There were positives to be found in Sacramento despite the team’s record.
Final Record: 28-54
Expectations vs. Reality:
The Kings didn’t do well this season. However, after being ranked 23rd in ESPN’s Preseason Power Rankings, they didn’t exactly fall short of expectations. Demarcus Cousins was rewarded with a four-year, $60 million extension, but uncertainty surrounded Marcus Thornton, while there was curiosity around Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore and new coach Mike Malone. After winning their opening game, the Kings stumbled to a 3-13 start and found themselves already in the lottery race.
After a rocky start, Malone was able to reduce the team’s OPPG (opponent’s points per game) from 105.1 last year to 103.4 this year, good for 24th in the league after finishing dead last in that category the previous year.
It would be a public relations ploy to call the season a success, but the Kings did show progress. The potential relocation did no favors to the current state of the franchise, but despite this there’s hope the Kings can produce a winning product again.
Compared to the other eight first-year coaches, Malone could’ve done better. It is impressive he kept the team from falling apart, and his work with Cousins not only garnered the best season of his career but also had him singing praises for Malone by season’s end:
“I think the future is bright,” Cousins said following the Kings’ April 13 contest against Minnesota. “I’m with Malone until the end – he knows that. He has my back, I’ve got his. You’re going to be seeing him for a while until he gets rid of me because it won’t be my choice.”
Coach Malone has been vocal all season about Cousins, but in a constructive way. Overall, Malone is a player’s coach and seems to have the respect of his players after only one season which was riddled with bad losses yet progressive movements in the team’s development.
Players (with team at end of season playing in 5+ games):
Isaiah Thomas (PG): A-
His scoring and assists improved as he became a legitimate scoring option and matchup problem. Despite a shoot-first mentality, Thomas averaged 6.3 assists per game, good for 12th in the league.
Ray McCallum (PG): C+
McCallum provided decent scoring off the bench and showed consistency from 3, hitting 37 percent from 3-point range on the year.
Ben McLemore (SG): C-
The highly anticipated rookie season of Ben McLemore’s didn’t go as well as hoped, but he finished strong, averaging 14 points per game in April. The last game of the season was his best, finishing with 31 points, five rebounds and dished out five assists. Still, 8.8 points per game isn’t exactly stunning.
Jared Cunningham (SG): D
Cunningham only played 8 games mostly in April when the season was essentially over, but even in limited minutes, Cunningham shot poorly and didn’t distinguish himself.
Rudy Gay (SF): A-
Gay benefited quite a bit from the trade. He averaged 20.1 points per game after the trade and shot 48 percent from the field (both career bests), though his 3-point shooting percent fell throughout the year. Gay was one of three Kings players to average more than 10 points per game (all three averaged over 20, as well). He also posted a career-high 3.1 assists per game.
Travis Outlaw (SF): C-
Outlaw doesn’t get quite the minutes he did as a sixth man in Portland and New Jersey, but still provided a spark off the bench when needed. Unfortunately for him, the Kings are full of players who log minutes at the wing. He did post good numbers from 3, but his field goal percentage slipped.
Quincy Acy (SF): D-
Acy played more than he did with the Raptors (14.0 minutes per game), but only his rebounding numbers improved.
Jason Thompson (PF): D+
I’ve always thought Jason Thompson had potential. He averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds his sophomore season, but hasn’t seen his numbers improve since. He averaged a career-low 7.1 points per game and shot even more poorly from the free-throw line.
Derrick Williams (PF): C+
The trade for Gay cut into his minutes. Though inconsistent, he had occasional strong outings including a 31-point performance on Dec. 9. A 29 percent 3-point percentage isn’t enough to excite, however.
Reggie Evans (PF): B-
There’s one thing that Reggie Evans excels at: rebounding. Evans posted a 21.5 percent rebounding rate, good for fourth in the league. This was down from last year when he led with a 26.7 percent rate. However, Evans can still make a difference on the glass. He also shot nearly 53 percent from the field and scored better than his career average.
Carl Landry (PF): C
Landry missed most of the year with injuries and played in limited minutes. His shooting percentages were nearly in line with his career averages, but he wasn’t able to make much of an impression offensively.
DeMarcus Cousins (C): A
Cousins posted career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, field goal percentage, and minutes. Mission accomplished, Mr. Malone. The only issue? A snub in the All-Star voting.
Aaron Gray (C): D-
Career-lows in points and field goal percentage gave way for others to let Cousins rest instead of Gray. There was very little contribution from the veteran seven-footer.
From the new staff to acquiring Rudy Gay to trading away dead weight in Marcus Thornton, the front office of the Kings found themselves busy. Several moves were made to improve the roster and on paper it looks good. There’s a challenge coming in the offseason. Drafting McLemore was a long-term move that could still work out, and from a coaching standpoint, the team may have found its main man in Malone. The franchise has also been approved for a brand new arena, which should ensure its future is in Sacramento.
Real Grade: C-
Tank Grade: B+!
Sacramento will have the eighth pick in this year’s draft. The year was a success without being an actual success. Malone has started to change the culture, and the players are buying in. Overall, that’s a win for a franchise in need of actual victories or moral ones. If they can manage to hang on to Thomas, they’ll have a good core of him, Rudy Gay, and Cousins.