|DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans in less trying times. (Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas)|
Southern California has a stranglehold on the state's basketball market, long entrenched by years of Los Angeles Lakers dominance and bolstered by the recent emergence of the Clippers as a postseason team. Trades netting All-Star caliber talents last winter (Chris Paul to the Clips) and this summer (Steve Nash and, eventually, Dwight Howard to the Lake Show) ensure that any Western Conference contender will have to play well in SoCal in order to prove their postseason worth.
As southern California basketball flourishes, though, things aren't as full of life in Northern California. The Golden State Warriors have scorer after scorer on the roster, and while an exciting offense keeps them from being dead in the bay water, they don't project as a playoff team in 2012-13.
The Sacramento Kings finished at No. 28 in Marc Stein's final NBA power rankings for last season — two spots out of last place. While it is only one notch higher than the Warriors ranked, make no mistake: the Kings are levels ahead of the Warriors, and a majority of NBA teams, when it comes to being interesting.
The Kings are mercurial. An enigmatic presence that deserves more attention than it will receive. There's reason to invest time in Queen City's NBA franchise, even if there's not much winning to be had by said team.
The average age of the 14 players currently on the roster is 25.35. Historically, NBA players' performance peaks as they work through their late 20s. The elder statesmen are shooting guards John Salmons and Francisco Garcia at 32 and 31, respectively.
|Thomas Robinson. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee)|
And, yes, Cousins is a bright spot for the Kings. As much of a headache as he can be — and there are still maturity issues for him to work through — Cousins posted better stats in most categories last year and grabbed nearly 50 more offensive rebounds than in his rookie campaign, despite playing in 17 fewer games because of the lockout-shortened season.
The guard play will be something to watch, too. Tyreke Evans, after winning Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, has produced two seasons of play that didn't live up to expectations and is coming off a case of plantar fasciitis that some will use to asterisk 2012-13. There's still a chance — and, surely, hope among Kings fans —for Evans to return to form. In order to succeed with the pieces around him, though, he may be wise to dish the ball more often. His 16.4 PER last season ranked a tick above the league average of 15. In the final year of his rookie contract, 'Reke has to know that it's time to earn his next deal and this is the inevitable make or break season.
Regardless, Evans will be the Kings' primary ballhandler and depth at point guard is not an issue. Isaiah Thomas, the diminutive baller who played college hoops at Washington, had the best advanced stats of any Kings player last season. The front office also acquired Aaron Brooks, two years removed from winning the Most Improved Player award and coming off a season overseas. He was unhappy in Phoenix before that, but being that he had a say in landing in Sactown and is presumably content, he could still flash the talent that made him attractive in his time with the Houston Rockets.
|Jimmer Fredette. (AP/Steve Yeater)|
The players are young, and seeing how they work together is reason enough to be on NBA League Pass alert when a Kings game is scheduled. Keith Smart, entering his first full year as head coach, should be able to implement a plan after getting to know most of the roster last season. All of this, without mentioning the will-they-won't-they relocation rumors the Maloof family attempted, unsuccessfully, to dispel. If Kings players get the feeling that their play may affect the organization's future, this is when pressure is at an all-time high. It's time to be professional; time to excel.
Sacramento loves the Kings and deserves better than to lose them to a city that would be half as dedicated. Even with the threat of a move hanging above them, this squad will be fun to watch this season. They have players that are capable of lighting up opponents every time they step on the court, but they need to make the transition from NBA cellar dweller to middle-of-the-pack regiment.
Hoops-wise, that's as sunny as NorCal gets this year.
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