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2011-12 Kings Season Preview

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2011-12 Kings Season Preview

After winning nine of their final 18 contests last year, including five of eight on the road, the Sacramento Kings have one collective goal in 2011-12.

“We have to make the Playoffs this year – it’s not even a goal, it’s basically in our contracts, I believe,” says second-year center DeMarcus Cousins.

With a host of breakout candidates at nearly every position, including the youthful foundation of Tyreke Evans, Cousins and Marcus Thornton and three rapidly-improving rookies, Sacramento looks to vault back into postseason contention.

“(We’re) just trying to find our way into the playoffs – that’s what we’re focused on right now,” says Evans. “Things are going to start with defense, and I think we have plenty of firepower to score the ball.”

As the Kings prepare to tip-off the regular season in front of a “blackout” crowd on Dec. 26 at home against the rival L.A. Lakers, a new offensive scheme and adjustments on the defensive end are two of the six intriguing storylines that make the Kings a must-watch team.

A New Offense: The Kings offense will have multiple new looks this season, tailored to the players’ strengths, and at times, redefining the traditional roles of each position on the court.

“I think sometimes over the years, in basketball in general, you’ve gotten very position-specific, where you’re either a one or a two or a four,” explains Kings Assistant Coach Jim Eyen. “We’re trying to get away from that a little bit, which would allow us to use our versatility.

“Our philosophy is not to get pigeonholed into positions, (but) to be able to have many different combinations and use that as an asset for us.”

Backcourt and frontcourt players will create matchup problems for opposing teams, which include multiple three-guard sets. The crafty passing of Chuck Hayes and Cousins will be utilized both on the high post and increasingly more on the low block, where the big men can step out and open up the perimeter for the hot-shooting wings.

“We are going to be doing a lot more splits this year, and (Coach Paul Westphal) is going to be using (the frontcourt) dishing the ball off to the splitting guards,” said Cousins.

With an influx of terrific ball handlers and outside shooters paired with creative big men, the Kings high-powered offense will present plenty of interesting wrinkles while attacking in a variety of ways.

“It’s going to be hard for teams,” Cousins added. “You can’t really focus on one player on our team now – we have so many threats on the floor.

“One minute you have Jimmer knocking them down from the outside, you have Tyreke attacking, you have Marcus Thornton attacking, you have John Salmons attacking. Then you can go to the post, and you have us coming at you – and we can also pass – so it’s going to be tough for teams to guard us.”

Getting Defensive: Sacramento has improved its defensive rating in each of Westphal’s two seasons, and will look to take another step forward with a redeveloped approach. The Kings will frequently implement a full-court press to disrupt opposing guards, and will look to utilize their chemistry to talk more on the court and help each other with defensive assignments.

“We may not be the (best) shot-blocking team, but I think the teams that can really advance and be good are those that really talk on defense,” says forward Jason Thompson.

Last season, the Kings ranked fourth in total rebounds by leading the League in offensive-rebound percentage (.299) and placing 13th in defensive-rebounding percentage (.744). With the frontline additions of Hayes and Hickson, and concerted effort of its versatile backcourt, Sacramento again aims to be among NBA board leaders. The Kings now feature four players – Hickson (25.0 – 11th in the NBA), Cousins (24.4 – 12th), Hayes (20.7) and Thompson (20.7) – who grabbed over 20 percent of all of the available defensive rebounds when they were on the court in 2010-11, as well as Hassan Whiteside, whose 24.2 percent defensive rebound rate ranked 48th in the nation in 2009-10.

“With the athletes we have, with the length and players we have, we can be a top-10 defensive team,” says Hayes, who has already made an impact by setting hard picks and teaching his young teammates some tricks of the trade.

“We have to focus on defense,” confirms forward Donté Greene, adding that the Kings have emphasized boxing out and making hustle plays in training camp. “If we focus on that end, it’ll get us into the Playoffs.”

Evans’ Leap Year: On the heels of one of the greatest rookie seasons in NBA history, Evans played though a lingering plantar fasciitis injury as a sophomore, and saw his numbers decline. As he enters his third season, the Kings floor general has demonstrated his trademark explosiveness during offseason exhibitions and scrimmages, and averaged 16 points (45.5 FG%), 7.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game in the preseason.

Evans has the combination of exquisite ball handling, quickness, size and strength to get to the basket against any defender, and has also shown an improved outside shot – drilling 10-of-12 three-pointers in a recent practice. As he enters his third season, the dominant force Kings fans have grown accustomed to watching is fully restored.

Evans’ numbers through two seasons compare favorably to those of Derrick Rose, Brandon Roy and Russell Westbrook, each of whom was selected to the All-Star game in his third season. The Kings guard tops the list in points, rebounds and steals per game while nearly matching his counterparts in each of the other categories.

