For better or worse DeMarcus Cousins will be the centerpiece of Sacramento’s offense and a fulcrum of their defense this season. Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently did a pretty thorough breakdown of Cousins’ game that exhaustively informs on what to look for from Boogie this year. So I decided to shift the focus from Cousins specifically to the guys that will be playing down low with him and how they will fit with DeMarcus. I mentioned Sacramento Kings: Evaluating The Offseason From Unnecessary To Great” href=”http://hoopshabit.com/sacramento-kings-evaluating-the-offseason-from-unnecessary-to-great/”>last week that Sacramento is spending nearly $26 million on their bigs this season — and may be spending more soon (more on this later). In a perfect world coach Mike Malone would find time for the entire brigade — Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson are all skilled NBA players deserving of legitimate NBA floor time. However, it is going to take a lot of ingenuity to find time in the rotation for all of these players. If Malone gets really creative with lineups and substitution patterns there is a chance he can find enough minutes to suffice everybody, but more likely than not one or two of Sacramento’s big men is going find themselves wanting more playing time. The coaching staff will go into training camp trying find out who is in, who is out, and exactly how they want to look in the front court this season. In my mind there are a few different ways to go.
Traditional Lineups – Cousins alongside Landry and Thompson
The path of least resistance is to go with a conventional three big man rotation, alternating between Landry and Thompson alongside Cousins and occasionally sliding to Thompson to center with Landry playing the 4 when Cousins rests. The differences between playing Landry or Thompson are marginal at best. Thompson provides a height advantage, but does not do much with it that Landry does not also accomplish — their rebounding numbers are nearly identical and neither brings much of a defensive presence. Landry makes up for his height with a very good offensive game, providing top notch mid-range shooting and an inside game that is slightly better than Thompson’s game down low. However Thompson is perfectly serviceable on offense. He provides decent interior scoring and a passable mid-range threat, where Thompson is average from most spots outside the paint and is actually very good on the left baseline. Landry would probably see the bulk of crunch time minutes if only because of he is a little more polished as a scorer. But if Cousins is able to take the next step offensively, Sacramento should be fine on that end using the Landry-Thompson combo beside him.
The issue with these lineups would be defensively and on the boards. Last week, I broke down the problems the Cousins-Thompson combo had on defense last year and explained that Landry is not doing much to fix them. Mike Malone is one of the NBA’s brighter defensive minds, but it will take a total recreation of Thompson and Cousins as defenders to make the defense from these interior combinations passable. Rebounding-wise the group is not in as bad of shape. Landry and Thompson are average rebounders, but Cousins outstanding work on the defensive glass will make up for their mediocrity on that end. However, all three in the group hovered between ten and eleven percent as far as offensive rebounding percentage goes, a very middling number. It will not kill the Kings in the long run, but you would like to see Cousins and Thompson, with their physical gifts, become more of a force on the offensive glass.
The Interesting Case of Chuck Hayes
The fact that Chuck Hayes is still trucking in the NBA is quite amazing. He is a 6’6″ center who is incapable of doing anything away of the basket, and I mean anything. He has not been that good near the basket either, and is typically just as average of a rebounder as Landry and Thompson are. His one saving grace in a two-year stretch in Houston (2009-11) where he was better around the rim and above average as an offensive rebounder. He has not been able to recreate that level of play in Sacramento and he would appear to be the odd man out as far as Mike Malone’s big man rotation goes. The problem is, Hayes is the only Kings’ big outside of Thompson that seems consistently willing to mix it up around the basket with the other big men in the league. You would also have to figure he could be the player most adept at understanding and implementing defensive schemes and with a coach like Malone, that is going to count for something. Hayes may very well be the guy Malone calls in when he is grasping at straws to find an adequate interior defender.
Quick side note: Last week I realized that writing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s full last name out is going to become a real pain over the course of the season. I am looking for alternatives. Thinking about going with MaM or MbAM (think m-BAM!!! in your head) but I’m not sure. All feedback is welcome.
Mbah a Moute represents the only real floor spacing issue the Kings have to deal with this season. And even then, it should not be too hard to hide Luc’s poor shooting range within the right lineups. Specifically, lineups featuring Mbah a Moute, Patrick Patterson and Cousins should be able to keep the floor spread. Cousins has all the pieces to become a dynamic player at the elbow — being able to create for himself and others from the spot — Mbah a Moute is a smart enough cutter and Patterson can spread the floor with his ability to shoot from the corners. In those lineups, Mbah a Moute can actually become a strength, being the only player occupying the paint, while Boogie works the elbows and Patterson and Sacramento’s guards spread the floor with their shooting. Sacramento is not shaping up to be a great defensive team on paper and can be helped on that end by finding extra time for Mbah a Moute, an excellent perimeter defender. Patterson is not a great defender but is not really a drop off from Landry or Thompson, so units featuring Mbah a Moute and Patterson can be better defensively without dropping off offensively like unites with Mbah a Moute matched with Landry or Thompson will.
Patterson could also occupy that same small forward spot Mbah a Moute holds when they are both in the lineup. Again, Patterson established last year that he was a real 3-point threat from the corners and the right wing. Teams will have to respect him from those spots and he should be able to create enough space to fill time at the small forward position offensively. He has not proven he can guard 3s — or 4s for that matter — but Sacramento is thin as far as floor spacing small forwards go. They are not projecting to be good defensively anyway and Malone may try Patterson at the 3 for the offensive bump and the prospect of all that size he would get out of a Patterson-Thompson-Cousins frontcourt.
The same applies for Al Harrington, the free agent the Kings are pursuing at the moment. I am going to go more in depth on Harrington’s game later this week as the Wizards look like the frontrunners to snag him, but wanted to touch on his prospects with Sacramento. On the surface the idea of Sacramento going after another big forward is inexplicable. But as the small forward in big lineups or a the stretch 4 in a lineup that features Mbah a Moute, Harrington makes sense as a piece for the Kings. You could also envision lineups featuring Patterson and Harrington serving as the 3 and the 4 while Cousins mans the middle. In those lineups Sacramento would be able to spread the floor with all four players and allow Cousins to work in a lot of open space, either as a roll man or on the block. In order for these lineups to be effective Cousins would have to become a completely new player on the defensive end — a Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol type who can stymie multiple attacks of the rim in a possession — but the combination of Patterson and Harrington would not sacrifice too much as far as size goes for the Kings.
Overall, Malone is going to have a lot of options to work with as far as his big man rotation goes. Finding the most efficient set up offensively is going to be tough. Finding the combination that can hold their own defensively will be even tougher. We will see how the Sacramento’s coaching staff sorts it all out.