It’s sometimes more difficult to rank the bottom of the pack than it is the top. When teams like the Lakers or Hornets or Jazz come out and consistently perform at a high level, you know what you’re going to get. The rotations are consistent, you know the key players involved, most starters are in the prime of their careers, you’ve seen them in every situation and you know what they can do. But when you’re looking at a young roster like Memphis or Minnesota or Sacramento there’s a lot of guess work involved. Just how good can Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson be? Is Kevin Martin a great player on a bad team or is he just stuffing stats in losing affairs? That’s why this Worst Teams in the Western Conference series is far from scientific – there’s plenty of room for debate.
That said, ETB humbly submits the Sacramento Kings as the third-worst team in the Western Conference. Like a lot of teams here they could get better in a hurry and they’re still very fun to watch. If you want to keep up with Sacramento check in with our man Tom Ziller on his excellent blog Sactown Royalty.
The Sacramento Kings
2007-08 Record: 38-44, 11th in the West
2008-09 Salary: $69,388,269
Every team has a leader, even the very bad ones. We detailed forwards Rudy Gay and Al Jefferson for Memphis and Minnesota, and in Sacramento it’s unquestionably shooting guard Kevin Martin. He’s an electric scorer with a lightning-quick first step who can take it to the hole but also possesses one of the sweetest mid-range strokes in the NBA. Entering his fifth season, Martin has improved dramatically in each of his first four campaigns, finishing last season at 23.7 points per game. As a 25-year-old K-Mart is just entering the prime of his career and Sacramento has him signed through 2013 at a very reasonable salary.
Brad Miller has been serviceable for years, but the future in Sactown up front is the young duo of Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes (a Republican in a decidedly pro-Obama NBA). In fact, it was the absence of Miller while he served a five-game suspension for a banned substance that allowed us to see just how much potential the pair have. The 20-year-old Hawes, Sacramento’s lottery pick in 2007, has come alive after a very quiet rookie campaign. He’s shown the potential to consistently log double-doubles with plenty of steals and blocks mixed in. And we knew the kid had range, but nobody expected the seven-footer to lead the NBA in three-point shooting percentage for the first few weeks of the season. Meanwhile, rookie Jason Thompson has looked impressive in his own right. At 6-11 he also has a strong offensive repertoire with good range and plays with energy underneath.
It really makes you wonder why Mikki Moore, a supreme turd, is still in the starting lineup.
(Hat tip on the video to AOL Fanhouse)
Here’s the real hope in Sacramento though: the summer of 2010 and beyond. At the conclusion of the 2009-10 season the following contracts come off the books: Brad Miller ($12.25 million), Kenny Thomas ($8.55 million), Mikki Moore ($6.21 million), and potentially the retired Shareef Abdur-Rahim ($6.6 million, if his contract doesn’t come off after this season).
Between expiring contracts and player options the following players could be available that summer: Joe Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, Mike Miller, Rip Hamilton, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Michael Redd, Tyson Chandler, Travis Outlaw, T.J. Ford, Amir Johnson, Anderson Varejao and more. Oh, and let’s not forget the 2006 draft class. These guys will become restricted free agents if their teams can’t ink an extension before then: Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrea Bargnani, Rajon Rondo, Tyrus Thoms, Randy Foye, Josh Boone, Sergio Rodriguez and Ronnie Brewer. Portland, whatcha gonna do?
2010 will be the richest free-agent crop in years and the Kings should be major players. Throw in their two lottery picks from the next two summers and you have plenty of cause for patience. If you believe in the trio of Martin, Hawes and Thompson – well, then you have plenty of reason for optimism.
What’s not going right in Sacramento after the jump…
The Bad and the Ugly:
There are two trends among the NBA’s poor teams, and it’s not a lack of fireworks on offense. The first is the absence of structure, tenacity and execution on the defensive end of the floor. Teams that can’t make big stops rarely win close games and teams that can’t make any stops get blown out early and often. Sacramento is one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They’ve been giving up 103+ points per game since 2006, finishing near the bottom of the league. There are no lock-down defenders on the perimeter to keep players from lighting it up downtown or taking it to the hoop. And when players do take it to the rack, there’s nobody to change or block shots.
The second trend among losing teams is lacking a true two-way star who makes his teammates better and can be counted on in the clutch for big shots and defense. For now, the blame falls on franchise player Kevin Martin. One of the glaring weaknesses in Kevin’s game is his passing – he’s averaged just 2.1 dimes per game from 2006-2008. That’s not good enough for a guy who has the ball in his hands, and sees double-teams, as much as Martin does. It’s barely better than his 1.9 turnovers per game over the same stretch. On the other end opposing shooting guards and small forwards both averaged over 50% FGs and 22 points per game with a combined 8.6 assists per last season. That simply won’t cut it.
I also question if Beno Udrih is a real NBA point guard. I understand that the disgruntled Mike Bibby had to go and Beno filled in admirably for him last year. Udrih was a borderline revelation with an efficient and productive 14.4-and-5 line in 51 starts. But he was rewarded with a starting point guard’s contract and his deal could hurt in time. Udrih doesn’t take care of the ball especially well, doesn’t play defense and isn’t a floor general. Sure, he was a major find after being cast off by Minnesota, but the Kings got a little over-zealous – I have a hard time seeing the 26-year-old with limited upside earn $6-8 million per season until 2013.
There are also concerns with head coach Reggie Theus. I’ll defer to the esteemed Mr. Ziller here, who had an excellent post about Theus last week. Basically, the Kings are losing, and they’re losing to bad teams. The team isn’t playing well, including starters Mikki Moore and Kevin Martin. Rotations are becoming muddled. Players are chaffing with Theus and he doesn’t have a strong relationship with the core. He also doesn’t have a contract. According to Ziller, it all adds up to Sacramento’s head coach occupying the hottest seat in the league, which could send this young roster adrift and rudderless for a while.
Beno Udrih Photo Credit: Icon SMI
– ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty
– Six NBA Players Poised for Breakout Seasons
– Beno Udrih Scores Big with the Sacramento Kings
– Close But No Cigar: The Sacramento Kings Attempt to Get Over the Hump