If Santa had his way, he would give the Sacramento Kings a lump of coal. A 29-53 season with three different head coaches is no way to get on anyone’s good side.
Regardless, the franchise heads into the offseason with a wish list of roster upgrades. Head coach George Karl described his own preferences.
“I think we need a defensive player, I think we need an offensive player,” Karl told the media last week. “I think we need a passer, a playmaking scorer, a guy that doesn’t play point, but off the ball is a playmaker. And there’s no question that our defense has got to get better. Can we bring a stopper in here that can take on the mentality of being put on their best player? Every coach wants more shooting. And there’s no question that the game is making the 3-ball…extremely important. I’ll take one of all (of) them.”
Any unspoiled child knows they can’t always get what they wish. But the Kings’ needs are as vital as plumbing repairs. Further negligence, and the franchise will continue to stand in its own mess.
Finding perimeter defenders is easier said than done. Ask the Clippers, who signed a 34-year-old D-League version of Dahntay Jones midseason to shore up their poor outside play. Sacramento must find a way however, after allowing the third-most 3-point makes in the league this season.
The Kings struggled to produce turnovers too, ranking 26th in the league in steals, as opponents ran their sets with little resistance. An instinctive defender on the wing would be a valued addition.
Ideally, the Kings can find their solution in-house with Darren Collison and Ben McLemore. Collison was defending at a career-best level before going down for the year with a hip injury, and McLemore was Sacramento’s emerging stopper before inconsistency struck. Whether Rudy Gay stays at the three or shifts to the four, the Kings have a major concern of who will cover stretch forwards.
Inside the arc, the Kings remain in the market for a shot blocker. While DeMarcus Cousins averaged a career-high 1.7 swats per game, Sacramento allowed the seventh-most points in the paint this year. 2014 free agent signee Ryan Hollins ran the floor yet didn’t get the job done, so the search continues for a Cousins sidekick.
Stagnant ball movement and poor shot selection have plagued the Kings in recent seasons, enough to force the team to acquire 39-year-old Andre Miller at the trade deadline. No one will confuse Collison or Ray McCallum with John Stockton, but improvement is expected of the two after undergoing a full offseason with Karl. It’s a tall task for natural scorers to remold themselves into facilitators, yet Karl had moderate success with Gary Payton and Ty Lawson.
As far as an off-the-ball playmaker, Nik Stauskas was envisioned to be the man when the Kings drafted him eighth overall last summer. Karl finally unleashed the reigns on the rookie after he was used primarily as a set shooter for most of the season, and the initial results looked promising. Stauskas could put the ball on the floor without turning it over and pass to open teammates with impressive accuracy.
Cousins (3.6) and Rudy Gay (3.7) averaged career-highs in assists per game this season, and both can strive to do better. Impending unrestricted free agent Omri Casspi showed a flair for finding teammates and pushing the break in his comeback tour with Sacramento. Both sides are interested in extending their relationship.
Snipers can change the playing field, and in Karl’s offense, outside shooters are a necessity. The Kings made the third-fewest 3-pointers in the NBA this season, which allowed opponents to double and triple-team Cousins with impunity.
Karl expects improvement from within, particularly Rudy Gay and his 35.9 percent 3-point average. McCallum (30.6 percent) and Stauskas (32.2) have to show more, while McLemore (35.8) improved significantly from his rookie campaign. The Kings’ leading qualified downtown shooter was Casspi (40.2), who is free to sign with any team.
Sacramento’s decision to play Gay at small or power forward is an important factor. With Derrick Williams likely gone, the Kings have no stretch-fours, and they’ll have no sharpshooting threes beyond Gay if Casspi leaves.
There’s the option of Cousins taking 3-pointers, but mad science is not the answer. However the Kings address these weaknesses, it will directly correlate to their competitiveness next season.
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