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Team Preview: Sacramento Kings

By Shawn Ryley, RotoWire.comView: All Team Previews

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

Mike Bibby will look to return to normalcy after he struggled with his shot last season.
(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Kings won just 33 games in 2006-07, 11 less than the prior year, finishing last in the Pacific Division and missing the Playoffs for the first time since 1997-98. Moreover, personal issues consumed first-year coach Eric Musselman and controversial forward Ron Artest, as both ran afoul of the law, undermining their credibility with the team. As a result, President Geoff Petrie, along with co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, fired Musselman and proceeded to entertain trade offers for Artest immediately.

Enthusiastic new head coach Reggie Theus is fresh from a head coaching position at New Mexico State, where he turned around an ailing program (41-23 in two seasons) after assisting Rick Pitino for two years at Louisville. In Sacramento, he’ll be dealing with the same on-court problems that plagued Musselman (poor team defense, poor rebounding), because every major player from last year’s team returns. The frontcourt of Kenny Thomas, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Brad Miller was overwhelmed on the boards last season, and that won’t change. With the exception of Artest, no one is known for defensive prowess either. To succeed, Theus will need to improve those areas while getting more from point guard Mike Bibby on the offensive end. While shooting guard Kevin Martin emerged as last year’s offensive star, Bibby seemed to regress, shooting the lowest percentage from the floor in his career. The team will need both players to perform at peak levels to push for the Playoffs in a very competitive Western Conference.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION

It’s best to look at Theus’ brief coaching career to understand the playing time situation. He apprenticed under Pitino, a coach known for heavy substitution patterns, predicated on up-tempo offense and full-court defense. He used that style in Las Cruces and succeeded immediately. But, in the NBA, it's rare to see that kind of frenetic brand succeed. There's a big difference between trapping a freshman walk-on in college and doing the same to Tony Parker or Steve Nash. Pitino pulled it off in New York, but struggled with it in Boston. As a coach for the Kings, Theus will rely heavily on starters Martin, Artest, Bibby and Miller to play as much as possible. From there, he should develop a rotation consisting of five or six players to supplement his game plan. His biggest strength is relating to players, and he should be able to keep them happy if he experiments with various lineups.

Miller, if healthy, will play 25-30 minutes per game at center. Justin Williams and newly signed Mikki Moore will back him up, depending on the opponent. During any game, they will log 15-25 minutes. Rookie Spencer Hawes occupies the bench, seeing action based on his development in the post. Thomas is the favorite to start at the four, playing 20-25 minutes. Abdur-Rahim will back him up, but due to deteriorating knees, playing 20-25 minutes per game is realistic. Power forward-center Moore was signed for his frontcourt versatility and will slide over from the post frequently. Artest is a lock to play 35-40 minutes at small forward. Swingmen John Salmons or Francisco Garcia will substitute for him. If Artest misses any games, either could play 25-30 minutes as they did last year when they started. Otherwise, both will log around 15-25 minutes. Bibby will play 40 minutes plus, unless someone proves to be an able replacement. Rookie Mustafa Shakur and recent free agent acquisition Orien Greene are the only other true point guards on the roster. One or both may be cut in preseason camp. Guard Quincy Douby is converting to point, though his skills are more suited for the two. His minutes will be limited. At shooting guard, Martin will play as long as he wants and will rarely sit. Garcia, Salmons and Douby will substitute if he’s out.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS* = Projected Starter

CENTER

* Brad Miller – SAC [C]: The seven-footer needs to rehabilitate a career that has been derailed by injuries – he missed 48 games in the past three seasons, including 19 last year with plantar fasciitis in his foot. His play continues to slip, particularly his rebounding (6.4 per game last year compared to 7.6 for his career). He lacked the overall fitness to stay on the court for extended stretches in 2006-07, prompting Theus to visit the 31-year-old this summer and address the issue. If healthy, Miller will average 12 points and eight rebounds while continuing to be the best passing big man in the NBA (3.6 assists last year). Mix in a career free throw percentage of 79.3 percent, and statistically he’s capable of being a top-15 choice at the position. If he’s healthy, there isn’t anyone on the roster that will significantly cut into his minutes, and despite Theus’ up-tempo pace, Miller will find his niche. His foot problems may be chronic, so track his progress right up to draft day. If he's fit, Miller makes a good starter especially if assists are needed.

Spencer Hawes – SAC [C]: The 7-foot, 250-pounder out of the University of Washington was the team’s first-round pick (10th overall) in the June draft. Physically, he will remind many of recent Kings centers, most notably Miller and Vlade Divac. His athleticism lacks flair, but his fundamentals are first-rate. He’s adept at using either hand scoring in the blocks, passes well, and can shoot accurately out to the three-point line. At 19, there isn’t much expected of him initially. Physically, he’s not ready, but he should post numbers similar to Miller’s in the future. Target him in the late rounds of keeper leagues.

