We've talked at length this season about how this team and individual players, notably DeMarcus Cousins, have improved. There's no doubt in my mind that this Kings team on-court talent base is much improved since the end of last season.
Yet despite improvement, the Kings are still a bad team, and losses like yesterday in Washington exemplify just how much farther the Kings need to go.
DeMarcus Cousins easily had his worst game of the season, although if you look at the raw stats of 14 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks it doesn't look like it. Those stats fail to mention the abysmal 3-16 shooting and 4 turnovers while also playing some incredibly lazy defense. There was a sequence in the first half when Marcus Thornton missed an assignment and the Wizards scored and DeMarcus went off on him, with the mics picking up at least two F-bombs, including "it was the same effing play". It's ok to get frustrated, but for DeMarcus, it was a bit hypocritical, as the Wizards were absolutely killing him in the first half with the Pick and Roll, something his teammates no doubt noticed as well. Marcin Gortat scored 17 points on just 10 shots, and almost all of them came right at the rim.
Cousins said this year he wants to be a leader, but to do that, he has to lead by example. I'm more fine with the occasional bad offensive game (which has grown rarer and rarer) than I am with bad defense and then berating a teammate for doing the same. He also needs to maintain his poise when he doesn't believe fouls are going his way. Too often he gets frustrated with a non-call and it hurts his game.
There are other players that need more literal growth as well, in particular Ben McLemore, who I thought played one of his best games. It was very nice to see him attacking the rim and staying active on defense, but all of Ben's weaknesses still shone. His handle needs a lot of work, as he gets stripped routinely trying to dribble to the basket. His touch around the rim has drastically improved from his shotput like layups early on, but he's not Tyreke Evans just yet. In many ways, Ben is the anti-Tyreke, although his outside shot isn't yet consistent enough.
It's defense where Ben can really make his living though, as he's got the size and athleticism to be good there. We saw moments yesterday where he did really well, particularly on Trevor Ariza (who shot just 2-11, although he helped hold Gay to the same). It's when his man doesn't have the ball that Ben tends to drift, which is a problem considering he's usually assigned to really good shooters. The bad thing is that he isn't quick to correct his mistakes and it happens again and again. I understand wanting to help, but he hasn't yet grasped the concept of overhelping.
One thing I love about Ben though is that he never stops working on either end. He's always hustling, always running to try to get an open look, and he's not selfish either. There was a play where Isaiah and Ben had a breakaway and Thomas got blocked at the rim, but the play was saved thanks to Ben's hustle. Ben doesn't have much quit in him, and that I like.
Rebuilding is a process. You have to grow from the outside (trading for Gay, Williams, etc.) and the inside (Cousins, McLemore, etc.). The Kings are showing progress on both fronts, but the finish line isn't in sight.