jimmer’s 18.6.

But Jimmer can play. In the ’13-’14 season, he averaged 19 points on 2.8 threes per 36 minutes, at a 47% clip from deep and overall, with a solid 15.8 PER. While he would’ve mostly been playing against secondary units that year, he has flashed his NBA potential before, and without Thomas in the way, I think his potential could’ve been realised.

I also believe Thomas caused the demise of Evans in Sac land, as his ball dominant style took the ball out of Evans’ hands. Furthermore, the trade of Landry for shooting guard Marcus Thornton further contributed to Evans’ decline in Cowbell Kingdom.

Without Thomas or Thornton, the big 3 of Cousins, Evans and Fredette are established. Cousins is the go-to option in the half court, Evans is a transition dynamo and reliable scorer, while Jimmer spaces the floor and provides some offensive spark (and jersey sales!). The head office would then look to surround their new Big 3 with defenders and hard-nosed veterans.

At this point they had a hole at the small forward spot. They needed a 3 and D defender, so in free agency they could’ve gotten Caron Butler, Wilson Chandler, Shane Battier, or Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Let’s assume that they nab Mike Dunleavy Jr, who fits perfectly as an elite shooter, great veteran presence, and solid defender, who would be attracted to the Kings for the starting job offering, the immense upside they have, and the amount of money they could throw at him.

’11-’12 season

The Kings place 6th in the Western Conference by winning 40 games in the 2011-2012 season, with Cousins and Evans dominating, while Fredette eventually finds his feet in the faster NBA.

They lose to the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, who have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and a healthy Andrew Bynum, but benefit hugely from the experience.

2012 offseason

With the 20th pick in the draft (which went to Denver in real-life) they could take Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, Draymond Green or Khris Middleton as their future at either forward spot, instead of taking Thomas Robinson with the 5th pick as they did in real life.

Let’s assume they take Jae Crowder (as no-one foresaw how good Draymond would become), who plays behind Dunleavy in the ’12-’13 season, but eventually usurps him as an elite defender and reliable shooter.

Having retained the previously mentioned supporting cast, and adding free agents to round out the rotation, the ’12-’13 Kings depth chart looks like this:

PG: J.Fredette, B.Udrih, other

SG: T.Evans, F.Garcia, other

SF: M.Dunleavy, J.Crowder, A.Nocioni

PF: C.Landry, J.Thompson, O.Casspi

C: D.Cousins, H.Whiteside, S.Hawes

The game plan on offense would be Evans bringing the ball up in transition, while Fredette sprints to the corners a la JJ Redick to get transition threes.

Once the opposition defence is set, immediately get the ball to “Boogie” Cousins in the high or low post, where he can both score and pass at will.

Evans cuts, while Landry sets screens for Fredette or Dunleavy to get wide open weak side shots.

The bench unit gives Udrih control of the ball, with a screen-heavy offense that fully maximises Thompson and Whiteside, while Garcia and Crowder space the floor.

Defensively, Cousins leads the way vocally, and the rest of the squad are smart and athletic enough to play solid team defense.

So, they have the guard and big man combo that championships seem to require (see Bryant, Shaq; Bryant, Gasol; Kidd, Nowitzki).

They have outstanding shooting from Fredette and Dunleavy, and a steadying presence in Landry.

They have a quality bench, especially with the strong development of Whiteside.

Thus, assuming that..

  • Cousins averages 25 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks a game
  • Evans averages 22 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 1.5 steals
  • Fredette averages 18 points, 6 assists a game
  • There is not a coaching carousel

..I believe this team could’ve become a top 5 team in the league challenging for a championship as soon as 2013, while being an uber fun team to watch:

Furthermore, none of their big 3 were over the age of 24 at that point, so they’d have over a decade to chase rings together, assuming they were all retained.

Agree? Disagree?

Let me know in the comments below, or tweet at me @notNBAgm

 

 

 

 

 

NBA season predictions: team standings

With most of the NBA rosters set at the time of writing, it’s time for NBA standings predictions. These can change with trades, injuries, locker-room cataclysms or other variables, but with the teams as they are now, this is how I see the 2016-2017 season playing out:

West:

