Even after a lacklustre 7-and-15 start to the 2013-14 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings have witnessed the NBA‘s largest increase in home game attendance.
Last Wednesday, Sports Business Daily reported that the Kings’ average home game attendance figures rocketed by nearly a quarter over the first twelve games held at the Sleep Train Arena this season. Sacramento are currently averaging 15,868 spectators per game, ranking them 22nd in the league; a vast improvement on their 13,749 spectator average last year, which placed them last.
ESPN’s NBA Attendance Report – 2014:
Since the glory days of Mike Bibby and Chris Webber battling the Lakers in the early 2000s, the Kings have struggled to gain much of an identity in the NBA; though, playing in the Pacific division against four superior teams–the Clippers, Suns, Golden State, and the Lakers–and an even more gruelling Western conference, does make it a lot harder.
Desperate to make their mark in the NBA, on May 16, 2013, the Sacramento Kings were sold to a group led by Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé for a record NBA franchise valuation of $535 million.
Entrepreneurs Mark Mastrov and Chris Kelly along with Shaquille O’Neal–who became a minority owner back in September–joined Ranadivé, and the Sacremento Kings were ready to make changes, both internally and on the court.
Plans for a new arena in in downtown Sacramento were projected for 2013, but after a major dispute over taxpayer funding, construction developments were put on hold, and instead, major efforts were made to acquire new player talent.
During the offseason, DeMarcus Cousins signed to a four-year, $62 million maximum contract extension with Sacramento. Despite being punished several times with suspensions and benchings during his three first seasons in the NBA, the Kings felt that the new ownership would offer Cousins the organisational structure needed to help him mature, develop his talents and become a legitimate franchise player. (Further breakdown of Cousins and other players below).
After Cousins’ extension was finalised, the Kings also acquired some young blood with high prospects, and in the 2013 NBA Draft, with the seventh overall pick, Sacramento selected Kansas shooting guard, Ben McLemore, who many analysts projected as a sure top-five pick. During his time with the Jayhawks, McLemore averaged 15.9 points and 5.2 steals, and displayed signs of raw athletic talent and the potential to develop into the makings of a great NBA player.
Ben McLemore Kansas JayHawks Highlights:
One week later, on July 5, the Kings sent former NBA Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans, to the New Orleans Pelicans in a three-team deal involving Robin Lopez, Greivis Vasquez, Jeff Withey, Terrel Harris, and future draft picks.
Tyreke Evans saying farewell to Sacremento on Twitter:
Just got back to Sac. I had a great 4 years here. The Kings fans are amazing i will never forget you. Alot of memories. Thank you all!
— Tyreke Evans (@TyrekeEvans) July 5, 2013
Tyreke Evans averaged 17.5 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.8 rebounds over his career with the Kings. Since joining the Pelicans, Evans has seen his scoring numbers drop somewhat–along with his minutes–and is averaging 11.6 points per game in a New Orleans uniform.
With Evans no longer a part of the roster, the Kings traded a future second-round draft pick to the Bucks in exchange for defensive small forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who was then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for former second overall draft pick, Derrick Williams. Shortly after, the Kings signed yet another power forward, 8-year pro, Carl Landry, to a 4-year $28 million deal. Landry had previously played in Sacramento for two seasons (2009-10, 2010-11) when the team was still under new ownership.
With Cousins under wraps and McLemore, Williams and a few other interesting additions added to the roster, the Kings then acquired Rudy Gay Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray in a blockbuster, seven-player deal that sent the Patrick Patterson and John Salmons to Toronto along with Chuck Hayes and offseason acquisition Greivis Vasquez.
Talk about a rebuilding process!
Rudy Gay to save the day?
Back in January, 2013, Rudy Gay was traded to the Toronto Raptors after playing seven seasons for the Memphis Grizzlies. Gay was adamant that the Grizzlies’ new ownership never gave him the opportunity to prove himself and that he was worth a multi-million dollar investment.
“You have to give me a chance to see if I’m worth that,” Gay told Yahoo! Sports.
Although Gay averaged 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds as a Raptor, he was often criticised for having the ball in his hands on far too many possessions; often resulting in isolated twenty-foot, contested jump shots … Bad basketball. Gay hoisted up 17.6 field goal attempts per game and shot just .411% from the field whilst wearing a Toronto uniform.
More of the same in Sacramento?
Despite riling up fans, coaches and teammates for his selfishness, Gay does have his good points. He is extremely athletic, and graciously glides across the court with long, nimble strides right to the rim. He can heat up in a hurry–including his career-high 41 point-game against the Heat back in 2009. And, perhaps his greatest attribute of all, is his willingness to take the last shot of the game.
With the game on the line, Rudy Gay wants the ball in his hands.
In all nine of his NBA seasons, during the regular season and playoffs, in the 4th quarter or overtime, with 2 minutes or less remaining in the quarter, Gay has scored a total of seven baskets to tie or take lead. That’s close to one game-winner a year. Not too shabby.
Everyone loves a game-winning shot in basketball. But no matter how clutch of a player you might or might not be, it’s important to remember that every game isn’t decided by a final possession; there are many blowouts in the NBA, too.
The real challenge ahead for the Kings is functioning as a team, and executing the best plays as a team to win the game.
Gelling with Cousins and Co.:
On paper, Cousins and Gay make a solid inside-outside duo, but merging their contrasting styles of play together–along with their hard-headed attitudes–certainly raises suspicions.
Both players average sky-high usage percentages (USG%) and are used to being the guys on the team to create plays. Gay averaged an estimated 29.6% of Toronto’s plays whilst on the floor, and Cousins currently averages a whopping 34.4 USG%, the fifth highest in the NBA. The Kings’ point guard, Isaiah Thomas, also averages a 27.1 USG%, which could rise even more, after securing himself a spot in the starting lineup following Vasquez’s departure.
Finding an effective system:
It is crucial that Mike Malone and the rest of the Kings’ coaching staff establish an effective system which frees Gay open for catch-and-shoot opportunities, and spreads the ball-handling distribution as evenly as possible.
Easier said than done, though, right?
On December 14, the Phoenix Suns crashed Gay’s welcoming party and handed the Kings a 107 – 116 loss at the US Airways Center. In his debut, Rudy Gay scored 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The next night against the Houston Rockets in is first home game for Sacramento, Gay scored a game-high 26 points, making 10 of his 20 field goal attempts. The one three-pointer that he made (out of three attempts) came from a catch-and-shoot opportunity; something which will be important for Gay and the Kings moving forward, as contested isolation jumpers simply won’t cut it.
Gay, Cousins and Co. need to do a good job of moving without the ball and finding the open man for high percentage looks.
Against Houston, Gay’s main weapon of attack was driving the lane. As you can see from the shot chart below, seven of Gay’s 10 field goals came from inside the paint:
If Gay can continue having the same success working his way into the lane, there’s a good opportunity for DeMarcus Cousins to clean up a few missed shots. Cousins is just shy of averaging 3 offensive boards per game, which could easily rise and convert into second-chance point opportunities if Gay continues causing some havoc the paint.
On the other hand, knowing Cousins’ hard-headed mentality, there is also the probability that Cousins will become impatient, waving his arms around in the lane, excessively calling for the ball and ultimately throwing Gay off balance. “GIVE ME THE BALL, Dammit!” Chill, Cousins. Chill.
With the Kings making a 62-million dollar investment in DeMarcus Cousins, it’s clear who’s their number one guy. Sorry, Rudy.
Whether the new-look Kings can gel and eventually become playoff contenders is yet to be seen. Though, with ticket sales on the rise and breathtaking plays like this happening …
Isaiah Thomas goes off the glass to Derrick Williams for the reverse jam:
… The Sacramento Kings have certainly become watchable and make for an interesting topic for NBA teams on the rise.