Sacramento Kings: Quietly Transforming Into Contenders?

April 07, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts after the play against the Memphis Grizzlies during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Grizzlies won 89-87. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
April 07, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts after the play against the Memphis Grizzlies during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Grizzlies won 89-87. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The Sacramento Kings have won 5 straight games, putting their record at 20-23, one full game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the 8th seed in the Western Conference

This run of success comes as a surprise to many. During the offseason the team was ridiculed for many reasons. Some saw the conflict between star player Demarcus Cousins and Head Coach George Karl as a major problem. Some pointed to Kings ownership hiring Vlade Divac as general manager (despite having no prior experience in that role). Lastly, many people bashed the Kings trade of Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia in a salary dump and saw it as yet another sign of organizational instability. Some would say that the Kings were the laughingstock of the summer.

With everything that went haywire in the offseason, combined with a sluggish start to the season, who could have predicted that the Kings would be in playoff contention right now? Well, I did (there’s proof here and here).

How have the Kings gotten things together and can they keep it up?

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For the Sacramento Kings, success starts in the middle. It’s not a secret how truly fantastic Demarcus Cousins is anymore. The whole world now knows that Cousins is flat-out the best center in the NBA. He is currently third in the NBA in scoring (26.7ppg), behind only Steph Curry and James Harden. He is also 5th in the NBA in rebounds (11.4rpg), making him the only player in the top-5 in both categories. Cousins has simply dominated every center in the league, making most of them look silly in the process.

But Cousins is far from the only thing working right for this team. After a slow start to the season and much criticism about his rotations, George Karl has found some things that work and has adjusted to the talent at his disposal.

After some experimenting, Karl has found a consistent rotation with Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay playing the two starting forward spots (with Casspi playing as a small-ball power forward). This forward tandem (along with guard play) has allowed Karl to implement the fast-paced style that Karl and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive want the team to play.

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Perhaps more importantly, the Kings gamble on Rajon Rondo is paying off. Halfway through this regular season, Rondo has already broken the franchise record for triple-doubles in a season (6). He currently leads the NBA in assists with 11.6 per game, along with 11.7 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 1.78 steals per game and a 3-1 assist/turnover ratio. All the stats are impressive enough, but Rondo’s impact is felt the most in running and conducting the Kings offense.

Unlike years past, the Kings are (most of the time) running good offensive sets and getting high-quality shots. Even more impressive is that Rondo has distributed the ball around the team in such a way to keep everyone happy and everyone getting enough touches (especially Cousins and Gay). In addition, Rondo has not been the headcase he was in Dallas last year, and has improved his jump shot. Rondo has been everything the Kings could have hoped for this year.

The team’s other offseason acquisitions have worked out as well. Kosta Koufos has averaged 7.3 points and 6 rebounds while playing excellent team defense off the bench. Marco Belinelli has been inconsistent at times but strong overall, averaging 10.8 points per game while splitting time in the starting lineup and bench duty with Ben McLemore while coach Karl figures out the best way to utilize them both. Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein has struggled with injuries in his opening campaign, but has still averaged a solid 5.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and shown plenty of glimpses of promise, especially at the defensive end, where he looks to develop into an elite defensive player in the next couple of years.

So, a lot of things are going right in Sacramento and the Kings have their best team in about 9 years, but can they keep it up?


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With the talent and leadership on display and at the Kings’ disposal, the team will continue to thrive. The worst is in the past for this team and I expect them to continue to thrive and excel. The team is now in the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference, but I believe they will continue to rise. A major goal for the team now is not just to hold the 8th spot, but to continue to rise and try to get up to the 6th spot (to avoid a first-round playoff matchup with the Warriors or Spurs).

I believe the team can continue to win and get up to that 6th spot in the Western Conference. If they do, they could be a dark-horse contender in the playoffs, capable of making it to the second or third round if some things break their way.