June 19, 2017, 10:06 am
Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at the 2016-17 season and what went right and wrong for every team. From coaching analysis to fantasy impact, we dive in to the year that was and make sense of it all. If you’ve missed any, you can find them here.
Some of you might not know this article has a severe fantasy bent and to you I say sit back and enjoy the breeze. I’ll cover more than enough non-fantasy angles and in the end we’ll all go home happy. The Kings entered last season needing to get rid of the stench surrounding the end of the George Karl-Pete D’Alessandro era, all while grappling with their own omnipresent issues along the way.
Item No. 1 on that list was DeMarcus Cousins and this season was about reconciling his tenure as the Kings’ franchise player.
Everything started well enough for the Kings. Cousins appeared to get along with new coach Dave Joerger, the addition of Ken Catanella had paid dividends by bringing in smart veteran contracts for Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver, and did we mention that George Karl wasn’t around? Sacramento debuted its new arena and that was supposed to represent something of a launching point for a new era of Kings basketball.
It’s never quite that simple in Sacramento, though. An under the radar, early red flag came when Cousins got his wish and the team acquired Matt Barnes — whose play on the floor and influence off the court set the backdrop for the Kings’ season to get away from them.
They lost close game after close game due to a lack of overall team strategy and execution, with Barnes spotting opposing squads just about 10 points per night through various missteps. As a locker room leader, his undisciplined play was echoed by teammates and off the floor Barnes did what Matt Barnes does, which was the last thing Cousins needed.
Joerger’s insistence on playing Barnes, perhaps to keep Cousins and a pro-Barnes locker room intact, quite literally cost them multiple games.
And beyond Barnes, a litany of familiar Kings issues such as turnovers, incoherent game play and odd rotations plagued them. Looking at these losses, one could find upward of 10-20 possessions or plays that could be categorized as unforced or simple strategic errors.
As the losses piled up and Cousins failed to develop — on the floor as he continued to be miscast as an outside shooter/dribble-drive guy, and in-between the ears with refs and media — the Kings abruptly decided to trade their big man and restart their franchise.
It was never boring.
Joerger is a lifer that has worked his way up from the D-League and he can draw up a play with the best of them. Like many coaches, he had his quirks with the way he did things. Though he is highly competent, those quirks were definitely noteworthy and will carry over into the upcoming season as points of evaluation.
There was the Kosta Koufos-Cousins pairing that was demonstrably bad at the beginning of every game. There was an inexcusable length of time to determine that Garrett Temple needed as many minutes as his body could handle. There was a decision to let Cousins continue to play a perimeter game that regularly diminished his impact on the floor.*
And there was Barnes.
Joerger walked the tightrope with Cousins in terms of being on his ass and also by letting the big man play the style he wanted. He defended Cousins in the press and criticized him behind closed doors. But it often felt like Joerger knew the future in Sacramento wasn’t going to be with Cousins — or at least that he wasn’t going to concern himself with such matters — because he hardly coached with the desperation of somebody that didn’t want to lose the player.
Though Cousins improved significantly in terms of on-court demeanor, he piled up technicals at an obscene rate. Locally at all levels the press, the fan base and key decision makers all had timers that were set to expire. Yet Cousins was allowed to pursue his incoherent style of play, Barnes roamed free and more than a few folks inside the building wanted the coach to take a more proactive role in reducing the tech count.
Had the Kings won even five of the games they should have won with those simple strategic changes, it’s likely Cousins is still a King.
And if Joerger was desperate, those losing strategies would have been met with instant corrections. But for whatever reason they weren’t, and local mood swung hard enough for Vivek and Vlade to dramatically and hastily push the reboot button.
After the trade, Joerger showed a reluctance to play rookies that also wasted away mild amounts of developmental minutes. When on the floor, there was not a great focus on getting them touches, while guys like Tyreke Evans were given free run to chuck up shots.
That seems like a lot of bad but it all happens against the backdrop of otherwise solid fundamentals. The basic foundations of offensive and defensive coaching are there, he is fairly strong on in-game situations and it’s entirely possible he didn’t want to fight Cousins on the perimeter play issue. In the end his stubbornness often defined him, but Kings fans should be relatively optimistic that they have a solid, mid-tier coach.
*If Cousins continues to play on the perimeter at the expense of post touches I’ll predict he makes just one more All Star team at best.
**You can find DeMarcus Cousins in the New Orleans PM (and Matt Barnes in the Warriors PM … we think).
ADP: 63/64 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 200/200 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 29/32 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 30
After getting crushed when Rajon Rondo ran the Kings offense into the ground the prior season, Rudy Gay started off great for owners as you can see by the per-game valuations. Key to that was the most 3-pointers per game (1.4) since his sophomore season, a good year at the line (85.5 percent, 79.6 on his career) and higher-end numbers across the rest of the box.
