In this continually evolving era of advanced statistics and analytics, there are various splits and methods to acquire statistical data. A team’s record at home versus away, a team’s performance on one day’s rest versus two, games played on the West Coast versus East Coast, etc. But the Sacramento Kings need only one: their record with and without their prized possession, DeMarcus Cousins.
Perhaps no team in the league relies on it’s star player more than the Sacramento Kings lean on the supremely talented former Kentucky Wildcat. Sacramento has a 1-7 record in games this season in which Cousins doesn’t play, and another 2 losses in games that Cousins played but didn’t finish (at the Los Angeles Clippers Oct. 31 and at the Charlotte Hornets Nov. 23). So for all intents and purposes, this freshly constructed roster of new faces and a virtually brand new coaching staff is 6-3 with Cousins and find themselves just two games out of the playoff picture.
All superlatives have been exhausted and written ad nauseam detailing how skilled and devastating a force DeMarcus Cousins is. Following the Kings’ 112-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, Nov. 30, Dallas forward Chandler Parson had glowing words to describe Cousins.
“He’s a beast. He’s one of the best bigs in the league and it’s not one man’s job to stop him. It’s our whole team to try and contain him,” Chandler Parsons said. “We tried different looks on him. We tried doubling him. We tried doubling off Rondo. Tried rotating, we just tried just about everything. He’s a great player.”
Of course Cousins producing eye popping numbers is nothing new around the Capital city. What is new is the help the prodigious big man is receiving from his teammates. The Kings have been completely satisfied, and frankly astounded, by the nightly box score stuffing Rajon Rondo is achieving. Rondo has been every bit the elite floor general that suited up alongside Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce all of those years. He currently leads the league in assists per game, an honor no King has ever come remotely close to achieving in the thirty years the franchise has been in Sacramento. Rajon has excelled in identifying mismatches, penetrating the lane and finding wide open shooters. He has also aided with placating Cousins when needed, serving as an intermediary between Cuz and opponents and/or officials when things have gotten heated.
The Kings have weathered the storm of a demanding schedule to start the year, but their ascension up the Western Conference standings will depend on marked improvement on the defensive end. The Kings yield nearly 109 points per game (29th in the NBA) and opponents are shooting 46.9% from the field (also 29th). Rookie Center Willie Cauley-Stein, drafted almost exclusively for his defensive versatility, has started thirteen games but has struggled to earn consistent minutes from coach George Karl, primarily due to constant foul trouble. After the victory over the Dallas Mavericks Nov. 30, the Kings have now held three opponents to under 100 points and not coincidentally all three were wins.
Another growing narrative to keep a watchful eye on is the minute distribution at shooting guard. It has quite literally been musical chairs to this point, with Ben McLemore and James Anderson splitting the lion’s share of the starts, and Marco Belinelli earning key minutes as a reserve. But the blistering three point shooting of Seth Curry (nearly 75% on twelve attempts) has rendered a difficult decision upon coach Karl. Curry has had a handful of explosive scoring outbursts in limited minutes, and could begin to carve into McLemore and/or Belinelli’s minutes.
So here the Kings stand, with a 7-12 record on Dec. 1, 2015. This time a year ago, they boasted a 10-9 mark before full scale mutiny ensued. DeMarcus Cousins contracted viral meningitis and missed a dozen contests, the Kings lost 10 of those next 12 games, and head coach Mike Malone was inexplicably given his walking papers. That firing affected the team drastically, more than the Kings’ front office could have ever anticipated. No need to pour salt on a closed wound, but the decision to fire Malone derailed the entire Kings 2014-15 season, until the venerable George Karl was hired in February to pick up the pieces of a fractured and downtrodden basketball team on the fly.
I believe that Vivek Ranadive, Vlade Divac (who wasn’t yet with the franchise) and Kings’ ownership have learned from previous transgressions and now realize a major key to the franchise’s success going forward will be stability. This ownership group is hellbent on being a very competitive outfit going into their palatial new arena next Fall.
As long as budding mega star DeMarcus Cousins is in the lineup, that will almost certainly be the case.
Photo by Michael Tipton/CC Flickr