With the Kings opening training camp on Friday and starting practice Saturday, The Bee’s Jason Jones assesses the roster, position by position:
It’s all about who will play when DeMarcus Cousins rests.
Cousins had one of the Kings’ most dominant seasons in recent years in 2013-14, averaging 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in 32.4 minutes. But he missed 10 games because of injury, and his absence exposed a lack of depth on both ends of the floor. He has made strides to stay out of foul trouble, and as long as his conditioning and fouls aren’t issues, his playing time should increase.
Jason Thompson is the logical choice as Cousins’ backup, a role he had at the end of last season after losing his starting job at power forward.
Thompson is more effective on offense when Cousins is not on the floor because they like to operate in similar spaces. When Cousins is in the game, there’s little need for Thompson’s offense as a primary option, so bringing him off the bench gives the Kings more scoring with the second unit.
Thompson still could win the starting power forward job, as he seems to every year, but the preference is to avoid playing both big men together.
Ryan Hollins also is an option to come off the bench at center, largely because he’s different from Thompson and Cousins.
Hollins can be the athletic, shot-blocking big the Kings need, and he also could allow Cousins to play a few minutes at power forward, depending on matchups.
With the departure of Isaiah Thomas and his 20.3 points and 6.3 assists, and the addition of Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions, this position will look very different.
Collison figures to start, with Sessions and Ray McCallum also getting time, either leading the offense or playing off the ball.
The Kings’ decision to let Thomas depart has been criticized, but they’re excited about the possibilities with Collison and Sessions.
The pressure will be on Collison to prove he can win the starting job and keep it. He was a starter in Dallas two seasons ago before coach Rick Carlisle deemed he was better off the bench. Collison was injured when he lost his previous starting job in Indiana. He started 135 of 139 games with the Pacers, but the public perception seems to be that he was a backup there, probably because George Hill landed a big contract that led to Collison’s departure.
Collison has been a competent shooter (46.4 percent from the field, 36.5 percent from three-point range and 86.1 percent from the free-throw line), but he has never averaged more than 13.2 points or 11.0 shots in his five seasons.
That’s big for the Kings, who want more shots for Ben McLemore, who often stood and watched as a rookie, and the ball in Cousins’ and small forward Rudy Gay’s hands more.
Don’t be surprised to see Collison and Sessions on the floor together. Some of Collison’s best play last season with the Clippers was with Chris Paul in a double-point-guard attack.
This would seem to leave few minutes for McCallum. It’s hard to use three point guards, even if one plays off the ball because that would cut into the time for McLemore and rookie Nik Stauskas.
The Kings like McCallum, who will be in his second season, but he played sparingly as a rookie until Thomas was injured. It will be tough for McCallum to beat out two veterans for playing time.
McLemore finished last season as the starter, but the Kings had little choice after trading Marcus Thornton and releasing Jimmer Fredette.
With more playing time and experience, McLemore improved his production. He went from 23.3 minutes and 7.6 points per game before the All-Star break to 32.8 minutes and 10.9 points in the final 29 games of the season.
Still, the Kings needed another shooting guard, so they used their first-round pick (eighth overall) on Stauskas, the best shooter available, in their opinion. But Stauskas is more than a shooter. He’s also a good ballhandler, which might be McLemore’s biggest shortcoming on offense.
McLemore shot just 32.0 percent from three-point range as a rookie. If Stauskas can be more consistent from beyond the arc and be more of a playmaker off the dribble, he could cut into McLemore’s playing time or supplant him as the starter.
With Sessions and McCallum able to play in two-lead-guard sets, McLemore or Stauskas might not get extended minutes. The Kings want McLemore and Stauskas to develop, but they have enough depth that they don’t have to stick with them if it means losing games.
McLemore must show he has improved his ballhandling and ability to make plays off the dribble. His athleticism is wasted if all he does is stand on the perimeter and wait for jump shots, especially if he shoots in the low 30 percent range on three-point attempts. McLemore should have an edge over Stauskas defensively after a year in the league, but it’s another area in which the Kings want improvement.
As a rookie out of Michigan, Stauskas will have ups and downs, but during the summer league he showed toughness, basketball smarts and offensive versatility.
The Kings finally found an answer at this position last season when they acquired Gay, who gives them a potent one-two punch with Cousins.
And when Gay picked up his option worth $19.3 million this season, the Kings were relieved he wasn’t just a rental for last season.
Gay should be good for at least 20 points and six rebounds most nights. And he’s no longer the new guy, so he will be expected to speak up more in the locker room.
But he also will be expected to be a more active defender. He has the size, athleticism and smarts to be a more-than-capable defender, and at 6-8 and 240 pounds, he can defend either forward spot in some cases.
That versatility on the wing will be needed as the Kings try to improve their defense.
Derrick Williams started at small forward until Gay arrived, and he never looked comfortable coming off the bench. For him to earn minutes, he will need to be an energy player. If he rebounds, defends and runs, he’ll get plenty of time behind Gay and at power forward.
If Williams is inconsistent, the Kings have another option in a familiar face, Omri Casspi.
One of the Kings’ two first-round picks in 2009, Casspi is back on a one-year deal. After being traded to Cleveland in 2011, Casspi spent last season with Houston. He can be a three-point threat and a tenacious rebounder.
Casspi returns as a more mature player and should be able to help if the Kings stick to their plan of playing faster this season.
The Kings have a lot of power forwards but not a long-term solution.
Here’s how the position breaks down:
• Reggie Evans, the veteran of the group, might be the best fit to play next to Cousins. He’s a defender and rebounder and won’t demand the ball.
• Thompson has been mentioned in nearly every trade rumor, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he was the starter – again. The coaching staff, however, seems to prefer Thompson as a backup at power forward and center.
• Carl Landry, who missed most of last season with hip and knee injuries, expects to be ready by opening night. He was signed last season to provide leadership and offense off the bench.
• Eric Moreland, an undrafted rookie from Oregon State, made a big impression during the summer league and could make the team. The Kings covet his athleticism and shot-blocking.
• Gay, Williams and Casspi are small forwards who could be used as stretch fours, depending on the opponent.
That’s seven possibilities, assuming Moreland makes the team. And that’s the problem. Ideally, the Kings would begin camp knowing their starter and backup.
If the Kings do not make a move, Evans might be the best option. They like his experience, and he’s not a scorer. Plus, he played well with Cousins last season, giving Sacramento two prolific rebounders.
Bringing Thompson off the bench worked last season, giving him the chance to operate on offense as the primary option in the post.
Williams could give the Kings the chance to be dynamic at both forward spots if he plays with Gay. The Kings played them together last season, and the possibility of using two athletic forwards is intriguing.