I have recently come to a very depressing realization. Sadly, I am most interested in the NBA during draft and free agent season. I keep tabs open to STR, DX, ESPN, refreshing just about every 30 minutes. Recently I added Cowbell Kingdom, Sacbee.com and Bleacher Report simply because I've completely run out of content on my main 3. I've watched the DX scouting videos for every player in the draft. I cannot get enough draft and free agent content (please shoot me links if I'm missing anything - don't hold out on me).
I think what draws me to this part of the season is hope. Hope that this offseason will bring the change we need to contend again. Hope that this year's draft pick will be the perfect complement to Tyreke. Hope that we'll somehow pry Nic Batum from Portland or convince Atlanta that they need to give us Josh Smith for an asset and some cap space. Last year I convinced myself (pre-draft) that Jimmer was a great fit next to Tyreke - he would spread the floor and share the ball-handling duties while he slowly developed into the next Steve Nash.
What I've slowly starting to learn is how pathetic and delusional this all is (slowly because I'm still hoping the above-mentioned scenario plays out for the Jimmer). Not only are the chances of us drafting a star quite low, but what really is one guy going to do? That is why I'd like to turn my focus back onto our current players and what I consider to be our core.
There are three players that I think will make or break this team going forward and are worth discussing in depth: Cousins, Tyreke, Isaiah. Then there's Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton, who I view as very solid role players and definitely part of the core. Finally, there's Jimmer, who I think we can be hopeful about, but whose growth is not crucial to this team.
I chose to discuss Isaiah first because it is critical for Kings management to decide as soon as possible if he is in fact the point guard of the future. If he is, then we are just looking to add backup PG depth at this point. If he is not, then he is the backup PG depth and we're still in search of our starting PG.
The biggest question for me is around his ceiling. How good can Isaiah be? While I feel like I have a good idea of how to answer that for our other players, I have no idea where to begin with Isaiah. From what I know about Isaiah, last year was only his second year playing point guard. And by all accounts he played point guard better than any Kings I've seen in years. He is still getting better, which is a great sign. But how much better can he get? If he stays where he is, is that good enough to be the starting point guard on an elite playoff team? I'm not saying every elite team has an elite PG. However, I am of the opinion that we build around Demarcus. And if you do that, I feel you need a PG who can get him the ball. Is Isaiah that guy? This is the question that management needs to answer soon. Given the small sample size of less than a normal season, I have no clue. This is where the folks in the front office need to earn their checks and prove that they are professionals. If they do not in fact believe in him to that extent, then they need to act accordingly. I could see Petrie falling in love with a guy like Lillard. There are also a number of solid PGs in the free agent class this year.
My take: I am rooting for Isaiah. I hope Isaiah watches a ton of Chris Paul, Rondo and Steve Nash game tape and models his game after the good traditional point guards that know how to bring out the best in their bigs. I hope Isaiah is the guy.
The question for me with Tyreke, is whether or not he can accept a lesser role and focus on playing team basketball. Otherwise, I think he is destined to become another Corey Maggette: a guy who gets his for bad teams.
Personally, I think Tyreke is wasted playing at the 3. His size and strength may allow him to guard some 3's, but being guarded by other 3s negates his offensive gifts (size and strength). I am guessing most people agree he is a 2, so let's discuss his ceiling. Can he improve and apply himself defensively? Can he learn to move off the ball? Can he learn to shoot? Is it necessary that he learn to shoot? To this day, Dwayne Wade has not improved much on his shooting - he can hit the pull-up mid-range, but doesn't necessarily do so efficiently. And Dwayne is terrible from distance.
My take: If I'm Tyreke, I completely refocus how I approach my role on the team. I dedicate myself to playing team basketball. Offensively, I vow to stop taking threes. I work solely on my mid-range and stay committed to getting to the basket and moving well without the ball. More important, however, I focus on defense. This includes becoming a lock down man-to-man defender and playing team defense with a lot more energy. I become a defensive playmaker, using energy and my physical gifts to get important rebounds and clutch steals. Personally I think these items are more realistic (and more important) than Tyreke becoming an efficient outside shooter. If he can focus on a role where he is an energetic defensive stopper who attacks the basket and moves without the ball, I think he could start for an elite team, and eventually be the 2nd or 3rd best player on an elite team, perhaps an all-star. I picture him being somewhere between Andre Iguodala and Dwayne Wade. That is where I would set his ceiling.
