Regular Season Western Conference Rank: 12
Sac town didn’t return to the glory days of circa 2001 during last season’s 25 win debacle, but they surely aren’t headed downhill from here on out. As the 2nd to worst team in the Western Conference a year ago, to only the saddest franchise in the league, the Minnesota Timberwolves, on the outside they look as terrible as their record indicates. Except, as we all know, they’ve found their cornerstone of the future, Tyreke Evans, and can hope to build on his progress to return to at least mediocrity.
During his Rookie of the Year winning campaign of 2009, Evans really burst onto the scene as the 4th overall pick. He didn’t really get much hype heading into the draft, as the buzz was dominated by Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio, who were thought to be battling for the top spot, but the Kings somewhat surprisingly chose him at the number four with Rubio still on the board.
And Evans exceeded expectations; he was one of the rare rookies who was able to maintain a consistent level of excellent play from the get-go, playing like a seasoned vet starting from game one. After a mildly mediocre October, he maintained his 20 point, 5 rebound, 5 assist stat line throughout each month of the season, more or less, and ended up as one of only three players in the league to get at least a 20-5-5. The others were LeBron and Kobe – not bad company.
By the end of the season, he was a no-brainer for Rookie of the Year, fending off the likes of Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings. And deservedly too, considering his effectiveness even in not completely harnessing his rare abilities. He is an athlete unlike any other in the NBA, sort of like LeBron in that way – Evans is built like a tank, and although he isn’t very quick, or an amazingly great ball handler or jumper, he has very useable strength derived from his thick body. He isn’t outwardly ripped like Corey Maggette, who looks the part, but is rather unassuming in appearance except with extremely long arms.
He gets his points by bulling his way to the basket with seemingly slow and clunky moves which somehow are always able to keep defenders off balance, using his strength to create space in the paint and punish reaching players. Evans likes to drive right and shoot right, and doesn’t get so high on his finishing, but is still always able to shoot over his defender, because he has great body control and is adept at finding creases in the defense and hitting them hard, like a running back. His combination of lanky long arms and lower body strength and control are unmatched by any player in the league, making him very unique and difficult to guard.
One sequence which was a microcosm of his season was against the Lakers, when he was matched up against Kobe, a revered defender. Evans took the ball slowly against Kobe, put it behind his back in an elongated and deliberate motion, evading Kobe’s futile stab at the ball, and then when he saw daylight ahead through a tiny crease between Bynum and Gasol, he took his two steps and maneuvered his way into the paint for a lefty lay in jumping off the wrong foot. He didn’t jump all that high, but smartly evaded the long arms of the two big men and although went up for the shot a bit awkwardly, he put it in nicely. He has a basketball player’s mentality although without necessarily the jaw dropping athleticism, and this one spectacular play against Kobe just goes to cement the fact that he will be playing in multiple All Star games in the near future.
Combined with a great year from Beno Udrih, the surprisingly beguiling lefty point guard with a few nifty dribbling and passing moves, and rookie Omri Casspi, the phenomenal outside shooter who kind of hit a wall midseason, and the team seemed to have potential to win more than they did. This season, they will have a chance to turn that potential into a reality.
In the offseason, the team acquired Carl Landry and drafted DeMarcus Cousins, another promising but overlooked player with major talent and also a few character question marks. But coming out of Kentucky, his abilities were enough to still warrant consideration at the number one overall pick. Cousins has great post moves and a thick body of his own, allowing him to power through and punish opponents. His ability to work out of the low block will make it easier on Evans to operate, and the team looks to have a great core to build around for the future with Evans and Cousins. And with Landry, the Kings got a superbly efficient post rebounder and role player capable of scoring effectively with under-the-radar abilities; he is a John Hollinger favorite, and with more playing time may get a chance to show how great he really is.
With more continuity and an offseason to integrate some potentially talented players into the mix, the Kings have a shot to improve considerably, although with such a young squad there will still be the normal growing pains. If Evans can improve his outside shooting and maybe become a better teammate more willing to share the ball (not just for assists), and his development into superstardom doesn’t hit any major obstacles, along with a dialed in and focused Cousins, the Kings can win somewhere in the vicinity of 35 games. They won’t be making the Playoffs this year, but at least with a solid core there is hope for the future; the same can’t be said for many of the other lottery bound clubs.
A few more pieces here or there, and the Kings might challenge the Thunder for western supremacy in the coming decade. For now, they will just be talented on paper until they can put it together on the court.