STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Sacramento Kings are coming off of one of their worst seasons in franchise history. They finished dead last in the Pacific Division (24-58) in Paul Westphal’s second year as head coach. They also sported the league’s worst home record (11-30), playing in front of fans who spent the season worrying more about whether the Kings would be in Sacramento this year, than whether or not they would be in the playoffs. There were a few bright spots for the Kings last season, including DeMarcus Cousins’ emergence as an offensive force at the power forward/center position, along with the acquisition of the high-scoring Marcus Thornton. But Sacramento’s young star, Tyreke Evans, was nagged by a season-long foot injury, and the Kings’ overall lack of fourth quarter defense caused them to lose many close games. While the bar wasn’t set very high, the Kings should see significant improvement this upcoming season. They will have a healthy Evans, who should return to his spectacular rookie season form. Another year of development and maturity will go a long way for the young frontcourt of Jason Thompson and Cousins. The athletic Francisco Garcia will take on a bigger role this season and team up with former King John Salmons at the wing. The offseason acquisitions of J.J. Hickson, Jimmer Fredette, and Marcus Thornton (re-signing) will all contribute to a more dynamic offensive team this year. The Kings also brought in Chuck Hayes to fill the defensive void at center left by Samuel Dalembert’s departure. There have been a lot of moving parts this offseason; and the result is a younger, more explosive Kings team. And while it remains a mystery as to whether or not the Kings will stay in Sacramento next year; fans might actually have something to get excited about in 2011-2012.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
DeMarcus Cousins will see the most court-time of all the bigs (30-35 minutes a game), starting alongside Chuck Hayes, who will receive around 24-27 minutes. J.J. Hickson will be the first big off the bench, getting around 20-25 minutes a game, given his ability to play both PF and C. The game flow will dictate whether Hickson (more offensive) or Hayes (more defensive) sees more minutes alongside Cousins on a given night. Jason Thompson (10-15 MPG) and Hassan Whiteside (5-10 MPG) will likely be called upon when needed. Salmons will start at the small forward position and log around 25-30 minutes a game. Francisco Garcia will see around 20-25 minutes, so long as he can stay healthy. Donte Greene and Tyler Honeycutt will fight for any minutes left over. A healthy Tyreke Evans should lead the team in minutes (35-40 MPG), playing the point when Thornton (30-35 MPG) is on the court, and shifting to the two when Jimmer Fredette (15-20 MPG) comes off the bench. Isaiah Thomas will occasionally be called upon to provide a spark off the bench, but don’t expect more than 5-10 minutes from the rookie guard.
DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins’ rookie campaign was a rollercoaster ride to say the least. He showed flashes of talent here and there, but spent a lot of time on the bench due to either foul trouble, or because he was constantly butting heads with Westphal. It wasn’t until the second half of the 2010-2011 season that Cousins began to improve his attitude and limit those ticky-tacky fouls that were keeping him off the court. Once he began to see upwards of 30 minutes a game, he started averaging close to a double-double per contest. That is the DeMarcus Cousins we should expect to see in 2011-2012. He will still make those mistakes a 21-year-old rising star would (high turnovers, low-FG%, the occasional stupid foul), but Cousins should take a step forward and improve on his already impressive rookie numbers. He will be a high-upside pick who will likely outperform his ADP rank.
Chuck Hayes: The under-sized Hayes was brought in to be the versatile defensive stopper he was in Houston. And while that role is valuable in a real basketball sense, it isn’t very helpful in fantasy. With starting minutes he will provide low scoring, boards, and a decent amount of assists for a center, but not much else.
Hassan Whiteside: Whiteside missed the entire 2010-2011 campaign due to a major knee injury. And while he enters this season healthy, he doesn’t figure to see very many minutes in the Kings’ crowded frontcourt.
J.J. Hickson: Hickson put together a strong second half last season in Cleveland, averaging a double-double and becoming a valuable fantasy asset down the stretch. With the Kings, he will come off the bench in relief of Chuck Hayes and DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings have a lot more scoring options than the Cavaliers did last season, which will cut into Hickson’s offensive looks. His offensive talent gives him a decent amount of upside; but make sure not to pay for last season’s numbers when drafting Hickson this year.
Jason Thompson: Thompson’s promising rookie season turned out to be his ceiling, not his floor. Thompson doesn’t contribute much more than some scoring and a decent number of rebounds from a fantasy perspective. He will find it hard to see significant minutes with DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes, and J.J. Hickson in the mix this year.