Justin Williams – SAC [PF,C]: Center/power forward Williams was re-signed after making the team last year as an undrafted free agent. At 6-10, 245 pounds, he’s undersized but still offers solid rebounding and active defense. Offensively, he’s raw, relying on put-backs and athleticism to score in the post, so he won’t be a scoring option. Since he’s not a shot-blocker, his skills are better suited for power forward. Williams’ value is low at this stage, but a permanent move to four may help out this project.

POWER/SMALL FORWARD

* Ron Artest – SAC [SF]: There probably isn’t enough space to list why Artest is a risky fantasy option. His latest transgression was a domestic violence arrest in March, resulting in a seven-game suspension to start the season. When he plays, opposing teams have no choice but to respect his tenacity and talent. As a defender, he is relentless, constantly hawking, never taking his eye off his man. Last season he tied for second in the NBA in steals with 2.13 per game. He’ll guard the opposition’s star two or three and avoid foul trouble in doing so. When Kobe Bryant was destroying his March opposition to the tune of 37.5 points per game, it was Artest that finally slowed him down, holding him to 6-of-14 shooting from the field and 19 points. At 6-foot-7, 260-pounds, he is difficult to defend, using his combination of quickness and strength to create open shots. In his first full season since 2003-04, he proved to be an accomplished offensive weapon. Statistically, he’ll post averages in the neighborhood of 18 points, six rebounds, and four assists, with percentages near 36 and 75 from the three point and free throw lines, respectively. A talent like his is rare, but to the fantasy owner his warning label should read, “caution, very flammable.”

Why? Notwithstanding his natural ability, Artest has let fantasy owners down like few others in recent seasons. For a player that routinely goes in the early rounds, there is a lot of risk involved as well. Of course, if you knew he’d play 80 games, Artest is a versatile player that will help your team across the board. But that’s a big ‘if’.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim – SAC [PF,C]: Abdur-Rahim will need to compete for meaningful playing time. Due to balky knees (he had knee surgery in August), his minutes must be limited. In his prime, he was a smooth scorer, averaging more than 20 points per game in six of his first eight seasons. Now at 31, he’s merely an offensive contributor off the bench. He was fourth on the team in scoring at 9.9 points and averaged five rebounds, but offers little else to the fantasy world other than a decent field goal percentage (47.2 percent). Defensively, he’s slow-footed, making the active Williams a threat to steal minutes.

* Kenny Thomas - SAC [PF]: It’s difficult to determine how much Thomas will fit into Theus’ plans. The 31-year-old is simply too inconsistent. He started 50 of the 62 games he played at power forward, but it was Abdur-Rahim that received more time. When he’s playing efficiently, he’s productive at both ends of the court - able to run, rebound, and defend. Although he’s undersized (6-7) for the power position, he’s athletic enough to get his shot off against taller opponents (48.2 percent field goal percentage) and quick enough to rebound well against larger ones. But, it stops there. He’s not dynamic enough to rely on, so he’ll never be more than a fourth scoring option. If he plays a large dose of minutes for his new coach, he may be a cheap source of rebounds (10.8 per 40 minutes per game last year). If his playing time varies, don’t bother.

Mikki Moore – SAC [PF]: During the offseason, the seven-foot power forward-center parlayed a career year for the Nets into a three-year free agent contract with the Kings. In New Jersey, Moore replaced an injured Nenad Krstic (knee) 26 games into the season and flourished. He posted career-highs of 9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, shooting 60.9 percent from the field to lead the NBA. Don’t expect similar numbers this year considering the glut of frontcourt players battling for time. Moore has played on seven teams in 11 years because his game is unrefined and most effective in limited minutes. Moreover, Jason Kidd was a huge part of the aforementioned statistics. Remember that on draft day.

Francisco Garcia – SAC [SG,SF]: There are indicators pointing to Garcia becoming a fantasy prospect. The third-year swingman played under Theus at Louisville and was a key member of the Cardinals' 2004-05 Final Four team. Reunited with his coach, Garcia’s versatility provides plenty of options. At 6-7, he can spell Bibby by bringing the ball up the court, then seamlessly replace Artest or Martin on the floor at either swing spot. He's a hard worker, taking extra time to refine his skills. Other than rebounding, he offers more potential than Thomas or Abdur-Rahim. Near the end of 2006-07, Garcia was progressing nicely thanks to Musselman. The coach increased his minutes in a seven-game stretch, and Garcia delivered with averages of 16.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. He has potential in other categories as well. His career free throw percentage is 80.5 percent and his three-point range, though streaky, has room to improve. If he starts in preseason, he should be considered a viable draft option in the late rounds. Watch his October box scores carefully.

