STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
For the second offseason in a row, the buzz surrounding the Sacramento Kings was focused on whether the team would be staying in Sacramento or moving out of town. Rumors of a possible move to Virginia Beach were put to rest just as the rumblings of a move to Seattle have begun gaining ground. Despite all of the noise being made about the state of the Kings’ franchise off-the-court, the on-the-court product has some intriguing storylines to follow as well. The young core of DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Marcus Thornton remain the same, but a few under-the-radar acquisitions will shore up the bench for Keith Smart’s first full season as a head coach.
The re-signing of veteran forward Jason Thompson solidifies a strong frontcourt combination of all-star DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes, and the fifth overall selection of the draft Thomas Robinson. Tyreke Evans – who played three different positions last season – will continue to be one of the Kings’ top offensive options no matter what position he starts at. James Johnson, a defensive-minded forward, was brought in with the hopes of solving the lack of small forward production from John Salmons, Travis Outlaw, Francisco Garcia, and Tyler Honeycutt last season. The speedy Isaiah Thomas had a breakout season last year, instantly improving the offense once he took reigns of the starting point guard position. While Thomas will likely start the year at the point for the Kings, veteran Aaron Brooks was brought in after being out of the NBA for a season to provide a contingency plan if Thomas experiences a sophomore slump. The signing of Brooks also assures that the Jimmer Fredette point guard project is being all but scrapped. Fredette’s defensive deficiencies will limit him to a reserve role as a three-point specialist. The team’s sharpshooter, Marcus Thornton, showed what he could do when given ample playing time (17.8 points per game) and will continue do so regardless of whether he is starting or coming off the bench.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
DeMarcus Cousins should continue to lead all Sacramento big men averaging around 30-35 mpg. Chuck Hayes will serve as Cousins' primary backup, averaging 10-15 mpg. Jason Thompson should see around 25 minutes at the four, with Thomas Robinson getting a good look as his backup with around 20 mpg. Tyreke Evans should continue to log around 35 mpg regardless of his starting position. The newly-acquired James Johnson will see around 20-25 mpg due to his ability to play the wing, power forward, and shooting guard. Whoever steps up out of the group of John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, and Tyler Honeycutt will play a small role as a reserve forward. Marcus Thornton, who may serve as the team’s sixth man, will see a significant amount of playing time (30-35 minutes), while Jimmer Fredette should see around 10-15 minutes off the bench. Isaiah Thomas (25 mpg) and Aaron Brooks (20 mpg) will likely split the point guard minutes.
DeMarcus Cousins: After an up-and-down rookie campaign, Cousins turned into a double-double machine in 2011-12, finishing the season with averages of 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks in under 31 minutes per game. His play only got stronger as the season went on, as he averaged 19 or more points each of the final three months of the regular season. Despite the breakout, Cousins still needs to improve his decision making, which led to a 44.8 percent shooting percentage, 2.7 turnovers and 4.0 fouls per game. With smarter play, he should see extra playing time. Talent-wise, though, it’s tough to argue with what Cousins has to offer. He has an array of low-post moves, while also being able to hit outside shots or take similar-sized big men off the dribble.
Chuck Hayes: The undersized Hayes will be the primary backup behind DeMarcus Cousins this upcoming season. He has always been known for his defensive stubbornness, soft hands for a big man, and a high basketball IQ. Those attributes will help Hayes contribute in a real basketball sense, but won’t help fantasy teams unless one of the starters goes down due to injury.
Jason Thompson: The fact that the Kings offered Thompson a long-term deal even after drafting the highly-touted rookie Thomas Robinson indicates that the team considers him to be a serious part of their gameplan. Last season, Thompson averaged 9.1 points and 6.9 boards while starting 47 games for Sacramento. He will be the starting power forward come opening night and should contribute just under a double-double while shooting around 50-percent. Nothing particularly flashy about Thompson’s game, but at least you know what you are getting from him on a nightly basis.
Thomas Robinson: The Kings took Robinson with the fifth pick in this offseason’s draft and many projected him starting for the Kings this upcoming season. Management must have felt Robinson wasn’t ready to handle that role as they re-signed veteran forward Jason Thompson to a multi-year deal, pushing Robinson to a backup role for his rookie campaign. At 6-10, Robinson is classified as a power forward with a “high motor.” His ability to grab boards will likely translate instantly at the pro level and the offense will eventually catch up with him as well. His senior year shooting percentages (50.5 shooting percentage, 68.2 free throw percentage) are right around the league averages for big men. His playing time will likely be capped around 20 minutes to start the season, but if Robinson impresses right off the bat, he may find himself with a larger role as the season progresses.
Tyreke Evans: The 6-6 Evans spent time at point guard, shooting guard, and eventually the wing position towards the end of last season, and it is still unclear as to where Evans will start this upcoming season. Last year he managed to shoot a respectable 45.3 percent from the field, and supplemented his 16.5 points per game with 4.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists. In spite of a potential change in position and the glut of duplicative talent on the roster, Evans’ value probably won’t fall too far, though the numbers of his rookie season (20.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.8 apg) seem like a distant memory. For Evans to take the next step in his development he will need to improve his three-point shot and learn to balance his game to effectively capitalize on scoring from deep and from attacking the basket and drawing fouls.
