Training Camp Notes: What We Learned
The final whistle of Kings Training Camp blew at approximately 1:54 PDT on Saturday afternoon. The players iced, stretched, showered and got ready for the flight to Vancouver for Sunday’s preseason opener against the Toronto Raptors.
The weeklong conclusion signifies two things.
First, basketball is back at last. And second, we learned a few new things about our team this past week.
DMC Leads the Way:
Entering his fifth season, the expectations are high for DeMarcus Cousins, and rightfully so. The Mobile, Alabama native is coming off a career year, a gold medal win and a summer in which he showed tremendous team leadership.
Displaying maturity and a passion for excellence, Boogie has led by example over the past three months. The 6-foot-11 big man participated in voluntary workouts in June, worked out with the Summer League team at mini-camp in Las Vegas, represented his team and his city overseas as part of Team USA and most recently met with fellow team captains this week to discuss goals.
“I know I’m not perfect and I probably never will be, but I’m aiming to be the best leader I can be for this team,” said Cousins.
No. 15 has taken newcomers under his arm, easing their transition into the NBA, while also setting personal and team goals with his peers. One goal, which was set by Reggie Evans, made headlines.
“He told me, ‘in order for me to be a better leader, I can’t get ejected and get technicals,” stated DMC. “Because without me on the floor, its hard for this team to win games.’”
No. 30 printed a sign with “5” and “Technical” on it before hanging it in his teammate’s locker.
“He challenged me and said no more than five this year,” said Cousins, “so I’m accepting the challenge.”
Malone Builds Bond with Players:
While Kings Head Coach Michael Malone is entering his second season, he has still had to build new relationships with a handful of his players. Although he worked with Darren Collison in New Orlean, Omri Casspi, Nik Stauskas, Ryan Hollins, Deonte Burton, Trey Johnson, Sim Bhullar, Eric Moreland and David Wear were all relatively fresh faces.
“[Training Camp] isn’t just about offense, defense and X’s and O’s,” said the Kings coach. “The more important thing is relationships and building a bond and a trust with each other. That’s what I look forward to. [Traveling to] China is a very long trip, but a great time to bond as a team and as individuals.”
With a full week of two-a-day practices in the books, Malone has been impressed with the team’s chemistry and work ethic thus far.
“This is a great group of guys,” he stated. “They are hardworking and they’re doing a much better job of policing each other and holding each other accountable – that’s a great sign of things to come.”
The first of seven preseason contests will give Sacramento’s fans insight into a deep point guard rotation. By adding Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions in free agency, the Kings backcourt now has three talented scorers and distributors – all of whom could carry the load if called upon.
“I think that Darren is more of a set-up, lead guard,” said Malone. “And Ramon… he’s an attack player – turn the corner, get downhill and put pressure on the rim and make a play or get to the free throw line.”
The duo made their impact felt this week, directing the offense, showing their leadership and establishing their offensive and defensive presence on the court. But as both know, there is a realistic chance they will be on the hardwood together.
“It’s a point guard’s League,” stated Sessions. “A lot of guys are playing in two-point guard systems. Just to have a true point guard is huge, especially for a team like this where you have a superstar that’s young, you have Rudy – who’s a veteran – and guys who have a lot of potential.”
Entering his second season, Ray McCallum adds depth and knowledge to the group as he continues his development in Sacramento’s backcourt. After a productive offseason, No. 3 enters preseason play with a better handle, a more developed stroke and a solid understanding of his team and the offense.
“I feel good out there – really comfortable,” stated the Detroit native. “Having all that experience from last year, having a year under my belt – it’s been fun and I feel like I am a much improved player from last year.”
Versatility at Small Forward:
A fan of position-less basketball tactics, the Kings front office has accumulated many hybrid players over the past year. All three small forwards on the current roster – Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams and Omri Casspi – are exactly that.
Each has the unique ability to play multiple positions on the court using their size – when matched up against smaller opponents – or speed – against bigger rosters – to their advantage.
“I know Coach Malone likes to play with different lineups – at the three and the four,” stated Casspi earlier this week. “So I had to make some adjustments from last time – I feel lean. I came in at about 230 and it’s the best I’ve ever felt.”
Returning to the Kings for his second stint, No. 18 is looking to make an impact from the perimeter, as well as, in the paint.
“[He] really has a high IQ and knows how to play,” said Malone. “You can play him at the three or the four – he’s out there and makes plays and makes people around him better, which is always nice as a coach. I’ve been impressed with his toughness – he’s battling with the bigger guys and he hasn’t shied down.”
Casspi isn’t the only one leaner this season. Williams and Gay also admit to losing weight prior to camp – each stating they now feel better and stronger.
“[Derrick’s] come into camp in great shape – probably the best I’ve seen him since he’s been with the Kings,” said Malone. “Since he’s lost weight and is in great shape, he’s playing with confidence and he’s very aggressive.”
While Gay has the starting three spot locked down, look for Williams and Casspi to see quality minutes in relief and when the Kings switch to a smaller lineup.
“Omri and Derrick have done a very good job in camp,” said Malone.
Ready For Competition:
One of General Manager Pete D’Alessandro’s goals this offseason was to bring in talented players to compete for starting roles – mission accomplished.
According to Jason Thompson, who’s entering his seventh season, the competition has never been higher in Training Camp, “I think it’s sky-high at every position. Guys are trying to show their abilities and get as many minutes as possible.”
Not only did D’Alessandro add talent, but he also signed veterans who will play key roles in the locker room and on the court.
“There’s a lot of depth at every position,” continued Thompson. “That’s the one good thing, it’s not just a landslide.”
No. 34 is one of four true power forwards on the squad this year – making his position one of the deepest on the team – but has worked hard to stand out in camp.
He and Reggie Evans were both recognized for their hard work on Thursday.
“They have both come in with a great mindset and in unbelievable shape,” said Malone. “But more importantly, [they’ve shown great] leadership with the example they set. We have a lot of new guys, so for Reggie and Jason to come in and play and work as hard as they have has really lifted our camp.”
The addition of veterans, Ryan Collins and Darren Collison from the Clippers, Ramon Sessions from Charlotte and Omri Casspi from the Rockets has also been beneficial, especially in the locker room.
“We needed to bring some guys in here who have been around winning,” stated Sacramento’s coach on Monday. “Because the more you’re around winning, you understand the commitment and sacrifice that it takes.”
Less than 24 hours from now, Kings basketball is back in action. Sunday’s matchup with Toronto begins at 4 p.m. PDT and will be broadcasted on KHTK Sports 1140.