The Kings as a team have definitely been worse than expected, but if there is one group that has been better than the rest, it's the bigs. With DeMarcus Cousins, J.J. Hickson, Jason Thompson, and Chuck Hayes, the Kings have a deep big man rotation that still has potential to get better.
The biggest reason for optimism from these guys has been on the defensive end. All four bigs are currently better than average on that end, with one guy in particular (DeMarcus Cousins) standing out. All four Kings bigs are solid rebounders, and only one (Hickson) is really struggling offensively.
Speaking of Hickson, the Kings will have a decision to make this summer about which big to keep between Hickson and Thompson. It is slightly possible that the team could choose to keep both, especially considering that both players are Restricted Free Agents, but I believe only one will be retained. Currently, Hickson has been given more of a chance to succeed, but Thompson has been far more efficient and productive.
Chuck Hayes was the Kings marquee free agent signing this offseason, but he only played 8 games before dislocating his shoulder against Milwaukee, and will be out a further three weeks.
I will be using several sources for my analysis. First, I'll be using the Advanced Statistics found on Basketball-Reference (PER, TS%, AST%, etc.). I will also be using Synergy Sports Technology's data to give a more in-depth look at how our players perform each possession, both offensively and defensively. Synergy Sports uses PPP (Points Per Possession) to track individual players. They track individual play types on both ends of the court and I will be provding samples of each players major play types. Finally, I'll be using HoopData's shot location statistics to see how our players shoot from certain locations.
The following statistics were compiled as of January 18th, 2012. They do not include the Indiana Pacers game. If you would like some explanations of the following statistics, Basketball-Reference has explanations here.
Overall Offensive PPP: 0.83
- Post-Up (31.9%): 0.65
- Offensive Rebound (22.7%): 0.92
- Cut (9.3%): 1.35
- Isolation (8.8%): 0.84
- P&R Roll Man (8.3%): 1.11
- At Rim: 2.9 FGM / 6.0 FGA (48.7%)
- 3-9 Feet: 0.5 FGM / 2.0 FGA (26.9%)
- 10-15 Feet: 0.2 FGM / 0.8 FGA (30.0%)
- 16-23 Feet: 1.2 FGM / 2.6 FGA (47.0%)
- Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA): 0.46
Overall Defensive PPP: 0.68
- Spot-Up (39.7%): 0.59
- Post-Up (32.9%): 0.88
- P&R Roll Man (17.8%): 0.54
DeMarcus is slowly but surely making strides towards becoming one of the best big men in the NBA, but he still has his faults. Namely, he's very inefficient offensively. He uses a ton of possessions, turns it over a lot, and lacks a distinct post-game. There are a few reasons for why his post-game suffers. One, the Kings do a terrible job of getting the ball into the post. Two, DeMarcus does a terrible job of fighting for position, and often receives the ball with his back to the basket from 16 feet out or farther. Three, DeMarcus relies a lot on his strength and quickness to overpower or get by opponents, and while that worked in college, it doesn't work in the bigger, stronger, quicker NBA. DeMarcus needs to continue to increase his conditioning while also getting stronger. As Tom mentioned earlier this year, DeMarcus missed a bunch of gimme buckets at the rim, mostly off of offensive rebounds (where he's one of the best in the league). That hurts his percentages quite a bit, and those should even out as the season progresses, although DeMarcus doesn't help matters by being impatient and just throwing the ball up in the general vicinity of the hoop. Away from the rim, DeMarcus is currently shooting a blistering 47% from the 16-23 foot range, a David West or Kevin Garnett like performance. It remains to be seen if that can be sustained. I have my doubts, but DeMarcus is a better shooter than most think. DeMarcus also does a great job of getting to the line, and more importantly converting them, currently shooting almost 78%.
One place where DeMarcus has really dropped off from last year is in his passing. Last year he had almost a 15% Assist rate, among the best for big men, and this year he's in black hole territory. He's being used a bit differently, but we're not seeing nearly as many of those pretty passes, and it worries me a bit that the team isn't taking advantage of those skills from the high post.
Defensively is where DeMarcus has really shined so far this year. Of starting centers, only Bynum, DeAndre Jordan, Bargnani(!) and Chandler have allowed fewer Points Per Possession. DeMarcus' block rate has more than doubled, and he steals the ball as often as a guard. He does a great job of closing out on spot-up shooters, where that 7'6 wingspan really helps. There isn't a reliable source for statistics on Charges Drawn, but he has to be among the league leaders in that category as well. The biggest problem with DeMarcus on defense is foul trouble, as he's averaging 6.2 fouls per 36 minutes, a higher rate than even last year. As such he can't get consistent minutes.
