Kings Ready for Tip-Off
By: Alex Kramers
Although preseason competition may not always provide accurate statistical data due to fluctuating rotations, limited minutes for key players and various adjustments, Sacramento's seven exhibition contests offered a glimpse into the team's defensive focus and continuing development of its young nucleus.
Take a look at five storylines from the team's 5-2 preseason – featuring DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore and more – that could shape the team's regular season success.
Kings Head Coach Michael Malone has continuously emphasized a commitment to defense, instructing players to protect the paint, contest jumpshots and finish possessions by attacking the glass. After finishing 30th in the League in points allowed (105.1) and 28th in opposing field goal percentage (47.2 percent) last season, Sacramento gave up only 93.9 points per outing and held its competition to 42.4 percent from the floor during 2013-14 preseason action, holding five out of seven opponents under 100 points. The Kings also forced opposing teams into 18.4 turnovers per outing, while maintaining an edge in offensive and defense rebounds, assists and steals.
"I'm all about, this year, establishing ourselves as a new Sacramento Kings team that defends at a high level, that shares the ball, is unselfish and plays the game the right way," says Malone.
On the heels of improving his scoring efficiency in each of his first three years, Cousins – tabbed as the most talented big man in the NBA by numerous Kings front office and coaching personnel – elevated his game to another level in the preseason. No. 15 connected on 51.9 percent from the field and 77.3 percent from the foul line, recording an exceptional 28.5 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.2 steals per 36 minutes. The Kentucky product led his team to five victories in his six preseason appearances, racking up 31 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in only 27 minutes in a victory over Phoenix on Oct. 17.
PGs Showcase Talent:
The unique skill sets and game-changing abilities of Sacramento's veteran point guards were on full display in Sacramento's tune-up contests. While his minutes were limited as he returns from offseason ankle surgery, Greivis Vásquez exhibited the court vision and passing instincts that helped him finish second in the League in assists in 2012-13, racking up 12 dishes against the Clippers and finding McLemore for a sensational alley-oop throwdown vs. Phoenix.
The lighting-quick Thomas, meanwhile, provided an integral spark in a reserve role, keying three consecutive comeback efforts. No. 22 averaged 20.9 points and 7.3 assists per 36 minutes during preseason action, scoring in double digits in six of seven games and dishing five or more assists four times.
"(Isaiah) comes into the game behind Greivis and instantaneously the game changes," said Malone following the Tacoma native's 27-point, four-assist, two-steal outing in a road win over the Clippers on Oct. 25. "He speeds the game up – he gets into the ball."
McLemore in the Groove:
No. 16 vowed to improve his all-around game following Las Vegas Summer League, and it came as no surprise the Kansas product – the second-leading three-point scorer in the nation last season – reestablished his outside touch. The Kansas product led the Kings with 11 made triples and finished third on the team in scoring (11.4 points per game) on 46.2 percent from the floor in the preseason. Demonstrating his full offensive repertoire, McLemore notched 23 points off the bench on an array of spot-up jumpers, strong drives to the basket and put-backs in Portland on Oct. 20.
"I've just been working in different ways on my game, defensively and offensively, and it's turning out good for me," said the No. 7 pick. "I'm just going out there and performing."
After a strong sophomore campaign in which he established career-highs in nearly every statistical category, Fredette picked up where he left off during preseason action. No. 7 connected on 51.6 percent from the field and 9-of-15 (60 percent) from behind the arc, pouring in 23 points to go along with five assists against the Suns on Oct. 17.
"I try to be aggressive and let the game come to me," said the BYU product following the show-stopping performance at Sleep Train Arena. "So if someone is open, I'm going to try to hit them. If there's one guy on me or I'm open, I'll take the shot."
The BYU product finished the preseason with averages of 17.1 points, 5.3 assists and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes, sporting a stellar 21.6 PER and ranking 12th at his position in true shooting percentage (68.8).
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