Player-by-player examination of the 2016-17 Kings

Player-by-player examination of the 2016-17 Kings

Opening night is finally upon us. When the Sacramento Kings take on the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, they do so with plenty of new faces from the team that finished last season 33-49. Here is a quick look at the team that will take the floor during the 2016-17 campaign with the hopes of snapping the Kings’ decade-long playoff drought.

Who’s Gone

After Sacramento decided not to pursue Rajon Rondo, the former All-Star took big money to join the Chicago Bulls. Darren Collison and Ty Lawson will be asked to fill the void left by the NBA’s leading assist man from last season. Also leaving the Kings are Seth Curry (Mavericks), Quincy Acy (Mavericks), James Anderson (Turkey), Caron Butler (free agent), Eric Moreland (free agent), Duje Dukan (Croatia) and Marco Belinelli (traded to Hornets).  

Who’s New

With Rondo leaving, Vlade Divac took a one-year, league minimum gamble on Lawson with the hopes that he can turn around his career. Veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo was inked to a 2-year, $25 million deal with a team option in year two at $1.5 million. At the wing, Garrett Temple (3-years/$24 million) and Matt Barnes (2-year/$12.5 million) were added for depth. Anthony Tolliver was brought in to play the stretch four position. He’s on a two-year $16 million deal with a team option at $2 million in year two. With two draft day deals, the Kings were able to make three selections in the first round, drafting big man Georgios Papagiannis (13th overall), wing Malachi Richardson (22nd overall) and power forward Skal Labissiere (28th overall).  

Who’s Left

DeMarcus Cousins is entering his seventh season with the Kings and expected to play a huge role in the upcoming season. Despite politely asking for a new address during the summer, Rudy Gay is back for another season in Sacramento. Ben McLemore is entering his fourth season with the Kings after being selected with the seventh overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. Forward Omri Casspi returns for his third straight season in Sacramento, although he’s played for the Kings for five of his eight NBA seasons. Point guard Darren Collison is in the final year of his 3-year, $15 million deal that he signed in the summer of 2014. Big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos are back for year two. Cauley-Stein was selected with the sixth overall pick last year and Koufos is in the second season of a 4-year, $33 million deal.   

The Starters

Ty Lawson - Point Guard

The 28-year-old veteran will man the point guard position while Collison is out for the first eight games of the season (league suspension).  Lawson spent last year bouncing between Houston and Indiana, playing in a combined 66 regular season games. The speedy guard is coming off a down year and looking to get back to the player that averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists during the 2014-15 season in Denver. He is expected to lead the second unit once Collison returns to action Nov. 8 at home against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Arron Afflalo - Shooting Guard

Afflalo joins the Kings after playing last season for the New York Knicks. The 31-year-old shooting guard brings a stabilizing influence to the Kings’ backcourt. He’s bounced around the league a bit, but he can shoot from the outside (career 38.5 percent from 3-point range) and has a nice post game for a guard. He’ll be asked to play major minutes early in the year

Rudy Gay - Small Forward

When Gay signed a 3-year extension in 2014, it was with the understanding that he would form a nice 1-2 punch with DeMarcus Cousins under head coach Michael Malone. Three coaches later, Gay has already informed the team that he will opt out at season's end. He is coming off a down offensive season, but his role in George Karl’s system was limited a season ago. The 30-year-old forward has every reason to put up big numbers as he approaches free agency next summer.

DeMarcus Cousins - Power Forward

The franchise cornerstone big man is fresh off Olympic gold and looking for his first playoff berth. After averaging 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game last season, Cousins has clearly cemented himself as the game’s best pivot. He’ll be asked to open the game at the power forward spot, but will spend most of his season manning the center position. He’s taylormade to play in Joerger’s high-post style of play and primed for his third straight All-Star bid.

Kosta Koufos -- Center

Teams around the league like to start big and then make mid-quarter adjustments. Koufos knows Joerger’s system from their time together in Memphis. He will get the nod early, but expect plenty of Willie Cauley-Stein, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and Omri Casspi alongside Cousins as Joerger looks for the right mix. Koufos is a defensive-minded big that can rebound and score efficiently around the hoop. He’s in the best shape of his career and will likely be asked to open the game guarding the opponent's tough big.