In reality, though he gave the Kings something they desperately needed on the scoring side, losing a half-step resulted in a lot of wishful-thinking shots and defensively he was mostly abysmal. Scarred by the D’Alessandro era, it was widely assumed that he would not be long for Sacramento, but he brought a professional attitude to the arena and got along well with Joerger.
Ultimately, he would rupture an Achilles and his season ended before it really got into gear. Though the Kings missed his scoring, they didn’t exactly fall off a cliff when he left and that was to be expected considering he is an average NBA player at best. What went from a nice value for owners drafting him in the fourth or fifth rounds turned into a decent-sized loss.
ADP: 95/65 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 98/106 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 94/96 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 68
Firstly, the Kings were a terrible fantasy squad outside of Cousins. Darren Collison fit right in as he never tapped into the upside that had him going as a mid-round pick in ringers leagues. As you can see, the ADP varied widely and it’s probably because Yahoo’s projections were fairly tight this year.
The eight-game suspension for domestic violence was a known factor heading into drafts and it was the type of thing that fantasy owners target because they figure they can survive 2-3 weeks. What ended up happening was Collison struggled to find a rhythm in a high post offense dominated by the bad touches of DeMarcus Cousins, so he was sporadically effective and found himself see-sawing in terms of production with Ty Lawson.
Collison also lost his fastball off the bounce and became uncharacteristically loose with the ball. The high post offense compounded these issues by keeping Kosta Koufos’ defenders in the lane, and the pick-and-roll wasn’t anywhere near as clean as it could have been. While his numbers were near facsimiles of the prior season, so much more was expected because Rondo wasn’t around and Lawson was a huge question mark entering the year.
ADP: N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 143/142 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 128/123 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
We knew Temple would win minutes but it was hard to project much more than the 24.5 per game we gave him (he finished with 26.5). He never really hit the fantasy radar because even in higher workloads he would bring back just low-end numbers, but for scouts and tape nerds it was one of the better NBA seasons to go under the radar.
Temple’s claim to fame was his lockdown defense. He didn’t just have a great season — he shut down every elite guard he came across. He befuddled James Harden, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the list went on and on. Occasionally he would try to do too much and help off of open 3-point shooters, but if you didn’t put him on an all-NBA defensive team you clearly didn’t watch the Kings (or know basketball).
ADP: 100/129 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 161/170 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 215/223 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
Buddy Hield came out of college with shooting numbers fantasy owners drool over. 50.1 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from deep and 88.0 percent from the line — he also did that on a healthy 16.2 field goals per game (8.7 from beyond the arc). A lot of them were difficult shots under tough circumstances and all of that projected well for his future value.
That said, we knew he’d have to get out to a fast start to help offset the rookie blues as his stat set was devoid of defensive numbers (1.6 combined steals/blocks in 15-16). He’d need minutes and touches to support the popcorn numbers he’d need, and if the percentages continued to be strong you’d be looking at a C.J. McCollum type player.
The early fast start never happened and Hield languished on the waiver wire in most leagues. His value was almost resuscitated in Sacramento after the Cousins trade, but even with all of the ownership chips in the middle on him he wasn’t able to produce consistently enough to be of use for most owners. Still, he showed he can score at the NBA level and if he can find a way to score at the rim he’ll be a dynamic offensive package. Defense is going to be an ongoing concern.
ADP: 123/143 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 179/171 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 214/197 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
Willie Cauley-Stein plays to the beat of his own drum and that was a double-edged sword for him. He entered training camp with expectations and momentum, then lost virtually all of it as he languished on the bench for the first half of the season. One of the most cerebral, albeit inexperienced players in the league, Cauley-Stein was very clearly stuck trying to figure things out.
One of those things was rebounding, where he completely disappeared before the All Star break with just 5.4 rebounds per-36 minutes over the first 14 games. Joerger, who was committed to other players, wasn’t exactly forced by Willie to keep him on the floor. Ultimately, it looked like the game was moving too fast as he couldn’t process his role, the expectations and how to keep his motor running while swimming upstream.
After the Cousins trade we saw some vintage Cauley-Stein as he completely flipped the script on what the league thought he would be. Blocking shots? Nah — just 1.0 per game over 25 games in a whopping 30.9 mpg. Defense? It didn’t completely go away but that wasn’t what you were tuning in for at the end of the year. It was the offense that we saw glimpses of last season that really turned heads (3/4 of the way) to say ‘huh, he’s actually got something cooking there.’
A combination of a workable jumper, decent footwork, improved passing vision and touch around the rim made him an oddly versatile threat. He arrived with a 29-point, 10-rebound game just moments after the Cousins trade, and shortly after that game my fake quote regarding his thoughts on pizza went halfway around the world. Sacramento has been looking for a pizza guy ever since the original pizza guy left, and I just sort of tried to channel what I thought Willie would say if given the chance to comment on pizza.