POINT/SHOOTING GUARD

* Mike Bibby – SAC [PG]: If any King is due for a turnaround, it’s Bibby. Under Mussleman, his statistics dropped. Was it Adelman’s dismissal? Did he sour on his new coach? Could it be a strained relationship with Artest? The answer might be “yes” to all three, but it’s more plausible that he was affected by a sore wrist and thumb that he injured in the preseason. His shot suffered most, as he finished with 40.4 field goal percentage for the year. Both injuries lingered throughout the first half of the season, and as a result, his field goal percentage before the All-Star break was a frigid 38.7 percent. His three-point percentage during the first two months was an abysmal 26.2 percent. After the break, his health returned, and he made 43.3 percent of his shots. In fact, his post All-Star three-point percentage was a stunning 44.2 percent. Despite the struggles, his season was still productive. He finished with averages of 17.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 83.0 percent from the line. It’s safe to assume last season was an aberration. At 29, he’s still young enough to put up numbers worthy of one of the top-40 players in the league.

Why? Based on his awful shooting last year, Bibby is likely to slide down some draft boards, and that’s a mistake. He’s only two years removed from averaging 21.1 points per game and shooting 38.6 from three-point range. As a point guard he’ll never be fantastic, but what he lacks in playmaking ability he'll make up as a scorer. He placed in the NBA top 50 for points (29th overall), assists (27th), steals (38th), three-point field goal attempts (7th) and free-throw percentage (37th), and his shooting improved significantly in the second half, once he got over a hand injury.

* Kevin Martin – SAC [SG]: The likable Martin is the new face of the Kings. While Bibby, Miller and Artest grimaced with disappointment last year, Martin smiled his way to becoming an unquestioned team leader. Management realized it and rewarded its new star with a five-year, $55.5 million contract extension in August. Statistically, Martin (6-7) elevated his game beyond expectations, finishing second for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. An explosive athlete, K-Mart is adept at draining a three-pointer on one series, then exploding for a dunk on the next. The fourth-year shooting guard averaged 20.2 points per game, shot 38.1 percent from three-point range and made 84.4 percent of his free throws. To further drive the points home, he shot 47.3 percent from the field and averaged 4.3 rebounds per game, arguably making him the best fantasy value of 2006-07. His stock skyrocketed last year, and he should be included as one of the better shooting guards in the league.

John Salmons – SAC [SF]: The 6-6 Salmons should be compared to Garcia because their statistics resemble each other’s. At some juncture this season, Theus should be pressed to play one significantly more than the other. The bet is it will be Salmons losing the minutes. At 27, he’s a selfless veteran with a high basketball IQ, though it’s doubtful his savvy will ever translate into useful fantasy statistics unless he’s playing 35-plus minutes per game. Salmons has absorbed a fair amount of playing time (20.3 minutes per game in five seasons) already, and his career averages of 5.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists don’t reflect a potential breakout. His field goal and three-point percentages were career highs at 45.6 and 35.7 percent, respectively, but unless you’re in an exceptionally deep league, Salmons probably isn’t worth rostering.

Quincy Douby – SAC [PG,SG]: Douby, a 6-3, 175-pound guard was selected with the 19th pick of the first round in the 2006 NBA Draft. He continues a transformation from shooting guard to the point, and it’s possible he’ll end up being Bibby's backup, though Douby’s development was stunted when he missed most of the Kings' summer league games and practices due to a bad back. His shooting range is excellent, as evidenced by his 40.1 three-point percentage in his final year of college. Right now, he’s strictly a gunner lacking the necessary size at shooting guard to be anything other than a garbage-time scorer. Unless Bibby is traded or injured, Douby has little fantasy value.

Mustafa Shakur – SAC [PG,SG]: Shakur, an undrafted point guard out of the University of Arizona, will battle for a backup job when camp opens. During his summer league stint for the Kings, he shot a miserable 27.8 percent from the field in five games. In college, there were numerous reports of attitude issues with fellow players and coach Lute Olson. If his shooting woes continue, he’ll have to overcome more than a sour reputation to earn a roster spot.

Orien Greene – SAC [PG]: Primarily a defensive specialist, Greene was signed in August to compete for a backup point guard spot (against Shakur) in the preseason. In his two-year career, playing for Boston and Indiana, his offensive statistics were well-below NBA standards (39.0 field goal and 64.5 free throw percentages).

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