James Johnson: Johnson had his best full NBA season with the Raptors in 2011-12 but was shipped to Sacramento in a salary dump this offseason. Johnson’s versatility is probably what appealed to the Kings, considering he can play the two, the three, and the four. If you owned Johnson last season, you probably scooped him up because he averaged 1.15 steals per game – 14th best among forwards. Considering he doesn’t have any serious deficiencies in any roto categories, those steals totals can be valuable when they come from a player as cheap as Johnson.
John Salmons: In his 10th year of NBA service, Salmons began to show some wear and tear last season. He was constantly limited by a nagging hip injury, and when he was on the court he averaged a career-low 7.5 points as a starter. With the Kings trading for James Johnson this off-season, it appears as those Salmons days as a fantasy contributor are long gone.
Francisco Garcia: Garcia stayed relatively healthy last season (49 games) given his poor track record with injuries. But even in the games he was healthy for, he didn’t log very much court time (16.3 minutes per game). With his rising age and the plethora of small forwards on the Kings’ roster, it would be hard to imagine Garcia seeing any sort of significant playing time this season.
Travis Outlaw: Outlaw wasn’t much of a factor for the Kings last year, starting just five games towards the end of the season. A natural small forward, Outlaw will have trouble playing the three considering the depth the Kings have at that position. However, his height (6-9) allows him to back up the power forward position should any of the starters go down.
Tyler Honeycutt: Honeycutt spent most of his season with the Reno Bighorns of the NBA D-League. When he was with the big club, he wasn’t much of a factor, averaging just 5.9 minutes per game. Going into this season, we will likely see more of the same from Honeycutt, as the Kings have plenty of depth at the small forward position.
Marcus Thornton: Thornton continued to thrive in Sacramento after being acquired from New Orleans the season before, proving to be one of the more productive scorers in the league at the position. He compiled 18.7 points per game, rewarding fantasy owners who believed his post-trade production during the 2010-11 campaign was for real. The Kings gave Thornton a sizeable contract last year, but Tyreke Evans’ reluctance to play most of his minutes at small forward could force the team to move Thornton to a bench role or reduce his minutes. The uncertainty of the Kings’ rotation is Thornton’s biggest enemy.
Isaiah Thomas: In 37 games as a starter, Thomas averaged 14.8 points, 5.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 1.4 turnovers, and 1.6 threes. While his steals leave something to be desired, Thomas’ production in other point-guard centric categories easily makeup for his deficiencies in steals. Despite finishing the season on a high note, Thomas’ starting job could be in jeopardy going into the season. The Kings signed free agent Aaron Brooks, who has previous starting experience with the Rockets. But considering how well the offense clicked with Thomas at the helm, he will likely serve as the team’s starting point guard when the season opener comes around.
Aaron Brooks: Brooks signed a two-year deal with the Kings after missing the entire 2011-2012 season while playing in China. He will likely begin the season backing up Isaiah Thomas at the point. Brooks brings an offensive combination of scoring, threes, and a handful of assists to the table. A career 41-percent shooter, Brooks is considered a “high-volume scorer,” meaning he would need a lot of opportunities in order to make a significant contribution offensively. That situation won’t present itself on a Kings team chalked full of offensive options. Even if Brooks were to become the starting point guard, he wouldn’t receive anywhere close to the 35-plus minutes per game he averaged during his breakout season with Houston. The Brooks we saw in 2010-2011 is a better resemblance of what we can expect from him this season.
Jimmer Fredette: Fredette turned out to be what everyone expected him to be during his rookie season; an under-sized downtown threat with glaring defensive deficiencies. We will likely see more of the same from Fredette this season, with the signing of Aaron Brooks further solidifying his role as a reserve player.
James Johnson: Johnson was a surprisingly valuable fantasy asset last season, especially in roto leagues. He is never going to impress anybody with his offensive talent; rather it is his ability to contribute in multiple categories that make him a sleeper. Fantasy owners tend to put too much value into how many points a player is scoring, often forgetting how valuable a player like Johnson can be. He was one of the few players last season to average upwards of a steal and a block per game despite averaging just 25 minutes per game. He is projected to receive around the same playing time he did with the Raptors last year; and at the bargain price he will cost you on draft day, Johnson could end up being quite a value.
Isaiah Thomas: Thomas had a spectacular rookie campaign, especially considering he was the last pick of the 2011 draft. While he is under-sized, there is no doubting his ability to contribute on the court. The only problem is the Kings brought in veteran guard Aaron Brooks this off-season, and he will likely eat into Thomas’ minutes. Many of us remember the kind of production Thomas was putting up towards the end of the season, and has many pegging him as a sleeper this season. But most of that production came while Thomas was averaging upwards of 35 minutes a game. With an established vet the likes of Brooks in town, coach Keith Smart will likely split minutes between the two, which will undoubtedly limit both of their fantasy prospects this upcoming season.