The Sacramento Kings are now deeper than they have been in years; this fact is one of Vlade Divac’s undeniable accomplishments this offseason. The additions of Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein, and others have injected serious talent to the pool for George Karl to draw from.
However, it seems to me that there is still one need that was not addressed this offseason; the Kings still do not have that "fifth" man who can seamlessly link the rest of the rotation together. This is a natural question to ask after Tony’s excellent piece breaking down Rudy Gay’s future at the power forward position yesterday.
Let me explain.
Its safe to pencil in Gay and DeMarcus Cousins at the top of the Kings’ rotation. They are undisputedly the two best players on the squad, the only Kings to crack Sports Illustrated Top 100 players, and gold medal winners for Team U.S.A.
Rondo is also the favorite to start in place of Darren Collison this season since he is the big prize of the offseason and a significant financial investment to the tune of roughly $10 million. Collison does have a shot of pulling an upset here given Rondo has not been in good form for a few years.
Ben McLemore has a dogfight on his hands to keep his spot with the veteran Belinelli added to the roster. McLemore undoubtedly has greater upside on both sides of the ball, but Belinelli is more proven has been more consistent. This spot is the most closely contested on the entire roster.
So, to recap, the rotation so far looks like this:
3. Rondo/Collison (the PG)
4. McLemore/Belinelli (the SG)
And then you run into the problem of who is going to be that "fifth" man. Karl has many options at this spot, but there doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit. The decision will also be heavily influenced by Karl’s mood about how small, how defensive, and how shoot-y he wants to play at any given moment.
It seems as though Koufos is the most popular option at the spot among Kings fans. That means shifting Cousins to power forward and playing with Gay at small forward. Koufos is an elite defensive center who can help Cousins protect the paint, a proven vet you know you can count on. But teaming him up with Cousins is not only worrisome for the team’s spacing offensively; it also could cause issues when either Cousins or Koufos has to chase stretch fours out on the perimeter. It could be a recipe for more foul trouble, which with Cousins the Kings can hardly afford any more of.
Karl could slot rookie phenom Cauley-Stein into the same lineup instead of Koufos, which is my favorite choice. He’s a shapeshifter defensively, possessing the athleticism to both swat shots in the paint and step out to the perimeter to guard more mobile bigs or even perimeter players for stretches of a time. He has the potential to absolutely wreck pick-and-rolls, which is invaluable to a team. But, he still presents spacing issues offensively since his jumper is completely unproven, and there is still the adjustment period that all rookies naturally go through to find their place in the NBA. The Kings can hardly have the margin of error to accommodate a kid constantly making rookie mistakes.
Then there is Omri Casspi, the man of the people, the bro to shame all other bros. Karl could elect to move Gay to the power forward spot and go with a speedy lineup that offers great spacing. This lineup worked pretty well for about five games last March. The challenges to playing this style are typical of smaller lineups; rebounding and defensive issues. I expect to see this lineup often, but I don’t think it will be the one Karl will rely upon for majority of the minutes.
The remaining options come truly out of left field. Karl could play the two PGs together, move the SG to SF, and Gay to PF. He could play the two SGs together. He could even pull a Quincy Acy, Caron Butler, or Seth Curry out of his hat.
Many, many options. None are perfect. The Kings really need to find a player who can defend, space the floor, and fit into Karl’s philosophical style. Barring some unrealistic skill development (like Cauley-Stein developing a three point shot), that guy probably is not on the roster yet. Until then, the imperfect options will have to do.