Sacramento Kings offseason review

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images   Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images /

As the NBA offseason plows ahead we’re taking some time to pause and assess the work each team is doing, building for the present and future. Today, we’re looking at the Sacramento Kings.

The Sacramento Kings are battling all their old familiar foes — organizational instability, deficits in talent, a roster beset with both positional holes and skill overlap. So how did they address those issues this summer?

Inputs: Georgios Papagiannis (C, NBA Draft pick No. 13); Malachi Richardson (SG, NBA Draft pick No. 22); Skal Labissiere (C, NBA Draft pick No. 28); Isaiah Cousins (SG, NBA Drat pick No. 59); Matt Barnes (SF, signed for two years, $12 million); Arron Afflalo (SG, signed for two years, $25 million); Garrett Temple (SG, signed for three years, $24 million); Anthony Tolliver (PF, signed for two years, $16 million; Lamar Patterson (SF, signed for two years, $2 million)

Outputs: Rajon Rondo (PG, signed with the Chicago Bulls); Marco Belinelli (SG, traded to the Charlotte Hornets); Eric Moreland (PF, unsigned); James Anderson (SG, unsigned); Quincy Acy (PF, signed with the Dallas Mavericks); Seth Curry (SG, signed with the Dallas Mavericks); Duje Dukan (PF, unsigned); Caron Butler (SF, unsigned)

Retained: None

Pending:  None

Looking over the Kings offseason, my first thought is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .

Sacramento certainly added some talent this summer but also appear to be leaning into a confusing roster structure. As has been noted, pretty much everywhere, the Kings already have three pretty good centers on their roster — DeMarcus Cousins, Kosta Koufos (a very good defender), and Willie Cauley-Stein (last year’s lottery pick). None of those three is a good fit at power forward but the Kings used two more first round picks on centers this summer.

Georgios Papagiannis was the big surprise, almost no public scouts or statistical models had him as a first round prospect, let alone a lottery pick. He is a big body with good touch around the basket but it’s hard to see what in his game or potential ceiling justified the high pick. Skal Labissiere was a highly rated college freshman but struggled in his own season at Kentucky. He’s very athletic and has flashed the potential for a well-rounded game, but is more of a long-term project.

Malachi Richardson was another prospect that opinions differed on wildly. He jumped up draft boards with a strong performance in the NCAA tournament and has good size for a wing prospect. However, he’s not an elite athlete, has questions about his decision-making on the pick-and-roll, and doesn’t project as a great three-point shooter. The draft night wrangling also netted the Kings the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic, a very good Serbian wing who could join the team for the 2017-18 season.

Around those draft picks, the Kings added some veteran help on the wings. Matt Barnes is still a slightly above-average defender, Arron Afflalo does a bit of everything (nothing particularly well), and Garrett Temple is an athletic player in transition. None of the really move the needle this season for the Kings and all well command a certain amount of opportunities, particularly on offense, which could hamper the development of the younger players.

Not to be a broken record but, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

3 Big Questions

To really dig deep on Sacramento’s offseason, I’m leaning on friends with some Kings expertise. Rafe Wong (@rafnation) is an editor for FanSided’s A Royal Pain.Keith Parish (@FastBreakBreak) is one of the hosts of the podcast Fastbreak Breakfast. Greg Wissinger (@gwiss) is an editor for SBNation’s Sactown Royalty.

Rafe, Keith, and Greg were nice enough to help out by answering three big questions about Sacramento’s offseason.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t know what the Kings are doing. Rudy Gay doesn’t know either. Do you?

Rafe Wong: Based on the acquisitions that the Kings have made this offseason, the team is definitely taking a win-now approach but also preparing for the future. This offseason the Kings brought in players like Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver, and Matt Barnes, veteran players that the Kings hopefully will help them become more relevant for this season.

The Kings also made trades on draft night to help them bring in four prospects, which in my opinion the franchise will let sit for this season to learn and develop from the veterans on their team so they can be ready once it is their turn to shine. The players that the Kings brought in this season from free agency are all on short-term contracts, so once their contracts expire, the front office (in my opinion) is hoping that their now rookies will be ready to play bigger roles for the team going forward.

Keith Parish: YES. Building an ideal roster to compliment a certain superstar whose name rhymes with BUSTLE VEST CROOK. Hustle Nest Look? That’s right, I’m talking a Boogie for Westbrook blockbuster.

Consider: Cauley-Stein and Labissiere as athletic, young, long and unselfish bigs ready to run and rebound. Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Omri Casspi, and Anthony Tolliver are low-key a very solid forward rotation, versatile enough to switch on D and play small-ball 4 with [vaguely] competent 3 point shooting. Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple and Ben McLemore may be [vaguely] uninspiring but don’t need the ball and should be able to make defenses pay for collapsing on Westbrook as he attacks the basket.

What’s that you say? A Boogie for Westbrook trade is unfeasible? Well in that case, I pray the Nick Calathes rumors are true, cause my fall-back theory is Joerger is trying to get him back with Koufos to reunite the twin babushkas of baldness in Sacramento, which is the only other way this roster gridlock makes a lick of sense.