The Rotation

Garrett Temple

While Collison is out, the Kings will ask Temple to play plenty of point guard minutes behind Lawson. After game eight, the versatile wing will play minutes at the 1, 2 and 3 as a perimeter stopper. He’s not a scorer, but Temple is a great locker room influence and plays with an infectious tenacity that fans will instantly appreciate.    

Ben McLemore

After starting 190 games in his first three seasons in the league, McLemore will get an early shot to play behind Afflalo at the two. He’s had plenty of struggles, but the former first round pick can shoot, he’s a big time leaper and he has the tools to be a very good NBA defender. If he can’t show that he’s ready to play rotational minutes during Collison’s absence, it could be a long season on the bench for the 23-year-old guard.

Omri Casspi

Casspi was a lethal weapon last season as both a starter and a reserve for Karl. He shot an impressive 40.9 percent from 3-point land and 48.1 percent from the floor on his way to a career-best 11.8 points per game. Casspi is in a dogfight for minutes with Tolliver, Barnes and Temple. He missed time during camp with a hip issue and an illness, but he finished camp strong. When the Kings go small, expect Casspi and Barnes to form a strong forward combination.  

Matt Barnes

At 36, Barnes showed that he has plenty left in the tank last season playing for Joerger in Memphis. Not always the most popular player amongst the fans, the Sacramento-native plays a gritty brand of basketball that has earned him the trust of his coaches and teammates. He’s likely not going to log 28.8 minutes or average 10.0 points per game like last season, but he’s a quality veteran presence that can still run the floor like a gazelle and lock down forwards on defense.

Anthony Tolliver

The Kings shocked the NBA world a bit with their investment this summer in the 31-year-old Tolliver. Another team-first guy, Tolliver can hit the open 3-ball, play defense and shock you with a sneaky block here and there. Joerger loves veterans and this is one handpicked by new assistant GM Ken Catanella. Can he bring the “Tolliver Effect” to Sacramento?

Willie Cauley-Stein

It’s not that Cauley-Stein has fallen out of favor in Sacramento, but he’s up against some serious veteran contenders for minutes this season. The lanky defensive stopper still looks slightly uncomfortable in the Kings’ new system. He will get his bearings eventually and make a nice addition to Joerger’s small ball lineups. Cauley-Stein has never been asked to run a high post or hit a 20-foot jumper in his young career. He’ll get minutes, but how many will depend on quickly he can acclimate to the new offensive and defensive schemes.

The Rest

Skal Labissiere

The rookie out of Kentucky has been the talk of camp. He has tremendous length and athleticism, but he’ll need time to develop. Labissiere will see time in Reno with the Bighorns, but expect the Kings to keep him around the team so their staff can develop this top tier talent.

Georgios Papagiannis

Another young big that needs development time in Reno, Papa G has trimmed down considerably since we first saw him walk in the door. The Kings will be patient in bringing the 7-foot-1 center along. He is a giant with a soft touch both inside and outside. If he can learn the high-post system and continue to show improvement in his physique, the Kings might be onto something in year two and three.

Malachi Richardson

Lost in a numbers game at the wing, Richardson will commute back and forth from Reno with his fellow rookie class. The smooth shooting guard/forward has great size and length to play the two, but his shot selection and accuracy must improve to make an impact at the NBA level. Coaches rave about his demeanor and he routinely beats veterans in 3-point shootouts after practice.

Buddy Hield is evolving, playing the best basketball of his career

Buddy Hield is evolving, playing the best basketball of his career

Take your tank emojis and throw them out the window. The Sacramento Kings are young, inexperienced and every once in a while, they throw up a complete dud. They are also scrappy and talented and improving with every game.

Saturday evening in Utah, they gave one of the hottest teams in the NBA 48 minutes of fight. In fact, they’ve been going to toe-to-toe with some of the game’s best and holding their own for a while now.

After playing Friday night at Golden State, the Kings made the late night flight to Utah to play on the second night of a back-to-back. With the quick turnaround, Dave Joerger turned to a starting lineup void of veterans. Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos each saw time off the bench, but the first team was comprised of three rookies, a second-year player and third-year big Willie Cauley-Stein.

The future was on full display and the group had every opportunity to come away with their third straight victory. In the end, it wasn’t enough. 

The Jazz made free throws and got stops in the final 60 seconds to pull out a 103-97 win over the Kings. It was another learning experience for Sacramento in a season filled with learning experiences.

