STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
No one can ever fault Sacramento for being stagnant. The Kings’ lineup heading into this season bears little resemblance to the team they trotted out heading into last year. Over the last calendar year, Sacramento has traded away its franchise shooting guard and handed the keys to precocious rookie Tyreke Evans. The Kings also retooled their frontcourt, which now boasts a number of intriguing prospects and a top-flight center, while also clearing up a chunk of cap space heading into this offseason. Only four players remain from the team’s 2008-2009 roster.
Sacramento will be led this year by the aforementioned Evans, possessor of possibly the most unique skill set in the league. Attacking every offensive possession like it was an affront to his manhood, Evans scored more than 20 points per game while also posting impressive rebound and assist numbers. He may not be a point guard in the truest sense, but he is certainly the Kings’ unquestioned quarterback. Evans, however, may not be the only Rookie of the Year on the roster, as draftee DeMarcus Cousins possesses the skill set and the size to earn this season’s ROY honors. Evans and Cousins are primed to lead the Kings into the future, with support from such up-and-comers as Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson and Beno Udrih. The team also acquired center Samuel Dalembert in the offseason, giving Sacramento its best defensive player since Ron Artest.
Will all of these moves translate into wins? Sacramento has won only 42 games over the past two seasons combined, so the team has a long way to go before making a serious run in the Western Conference. But one thing is certain: these Kings are pointed in the right direction.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Evans is a hybrid guard in the truest sense of the term, and while he will play 35-plus minutes per game, it will be at both guard spots. Udrih will share point guard duties with Evans, playing roughly 30 minutes a night. Francisco Garcia will see 20-25 minutes backing up the 2 and the 3, and Antoine Wright will earn 15-20 at shooting guard. Pooh Jeter will play sparingly at the point.
In the frontcourt, things are less certain. Omri Casspi will start at small forward and should see his minutes bumped up to 30 per night. He’ll be backed up by Garcia and Donte’ Greene, who will see 15-20 minutes. Carl Landry and Jason Thompson helm the power forward spot for now, but the emergence of Cousins should see both veterans’ numbers dwindle as the season goes on. Look for Landry and Thompson to each see 25-30 minutes per game early in the season, with that number dropping to 20-25 as Cousins develops. Cousins will ramp up to 30-35 minutes per game by season’s end, provided he keeps his head on straight. Dalembert will see 25-30 minutes per night if he can stay out of foul trouble.
Samuel Dalembert: By this point, you know what you’re getting with Dalembert: 8-10 points, 8-10 rebounds and roughly two blocks per night. You also know that you’re not getting heavy minutes out of the seven-footer, as his predilection towards fouls (252 last year, good for 13th in the league) and his limited motor have kept him under 30 minutes per game in all but two seasons. Look for a decline in production this year. The move to Sacramento not only puts him in a tougher conference, but with much more in the way of low-post options on the Kings, Dalembert should see his stats slip. Two other factors work against Dalembert: the presence of rookie DeMarcus Cousins, who has center-level skills and will scream for minutes, and an expiring contract which could see Dalembert shipped out of Sacramento by season’s end.
DeMarcus Cousins: There may not be a more NBA-ready rookie than Cousins. If he behaves, Cousins can average 20 and 10 from opening night on. But there’s that caveat: “if he behaves.” Numerous screaming matches with Kentucky coach John Calipari raised questions about Cousins’ character and caused him to drop to the fifth pick in this year’s draft. Character aside however, Cousins may be the most intriguing prospect in fantasy this year. He can block shots with the best of them, shoot at a high percentage, grab rebounds, and has a wide array of post moves. He doesn’t shoot free throws all that well (60 percent last year), but if you’re looking for a high-reward rookie, jump on Cousins.
Hasaan Whiteside: The back of Whiteside’s jersey should read “PROJECT.” While once hyped as a top-10 pick, Whiteside fell all the way to the second round when teams realized that a) his production was only okay in a terrible conference and b) he had only played one season of college despite being 21 years old. Whiteside has potential, but he won’t realize it for at least two or three years.
Omri Casspi: While not the most athletically blessed player in the NBA, Casspi may have been the most surprising last year. Casspi came straight from Israel to average 10 points and five assists per game, including an impressive 14.1 points per game in November. But after the All-Star break, Casspi’s numbers fell off a cliff, bottoming out in March with a 5.3 point average and 35 percent shooting for the month. There are other red flags as well, including nonexistent steal and block numbers, as well as a free-throw percentage (67 percent) that can keep him out of crunch time situations. While much of Casspi’s late-season struggles can be attributed to hitting the rookie wall, fantasy owners still shouldn’t expect a huge improvement on last year.