Greg Wissinger: I can’t say for certain, but I genuinely believe the Kings are treating this as a bridge year. The Kings haven’t taken the time to work on truly building a team since Vivek and company took ownership. The Kings have been in a constant state of win-now, and it (unsurprisingly) hasn’t been very successful. This offseason we’re seeing the influence of Ken Catanella, who came to the Kings as Vlade’s new right-hand. The Kings have spent this offseason acquiring solid-if-unspectacular veterans who are going to be good locker-room influences like Anthony Tolliver, Aaron Afflalo, and Garrett Temple. And while he may not be considered a great guy, Matt Barnes will set a tone of effort and intensity in practices and in games. The Kings have done this without sacrificing financial flexibility next summer and beyond. All of this tells me it’s going to be a bridge season with a focus on fixing the general culture of the team, with bigger moves coming next summer.

Malachi Richardson will be                      this season.

Rafe Wong: The last shooting guard placed on the depth chart. The Kings have a bevy of two-guards (including Richardson) on their team right now in Ben McLemore, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, and Lamar Patterson. The rumor is out that McLemore is placed on the trading block, but even if he does get moved, there are still three shooting guards who I think are all ahead of Richardson.

Like I mentioned above, I think the Kings are going to let their rookies sit back and try to learn from the more experienced players before they get a legit shot to showcase their talents at the professional level, and Richardson isn’t any different.

Keith Parish: Invisible. Because: (1) He doesn’t fit in an all center lineup. (2) He doesn’t even fit a two-center lineup that would need shooting, because according to the one DraftExpress video I watched, shooting is not what he’s about. (3) His coach is Dave Joerger, who showed in his time in Memphis that the only way young guys get to play is if there is a catastrophic outbreak of injuries to veterans, and those are uncommon.

Greg Wissinger: Better than Ben McLemore. Not that this is saying much.

What does a reasonable resolution of the Kings frontcourt logjam look like, given a balance between winning and player development?

Rafe Wong: Let players like Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere (the young guys) be more of spectators this season than players. Both aren’t ready to play big roles for a team that wants to win now, so there is no rush in playing the pair. I see the Kings starting the season having DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Anthony Tolliver, and Kosta Koufos playing the majority of the minutes at the big man positions.

As for the small forwards, Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi should be the top two players at that position and Matt Barnes as a third-stringer behind them.

Keith Parish: I guess you let Kosta Koufos go even though he is only 27 and signed to a very reasonable contract (and may possibly be better now than Papagiannis ever ends up being). WCS wasn’t a total mess alongside DMC last year, so you can start him at the 4 while also letting him play some back-up center with a little Georgios sprinkled in every now and again. Labissiere should probably marinate on the bench for most of the season if the Kings end up being competitive, because I would wager their most effective line-ups will use either Barnes or Gay at power forward. But it also seems possible they move Gay, whose league-wide stock has dropped so precipitously that he may have actually become underrated (he’s not Jeff Green folks). That would open up more of an opportunity for Skal to get some burn, in addition to providing Sacramento the Post-Gay bump enjoyed by the Raptors and Grizzlies before them.

Greg Wissinger: I expect Kosta Koufos to be traded as soon as a playoff team finds themselves in need of additional front court depth. The Kings wanted to move him this summer, but couldn’t find good value in the trade market. Kosta is a great guy in the locker room, so there’s no urgency to move him immediately, and the Kings are staying patient.

Beyond that, DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Anthony Tolliver will probably see the most minutes, with Rudy Gay (as long as he’s in Sacramento) and Omri Casspi sliding in for minutes as stretch 4s. Papagiannis probably won’t see the court much this year. I expect him to spend a lot of time playing for the Reno Bighorns, the D-League affiliate of the Kings. Skal is the wildcard. He might spend a lot of time learning from the bench, but I also won’t be surprise to see him get some minutes as the season progresses.

Trading Rudy and Kosta for backcourt help is the best solution, but right now there’s no market for either guy.

Going big

The most obvious question coming out of the Sacramento Kings offseason is how they distribute minutes among the slightly unbalanced roster. With a surplus of big men this almost certainly means that players like Willie Cauley-Stein, Anthony Tolliver, Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi, and Matt Barnes will have to spend some time playing down a position — center to power forward in the case of Cauley-Stein, power forward to small forward in the case of Tolliver, Gay, Casspi, and Barnes.

While this may resolve a tangled rotational situation it also likely sets the Kings up for a situation where they are not receiving maximum value for each player. The table below shows the Kings roster for this season and their position from last season, estimated by Nylon Calculus. The use the standard 1-5 scale (1 is a point guard, 5 is a center) and players who fall in between whole numbers split time between two positions. For each player who split time, I listed the difference in their DRE when they played at the smaller position. DRE is a box score based estimate of a player’s net impact per 100 possessions.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 7.53.46 AM
Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 7.53.46 AM /

Power forward seemed to work fine for Cauley-Stein last season, although I would assume this is mostly a function of pairing with Cousins who can step out and space the floor a little. Darren Collison is a natural point guard (the only one currently on the roster) and is clearly much better there than he was playing off the ball last season. Small or power forward didn’t matter to Rudy Gay last season and McLemore was better at shooting guard.

For everyone else, playing down a position decreased their production. Barnes and Casspi were significantly worse at small forward, the position they’ll likely be playing most this season. DeMarcus Cousins was slightly worse as a power forward, as were Arron Afflalo and Garrett Temple as shooting guards. Anthony Tolliver, another piece, didn’t spend a single minute at small forward last season.

While there are players on the roster with experience playing down, it appears to generally be a losing proposition for their value. The alternative is simply leaving players out of the rotation, a chemistry challenge for a team that hasn’t had the best track record of dealing with discord.

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