Get an in-depth look at five storylines from the team’s 2012-13 campaign, featuring Cousins, Patterson, Thomas, Thornton and more.
In a season highlighted by a strong second half and impressive victories over numerous postseason contenders, the Kings posted their highest win total (28) and win percentage (34.1 percent) since 2007-08.
Utilizing the team’s athleticism and quickness, Sacramento ran an up-tempo offense, exhibiting improved ball movement and efficiency. In 28 games following the All-Star break, the Kings led the League in pace (98.53) and ranked second in scoring (106.8 points per game), as well as third in fastbreak (18.9) and points in the paint (46.1).
“Since I’ve been here, although we haven’t won more games than we’ve lost, I’ve felt like our energy has been great – (we’re) moving offensively, sharing the ball, putting up big numbers and playing (with a lot of) intensity,” says mid-season acquisition Patrick Patterson. “All the teammates are having fun out there on the court and our defense (has) progressively gotten better.”
While Kings Head Coach Keith Smart acknowledges the team has room to grow in correcting miscues in late-game situations, he’s been pleased with the development of its up-and-coming core.
“We’d love to be knocking on the door, pushing for a Playoff position, but sometimes, you have to build and go through some (growing) situations first to eventually get to where you’re trying to go,” says the Kings coach. “This team will get a chance to compete and play at high levels in Playoff basketball because I’ve seen it happen. I just look at where Brooklyn was, where Oklahoma City was – your young players keep progressing and get better, and when the time comes, you look back at what you had to go through to get there.”
Jason Thompson – whose favorite highlights of 2012-13 include Sacramento’s historic 42-point win over Chicago on March 13 and James Johnson’s buzzer-beating three-pointer against N.Y. on Dec. 28, 2012 – recognizes the team must continue to put in extra hours in the gym and film room in order to reach its full potential.
“We know, especially for a young team, you want to try and get off to a good start and finish (strong) – for you to get a chance to be in the Playoffs, you have to be a consistent team,” he says. “We definitely have some things to work on and we’ll be better next year.”
Isaiah Thrives: An avid student of the game, Isaiah Thomas continued to progress into one of the League’s rising point guards, averaging 17.3 points, 5.4 assists and one steal per game over the second half of his sophomore season.
“I look at film of Chris Paul each and every day, just to see how he gets his guys involved, how he gets separation on his midrange jumpshot,” says Thomas, adding he’s also picked up moves from playing against Steve Nash and Jose Calderon, as well as watching highlights of Damon Stoudamire. “I look up to all those guys – all the top point guards in the NBA and all the guys who’ve been doing it for a while – because I want to be just like them.
“That’s all I do – watch basketball, try to pick guys’ brains and just get better.”
Smart has been impressed with the major strides No. 22 made in his second season, and expects Thomas to follow in the footsteps of Boston Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo by impacting games with his playmaking and basketball IQ.
“For a young guard who’s transitioned from being a big-time scorer to now having to back off on some occasions and let other players (score), I think he’s growing at the right pace,” says the Kings leader.
“One thing he’s had going for him (since) Day 1 is the leadership characteristic. A guy who I grew up with and know really well, Avery Johnson, that’s what he had right away … and (Thomas) has that.”
It’s no surprise many of No. 22’s teammates picked the guard as both the Kings Most Improved and Most Valuable Player.
“I’d say it’s (because of) the hard work they see me put in each and every day,” says a humbled Thomas. “Before practice, after practice, gamedays, non-gamedays – I’m trying to take what I work on and utilize it on the court.”
Reflecting on his season highlights, the University of Washington product – who finished the year ranked fourth in assists (4.0 per game), fifth in points (13.9) and sixth in Player Efficiency Rating (17.5) among all sophomores – says it was a blessing to compete in the NBA All-Star Weekend Rising Stars Challenge.
“To see guys like LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant), just to be around greatness … it gave me motivation to play even harder,” says Thomas, who poured in 18 points and 10 assists on the big stage. “I know one day I want to be in that game, I want to be an All-Star and I want to be one of the best little guards to ever play the game.”
DMC’s Dominance: In his third-year campaign, DeMarcus Cousins continued to develop into one of the game’s elite centers, improving his field goal percentage (46.5) and free-throw accuracy (73.8) for the third consecutive season, while averaging a career-high 2.7 assists per contest.
Among all qualified centers, No. 15 ranked fourth in scoring (17.1 points per game), sixth in rebounding (9.9), seventh in double-doubles (35) and eighth in PER (20.2). Using his strength and quickness to outrun and overpower opposing big men, Cousins placed behind only L.A. Lakers All-Star Dwight Howard in free-throw attempts (423) at his position.
Sacramento’s center joined Al Jefferson of the Jazz and Al Horford of the Hawks as one of only three players to average over 17 points, nine rebounds, two assists and one steal per game in 2012-13. With 2,148 career rebounds, the big man also passed five-time All-Star Chris Webber for most boards over his first three seasons with the Kings.
“I think he’s made some strides in his game and I think he’s trying to grow as a young man,” says Smart.
Cousins – who finished 2012-13 in spectacular fashion by pouring in a season-high 36 points, to go along with a career-high 22 rebounds and three blocks – says he’s looking forward to getting back in the gym and continuing his ascent.
“(I’ll) learn from this season and (go into the offseason) with the same mindset I went in last time,” he says. “Just getting better all around.”
While Smart praises the Kentucky product’s improvement in pick-and-roll defense, Cousins – a strict self-evaluator – is the first one to own up to his limitations and is determined to become a complete all-around player.
“I’m going to be honest – I’m not the greatest defensive player and I know it,” he states. “I have to keep working. I would love to make (the NBA All-Defensive Team).”
