DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE LOW-KEY VET
In an organization full of squeaky wheels, mild-mannered Darren Collison is content to let his play do the talking. That's generally a smart approach, especially when acclimating to a new coach, but it has left the 28-year-old point guard as one of the league's most overlooked players.
The popular narrative of Sacramento's 2014--15 season was that a promising start gave way to chaos when DeMarcus Cousins missed three weeks with viral meningitis. That's true, but it overlooks Collison's absence, which made a worsening situation unsalvageable. Before undergoing season-ending right-hip surgery in February, Collison was averaging a career-high 16.1 points, and his +1.2 net rating led the Kings' rotation players. More important, they had a +8.1 net rating when Collison and Cousins shared the court.
Rather than trust those promising flashes, new GM Vlade Divac signed Rajon Rondo this summer, a move that bumped Collison to the bench. While Collison lacks Rondo's credentials, which include four All-Star selections and a championship ring, he's a more natural fit for George Karl's up-tempo style. The son of two world-class sprinters, Collison is a hare to Rondo's tortoise, and he possesses far superior outside shooting to balance the court for Cousins and forward Rudy Gay.
Karl's stated goal this season is to reach .500, something Sacramento hasn't done since 2005--06. That's lofty talk, and the Kings will only deliver on that if they can find regular sources of help for Cousins. Their search should begin under the radar.
A rival scout sizes up Sacramento
They spent a lot of money and got better talentwise. The off-season story lines are a big deal—the shake-ups and coaching changes and all of that—but I don't think these guys will be rolling over. They might go down, but it will take a fight.... Their best player is DeMarcus Cousins. Why did they use a lottery pick on a center in Willie Cauley-Stein and then sign another center in Kosta Koufos? Especially when George Karl likes to play fast? ... Cousins might be the most talented center in the NBA. He can beat you by himself some nights. His decision-making with the ball keeps improving, but the body language, the emotional control are still huge question marks. Cousins is best as a back-to-the-basket guy, not in this run-and-gun style that Karl likes.... I'm not sure Rajon Rondo will want to play Karl's style either. And that makes for a big challenge. Because if your point guard and your best player want to play slower and your coach wants it to be faster, that's a fight waiting to happen.... They should think about lineups that get as much shooting on the court at the same time as possible. Can you play Ben McLemore, Marco Belinelli and Seth Curry together with Cousins? That would create a lot of room in the paint.... Belinelli is going to be dealing with culture shock, coming from San Antonio. He's not used to any ball stoppers, and he's always expecting people to make the right pass.... Maybe they thought Cauley-Stein was the best player on the board [at No. 6]. Or maybe he's insurance in case something happens with Cousins. There's a little Joakim Noah to Cauley-Stein's game.
COACH GEORGE KARL
(2nd season with Kings)
2014--15 RECORD 29--53
(4th in Pacific)
PG RAJON RONDO*
8.9 PPG; 7.9 APG; 1.3 SPG; 42.6 FG%
SG BEN MCLEMORE
12.1 PPG; 2.9 RPG; 43.7 FG%; 35.8 3FG%
SF RUDY GAY
21.1 PPG; 5.9 RPG; 45.5 FG%; 35.9 3FG%
PF DEMARCUS COUSINS
24.1 PPG; 12.7 RPG; 3.6 APG; 46.7 FG%
C KOSTA KOUFOS*
5.2 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 50.8 FG%
PG DARREN COLLISON
16.1 PPG; 5.6 APG; 47.3 FG%; 37.3 3FG%
SG MARCO BELINELLI*
9.2 PPG; 1.5 APG; 42.3 FG%; 37.4 3FG%
SF OMRI CASSPI
8.9 PPG; 3.9 RPG; 1.5 APG; 48.9 FG%
Free throw percentage last year of 6'1" Rajon Rondo, the lowest ever for a player under 6'6" with at least 75 attempts.
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (RONDO)
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (COUSINS)
BOOGIE WONDERLAND Cousins joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in franchise history to average at least 24 points and 12 boards.