Fantasy owners won’t be thrilled with an offense-first value proposition as he was just a top-75 player in heavy minutes over that span. He needs to swing back toward defense in order for everything to work. But good luck trying to tell Willie what type of player he is. He’s going through navy seal training this summer and he will probably spend the summer making art. How he decides to manifest his talent next season is anybody’s guess.
ADP: 140/148 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 139/172 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 139/167 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 69
On the court it was a great season for Lawson. Off the court, we just hope he can pivot from the drama that has dogged him and it’s unknown based on this season if that will be the case. But on the court, he started off extremely slow and was a liability, lacking confidence while gumming up the Kings offense. But eventually he started letting his shot fly and there were some very good stretches for him. Defensively he showed the toughness that used to define his career.
If not for the ambiguity surrounding his path to recovery, he would have played himself into a fairly solid deal. As it stands, he’ll probably be a third or fourth tier free agent and he’ll likely be a very good value for the team that picks him up. With that one caveat of course.
ADP: N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 192/180 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 218/196 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 71
Unless you were in a deep league you weren’t using Koufos for anything in fantasy leagues. He had a decent season and one can’t hold him responsible for the way he was deployed at times. He improved almost all of his numbers over the previous season and as usual was a good example in the locker room. Watching Cousins scowl if Koufos stole one of his rebounds was a fun subplot of the year.
ADP: 109/119 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 283/295 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 187/197 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 40
Tyreke Evans was drafted late with the hope he could bring some mid-round value to the equation when he got healthy but that was very optimistic thinking. His knees are mostly shot and he subsists on bully-ball buckets and forceful shots that ask not for athleticism, but rather the irrational confidence of a player in a contract year.
Things never really came together for him and being traded back to Sacramento it ignited some of the Evans crowd, but aside from a few random moments he mostly showed that the end is mostly near for his NBA career.
ADP: NA/139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 287/297 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 295/321 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 61
Ben McLemore has been through all sorts of chaos since being drafted but eventually you either tread water or you don’t. The main culprits for his offensive struggles are the lack of a handle and sporadic understanding of offensive concepts. Defensively he gets lost enough to render anything he does on the ball mostly useless.
The Kings will likely move on and he’ll need to strip down his game to the basics and rebuild everything from the ground up, hopefully with an organization that can afford to spend some veteran capital teaching him the game. The athleticism is there, the work ethic is there and the shooting stroke is there — but virtually everything else is a question mark.
ADP: N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 319/321 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 238/235 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 33
Think poor man’s Chris Bosh. And if you figure that Skal Labissiere is way less developed than Bosh was when he got to the NBA, maybe there’s a shred of that type of upside if we’re talking lofty standards. At just under seven-feet tall he has great mobility, underrated strength and he can shoot over almost anybody. Factor in some nice interior touch and potentially elite rim protection the Kings are really on to something here.
On the flip side he got the full rookie experience with foul trouble and getting beat up on awareness plays, but to be clear he was still outplaying teammates down the stretch while Joerger conservatively doled out the minutes. He and his teammates also struggled getting him the ball in places where he could truly test his bounds, but that will all happen this season and the only question is whether or not Joerger decides to do with him what he did with Cauley-Stein.
Value-wise he hovered around the top 165-180 in just 22.4 mpg over the last 25 games of the season without Cousins. Averaging 10.8 points, 5.9 boards and 1.1 combined steals and blocks per game, he appears to be at the bottom of his productivity curves in most categories. He’ll probably be a popular pick in the late double-digit rounds but where the smart money goes remains to be seen.
ADP: N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 364/363 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 254/265 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 22
Georgios Papagiannis was a punchline when drafted but as was the case with all of Vlade’s draft he and the Kings actually got the last laugh. That’s not to say that he will become a star or that he can even secure a rotation slot, but what we saw out of him with his footwork, shooting touch and his toughness all bode well for his future.
ADP: N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 406/407 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 420/415 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 22
Malachi Richardson did even better than Papagiannis in terms of exceeding expectations. Coming out of college he was portrayed as a no-defense chucker. What we saw was a rookie who was able to hang on defense due to his strength and athleticism, and a willing shooter/playmaker that didn’t shrink at all in the moment. In fact, some of his biggest buckets came when the Kings’ season was on the verge of turning south.
He fills a need at the three and he’ll be an under the radar prospect, but assuming we even want to measure his statistical output his 0.2 combined steals and blocks per game are the start of a very empty stat set.
Asking a team to do well in the draft is extremely obvious but with the No. 5, 10 and 34 picks they’ll walk away disappointed if they don’t take a huge bite of the apple. De’Aaron Fox is the obvious want at point guard and from there they need to address the small forward position. This draft is one of the more interesting and mobile drafts we’ve seen so they need to keep up with all of that.
If they can add a few solid veterans to the mix in free agency for shorter-term deals, play their best players next season and find enough experience/toughness, I might find myself driving to Reno again to take the over.