With an offseason focused on conditioning and refining his post game, Smart expects Cousins to further progress into an All-Star caliber center.
“He was in great shape when he came in this year (and I want him) to be in much better shape again, (as well as) work on his low-post game,” says the Kings leader. “He has to take it to the next level from a skill (aspect) and still be able to create opportunities to score deep into the paint. If he can do those things, he’s going to make a big jump in his basketball game.”
Marcus Shines in New Role: After starting 74 consecutive games over the previous two seasons – all but four since joining the Kings in February 2011 – Marcus Thornton began 2012-13 as a reserve.
“I knew it would be tough for him, but … I thought Marcus would do a fantastic job, like James Harden did for Oklahoma City,” says Smart. “I just shared with him, (look at) Jamal Crawford or Harden – different players who’ve been off-the-bench guys who’ve helped their teams and almost played starter’s minutes.”
Although Thornton admits adjusting to the new role presented an initial challenge, he found his groove following the All-Star break, averaging 14.6 points on 47 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from downtown in 28 contests.
“As a player, it’s a fast-paced game, and you have to get yourself going right away – sometimes it’s tough,” explains No. 23.
Providing instant offense each time he stepped on the court, the high-scoring guard was one of only three players in the League to tally two 30-plus-point games off the bench, including a season-high 36 points (8 of 12 from long range) in a double-overtime thriller against Miami on Feb. 26.
“Marcus Thornton has come in and done great things, giving the second unit that spark we need,” says Jimmer Fredette. “He shoots the ball well and gives us a scoring punch when he (plays).”
Smart reveals in order to help the LSU product find his rhythm, the Kings leader advised Thornton to enter each game at predetermined times in the first and third quarters.
“I said, ‘At this particular time, don’t even ask me to come in the game – you just get up off the bench and go in the game,’” says Smart. “Giving him his own time to come in kind of put him in the mindset nightly that … it was going to be up to him, and that was big for him.”
On the season, Thornton ranked fourth in games with 20 or more points off the bench (13), 11th in three-pointers made (119) and 14th in total points (798) among all qualified reserves in the League, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
From Long Range: Led by Thornton and Thomas, Sacramento set a team record for three-pointers made in a season (610), breaking the previous mark set in 2003-04 (601).
“Anytime you can break a record as a team that’s a testament to the work (everyone) puts in,” says No. 23. “(We were) just locking in, seeing the shot all the way through, and (had) great ball movement in the second half of the season.”
Four Kings players drilled at least 60 shots from behind the arc, while six connected on at least 35 percent of their attempts – including Fredette, who ranked 17th in the NBA in long-range accuracy (41.7 percent).
Sacramento knocked down at least six triples in 28 consecutive games to end the season – including two games with 14 makes from downtown – as the team’s 9.3 threes per contest since the All-Star break trailed only Houston, N.Y. and Miami.
Trade Effect: Sacramento’s second-half surge directly coincided with a six-player mid-season trade, in which the Kings acquired three players – Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas – each of whom made significant impact on both ends of the court.
“They all bring something different and it has helped us in different ways,” says Thomas. “Cole is a heck of a defender for a big man who does the little things like set picks and get guys open. Patrick knows what spots he needs to be in and he can really shoot the ball for a big. Toney is just a great defender, who also is a great point guard who can set guys up and can score.”
No. 9 averaged 8.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest in purple and black, connecting on 44.4 percent from behind the arc.
“What I’ve brought – (along with) Toney and Cole – is great, positive energy,” explains Patterson. “(We’re getting) people focusing more on defense and letting the offense just come.”
The Kentucky alum attributes his seamless transition to Sacramento to his study of the game, basketball IQ and team-oriented mentality.
“I step out on the court every single night and just want to play hard, want to make my teammates better, not play selfishly, want to make my teammates have fun on the court and share the ball, most importantly,” he says.
“As long as I’m out there contributing to my teammates’ success out there on the court, whether I play off the bench or I’m a starter, it really doesn’t matter.”
Aldrich – who recorded 10.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes with the Kings – notched back-to-back double-doubles on April 14 and 15, averaging 12 points, 12.5 rebounds and two swats during the eye-opening stretch.
“(My mindset) is to just protect the rim and help the guys in any way I can,” he says. “If you work hard, you can be really good defensively.”
In addition to his shot-blocking prowess and propensity to do “the little things,” the big man showcased his soft touch, sound instincts around the basket and ability to finish strong in transition.
“He’s a presence in the paint and people feed off him whenever he’s doing well out there, on the offensive end and especially on the defensive end,” says Patterson. “When Cole is out there and we get stops, it’s mainly because of him and his energy.”
Douglas has similarly provided impressive on-ball defense, consistently forcing opposing point guards into contested jumpshots and coming up with countless deflections and game-altering plays. No. 0 notched at least one steal in his final seven games of the season, during which he averaged 2.3 swipes, to go along with 8.0 points and 3.1 assists.
“Toney’s a guy who pressures his man, brings really high energy and tries to not make it easy for the (opposing) point guard,” says Thompson. “His energy has definitely been a good spark for us.”
In 26 games since the trio joined the team, the Kings connected on 46.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from long range – up from 43.8 and 35.5 percent, respectively – while scoring an additional 9.8 points and dishing 3.2 more assists per outing.
Tyreke At His Best: Find out why Evans and his teammates believe the former Rookie of the Year had the finest season of his career in 2012-13. READ
Closer Look: Patrick Patterson: Get an in-depth look at No. 9, from his multifaceted skill set to his impressive on- and off-court accomplishments. READ