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.
For years now, the Kings have struggled to put together what one would call a "good" team. Over-matched or ill-fitting starting lineups have long been buoyed by bench units with little juice or, sometimes, "NBA-level talent."
The year before new ownership took over, the team was actually relying on the likes of Travis Outlaw, Jimmer Fredette, and Chuck Hayes, among others, to play key roles off the bench. That same year, Marcus Thornton was moved down to a bench role in order to bolster a listless outfit and promptly finished with the lowest Net Rating of his career up to that point. The following year would be Thornton's last with the Kings, giving credence to the notion that playing off the Kings' bench is as soul-sucking as watching it is.
To make matters worse, the Kings coaches during this time never really grasped how to build a rotation. Who could forget the platoon-style bench substitutions employed by Keith Smart? Or the always changing status of Isaiah Thomas, who would start each season as the super-sub and end each as the lead guard for the Kings' most-used lineup.
Things have not been better since Vivek and Co. took over, with the team having brought on the likes of Ramon Sessions, Derrick Williams, and Marco Belinelli to contribute off the bench over the years. For much of the last decade, if the Kings' starters were able to scrounge up a lead, the bench unit was always liable to squander it in miraculous fashion.
So where does that lead the Kings heading into this season? The constant roster-churning has left some pretty interesting buildings blocks for this upcoming season, but the roster is always influx. If the starting lineup is Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein, and DeMarcus Cousins, the first five off the bench this season will likely be some order of Garrett Temple, Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi, Matt Barnes, and Kosta Koufos. Anthony Tolliver will be able to find his way into the mix, as will Ty Lawson provided that he makes the team. If worse comes to worst, Lamar Patterson, Malachi Richardson, and Skal Labissiere will all receive chances to get into the rotation, though that will probably be indicative off something gone wrong. I am intentionally not including Isaiah Cousins and Georgios Papagiannis because both might (should) spend most of the season in Reno.
This is a very interesting talent situation, albeit one with a lot of questions.
Anthony Tolliver has established a career as an above-average three-point shooter for his position, though that does not preclude him from watching his shooting prowess go the way of Kings' off-season acquisitions before him. Garrett Temple, for his career, has never been an above average shooter, though by all accounts his greatest contribution will come through his defense, positional versatility and leadership. This is more or less true of Tolliver as well, which makes the Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson acquisitions even more confounding, as both come with a slew of question marks both on and off the floor.
Barnes will be 37 years old by the time the season ends and already experienced a dip in shooting percentages last season, albeit accompanied by an uptick in usage due to the slew of Memphis Grizzlies injuries. Lawson will likely make the opening night roster due to Darren Collison's legal troubles (isn't this a common theme), though an opening night roster spot was not enough to guarantee Lawson a full season on a team as recently as last year.
The issue with Ben McLemore has already been covered in detail by Akis, while Omri Casspi and Kosta Koufos are more than capable bench players who will see their minutes and roles fluctuate depending on what the Kings can do on the trade market. Casspi could very well fit in the starting lineup if one, or both, of Gay and Koufos is dealt, while Koufos is probably a necessity good at this point after the Summer League showings of Cauley-Stein and Papagiannis. That Koufos and Cousins did not mesh well as a front-court pairing last season presents an interesting decision for the Kings if Cauley-Stein does not hold down the starting spot.
Perhaps Koufos is dealt for guard help of any kind, with Tolliver taking his spot as the (undersized) backup center. The Kings may be suspect on the boards, moving Cauley-Stein to a bench role which opens up problems for him creating his own offense without a reliable bench lead guard. Or perhaps Casspi takes the place of Cauley-Stein or Gay in the starting lineup, the latter as a result of a trade. Unless the return in any such trade brings in some shooting talent, the Kings could be devoid of reliable three-point shooting from their bench wings once again.
On the surface, the idea of switching, spaced-out bench lineups featuring Temple, McLemore, Casspi, Barnes and Tolliver, or the quasi-likelihood of at least one of the Kings' three rookies breaking out in some substantive way all are cause for intrigue. But each bit of intrigue is an inflection point from which the Kings, in years past, have reaped precious few fruit.
For some context, CBS Sports ran a piece ranking each of the 30 teams' benches, and projected the Kings to have the 25th best.
All of this is to say that assessing the question of whether the Kings can put together a good bench comes equipped with its own set of Kings-specific questions which need to be answered first. Prepare for a lot of moving parts here.