As NBA training camps get underway, we preview the upcoming season with the “Highs and Lows” system — predicting the respective ceiling and basement for each team.
Added: DeMarcus Cousins, Sam Dalembert, Hassan Whiteside, Luther Head, Antoine Wright
Lost: Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Jon Brockman, Ime Udoka, Sean May
Ceiling: 35 wins
On their way to a 25-win campaign last season, Sacramento jettisoned their former franchise centerpiece, discovered their new franchise centerpiece, put themselves in position to draft another franchise building block, and were arguably better than their poor record indicated. Injuries and inexperience played a big role in a lot of the team’s 57 losses … Tyreke Evans is the alpha. The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year put up 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, joining Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and LeBron James as the only rookies to ever average 20-5-5. Tyreke split time between point guard and two-guard as he shared the backcourt with Kevin Martin early in the year and Beno Udrih late, but whichever position he’s playing, the team’s offense flows through ‘Reke. Over the summer he worked on getting stronger and hitting his outside shot (25% 3PA) more consistently … No. 5 overall pick DeMarcus Cousins is the future interior anchor to complement Tyreke, but he will have to earn PT in a talented frontcourt that includes Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, and 6-11 Donte Greene, who can also play some guard … Omri Casspi is another young talent on the wing, whose hustle and “little things” contributions are worth more than the 10.3 ppg he averaged as a rookie … Second-year coach Paul Westphal is still putting his stamp on this team, but things are moving in the right direction. Memories of the C-Webb/Divac era and a return to the playoffs are a huge stretch, but a 10-win improvement wouldn’t be surprising.
Basement: Worst in the West
It’s not hard to identify where the Kings suffered last year. They gave up 104 points per game, ranking 25th in the League. Their field-goal percentage defense was barely outside the Bottom-10. They were 23rd in blocks and 22nd in steals. In words and not numbers, the Kings need playmakers on defense and need to keep teams from lighting them up … So they brought in Sam Dalembert, who from the time he became a full-time starter in the League in ’03-04, has the second-most blocked shots in the NBA (behind only Marcus Camby), and drafted Hassan Whiteside, who led the NCAA in blocks as a freshman at Marshall. But there still isn’t a lock-down type defender on the perimeter, and the only guys who could even pretend to be that before, Nocioni and Udoka, are no longer with the team … Tyreke is one of the toughest 1-on-1 covers in the League, but he doesn’t hit threes and his shot selection is often questionable. That could change as he gets more reliable scorers/shooters and some low-post threats around him, or he’s just wired that way … The Kings have talent, but can they play together? Dalembert and Landry are in contract years, while Thompson, Casspi, Greene and Evans are (presumably) looking for the organization to pick up their contract options for next season. Then you have a lot of young players who will be vying for minutes and shots … Sacramento finished with the second-worst record in the West last year. Of the three teams that sat near them in the standings, the Warriors and Clippers each added significant roster upgrades this summer. So there’s a chance only the Timberwolves stand between the Kings and a reservation for the basement.
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