It's time once again for our annual series "30Q" in which we answer 30 questions over the course of September as we get ready for the upcoming season.
If the Sacramento Kings have a strength heading into the 2016-17 season, it’s their deep, versatile, talented frontcourt. The Kings would have had a solid frontcourt had they not made any changes from last seasons’ frontcourt rotation, but instead added Anthony Tolliver, Skal Labissierre, Georgios Papagiannis, and Matt Barnes to the fold this summer. Needless to say, that is a lot of players, and not a lot of playing time.
The hope was, and to some extent, still is, that the Kings would trade one or two of their frontcourt pieces to beef up their subpar guard play, but as the season gets closer and closer, the odds of a substantial, roster-rebalancing move gets less and less likely. Trades of any significants rarely happen this late in the offseason. Most teams talk themselves into the fact that they’ve had a good summer, and they’d like to get their players together and in camp before they do anything else. It can happen, sure, but if you asked me at the beginning of the summer if Kosta Koufos or Rudy Gay would be on the roster by September 4th, I would have guessed ‘probably not’. They are both still here, and it’s starting to feel like it’s going to stay that way for the time being.
I like this frontcourt. It has shooting, defense, rebounding, size, they can go small, they can go big, etc. Dave Joerger has a lot of options, but as we know all too well, sometimes, too many options can leave a lot of players questioning their role, and really stall the creation of on-court chemistry. Generally speaking, consistent rotations help alleviate those concerns, and if Joerger decides to go with one particular rotation (instead of playing matchups) I am fascinated to see where he ends up.
DeMarcus Cousins is playing, obviously. Dave Joerger mentioned on his podcast with Zach Lowe that all three of the Kings’ small forwards, Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi, and Matt Barnes would / could play some four. He even went on to call Matt Barnes an ‘excellent’ power forward, or some other extraordinary sounding adjective to describe his strong play as a small ball four.
You can pencil Cousins in for 34+ minutes per game, and after that, I just have no idea. One would assume both Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos are in there, at least when training camp opens, but Cousins and Koufos were not great together last season, and for as much as I like Cauley-Stein, I’m interested to see what kind of player he’ll be this year. I talked about some of those fears in yesterdays ‘30 questions’ post, but I don’t know that Willie is a big time rotation ‘lock’ right now. It’s what I expect, but if Joerger opens the season relying on Koufos, Cousins, Tolliver, and Barnes, I would be disappointed (mostly because that means Willie didn’t beat those guys out), but not shocked.
Barnes has played nearly 30 minutes per game over the last two seasons, and has hovered around 20 minutes per game his entire career. I don’t know if he’ll hit that with the Kings this season, but he shouldn’t be taking any small forward minutes away from Omri Casspi or Rudy Gay, and I don’t think the Kings signed him to have him not play a significant role with the team this season.
Smart money would peg Cauley-Stein and Koufos as the center rotation, with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Tolliver picking up most of the power forward minutes. The trouble there is that Cousins is probably a better center (semantics because we can call Cauley-Stein the power forward in that pairing if we want), and that leaves no playing time for Skal Labissierre or Matt Barnes. I’d be fine with letting Skal ride the bench this season, but hearing Joerger gush about him on Lowe’s podcast a few weeks ago is noteworthy. And if Joerger loves Matt Barnes as much as we’ve heard, well, that’s going to create a minutes crunch.
Tolliver could certainly be the odd man out, but do you sign a player for $8 million assuming he won’t be part of the rotation? I don’t know.
I can’t see Georgios Papagiannis sniffing the rotation, but in the interest of including him in this conversation, I felt compelled to at least type that out. I hope he likes Reno.
It feels like the Kings have entered every season over the last decade with an unbalanced roster, and that usually stems from having multiple average-but-not-great players up and down the depth chart. It’d be nice to cash in some of their frontcourt depth for help elsewhere, but this is the game we’ve been playing with the Kings for years. We spend the summer waiting for the rebalance, and it just doesn’t happen.
If this is the frontcourt heading into camp, Joerger has a few tough decisions ahead of him.