John Salmons: Salmons was part of the deal that brought Jimmer Fredette to town during the draft. He will likely slot in as the starting wingman for the Kings for the second time in his career. He should continue to provide low, double-digit points to go along with nearly a steal and a trey per game. But with a healthy Francisco Garcia on the roster, Salmons will likely see less than the 35.0 MPG he logged with the Bucks last season. That, combined with his rising age, should result in a decrease in his numbers across the board.
Francisco Garcia: The 30-year-old Garcia is a versatile player who can contribute to a variety of fantasy categories. But his biggest issue has been his inability to stay healthy for a full season, averaging just over 62 games played for his career. His per-36 numbers for his career show a respectable 14.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.6 3PT, 1.3 STL and 1.1 BLK. But with John Salmons in town, and his poor injury history, it will be hard to recommend Garcia outside of deeper leagues.
Donte Greene: Greene has shown that he isn’t anything more than a bench player. With John Salmons and a healthy Francisco Garcia around, Greene will play an even smaller role than he did last season.
Tyler Honeycutt: Honeycutt has impressed the Kings’ coaching staff in training camp, but barring injury, the rookie forward won’t see much floor time this season.
Lawrence Hill: Hill was brought in to provide depth on the bench. He has no fantasy value.
Tyreke Evans: Evans let down a lot of fantasy owners who believed he would take a step forward last season. But most of his struggles last year were a result of season-long nagging foot injuries. Even then, his numbers weren't too far removed from his spectacular rookie season. He enters the 2011 season healthy and ready to lead the Kings. With Beno Udrih gone, he will take on an increased “facilitator” role, which will provide an uptick in assists. But aside from that, we should see numbers similar to his spectacular rookie season. An area Evans could use some improvement in is his long-range shot, which he has been working on in the offseason. He hasn’t been a prolific outside shooter by any means (27.3 percent from deep in his career), but will still sink a trey every other game. If he can increase his success from downtown, then Evans can enter the elite fantasy point guard territory. And for where he is being drafted this year, that is a risk all owners should take.
Marcus Thornton: It was a tale of two seasons for the sharp-shooting Thornton last year. After being relegated to the bench with the Hornets, he was traded to the Kings mid-season, where he was given a starting role, and proceeded to shoot the lights out (21.3 PPG, 2.0 3PG, 45.0 FG% with Kings). Thornton is a high-volume scorer who will take upwards of 15 shots per game. He also grabs a decent amount of boards for a guard. There aren’t very many players being drafted in the middle rounds who can drop 30 points on a given night. It would be smart to draft Thornton with a big-heavy team, or if you drafted a point guard who doesn’t score much, such as Jason Kidd or Jose Calderon.
Jimmer Fredette: Fredette could very well end up being the Tim Tebow of basketball. He led underdog BYU to the NCAA Sweet 16 last year; but analysts had many questions about the young point guard coming into the draft. Is he athletic enough? Can he play NBA-level defense? Well, what we do know about the kid is that he can shoot. He exhibited range from beyond the NBA arc in college and will be a good source of three-pointers. His teammates are already praising his passing ability as well. Coach Westphal has indicated that Fredette will be the first guard off the bench, seeing around 15-20 minutes per game.
Isaiah Thomas: Named after the All-Star point guard, the under-sized guard will provide some explosiveness off the bench. But barring injury, he won’t see much court time this season.
Adrian Oliver: Oliver was brought in for bench depth; he shouldn’t be drafted in any leagues.
Tyreke Evans: Fantasy owners will look at Evans’ sophomore year and see a recession from his spectacular rookie campaign. But a lot of that was attributed to a foot injury that caused him to miss 25 games; and even when he played, he wasn’t at 100 percent. He comes into this season healthy and looking to prove that last season was a fluke. If he can improve his three-point shooting and assist totals (both realistic possibilities), Evans can provide first-round value at a discount.
J.J. Hickson: Hickson is coming off a breakout season with the Cavs, but will have trouble recreating those numbers in a crowded Kings’ frontcourt. He will be coming off the bench this season and consequently see a decrease in minutes. Hickson was heavily relied upon with the lackluster Cavs (14.9 FGA per-36 last season), but will likely have less scoring opportunities on a Kings team that has many offensive options. His strong second half last season will have owners overpaying for Hickson’s services on draft day; do not be one of those owners.