There isn’t much about the Sacramento Kings right now that lends itself to sounding regal. A decade after becoming one of the best teams in the loudest building in the NBA, the Kings are suffering from trickle-down uncertainty that starts in the owner’s box and ends with the product on the floor. The 13-22 record this season doesn’t provide much hope they won’t finish last in their division, which would be the sixth time that’s happened in the past seven years. The owners, the Maloof brothers, can opt out of the lease for the Sleep Train Arena at any time, though options for a re-location have thinned, too. More on that in a minute. Everything can go, it seems, like an estate sale for the still-living. Two players, though, are considered untouchable — and one might be a surprise.
USA Today‘s Sam Amick, a veteran of the Kings beat, has been in front of the story that is the unraveling franchise and his latest dispatch revealed just how well one player in particular is playing. DeMarcus Cousins certainly plays excellent basketball when A) he feels like it and B) his coach is on the same page as Cousins. Those extremes have produced a triple-double and a two-game suspension for insubordination against coach Keith Smart this season — a suspension ended at the order of the Maloofs. He’s a little crazy, and he’s crazy good, but both were known long ago about Cousins.
What’s more interesting is how Jimmer Fredette has overcome a dreadful rookie season to become the second player the current Kings management (though GM Geoff Petrie is likely to be gone after June) adamantly will not trade. Amick wrote Sunday night:
… the Kings have been consistent in their stance that they still want Cousins to be their franchise centerpiece. According to the person familiar with the talks, the Kings continue to make it clear that both Cousins and second-year guard Jimmer Fredette are not available.
Come again? Jimmer? Tom Ziller has made the case for his candidacy for Most Improved here before, but let’s run through the numbers. He averaged 14.7 points per 36 minutes as a rookie, shooting 38 percent from the field and 36 percent from three. Smart only could keep him on the floor 19 minutes per game due to either shooting or defensive inefficiency. The unconscious scorer from BYU didn’t strike fear in any advance scout’s heart last season. In 32 games off the bench this season, he’s scoring 19.3 points per 36 minutes and his true shooting has jumped seven percentage points to 56 percent — the seventh best of any second-year player averaging at least as many minutes per game as he is (14.4). At recently as New Year’s Eve, in Ziller’s piece, Fredette was in the top 10 in the entire NBA in points per 36 minutes.
Yes, he’s averaging almost a quarter fewer minutes per game than he was as a rookie yet is doing more with those minutes than anyone thought possible a season ago. Unlike Cousins, this was not expected. I’m not sure I buy the case that he should be a sacred cow within the Kings’ organization despite such improvements (I would propose Isaiah Thomas), but Fredette’s leap makes him a special turnaround story. As just one comparison, Jason Terry won Sixth Man of the Year in 2008-09 while scoring 20.9 points per 36 minutes with 57 percent true shooting. Is that a viable role for Fredette? The ultimate insiders when it comes to his development, the Kings, seem to believe so.
On a scale even larger than Smart’s rotation options, the Kings are grasping to whatever they can right now like someone falling off a ledge. Former top rookie Tyreke Evans‘ dispute with the franchise is at a much lower volume with management than Cousins’ but could lead to him being traded by the Feb. 21 trade deadline, according to the Sacramento Bee. Meanwhile a Maloof brothers exit strategy won’t include Virginia Beach after that city and the team ended their mutual flirtation.
“They either continue digging a hole for themselves on the business side by looking at the next alternative outside the city of Sacramento, or they roll up their sleeves and go back to work with Mayor Johnson,” said Andy Dolich, a Bay Area sports consultant.
So, sorry if you wanted a neat and tidy conclusion to the saga in Sacramento, the NBA’s most uncomfortable-to-watch soap opera. But if you must watch the Kings play, keep an eye on Fredette and see how he’s gone from the shooting guard unplayable in clutch situations to the guy scoring so well the franchise wants him as its future face.
Should Jimmer be Most Improved?
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