Overall Offensive PPP: 0.72
- Post-Up (21.5%): 0.9
- Offensive Rebound (17.8%): 0.79
- P&R Roll Man (14.1%): 0.68
- Spot-Up (14.1%): 0.32
- At Rim: 1.0 FGM / 2.2 FGA (45.2%)
- 3-9 Feet: 0.5 FGM / 1.0 FGA (50%)
- 10-15 Feet: 0.2 FGM / 1.1 FGA (18.8%)
- 16-23 Feet: 0.8 FGM / 2.4 FGA (32.0%)
- Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA): 0.43
Overall Defensive PPP: 0.72
- Spot-Up (49.1%): 0.75
- Post-Up (16%): 0.88
- Isolation (13.2%): 0.79
J.J. Hickson has no doubt been disappointing, particularly offensively. He's taking way fewer shots near the rim than he did in Cleveland, and is converting the ones he is taking at a much lower rate as well. He's also shooting far too many mid-long range jumpers despite being a very poor shooter from those areas, both currently and for his career. He's only 2 of 15 on the season on his spot-up jumpers. J.J.'s turnover rate has also grown to a career high. About the only thing J.J. is doing well offensively is hitting the offensive boards.
Defensively, I was a bit surprised by these findings. According to Synergy, J.J. is playing good defense at the Power Forward, only allowing 32% FG% against, and just 0.72 PPP. Almost half of his defensive possessions have been closing out on Spot-up shooters, and his quickness and length helps to bother those shots. I still have my doubts on J.J. defensively despite these findings, as I find he lacks fundamentals, but these statistics are a bit encouraging.
Overall Offensive PPP: 0.97
- Cut (23.1%): 1.14
- Post-Up (22%): 1.2
- Offensive Rebound (18.7%): 1.0
- P&R Roll Man (15.4%): 0.57
- At Rim: 1.6 FGM / 2.5 FGA (65.7%)
- 3-9 Feet: 0.8 FGM / 1.4 FGA (54.5%)
- 10-15 Feet: 0.1 FGM / 0.1 FGA (100%)
- 16-23 Feet: 0.4 FGM / 1.1 FGA (31.0%)
- Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA): 0.38
Overall Defensive PPP: 0.77
- Post-Up (41.7%): 0.55
- Spot-Up (29.2%): 0.93
- P&R Roll Man (12.5%): 1.33
- Isolation (10.4%): 0.6
Jason has benefited this season from a more defined role as a bench big, and probably deserves more playing time than he has gotten. He's been by far the most efficient player on the Kings, is passing the ball well, rarely turning it over, and hitting the offensive glass. About the only area where JT is struggling in offensively is from the line, where he is only shooting 37%, well below his career average of 67%.
Defensively, JT has been the best post defender the Kings have, allowing only 29.4% on post-up opportunities, but doing worse against Spot-Up shooters and guarding against the Pick and Roll. He's also below his career average for defensive rebound rate by a fair amount, but he also hasn't gotten consistent minutes. JT is also doing much better at not fouling, averaging a career low 3.5 fouls per 36 minutes. Again, that might be noise due to the small sample, but I believe that this is genuine improvement.
Overall Offensive PPP: 0.83
- Cut (27.8%): 1.27
- Offensive Rebound (27.8%): 0.93
- P&R Roll Man (11.1%): 0.67
- Post-Up (11.1%): 0.5
- At Rim: 1.3 FGM / 2.5 FGA (50%)
- 3-9 Feet: 0.5 FGM / 1.8 FGA (28.6%)
- 10-15 Feet: 0.3 FGM / 0.4 FGA (66.7%)
- 16-23 Feet: 0.3 FGM / 0.6 FGA (40.0%)
- Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA): 0.28
Overall Defensive PPP: 0.79
- Post-Up (43.8%): 0.76
- Spot-Up (20.8%): 0.4
- Isolation (18.8%): 0.89
- P&R Roll Man (10.4%): 1.6
We've only seen about 7 and a half games from Chuck since he dislocated his shoulder, so these stats are even more of a small sample than for the other guys. Still, they tend to fall in line with his career stats. For one, he rarely uses up any possessions, having the lowest Usage rate of any King in the rotation since Jon Brockman. He's currently our best passing big man, and he's a good rebounder on both ends of the court. Offensively, almost all of his shots come from cutting to the basket or tip-in attempts, and he rarely does anything out of the flow of the offense.
Defensively, he's been solid and in-line with what the statistics say he performed in Houston. His height is less of a problem than it would be for other positions, because his strength, wingspan, quick feet, and low center of gravity make it very hard to get by him or back him down in the post.
Chuck is the ultimate team player, and the Kings are hurting for his leadership and unselfishness on the court.