As the season winds down, the goal is to find silver linings in each contest. Despite playing their fifth game in seven nights, the Kings fought through the exhaustion against a team that has won nine straight and 21 of their previous 23 games. 

De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic are the backcourt of the present and the future in Sacramento. They’ve stolen the headlines with clutch shots over the last few games, but there is another young King putting in some of his best work.

Buddy Hield has come alive for Sacramento. The second-year shooting guard out of Oklahoma is playing the best basketball of his career down the stretch for the Kings and it goes well beyond his ability to knock down a jumper.

For the third straight game, Hield posted 20 points or more. He finished the night with a team-high 23 on 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from behind the arc. That is what Buddy Buckets is paid to do - score baskets. But over the last few contests, Hield is finding ways to make his teammates better. 

In 34 of his 68 games coming into Saturday evening’s contest, Hield had dished out one assist or less, including 17 games without handing out a single dime. That’s not going to work in today’s NBA. 

His assist percentage of 11.6 is seventh lowest on the team, behind players like Cauley-Stein and veteran big man Zach Randolph and it’s the lowest amongst the Kings’ guards by far. 

While it’s a small sample size, Hield appears to be making strides in this area. He has been noticeably more generous with the ball, handing out 16 assists in his last three games. He’s led the Kings in assists in the last two games and the second unit is feeding off his team play. 

Sharing is caring in the NBA. With Hield acting as a distributor, his teammates are reciprocating. He’s getting open looks from the perimeter and over his last three games, he’s knocked down 12-of-25 from behind the arc. 

Led by Hield, the Kings’ bench has outscored the team’s last three opponents second unit by an incredible 163-54. The performance of the bench mob has helped Sacramento pick up wins over playoff teams in the Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors and they kept the Kings in the game against Utah all the way down the stretch. 

The Kings’ young core is developing. They are showing massive signs of improvement at almost every position. The team is playing hard and they’re developing an identity. They are even picking up a few wins along the way. 

After upsetting Warriors, Kings battle schedule with fifth game in seven days


After upsetting Warriors, Kings battle schedule with fifth game in seven days

No break. After a surprising win Friday night on the road over the Warriors, the Kings hopped a flight to Utah where they’ll face the Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday evening. 

Buddy Hield came out firing off the Kings bench against Golden State, scoring 22 points on 5-of-10 shooting from long range. The shooting guard added seven rebounds and seven assists in one of his more complete games of the season.

Utah is in a fight for playoff position. They are currently tied with the Spurs for the seventh spot in the Western Conference chase, just a half game behind the Pelicans for the six seed. The Jazz have won eight straight and 20 of their last 22 games. 


Jazz by 15.5


Kings vs. The Pick-and-Roll -- Utah is one of the better pick-and-roll teams in the league. Rookie Donovan Mitchell is explosive and patient at the guard position and Rudy Gobert is a monster rolling to the rack. The Jazz have shooters all around the perimeter waiting for the kick out. This is a very good team playing at an elite level right now.


Kings: 23-47, fourth place in Pacific

Jazz: 39-30, fourth place in Northwest


Kings: SG/SF Iman Shumpert (plantar fasciitis) out, F Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out for the season.

Jazz: PG Ricky Rubio (knee) probable, C Tony Bradley (concussion) questionable, PG Raul Neto (wrist) out, SF Thabo Sefolosha (knee) out.


Rookie Watch -- Mitchell has been spectacular this season for Jazz. The Kings will combat the high-flying rookie with a pair of first-year guards of their own in Fox and Bogdanovic. It’s not often that a player comes into the league and makes an impact on a franchise like Mitchell has in his first NBA season.

The Gobstopper -- Gobert is a monster in the post. He plays the pick-and-roll to perfection with Mitchell and he is an absolute force on the defensive end. Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos will have to make his work on both ends of the court if the Kings have a chance of upsetting the Jazz. 

Put up a Fight -- This is the fifth game in seven nights for the Kings. It’s also a brutal back-to-back, with less than 24 hours between games. The key to this game is to escape with the team’s health intact, but it would be nice if they could make a strong showing in a difficult situation.


The Jazz hold a 2-0 advantage in the season series and they’ve won four straight over the Kings. Utah leads the all-time series 104-82 and holds a 81-49 advantage during the Sacramento-era.