|SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines|
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Kings|
They finished last season as the worst team in the league and their only real addition is Tyreke Evans, a rookie who isn't sure if he's a point guard or not. What is there to rally behind? The thing about Sacramento for year after year was that its fans always showed up. Then one day, they stopped coming. This is a team that has been hampered by a couple of bad coaching hires in Eric Musselman and Reggie Theus, which has prevented them from developing any consistency. In both cases, their ownership stepped in and made the call to hire them.
Kevin Martin is their No. 1 guy, but on a good team he would be the third-best player. He has deceptive speed, a quick first step and he's one of the best players at drawing fouls. I can't believe defenders still go for that exaggerated ball fake of his. That's his best tool, the way he puts the ball out there and somehow he gets you to go for it even though every coach in the league has been warning players for years not to fall for it. The guy went to the free-throw line [10.3 times a game] last year, and it wasn't because he's a tough kid who is taking the ball inside. It's because people are still falling for his ball fake.
You can't give Martin the ball at the top of the key and tell him to go get you a basket. What he needs is a good point guard to set up shots for him. He doesn't necessarily run the floor either, so he doesn't usually get a ton of transition baskets other than from leaking out. As a defender, he always draws the worst offensive threat on the other team. He lacks toughness and he's not really a go-to guy. He is an extremely hard worker in the offseason, there's no doubting that. But he's not a high-energy guy, and in addition to everything else it has always stunned me how he's able to score so well with such a long, exaggerated jump shot. He cranks it up from his waist so that it takes a lot of time for him to get his shot off. It has to be one of the most unusual shooting motions in the league.
One of the things they liked about Evans is his ability to get the ball into the paint and draw the defensive attention and then kick it out. That's something Martin needs, and he didn't get it last year from point guard Beno Udrih because the defense didn't respect Udrih at all. The question is whether Evans [the No. 4 pick in the draft] will have the court vision to be able to see his open teammates, and then whether he can deliver the ball to them. He's sort of a hybrid guard. He gives them toughness as a potential point guard who is bigger and stronger than Jonny Flynn [No. 6 pick] or Ricky Rubio [No. 5]. Evans' shooting is going to be a big project for him, so like most young guys he'll probably spend his first year doing what he does best -- which for him is taking the ball to the hoop. He's not a high flier, but he can take a hit in the paint and it doesn't affect him or throw him off balance. He can finish through the contact. He's explosive and probably most dangerous in isolations. Right now, he tends to hold on to the ball too long and doesn't like to make the pass ahead, which goes back to his inexperience as a true point guard. On the other hand, he can post up smaller guards.
Evans is going into a really tough situation with a team in turmoil with its third coach in four years. Nobody is going to the arena, ownership is trying to figure out what to do, and people are looking to Evans to be the savior as well as the face of the team. He might have the personality to fill that need for them.
As a defender, Evans is physical, with a strong body that will allow him to get into people. He's going to suffer as he figures out the league and how to guard the different guys, but people will see him making the effort. However, he'll be playing for a coach in Paul Westphal who does not emphasize the defensive side of the ball. They were one of the league's worst defensive teams last year, and they've hired an offensive-minded guy who turned out to be the only guy willing to accept such a small contract. He's like Flip Saunders in that he'll find a good style of play for them offensively, but they're not going to be able to stop anybody. They'll win some games by outshooting you, but it will be one of these deals where every win is an upset, and they'll need to focus on stealing some of them early in the season when the veteran teams are still getting into their groove.
They have a couple of impressive young big men. Power forward Jason Thompson has a lot of versatility. Though he was very foul-prone last year as a rookie [3.8 fouls in 28.1 minutes a game], I give him credit for that because it happened from competing on every play. But I'm not convinced he's a tough guy yet. He can play on the block or off the block, though I wonder if he's a capable driver going to his left. He can rebound and he can get to the line, but he shot his free throws poorly last year [69.2 percent].
Center Spencer Hawes looks like another finesse guy, which is another reason they took Evans in the draft -- they're dying for some toughness. Hawes is only 21, but he has a chance to eventually become one of the better centers in the NBA. He showed a lot of improvement last year while becoming more patient. He can shoot it facing up, and he has a decent jump hook with his right hand. He can also move to the right hook and then turn back to his left. He is not a physical rebounder and the stronger centers will challenge him. But he's a hard worker and very talented for his size, though they need to be patient and realistic. He's probably still five or six years away from reaching his peak.
Donte Greene could be another upside guy, but I'm not intrigued. Every time I see him, he doesn't do anything. He teases with his speed and athleticism, but he's a streaky shooter with an inconsistent stroke. When I've seen him work out pregame, he has looked like he's goofing off; he's doing nothing. He's between the 3 and the 4, he doesn't have a killer instinct, he isn't physical and he's on a team with no role models.
I view Andres Nocioni as a really bad fit with this team. He should be a small piece on a good team. A roster this bad doesn't need highly specialized players like Nocioni, who brings toughness and competitiveness. Teams like this need talent and guys who can do big things like create and score, whereas Nocioni is the kind of guy who is the icing on the cake for a good team. He can bring some toughness and versatility at two positions, but on the other hand, he is a classic 'tweener who can fill neither position [small forward or power forward] completely. He can stretch the floor offensively, but he can't defend small forwards because his feet aren't quick enough. Instead of coming off the bench for a contender, he's stuck with a team that needs the kind of major help that he can't deliver.
Francisco Garcia [who is expected to miss four months after having wrist and forearm surgery] is an overpaid backup player. He doesn't like contact and he doesn't take the ball hard to the rim. He's on the books for nearly $6 million this year, which is probably twice as much as he should be making.
They had to be even more disappointed with the $25 million contract they gave to Udrih last year. He played well for them when they first got him two seasons ago, but last year after he got his contract, he gave them nothing. He's one of those guys who doesn't play unless he's just right. He doesn't provide leadership and he needs to be the backup.
They picked up another point guard in Sergio Rodriguez from Portland. He's fun to watch but lacks substance to his game. He tends to play wild and out of control, and that unpredictability makes him more appealing to fans than to coaches.
I will be interested to see how Omri Casspi does as the NBA's first Israeli. He's another kid they drafted for his toughness, and I like the way he plays.
Think about how far Sean May has fallen. He's the former hero of a North Carolina national championship team, and his coach with the Bobcats was Larry Brown, who is the king of Carolina and would go out of his way to help a fellow Tar Heel. And not even Larry could find love for him.