We have the framework for a new arena deal in Sacramento. The fans are rejoicing, Gavin Maloof is crying and Mayor Kevin Johnson just hit the political jackpot.
Oh yeah, and the Sacramento Kings have a home game tonight.
The second half of the season starts today and if nothing else, the schedule is a lot more generous than that debacle of a first half. The Kings played an incredible 21 of 33 games away from home and the schedule flip-flops on the backside, just in time to celebrate.
So while huge crowds begin filing Power Balance Pavilion to pay homage, we should probably say goodbye to the 11-22 Sacramento Kings of that dreadful first half and say hello to a new 0-0 team that is ready to pounce.
So what is there to look forward to after the break?
- First and foremost, Kings’ rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas is a revelation. He’s gone from Mr. Irrelevant to Kings’ starting point guard, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 assists and a little over four rebounds a game. It’s only a four-game stint, but Thomas looks and acts the part of the 17 point,six assist playmaker who played last season for the Washington Huskies.
- Keith Smart getting a chance to further implement his scheme. Not only is this a strike shortened, compacted, 66-game schedule without training camp or summer league, but Smart took over eight games after coach Paul Westphal was dismissed. Smart has complied a 9-17 record, which includes 19 road games. With home games comes home cooking and practice time, two things the Kings have found scarce this season. Smart has already made two substantial moves that have paid off – inserting Jason Thompson and Isaiah Thomas into the starting lineup. He now has 33 games to show he is the Kings’ coach of the future.
- The development of DeMarcus Cousins. The second-year big man is making tremendous strides under coach Smart. Cousins is averaging 20 points and 14 rebounds per 36 minutes. Unfortunately, he doesn’t play 36 minutes a game because he has consistently faced foul trouble for most of his two NBA seasons. Here is the good news – over his last 14 games, Cousins has averaged just 3.6 fouls per game, down from the 4.6 he averaged through the first 18. Cousins finally looks comfortable and it would not be a surprise to see Cousins finish the season on a high note.
- Jason Thompson: coming of age. Playing for major free agent dollars, the fourth-year big man out of Rider has figured out his body, the NBA game and his left hand. Thompson has always been a solid rebounder and hustle player, but he has now become an effective post scorer. The tandem of Cousins and Thompson appear to be improving together, giving the Kings a formidable frontline.
- Jimmer Fredette getting a break to clear his head. Jimmer is by far the most popular topic on Cowbell Kingdom. The jury is still out, but getting a few minutes away from the game to get centered can only help. Is he a Steve Nash, pass-first point guard? Is he a Deron Williams, score-first point guard? Is he a combo guard or undersized two? These are questions that the Kings would have liked to address through summer league. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and we are now left with a player trying to discover himself under the bright lights of the NBA. Let’s hope that a few days away provided some clarity.
- Chuck Hayes finding his groove. The Kings thought they signed a defensive catalyst when they inked Hayes to a four-year deal. Then everything came undone. Hayes came into camp heavy, failed a physical due to a heart condition and was waived. He returned before game one, only to dislocate his left shoulder three weeks later. He’s had moments lately where it looks like he’s finding his rhythm. Hayes has shown improvement in his passes from the high post. He has shown some nice moves to the hoop and he is still the Kings’ best communicator. While he has lost his starting job to Thompson, Hayes looks primed to be the third big Smart’s tightening rotation.
- Tyreke Evans learning a new position. Call it what you like, but Evans is now the starting small forward for the Kings. Some may prefer the terms “three-guard set” or “point forward”, but trust me, he’s a small forward for the next 33 games. Evans would prefer point guard, but Thomas looks firmly planted in that role for the remainder of the season, barring injury. What do the Kings need out of Evans? Growth. He needs to show that he isn’t the same player the Kings drafted almost three seasons ago. What does that mean? I think it means he has to guard opponents’ toughest wing players night in and night out and learn to hit the corner three. Is this a permanent move? I don’t think so, but it’s the only option Smart had to finish this season.
- Marcus Thornton becoming more than a scorer. On occasion, Thornton shows you snippets of other skills. Three games ago he finished with 10 rebounds on the way to his only double-double of the season. The Kings don’t need him to do this every night, but Thornton is much better than the 3.6 rebounds per game that he averages. He is also better than the two assists he hands out each night. If Thornton is not better than these numbers, then he might just become a sixth man going forward, especially if the Kings land a wing in the off-season.
- Who snaps out of a season-long funk: John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, Travis Outlaw or J.J. Hickson? There are no words for the first half that Salmons had and I don’t feel the need to try and make any up either. Garcia has shown a fighting spirit over his last couple of games, which might earn him a look in the rotation. Outlaw supposedly looks amazing in practice and Hickson is way too young to be lost in this list of players. There is no rhyme or reason for what has happened to this group, but there is always hope that what we saw for the last, two-plus months was just an aberration. The Kings need one of these guys to play up to their career averages in the second half. Just one. If not, we are going to start seeing names from this list – Donté Greene, Tyler Honeycutt and Hassan Whiteside.
Video shot and produced by Jonathan Santiago
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