In case it wasn't clear to anyone before, the Kings are a much better team with Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins than without. This past week, they've been without as both players have sat out with ankle and achilles injuries and Sacramento hasn't won a game in that span (although they came close against Indiana).
So what did we learn during that span?
1. The defense CAN get worse. Cousins and Gay aren't known for their defense, but they're better than their replacements (Aaron Gray and Derrick Williams). Sacramento's defensive rating on the season is 109.5 (28th in the NBA) but this week they allowed Offensive Ratings of: 117.2, 123.4, 110.2 and 119.2. Those are incredibly bad numbers that Michael Malone is probably fuming about.
2. Without Cousins and Gay, the Kings don't get to the line. Getting to the line is one of the most efficient ways to score and it also penalizes the opposing team by getting the opposing team into foul trouble. DeMarcus Cousins is actually one of the best at getting to the line in the entire NBA, tied for first in FTA/minute with Dwight Howard, and that's with Howard getting hacked on purpose all the time.
3. Marcus Thornton can still fill it up. Thornton has scored 328 points this season on 38.9% from the field. 72 of those points (21.9% of his entire season total) came in the last three games. The question remains of course on whether Marcus can produce when he isn't asked to be a featured part of the offense. He hasn't shown that yet.
4. Ben McLemore is looking more comfortable. The last couple games, Ben McLemore has looked as comfortable and smooth as I've seen him. He scored 18 points on 50% shooting against Denver and 14 points on 50% shooting against Utah. He's attacking the basket more and using a soft touch around the rim rather than the shotput motion he was doing earlier this year, and he's also utilizing the mid-range jumper more rather than just settling for threes. He's still got a lot of work to do on his ballhandling (a LOT of work) but if he can find a way to hit his shots consistently, that's progress.
5. Carl Landry is a a ways away from being himself. This is kind of obvious since Carl's been out for 3 months rehabbing an injury, but he was asked to play big minutes this week thanks to Cousins being out and a bevy of foul trouble on our other bigs. He's not as explosive around the rim, and his outside touch is off for now. At this point, we might not see the true Carl Landry for a month or so while he gets his sea legs back under him.
6. The Kings need a backup PG. Isaiah Thomas didn't exactly have a great week as the Kings primary scorer/ballhandler, but when he went to the bench it was mayhem. Jimmer Fredette still struggles under pressure, and he had a real difficult time getting the team into it's offense. Ray McCallum isn't ready for that role yet. It's easy to see why the Kings have been prominent in the Andre Miller sweepstakes.
The Kings will hopefully be getting Cousins and Gay back (at least Gay, since he suited up against Utah) on Wednesday against Memphis, where they will face a tough challenge if they don't want to lose their 5th straight. This team is simply better with them, and even with them, there are improvements needed. Hopefully some of the good things that happened this week (like McLemore's confidence) can remain when the big guns return.