The Forgotten King

Sacramento Kings vs Denver Nuggets In Denver

This is actually an exciting time in Sacramento Kings basketball.

Sure, it was a different kind of excitement when this team was pushing 60 wins on the rest of the league every year and there are still some very real and valid concerns this team could be relocated if/when a new arena deal can’t be consummated (I’m still skeptical despite the Maloofs denial). But this is a time that can be even more memorable to Kings fans than flashbacks of Webber to Peja assists and Mike Bibby clutch shots of yesteryear.

Being a Kings fan right now is probably a lot like becoming a new father. The journey will be just as rewarding as the result. What I mean by that is with this current, rebuilding roster the Kings fans will watch the stages of a franchise growing up from an infancy stage. Back when the Kings exploded onto the scene after the NBA lockout ended, it wasn’t really a true rebuilding. They had a fairly veteran team and pretty much maintained their average team age. They went from a 27-win team in an 82-game season with an average age of 26.3 years old to a 27-win team in a 50-game season with an average age of 26.0 years of age. They did this through a nice draft pick, a savvy fleecing of the Bullets/Wizards with the Chris Webber trade and solid free agent pickups (headlined by Vlade Divac).

This year?

They’ll be hitting the fountain of youth like this franchise has never seen before. The Kings have regressed in age from last year’s 17-win team with an average age of 26.8 years of age to the newest roster of Arco warriors that averages an age of 24.8 years. They’ve gutted the glory of the past and decided to rebuild along the models of recent Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics teams. Those teams both built through young assets they acquired through trades and the draft. The Blazers were able to maintain their progression with those pieces and build a youthful, dangerous roster. The Celtics went another route with trading their assets for two veteran players that instantly turned them into championship contenders.

This Kings team seems to be heading towards the Portland style of rebuilding. Their core is so young that it feels like the drafting of Tyreke Evans was the birth of the next generation of Kings basketball. As Kings fans, you’ll be able to see this child progress through their first words (when the team posts a non-losing record for a month) to their first step (when they smack the Lakers in the mouth with a convincing win in Los Angeles) to their first day of school (the eventual playoff berth) to the day that they see their kids off to college and adulthood (perennial title contention). The journey will be as much of the reward as the NBA championship. You’ll look back at some combination of Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Kevin Martin, Omri Casspi, Donte Greene, and Tyreke Evans and think about how you watched them grow up in front of your eyes. It’s a process that will take years (hopefully not 18) and there will be plenty of players remembered and forgotten.

And one of these players that has already been forgotten seems to be Andres Nocioni.

Nocioni is a very forgettable player. He’s not particularly eye opening with his talents even though he’s very solid at nearly every aspect of the game. But he’s also not really terrible at anything either. When he was acquired, he seemed to be nothing more than contract fodder. He was a semi-throw-in for the luxury of not having to pay Brad Miller this coming season. Sure, it was more complicated and calculated than that but essentially, nobody looked at this transaction and thought, “Holy S^$t! We got Andres Nocioni!”

And essentially, we don’t know much about Nocioni. He scores a decent amount of points (11.9 for his career, 13.7 in 23 games with Kings). He’s a decent rebounder (6 per game with the Kings) and his defense is pretty solid. His defensive rating was always pretty respectable when he was on the Bulls (a defensive-minded team), which speaks more to his team than it does to his actual ability but he accompanies those numbers with a reputation for being a tough, physical defender. And he doesn’t mind mixing it up with even the most heinous people around the league.

NBA 2009: Bulls Beat Cavaliers 102-93

You can look at his numbers from this past season with the Kings and they are nice but forgettable – except for his three-point shooting. He’s a career sub-40% long-range shooter but managed to make 45 of his 102 attempts (44.1%) with the Kings. Unfortunately, he’s not THAT good of a shooter. So what can we expect from him this season?

I asked Matt McHale – proprietor of BullsByTheHorns.com – to expound on what we can expect from Andres Nocioni over the long haul:

Here’s the thing with Noc: You can’t judge him by the raw numbers. He’s just not a raw numbers guy. Sure, he’ll have the occasional big game here or there, or have a hot shooting streak. But he’s not, nor will he ever be, the second coming of Manu Ginobili.

Noc is what Hubie Brown likes to call an Intangible Man. He plays hard and does the dirty work. He doesn’t demand shots and he enjoys playing defense. He has a blood lust to win. And even though he rarely lit up the stat sheet, the Bulls were often a better team when he was on the floor (as I explained here).

In essence, he would make an ideal role player on a contender. Unfortunately, the Bulls weren’t contenders and the Kings aren’t either…so his effectiveness and utility is greatly diminished.”

Sure, the Kings aren’t contenders for anything other than the first pick in the 2010 draft but does that mean he can’t be instrumental in the cultivating of this roster? I think guys like Andres Nocioni are completely instrumental in rebuilding teams. He’s essentially filling the Joel Pryzbilla role for the Kings that the pale center has played for the Blazers as they reformed their roster. You need someone who does the little/intangible things on a regular basis. You need things done on the court that will be forgotten or missed by the box score but leave a feeling of comfort and pride in the fans that watch it get done.

Will it benefit the Kings to jettison Nocioni’s contract to a contender in order to clear cap space and save money? It could. Will it be better for guys like Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, and Donte Greene to experience his toughness on a daily basis over the next couple of years? Absolutely.

Andres is going to be the defensive glue guy. You almost have to play him with Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes together because a frontcourt of JT, Hawes, and Donte Greene would be the most embarrassing thing to happen to defense since Troy Hudson. What Nocioni can do over this season is what Kings fans hoped Ron Artest could have accomplished with Francisco Garcia and Kevin Martin. While Cisco is a pretty decent defender, Martin’s defensive shortcomings are close to a wash when you compare it with his efficient scoring.

We probably all thought Artest would come in, show the young guys how to be a defensive player, and transform this team into a light version of the Spurs. Unfortunately, Ron is completely unpredictable and for the most part, he left a carbon footprint that speaks nothing of improvement for this franchise. Nocioni is a different type of guy. He’s prideful in a non-threatening, non-inhibiting way. He’ll never make this show about him and will only try to do his job and help his team. And THAT’S why he’s so important for this crop of Kings.

It would be bad to continually leave him out of the conversation this season. He isn’t as important as someone like Tyreke Evans or Kevin Martin but he’s more necessary to the ultimate growth than Donte Greene and Omri Casspi.

After all, you wouldn’t want to watch this team five years from now and not be able to remember exactly how they got here.

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