Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Kings
2012-13 Record: 28-54
Coach: Michael Malone (first season)
They're building around DeMarcus Cousins after giving him a four-year, $62 million contract extension in the offseason. I wouldn't have given him all that money, but Sacramento knew that some team would have.
How many chances can you give a guy, though? They seem to believe that they can build a team with good guys around him so that he will be on an island as a knucklehead with no one to chime in with him. I don't see how he is going to mature after getting the big contract. By giving it to him, you are telling him that he has been great the last three years: Here's a contract and, by the way, can you behave a little better? He is going to say, I just got this money; I must be doing something right.
The only way this works is if Cousins believes in the system new coach Mike Malone wants to run. He needs to have a rapport with Malone or someone on the staff he will listen to. His body language is terrible. He mopes, he complains to referees, he takes cheap shots at opponents. He just brings you down with his attitude.
His talent is ridiculous. He could easily be a top-three center if he got out of his own way. For his body type, Cousins is quicker than you think. He has a really nice jump shot, and he is a skilled post player. He handles the ball better than any center in the league. But even with skilled players, if you don't have the mental aspect, you won't make it. If you bang him around, you get him in a mental game and he tries to fight you rather than play against you.
If Malone wants Cousins to buy into the system, there will be a lot of posts and a lot of early offense that feeds to the post or the elbow, where Cousins can play because he's such a good passer. The main focus will be getting movement and playing out of the post. If you don't, you are losing Cousins, and if you do that, you lose the season
Cousins is the most important player for the new coaching staff to connect with, but across the board Malone needs to give these guys consistent roles. They haven't had that in recent years, and you can see it has screwed them up.
Take Jimmer Fredette. I still like him. He was jerked in and out of the lineup, but he kept his head up and kept going. Give him credit for that. I will not judge a player who played in Sacramento the last three years. Who knows how good Jimmer will be if he is in an offense that runs him off screens? He could turn into J.J. Redick. This will be the year to judge him.
Jimmer has gotten a few starts at the 2 during the preseason as Malone tinkers with his lineup at several spots. The Kings also have Marcus Thornton as a volume shooter at the position, but they drafted rookie Ben McLemore in hopes that he could be the long-term solution.
McLemore has a lot of potential. He has a beautiful shooting stroke and a nice build that will fill out the next few years. He's a bit sloppy right now and he looks unsure of himself at times, but that's rookie stuff. When he makes a couple of shots, you can see the confidence grow. And he's not afraid. He will be a steady starting 2 soon, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an All-Star team in a couple of years.
Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez have been competing for the starting job at point guard. Thomas is more of a scorer and Vasquez more of a passer. I like Thomas as a spark plug off the bench -- that's what he's best at. He pushes the ball, and he scores better than I thought he would. Vasquez doesn't back down from anybody. He is a grit-and-grind kind of guy. He won't ooh you and ahh you, but he's solid in the half court and gets everyone situated on offense. Any coach would want him. Neither point guard is a stopper on defense because Thomas lacks size and Vasquez lacks quickness.
Forward Luc Mbah a Moute is another guy who could benefit from a structured system, like the one he had when played for Scott Skiles in Milwaukee. He knew his role, as a wing defender for about 25 minutes a game, and he played it well. He's not much of a scorer, but they have John Salmons to provide scoring at that position. Salmons has been down the last few years and he's getting older, but he can still be serviceable.
Losing power forward Carl Landry [who is out three to four months after preseason hip surgery] hurts. His leadership would have been huge. He's an experienced guy who has earned respect. He can still be that guy, but it's not the same when you are not playing. And they'll miss his production off the bench. He has a knack around the basket and he goes after you hard. He shoots it well from 15, 16 feet. He eats up backup 4s.