If Tyreke can accept that role, then he should start next season. This would give the Kings the ability to have a defense-focused 1st team and bring Thornton off the bench to crush the other team's reserves. As constructed today, I think Thornton is still in the closing lineup, given how clutch he is. Who he guards, however, remains a question mark.
Cousins is the most exciting player when it comes to discussing ceiling. In just his second year, he is already a top-5 rebounder. Offensively, he is incredibly gifted. He has skill, size, coordination and great hands. He can shoot from 15+ feet and is a good free throw shooter. As of today, he is fairly inefficient but I think that changes in time and with good coaching. Defensively, DeMarcus probably does not have the build or athleticism to be a good help-side defender. He is, however, fantastic at taking charges. This is probably obvious to most, but charges are better than a blocks because they guarantee you get the ball and the other person is charged with a foul. Furthermore, I think DeMarcus has potential to be a good man-to-man post defender simply given his size. Given the way the league works today though, that may not be of much value (see Kendrick Perkins. For that reason, I wouldn't recommend DeMarcus focus energy here for the time being. He fouls too much (and often fouls in frustrating, needless ways), but I have faith that will change in time.
My take: DeMarcus is almost too skilled for his own good at this point. In my opinion he needs to do a better job taking advantage of his size and strength. If I'm DeMarcus, I try to play more like Dwight next season. When the Kings get into the half court offense, the first thing he should do is find someone to hit. He should do everything in his power to establish himself as deep as possible. This is how he cements himself as a dominant big and most likely increase his efficiency. He should then try to re-establish himself as a good passer. Receiving the ball deeper will ensure that DeMarcus demands doubles. He has the potential to be a great passer, as he displayed his rookie year, but it was not a focus of his last year.
Overall, I think DeMarcus has amazing potential. He has the skills of a guy like Vlade, Webber, or Pau. He's much bigger than any of those guys are though and a much better rebounder. While the personalities are incredibly different, skill-wise, I see DeMarcus's upside being something like Tim Duncan. Tim is the ultimate teammate and a better shot blocker than Cousins, so it's not a perfect comparison. But the fact that it's not absolutely crazy to compare him to Duncan means Cousins is the real deal
As I mentioned before, I think don't see Jimmer's progress as crucial to the team. I think he could fail and this ship could keep moving, solely based on the fact that we have DeMarcus Cousins. In my opinion, the number one thing he needs to work on is his handle. NBA guards know he is not confident in this area and prey on it. And that affects his overall confidence. Also, the Kings need to use him well to hide him defensively. I'm not sure how capable he is of major improvements on defense. If the Kings think he has potential there (i.e. JJ Reddick), then they should have him focusing on that. Otherwise, it is about ball-handling and confidence for Jimmer. If management does not believe in him, find a way to trade him (and something else) for Paul Millsap.
Thornton and Jason Thompson:
I love both of these players and see them as long-term contributors. I do not think it's worth going into too much depth on their ceiling primarily because I think they are both fairly close to their ceilings. Both are productive role players today and I think any team in the league would love to have either of them, but neither has a ton of upside to grow into.
I've always liked Terrence Williams, as evidenced by my first ever post of STR. I am not going to spend a ton of time on him, however, because I don't know whether on not he'll be on the team next year. I think he's a great player, but I worry about him for the same reasons that I worry about the Kings drafting MKG - he can't shoot. I think Cousins needs to be surrounded by good shooters. He could potentially be the starter at the 3 if the Kings wanted to focus on defense, or he could be the primary ball-handler for the second unit with Jimmer and Thornton.
All in all, I think this team needs to continue to focus on developing its own players. DeMarcus can be dominant and I think he'll continue to develop and mature organically. Tyreke is capable of being an NBA all-star if he can accept a different role. We need a bigger sample size on Isaiah, but he has shown us very good things. Every team in the league would love to have JT. Marcus plays a very necessary role as the second or third scorer with range and ice in his veins. This team has potential and I am excited and optimistic about the team they'll become.