  1. Grizzlies – yes, the Grizzlies. They went all-in on win-now, giving Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons huge contracts. They have the most stabile roster of the last few years (despite getting rid of strong coach Dave Joerger, which will be mitigated by their veteran leadership), and have the wing scorer they need in Parsons, with solid depth.
  2. Mavericks – Bogut and Barnes banish their former team to third spot. Dirk has a defensive center behind him once again, while Barnes, Wes Matthews and Deron Williams complement him beautifully. I still would’ve liked to see the whole league reject the Barnes and Bogut for Durant-cap-space trade, in an unprecedented act of trolling.
  3. Warriors – just as the Heat struggled early in their Big 3 era, so will the Warriors. There’s not enough ball for so many stars. They’ll figure it out and probably win the comp, but their standings won’t wow you, and non-Warriors fans will boo all year long.
  4. Spurs – they lose Tim Duncan to retirement and add Pau Gasol. A nice addition, but they lose Timmy’s defense. Like the Warriors, there might not be enough ball to go around, with Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Gasol and Tony Parker expecting the ball in their hands. Don’t be surprised if Pop works it out come postseason time
  5. Jazz – the biggest risers from last season. They added veterans in George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw to create a great environemnt .
  6. Clippers – this standing depends on the blake Griffin situation. If he is not traded, they will still compete, but without the cap space to sign a championship-worthy small forward, they sit at mid-tier.
  7. Pelicans – another riser from last season, the Pelicans have their top three guys established in MVP candidate Anthony Davis, reigning college player of the year in Buddy Hield, and a (hopefully) healthy Jrue Holiday. They have the defensive personnel and proven coach in Alvin Gentry to make the playoffs happen.
  8. Trail Blazers – a drop from last year, as they didn’t manage to boost their team much in the offseason. Evan Turner might complicate things as another ball handler. Nonetheless, the Blazers are well coached and have steady players all round.
  9. Timberwolves – just missing the playoffs, the up-and-coming Timberwolves will realise that they should’ve traded Ricky Rubio sooner, and given Karl Anthony Towns a break by playing him at the 4 next to a starter-worthy center (Nikola Pekovic for Tyson Chandler trade anyone?)
  10. Nuggets – the team with the most depth in the league miss the playoffs due to a lack of star power, but will have found a great starting five of Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and all-rookie first team and fun-to-watch Nikola Jokic, with starter quality players backing them up. Look for them to contend as soon as 2018.
  11. Rockets – they gave the reigns of the franchise to James Harden, who puts up nearly 40 points per game, but loses the MVP race due to a complete lack of defense in Mike D’Antoni’s system. They’ll be hella fun to watch though.
  12. Thunder – Russell Westbrook averages a triple double, but just like Harden, cannot will his team to the playoffs. With Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis improving, look for them to make the playoffs the following season if Westbrook re-signs.
  13. Suns – a higgledy-piggledy bunch of veterans and rawness, the Suns give minutes to Tyson Chandler and Eric Bledsoe, who would be better served on contending teams. Devin Booker averages 22 points per game, while Dragan Bender averages 12 minutes a game and turns into the next Jan Vesely.
  14. Kings – the Kings lose most of their games as they start five centers, with the game-plan being Boogie hucking up threes from the halfway line.
  15. Lakers – inexperience in a difficult conference makes the Lakers lose a lot of games, but they give big minutes to their young core. I just wish they’d added a veteran shooting guard, or they would’ve ranked higher.

 

East:

  1. Cavs – they have LeBron James in a weak conference. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Raptors – they have the most stability of any other team, and will win a ton of games as a result. DeMar DeRozan becomes an MVP candidate.
  3. Knicks – ‘Melo finally gets a well-fitting supporting cast. The only issue could be coach Jeff Hornacek expecting Melo to race up and down the court in seven seconds or less, and they’ll rely on Derrick Rose finding his old one-man-fastbreak ways.
  4. Celtics – with the best young coach in the NBA in Brad Stevens, they start Jaylen Brown at the 4 to make a Warriors-lite, a team that can switch defenders onto anybody. While they hide All-Star Isaiah Thomas in the corner.
  5. Hawks – Dwight find his old mojo as a hometown favourite and go-to option. Dennis Schroder has a breakout season, and contends with Westbrook for the most wacky fashion statements. Kent Bazemore realises he should’ve signed with a team needing a starting shooting guard, as he gets pushed around all season at small forward.
  6. Pistons – Andre Drummond averages 18 and 18, while Tobias Harris proves to be the worst number 1 offensive option in the league. Stanley Johnson rages as he can’t realise his Stanimal potential behind Harris and Marcus Morris.
  7. Pacers – Paul George contends for MVP, while the Pacers go from a plodding Hibbert and West to a manic Teague and Ellis in the space of a year. Larry Bird manages to alienate every player, leaving voicemails to announce he stole their lunch money.
  8. Bulls – Nikola Mirotic is banned from entering the paint, as every other player drives into a mass of bodies. If they sign a shooting point guard and use Rondo as a sixth man, they contend for a ring.
  9. Wizards – Wall and Beal clash as they both want the ball, while Markieff Morris commits Wizards-esque acts to force himself out of the league ( I don’t want to wish ill on a player, but try to get weed through an airport and have a tantrum while being paid $7 million to play basketball? Come on man).
  10. Hornets – Kemba Walker balls like an MVP, but the team struggles against a stronger East. Combining speedy Kemba with a plodding Roy Hibbert is not a good idea – couldn’t they have gotten Festus Ezeli, and eventually sign his Warriors alumni in Steph Curry?
  11. Magic – they improve, however their lineup is all over the place, with Hezonja the Beast languishing on the bench, while Elfrid Payton bricks every jumper in a shooting-point-guard crazy league. Ibaka leaves, making their ‘Dipo and Sabonis trade null and void.
  12. Bucks – Thon Maker flashes potential but fails to remove his blinkers, while the Greek Freak and Jabari Parker prove to be the most exciting forward combo in the league.
  13. Heat – the Heat tank as Hassan Whiteside is their best healthy player (fingers crossed Bosh returns to boost their standings). A good time to tank, as the next draft class is star-studded.
  14. Nets – Brook Lopez carries the team, Jeremy Lin averages the funnest 16 points per game on 30% shooting ever, and no-one thinks to refashion the most boring jersey in the league, or change the name to the Knights (ode to Lil Bow Wow).
  15. Sixers – Ben Simmons and Jahlil Okafor combine for a championship-level partnership, while everyone else stands and watches. Shoulda traded Joel Embiid for D’Angelo Russell when they had the chance…

There ya have it. Leave your comments here or tweet at me at @notNBAGM.