Carl Landry: Finally given the chance to play heavy minutes, Landry thrived in Sacramento after a midseason trade from Houston. He scored 18 points and grabbed 6.5 rebounds per game in a Kings uniform, and more importantly started all of his 28 games in Sacramento. His shooting percentage was also excellent, as was his 80 percent free throw shooting. But this season may be more complicated. The arrival of big men DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert have created a glut in the Sacramento frontcourt, which already had Landry and Jason Thompson jockeying for minutes. When he plays, Landry is a big-time scorer, but he could see those minutes reduced as the season goes on.
Jason Thompson: Thompson has flashed talent over his two seasons, but may be the biggest victim of the Cousins and Dalembert acquisitions. Thompson’s surprising rookie year was followed up with a good-but-not great campaign last year, with averages of 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. He also spent some time at center last year, where he put up averages of 13 and 9. This year however, Thompson won’t see nearly as much opportunity to play. Dalembert wasn’t brought in to come off the bench, and Cousins does everything that Thompson does, but better, bigger and younger. Thompson’s growth should be stunted this year.
Donte’ Greene: Greene started 50 games last year, something the Kings hope to avoid this year. That’s not to say that Greene is a bad player, but he’s certainly not a spectacular one. From a fantasy perspective, Greene doesn’t bring you much – less than ten points a game, minimal assist and rebound numbers, no steals or blocks to speak of and only okay shooting percentages. Keep him off your radar.
Tyreke Evans: Evans became only the fourth player in league history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his rookie year. The other three? Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. The production is certainly there for Evans, and with Kevin Martin now out of town, so is the future of the Kings. Evans immediately established himself as one of the league’s best at getting to the basket, which explains why 53 percent of his shots came down low. For fantasy owners, this means solid field goal numbers (46 percent last year) and lots of free throws (6.5 per game). But Evans isn’t just a drive-and-dunk player. He grabbed 1.5 steals per game, and his 5.8 assists per contest were tops among all rookies. Even better, Evans never seemed to hit the rookie wall, with averages of 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the month of March. What to expect this year? Even more growth, as defenses now have to respect Evans’ frontcourt teammates. LeBron averaged 27 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in his second year. Those numbers may not be far off for Evans this season.
Beno Udrih: Talk of Udrih as a bust subsided last season, as he put together a sneaky-good campaign in the shadow of Evans. Udrih’s greatest value may have come through his shooting. An excellent 49 percent field goal percentage last year stemmed from an emphasis on mid-range shots over three-pointers. Udrih also gives you excellent free-throw numbers, making 84 percent of his shots from the stripe. While some may look down on Udrih’s assist numbers (4.7 per game), it also should be noted that, as a starter, Udrih handed out a more acceptable six dimes per contest, and 7.4 in the month of March. He’s certainly not an elite level point guard, but you could do worse than Udrih as your backup.
Francisco Garcia: Last year was something of a lost season for Garcia, who broke his arm in the preseason and never recovered. When healthy, Garcia is a serviceable scorer off the bench who shoots well from the three-point line and from three. However, Garcia provides little else, and will spend this year overshadowed by more talented guards. If Evans gets hurt, Garcia should warrant a look, but not otherwise.
Antoine Wright: Wright doesn’t bring much to the table, especially from a fantasy perspective. He takes a lot of threes (43 percent of his shots last year) but doesn’t make a ton of them (33.5 percent), and gives next to no help in the rebounding, assist or steal departments.
Pooh Jeter: Jeter is the rare 26-year-old rookie after spending the last few seasons in Europe. In Sacramento, he won’t be much more than an energy guy off the bench, and shouldn’t be part of your fantasy discussion, though “Pooh Jeter and Piglet Too” could make for a great fantasy team name.
Tyreke Evans: While Evans isn’t exactly a fantasy unknown, few players have the growth potential that last year’s Rookie of the Year possesses. Evans is good, but this year he could become great.
Jason Thompson: Thompson didn’t improve last year at a rate the Kings would’ve liked, and with talented big men now in tow, Thompson should see his playing time fall off.