Though the sample size is small, the Kings possess an offense and defense that are both near the top 10 in the league. This is a complete 180 degree change from last season. What is Sacramento doing differently this season?
The Kings have definitely surprised many to start this season, and it's largely due to the play of their two stars, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. Both Cousins and Gay have been forces to be reckoned with in the early going. A big part of Sacramento's offense is getting to the line, where they are 1st in the league in attempts at 37.3 a game. Cousins and Gay alone are averaging almost 18 combined attempts a game.
The Kings have also made big steps forward on the defensive end, and newcomer (and former Maverick) Darren Collison has helped lot here. Collison has gone up against some of the league's toughest PGs already this season and has more than held their own. Penetration hasn't been as much of a problem as it has in year's past. We've also seen big defensive improvements from guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and Ben McLemore.
A lot of Sacramento's success can be attributed to the play of DeMarcus Cousins. He's ranked towards or just below the top in a number of league-wide stat categories and Zach Lowe recently tweeted that Cousins could be the MVP frontrunner right now. Does the potential success of the Kings hinge on Boogie continuing this high level of play and is it unreasonable to toss his name into a very early MVP discussion?
I think the Kings will go as far as Cousins can take them. There are few players that have played as well as he has to start this season and to be honest, I think he's still a ways away from his ceiling. He's only averaging 30.4 minutes a game, largely due to continued foul trouble, and if he can curtail that, we should see his numbers grow even more. He had 30 points and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes against the Nuggets the other night and made it look easy to boot.
That being said, I think it's way too early to be talking about MVPs. The Kings haven't proven anything yet, and to me the Kings would not only have to make the playoffs but do so as a top-5 seed for Cousins to warrant MVP consideration. I don't see that happening this year. I do see Cousins making his first All-Star and All-NBA teams this year though.
Our old friend Darren Collison has landed in Sactown. How has he played thus far and is it time for Mavs fans to finally admit that Collison is actually a good point guard?
Collison has been fantastic so far in Sacramento. He's been a very capable floor general, averaging 6.3 assists to just 1.7 turnovers a game and also providing some very good defense on the perimeter. Offensively he's been struggling with his outside shot (just 15% from three for the season) but that will likely come around as the season progresses. Collison has been a difference maker for the Kings which has been a pleasant surprise.
If the Kings have one glaring weakness, on paper at least, it's that they don't have much depth. After Rudy Gay, Cousins, Collison, and sixth man Carl Landry, the scoring drops of dramatically. Can the team rely this heavily on four players or is it looking to groom other players to step up their scoring contributions?
Someone else is going to have to step up. Ben McLemore has recently started to hit some of his shots, which is a very good sign. He had 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting against the Thunder on Sunday, including some very difficult step backs and fadeaways. Rookie Nik Stauskas has yet to find his rhythm however though, especially from beyond the arc where he's just 25%. If Stauskas eventually gets going that should help our bench depth.
Most perplexing however has been Ramon Sessions. Sessions was brought in to be a change of pace, scoring Point Guard and so far he has provided none of that, all while being a big defensive drop-off from Darren Collison. Coach Michael Malone is seemingly intent on letting him work out of his slump (4.7 points on 23.3% from the field in the first 7 games) instead of playing promising sophomore guard Ray McCallum, but who knows how much longer he can hold out.
It's early but is it realistic to believe that the Kings can continue their high level of play and fight for a playoff spot at the end of the season?
This start is definitely promising, but I still think it's too early to tell. The West is incredibly tough, and Sacramento's November schedule is brutal. The Kings have 10 more games left in November and they are as follows: at Dallas, at Memphis, vs. San Antonio, vs. New Orleans, vs. Chicago, at Minnesota, at New Orleans, at Houston, at San Antonio, vs. Memphis. If they can come out of this month with a .500 record, then I'll be a believer.
Thanks, Akis! Be sure to follow Akis on Twitter and head over to Sactown Royalty for more on the Kings.