This could also be titled, ‘If the Kings are bad this season, these will be the reasons why’. To Vlade Divac’s credit, he’s put together a fairly balanced roster that, on paper, has most of its basis covered. We’re probably going to need a few weeks of on-court time before we can pinpoint exactly what weaknesses this roster has, but I can certainly speculate.
The organization's biggest weakness, and this has nothing to do with the roster Divac assembled, is chemistry. The George Karl, DeMarcus Cousins dynamic has been well (and poorly, at times) documented. Their relationship is likely less volatile than most of the national media would lead you to believe, and considerably more volatile than Kings fans would hope. Yes, they seem to have buried the hatchet, but if you’re ranking NBA teams by chemistry the Kings would be near the bottom of the list, and we’ve only touched on the head coach's relationship with his star center. This team is full of chemistry question marks.
And I mean question marks in a fairly literal sense. Maybe the ‘Suicide Squad’ mantra will streamline the chemistry creating process, and we know most of these guys already know each other on a personal level, but it might take time for everyone to get on the same page from a basketball standpoint. Rajon Rondo loves having that screen running, always moving shooting guard, but he’s going to have to get used to how Ben McLemore and Marco Belinelli make their cuts, when and where they like the ball, etc. Rondo and Cousins have to work on their pick and roll, Rondo has to find the right balance between feeding Rudy Gay and Cousins, the list goes on and on. When you implement a new point guard, especially one as detail oriented as Rondo, figuring out everyone’s timing is going to be important.
That isn’t a knock against the Kings; it’s just what happens when you add nine guaranteed contracts in a single offseason. I think they’ll get there, but it’s going to take some time. To their credit, they’ve been doing everything they can to minimize the time it will to take to get everyone comfortable with each other. Omri Casspi took a couple of teammates with him to Israel, a lot of them got together in Vegas during summer league, Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein played with each in a Kentucky Alumni game, and they’ve been putting together private workouts. The effort is there, and that’s all you can really ask for.
On the court weaknesses are going to be very lineup dependent. For example, If Rajon Rondo, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kosta Koufos start, Ben McLemore and Rudy Gay must have fantastic three-point shooting seasons because Rondo really hurts any teams ability to space the floor. The good news is, Divac has given Karl so many options that if shooting is an issue, he can slide Gay down to power forward and start Casspi, but then defense and rebounding could be a problem. Starting Darren Collison over Rajon Rondo could alleviate some of those issues, specifically in regards to the Koufos/Cousins/Rondo pairing not having enough shooting, but that would open up another can of worms. The Kings might find themselves in a situation where none of these starting lineups truly ‘work’ in the way we want them to.
On a less lineup-dependent note, perimeter defense will likely be an issue for whoever is out there. I’m putting Rudy Gay under the ‘perimeter defense’ umbrella for simplicity's sake, and most small forwards are playing out there these days anyway.
Rajon Rondo is incredibly hit or miss as a defender. When he’s locked in, his effort is really admirable. He’s quick, he’s long, and he’s tough, but he’s also a gambler. He’ll go for steals, he’ll commit some dumb fouls, he’ll try be a playmaker on that end when just standing his ground would be the better play, and he’s certainly been more ‘miss’ in recent years. His effort has been questionable, and that’s never a good sign. I’ve been pro-Rondo throughout (and prior) to his tenure with the Kings, but I won’t pretend like his defense over the last few seasons hasn’t concerned me.
Ben McLemore has so much defensive potential, but he just hasn’t put it all together yet. He was much better last season than he was as a rookie, but he still gets lost on that end quite a bit. On the ball, he’s probably about average, but off the ball is where he really struggles. I think you could say some of the same things about Rudy Gay, actually. They both have a real knack for losing shooters in transition, and in the half court.
Greg Wissinger talked to Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell about Marco Bellineli’s defense and it’s, well, it's not great.
Darren Collison was excellent offensively last season, and his defense wasn’t bad, either, but I’d say he’s a career average defender.
The Kings were a poor defensive team last season, and while I think they’ve upgraded their interior defense tremendously with the additions of Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein, they didn’t really address their perimeter defense. Kings opponents averaged 8.8 made three pointers per game, good for the second highest total in the entire NBA, and I don’t see that changing next season. Of course, if you play at a high pace, more shots get taken, more transition threes, etc. Teams shot .349 from three against the Kings on average, which is in the middle of the pack in terms of league rankings.
Like perimeter defense, ball security was a major issue last season, and like perimeter defense, ball security was not addressed in the offseason. It’s a tough thing to target, honestly. You can try to acquire players who are smart with the ball, but a lot of that comes down to scheme and focus.
Here is the issue; the Kings averaged 16.3 turnovers per game last season, good for 4th most in the NBA. DeMarcus Cousins missed 23 games and still finished the season with 254 turnovers, 6th in the NBA. They just added Rajon Rondo, one of the most turnover prone point guards in the NBA, a guy who finished the season with 210 turnovers, 11th in the league, to the roster. That’s not great, to put it lightly.
No matter how good or bad the Kings record is this season, they are going to turn the ball over. Rondo and Cousins have been turnover machines for their entire NBA careers. It’d be foolish to think that would stop now, especially if Karl wants these guys pushing the ball every time up the court. The good news is, the Houston Rockets averaged more turnovers than the Sacramento Kings last season, so you can overcome that, but it’s going to be an issue all year.
I will (thankfully) cut it off here. You can find other issues, but those are some of the things I’ll be looking for throughout preseason. Will Chemistry be an issue? Can Karl find the right lineup? Can he implement a defensive scheme that will keep some of his perimeter defenders locked on to opposing teams’ three-point shooters? Will his defenders sprint back in transition? Can Cousins and Rondo at least limit the turnovers so that doesn’t sink this entire operation? We’ll see.