Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 28-54, No. 4 in Pacific Division, No. 13 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Carl Landry, Ray McCallum (Rookie, No. 36 overall), Ben McLemore (Rookie, No. 7 overall), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Greivis Vasquez
Roster subtractions: Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas, Tyreke Evans, James Johnson
Sacramento scored huge this past spring when the city managed to keep the Kings in town, sending the Maloofs packing and replacing them with an ownership group that includes Vivek Ranadive and Shaquille O'Neal.
Much, much better. The Kings' fans deserved better than the Maloofs, and they finally got an ownership group that is committed to winning.
So what kind of team, exactly, do Sacramento fans have to get excited about this year? It's hard to pencil this team into the playoff picture, but they do have some promising talent and they should have enough scoring ability to put a lot of points on the board when their offense clicks.
The defense, on the other hand, appears worrisome at best. Here is a list of the defensive statistical categories they came dead last in a season ago, courtesy of teamrankings.com:
Opponents points per game, opponents fast break per game, opponents free-throw percentage, opponents shooting efficiency and defensive rebounding percentage.
The only thing the Kings did last season on defense that wasn't absolutely terrible was their defense of the three-point line, where they were just mediocre. Outside of defending threes, they were among the worst in the league.
It's rough looking at Sacramento's defensive numbers. Let's get back to the offensive side of the ball.
DeMarcus Cousins, one of the most talented centers in the league, unfortunately has a maturity level that is inversely related to his ability. He can score and rebound in the paint as well as anyone in the NBA when he's focused, but he often takes plays off, drifts outside of the paint and takes low-percentage shots. If he could allow his effort to intersect with his talent on a nightly basis - the Kings ownership apparently thought it was possible, extending him for over $15 million a year - he would be considered an elite center on more than just a pure-skill basis.
Sacramento brought in Greivis Vasquez in the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade, a solid acquisition at point guard who can offset some of the productivity they lost when Evans signed with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Vasquez, 26, had a career-year in all aspects of his game. His 9 assists a night put him at third in the NBA for the season. He is a true distributing point guard who takes pride in setting up teammates. In Sacramento, he has a few talented players he can pass the ball to.
Rookie shooting guard Ben McClemore is going to get serious minutes, and last year at Kansas, he connected on 42 percent of his three-point attempts. If that converts to the pro ranks, he'll find himself a top target for Vasquez on the perimeter. If Cousins keeps his head screwed on straight and operates mostly where he's best at - in the paint - the inside-out possibilities of him and McClemore will be there all season, as teams struggle to defend Cousins in the post.
The other wing position minutes will be distributed between Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Salmons and Blazer's Edge favorite, Travis Outlaw. Mbah a Moute brings rebounding and some defense, Salmons is a bit of an inefficient scorer at this point of his career and Outlaw really doesn't excel at too much. Coach Mike Malone is not likely to get much production from the small forward position, but if healthy, Mbah a Moute appears as his likely best option.
Marcus Thornton, an off-guard who loves to score and is also a decent rebounder for his position, will probably come off the bench behind McClemore as the resident offensive spark plug. If McClemore struggles, Thornton is capable of a heavier minutes load and definitely wouldn't mind the extra shot attempts. He's not quite as good from outside, but he's definitely a scoring threat opposing defenses would have to account for.
Backup point guard Isaiah Thomas fits a similar mold, and like Thornton, his defense is not that great. His height, at 5'9'', is also a worry but he can put the ball in the hoop and is a skilled passer, as well.
Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson, Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes will all fight for time in the post alongside or behind Cousins. Of the four, Hayes is the best hustle player and defender, but he's short for his position. Thompson and Landry are more balanced down low, and both are capable of putting in solid minutes. Patterson is more of a stretch-four at this point, but allows for some versatility in Malone's rotation with his ability to hit from outside.
Wings Jimmer Fredette and rookie Ray McCallum look to be the odd men out, as they play positions where the Kings have decent depth. Fredette is a great outside shooter, but he struggles to stay in front of his man. McCallum scored well in the mid-major college ranks, and could do the same at the NBA level if he gets an opportunity. That might be somewhat unlikely, though, unless someone in front of him is injured. Same for Fredette, who will most likely see the bulk of whatever minutes he's afforded as a three-point specialist.
The Kings have managed to change the culture surrounding the product on the court, and now it's up to Malone and veterans like Hayes, Landry, Salmons and Outlaw to instill in Cousins and the other young guys a better attitude.
Sacramento doesn't appear to have the defensive skill to completely reverse their putrid rankings from last year, but with a little focus, effort and good coaching, they could become respectable. On any given night, the Kings could force another team into a shootout and they have the offensive weapons to win a reasonable amount of those games. On the other hand, if they get stuck in a defensive battle, it could get ugly.
The success of the Kings pretty much starts and ends with Cousins and his effort and attitude. If he comes ready to play, Sacramento can really put the Maloof phase behind them and build for the future around the talented-but-troubled center who is only 23 years old. If Kings fans see the same old Cousins, though, they may not improve at all on a 28-win season from a year ago.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter