Matt Cianfrone is the newest contributor to Hickory-High. Over the next few weeks he’ll be offerring his Off-Season Help Guides, looking at how each team might upgrade itself in the draft or free-agency. You can follow him on Twitter, @Matt_Cianfrone.
The Sacramento Kings are in a really bad place to be. The team wasn’t very good last season, in any part of the game. In fact, they finished 20th or worse in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and assist rate. These problems are complicated by the fact that the Kings are still trying to find a position for one of their best three players, Tyreke Evans, who may or may not be traded this offseason. Instead of focusing on the team’s potential for a bright future behind DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Thornton, word is starting to leak out that the Kings front office and coaching staff are going into win now mode. Obviously this is a problem based on what the roster did last season.
Problem – Inefficient Scoring
The Kings have plenty of scorers on the roster with Evans, Cousins, Thornton, and even Thomas, but outside of Jason Thompson, not a single player on the roster had a field goal percentage over 46%. In fact only Thompson, Thomas, and Thornton even had an efficient field goal percentage of over 50%. After those three were Jimmer Fredette and Terrence Williams, who only played 18 games for the team. Unfortunately for Sacramento things did not get much better when it came to turnover rate. Cousins and Evans, the team’s top two usage players, both were in the top four in turnover rate of players that played in at least 54 games, with Evans second and Cousins fourth, with only the starting point guard Thomas between them.
What the Kings do have are two promising players that an offense can be built around in Cousins and Thornton. While Cousins still needs to become a bit better, by the end of the season he was flashing a dominant offensive game complete with post moves, mid range jump shots and drives to the paint. If he keeps growing and refining his post game to become even more consistent, the potential to post a field goal percentage in the high forties and low fifties becomes possible. Cousins is dominant on the offensive glass, he led the league in offensive rebounds this season by more than twenty. If he continues to play as hard as he did after the coaching change the Kings have a clear franchise player.
Complimenting Cousins is Thornton, a great weapon from the perimeter. Thornton shot 34.5 percent from beyond the arc last season and about 50 percent from inside it. The ability to keep defenses honest will be important for the Kings as Cousins keeps growing, allowing him more room to maneuver in the paint.
Evans is the wildcard for the Kings and the question they must answer to improve the offense is what position he should be playing. After playing point guard during his first two seasons Evans shifted to the two and three last season and the results were mixed. The team’s offensive efficiency rose as Evans dropped down positions, from 82.4 as a point guard to 106.5 as a small forward, but as that rose the team’s defensive efficiency plummeted, from 87.4 as a point guard to 110.2 as a small forward. Even with the rise in offensive efficiency the Kings must decide if that is a product of Evans or Thornton and Thomas on the floor. The biggest problem with Evans is his lack of a jump shot, a big issue if he is playing on the wing. Last season over 52 percent of Evans shot attempts were jumpshots, a shot that produced only a 31.3 efficient field goal percentage. For a team that ranks twentieth in the league in offensive efficiency it seems that one of the quickest ways to fix it is to figure out a role where Evans can attack the basket more, because he shines in those situations. For the season Evans posted 62.8 efficient field goal percentages on inside shots. If Evans does indeed play for the Kings next season the team must find a way to get him more shots inside the paint for at least a 50-50 split between jump shots and inside shots or things will continue to be inefficient.
Rookie That Can Help – Harrison Barnes
If the Kings are able to get rid of Evans they are in perfect position to draft an immediate replacement at small forward in Barnes, that will fit perfectly into the team while making it a bit more efficient. Barnes is already a fluid jump shooter that is also a good slasher to the basket if a defender closes out to hard on him. The weakness in his game right now is his inability to create a shot for himself, but stepping into Sacramento’s lineup that problem is lessened. Barnes is ready to step in and be a spot up shooter while the Kings offense runs through Cousins, while he uses practice time to become better with the dribble.
The biggest reason Barnes fits so well in Sacramento is how little he has to have the ball in his hands to be effective. Even if the Kings can’t move Evans the addition of Barnes should have little effect on the usage rates of Evans, Cousins, and Thornton allowing the Kings three best offensive weapons to be used in ways that they can be effective. Even in college as his team’s leading scorer Barnes only had a usage rate of 20.8 percent. That effectiveness is what makes Barnes such a safe pick in this draft and one that should be able to contribute right away. With the Kings front office and coaching staff wanting a player who can do just that Barnes seems to be the obvious pick if he makes it to number 5.
What is a bit worrisome about Barnes is some of the names on his similarity scores. Tobias Harris, Gerald Henderson and Jordan Hamilton make up three of the top four scores and neither of the three had great rookie seasons. While Barnes seems more ready than the three of them did entering the NBA the knock about Barnes ceiling is amplified by the comparisons. Luckily for Barnes combine testing showed him to be a bit more athletic than originally thought which may help him develop an actual go to move. Even if he doesn’t though a knock down shooter should be able to help the Kings in the next couple of years, which is exactly what they want from this draft pick.
Free Agent That Can Help – Ersan Ilyasova
While Ilyasova will be one of the more pricey free agents on the market this offseason the way he would fit into the Kings roster makes it worth it for Sacramento to at least check in on him. Ilyasova would provide shooting, rebounding and defense all while filling a hole next to Cousins and again helping keep the paint open for Cousins and Evans.
The most important part of the offensive fit with Ilyasova and the Kings is his low usage rate. Despite being one of the most efficient players on the Bucks last season Ersan had a usage rate of only 20.6, which put him seventh on the Bucks for the season, behind even Tobias Harris. That usage rate would have ranked fifth on the Kings, just ahead of Jimmer Fredette, meaning that the offense again would not need to over go a drastic change with his addition.
What Ilyasova would bring would be two important aspects to any offense; three point shooting and offensive rebounding. Last season was the best of Ilyasova’s young career from behind the arc as he shot 45.5 percent from behind the line. That floor stretching ability would make the lack of range from Evans at the 3 more manageable in regards to spacing by adding shooting to a less traditional position. Ilyasova would also bring even more offensive rebounding to add to Cousins. Last season Ilyasova finished 12th in the league in offensive rebounds despite not playing in six games. Coupled with Cousins the Kings would be able to dominate the offensive boards even more and find plenty of easy second chance points, something that would greatly help their inefficient offense get better.
Ilyasova also does not turn the ball over often something that many of the Kings heavy usage offensive players did. With a turnover rate of 10.1, good for third best on the Bucks last season behind only Jon Leuer and Mike Dunleavy, Ilyasova would have ranked behind only Francisco Garcia and Thornton as far as the Kings who played more than 15 minutes per game. With a low usage rate the ability to not turn the ball over is crucial when a team like the Kings has players with high usage rates and high turnover rates.
Ilyasova would also bring a defensive upgrade to the Kings over Thompson. Last season Ilyasova bested Thompson in both post-up defense and in covering the pick-and-roll roll man according to mySynergySports, and the differences were drastic. Ilyasova finished 46th in the league in defending the post up by giving up only 0.71 points per possession, 0.06 better than Thompson. The difference was even greater in defending the roll man in pick-and-roll situations. Ilyasova finished eleventh in the league in defending those possessions by allowing only 0.71 points per possession in comparison to Thompson’s 0.85. The addition of more defense along the Kings back line is needed and Ilyasova would bring that. He also became a big deterrent at the rim last season by becoming very effective at taking charges, a la Nick Collison, and alongside the slow footed Cousins the Kings could really benefit from that.
If the reports of the Kings front office and coaching staff entering into win now mode are true, this offseason plays perfectly into those plans. At number five in the draft the Kings have a chance at Harrison Barnes, the most NBA ready player in the draft, who would be able to step in and contribute immediately. The addition of Barnes would also allow Sacramento to think harder about moving Tyreke Evans for more pieces that could help them transition into making the team clearly DeMarcus Cousin’s. In free agency a player that seems to compliment the existing makeup of the team is ripe for the picking in Ersan Ilyasova if the Maloofs are willing to pay the money that it will take to get him. First though, the Kings must decide how to handle the Evans situation and if they keep him where he will play. After that is done the Kings can turn their attention to fixing the problems that plague the team, most of which stem from the type of offensive inefficiency that Evans brings.