Player

From

To

PPG

FG%

3P%

FT%

RPG

APG

SPG

Tyreke Evans

2009

2011

19.1

44%

27%

76%

5.1

5.7

1.5

Derrick Rose

2008

2010

18.7

48%

24%

78%

3.8

6.2

0.8

Brandon Roy

2006

2008

18.1

46%

36%

79%

4.6

5.0

1.1

Russell Westbrook

2008

2010

15.7

41%

25%

80%

4.9

6.6

1.3

“I want to be an All-Star – I work hard,” said Evans. “But to get there, you have to win games, and that’s the most important thing to me right now, just to win.”

All Eyes on DeMarcus: Cousins gave a small glimpse of his immense potential with a strong rookie campaign, and worked diligently during the offseason to improve all facets of his game. No. 15, who averaged 17.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes in 2010-11, recorded at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists 12 times last season – the most among all centers.

While Cousins joked about his offseason diet, in reality, he spent countless hours in the gym, partaking in boxing, weight lifting and swimming to improve his conditioning, and also focused on improving his midrange shot and scoring mentality while dominating in exhibition games.

“Probably just me being a smarter player,” he said of his greatest offseason improvement. “(I’m) not making some of the same mistakes I made last year.”

Steadily improving as last season progressed, the 6-foot-11 center grabbed at least nine boards in 25 of his final 38 games, including a career-best 18 rebounds, to go along with 18 points, seven assists, three blocks and two steals against the Utah Jazz on March 5. Showcasing a strong desire to win and get better, Cousins will look to continue the upward trend in his quest to become one of the League’s elite big men and leading rebounders.

The New Bench Mob: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Kings sported an unparalleled second unit – full of eccentric personalities and fiery competitors –who took pride in outplaying opposing reserves and providing a much-needed spark. Nicknamed “The Bench Mob,” the electrifying backups were adored by coaches, teammates and fans for their relentless heart and hustle.

Each member of the “Mob” brought different qualities to the table, including Jon Barry’s energy and timely buckets, Scot Pollard’s defensive toughness and legendary hair-beard combinations and Bobby Jackson’s two-way determination that ultimately earned him the 2002 Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Much like when Barry would lift his arms and instantly raise the decibel level in the entire arena, the 2011-12 Sacramento reserves, “The Goon Squad” – a moniker coined by Greene – bring an comparably exciting atmosphere, jumping up and down prior to tip-offs to pump up the crowd and forming a unique connection with fans.

The “Squad” doesn’t fixate on who scores the most points or receives the headlines, but rather doing everything it takes to help the team win games.  Greene takes pride in guarding superstars and can attack the rim and knock down outside shots, Thompson crashes the boards and scores in the paint or on jumpers, Francisco Garcia is a top-notch three-point shooter, Travis Outlaw provides versatility and deft three-point range and Whiteside is on his way to becoming an elite shot blocker.

“The Bench Mob” became just as integral to the Kings success as the team’s All-Star starters, while “The Goon Squad” is emerging as a deep and talented group of reserves.

Rookie Trio: The Kings added three NBA-ready rookies in the 2011 Draft in Fredette, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt, and each first-year player brings a different set of skills to the table.

Fredette has shown tremendous poise and talent in the face of pressure and high expectations. In his first preseason game, the rookie poured in a team-high 21 points (7-11 FG, 4-6 3PT) to go along with four assists, four rebounds and one steal. On Tuesday, he chipped in 12 points, four assists and three rebounds. No. 7 used screens to get open looks and created scoring opportunities for his teammates while committing only three total turnovers in the two contests.

The scoring and playmaking guard has the basketball IQ and court vision to be a consistent threat. He has exhibited excellent passing skills and the ability to run the offense, and with opposing defenses focused on stopping Evans and Cousins, Fredette will provide spacing and scoring with his range from outside.

Thomas, too, has turned heads in the preseason. No. 22 scored 13 points (4-8 FG, 2-4 3PT) and dished three assists in 22 minutes in his debut. He then sank a beautiful reverse lay-up to beat the halftime buzzer en route to eight points in Sacramento’s preseason finale. A pass-first point guard who’s an outstanding ball handler and facilitator, Thomas was equally terrific on the defensive end.

“Isaiah really changed the whole game around for us and got us playing with some energy in the second half,” said Westphal after Saturday’s contest. “I give him a lot of credit for that – he’s going to be a nice guard in this League for a long time, I think. He’s a very impressive second-round (Draft) pick.”

Starting the second preseason game, Tyler Honeycutt showed his athleticism and sound fundamentals, scoring his first basket on a put-back lay-in and later connecting from downtown, while routinely boxing out bigger players and contesting countless shots on the other end.

The 6-foot-8 forward impressed his teammates and coaches throughout training camp, drawing comparisons to a former Kings star for his superb work ethic.

“He’s a good player, a good kid – kind of reminds me of a lot Kevin (Martin) when he first got here,” said Garcia, who serves as a mentor to No. 3. “He listens and he works hard on his game. He’s having a good training camp…

“I think he’s going to help us this year. He’s going to play and he’s going to be a good player in the future.”

With the season’s onset just around the corner, what are you most looking forward to seeing from your Sacramento Kings?

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