More often than not, the Sacramento Kings have put a poor product on the floor. I’m not talking about the 2013-14 season or the Maloof era, but the entire 29 seasons the team has played in California’s capital city.
Bad basketball. That is what Kings fans have been treated to for 19 of the 29 years since the team moved west from Kansas City before the 1985-86 season.
With all that losing, fans have become accustom to the concept of a good player on a bad team putting up inflated numbers. I’m not talking about Reggie Theus in the early years or the seven-year run of excellence by Mitch Richmond.
What I’m talking about is the Antoine Carr-type player that posts a career average of 9.3 points per game over 16 seasons in the NBA, but 19.7 points per game in his 110-game stint in Sacramento.
Sacramento isn’t unique in this concept. There is always a player or two that looks like a near All-Star for a losing team, but in reality, they are a third or fourth option and maybe even less on a good team. They elevate their stats momentarily, but over the course of their career a clearer picture develops.
What makes Sacramento special in this category, is the sheer volume of seasons mired in mediocrity.
We have talked at length about Isaiah Thomas and whether he is as good as his statistics say that he is. Is he truly a player that can sustain a 21.5 player efficiency rating? Can he average 20 points per game, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range? More importantly, if you took him off the Kings and placed him on a team bound for 50 wins and an extended playoff run, would he hold up as a frontline starter or would he level off as a solid role player?
Watching the 24-year old point guard perform over the last few games has shaken plenty of fans in the pro-Thomas camp. Despite scoring plenty of points and keeping the Kings close against quality teams, there were too many instances of hero ball and way too many losses.
That is not the feeling that Thomas wanted to portray. He wanted to show the world that without DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, he could put the Kings on his muscular 5-foot-9 frame and pick up a few much needed wins.
Instead, Thomas has looked single-minded much of the time. He looks like a player trying to fill up the stat sheet, as much as a player looking to will his team to victory. It’s a small sample size, but the look and feel of Thomas in these games said player with inflated stats on a bad team.
That’s a fine line. One that is easier to walk when you are surrounded with players like Cousins and Gay.
Hopefully this was a good learning experience, if Thomas takes that route. But even if he does not, it still helps further define who Thomas is as a player.
Thomas can’t do it alone. He is not Chris Paul or LeBron James or Kevin Durant. But he is a player that can play to an elite level when called upon. He has consistently held his own and even dominated players that are All-Star caliber. But it’s not about personal success when you are the leader of a team.
There is no question that Thomas is being noticed around the league. Opposing coaches have made it a point in both pregame and postgame interviews to talk about how he is underrated as a player and every bit as good as his stats say that he is.
However, the question is still there. Is Thomas a solid player who is flourishing on a bad team or does his game transcend the Kings’ 15-31 record?
I believe the answer is somewhere in between. After watching every single one of his professional games either live or through TV, I can tell you that Isaiah Thomas would fit on any team in the NBA. If not a starter, he would be a rotational player on every team in the league.
He may not average 20 points per game on a good team, but he might. Thomas is an efficient scorer from both inside and out. He is an exceptional ball-handler and can be a solid defender.
But what is clear, is that the Kings are better when Thomas is the second or third option. His skills mesh perfectly with Cousins as a partner in the pick and roll game and with Gay as a draw-and-kick point guard. But there are plenty of point guards that would flourish alongside those two players.
If there is an indictment against Thomas, it is that he has the ability to make Cousins and Gay better, but the same can’t be said for many of his other teammates. That is where Thomas has to improve as a point guard and a leader. If he can make Jason Thompson, Derrick
Williams, Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore better, then the Kings will win more games.
The jury is still out. Sacramento doesn’t need Thomas to go for 30 or more when the stars are out. They need him to pull those missing points from the remaining 10 players around him. That is the true test of a leader.
Thomas has shown that he can average 20 points and six assists per game on a 15-31 team. Individual accomplishments are nice, but now it is time for him to convert personal success into wins for his team. Until then, he will just be another 20 point scorer on a losing team.