We are officially five games into the 2014-2015 NBA season, it’s far too early to make any broad statements. Although, there are a couple of teams who are off to surprisingly good starts. Of those teams, the most surprising may be the Sacramento Kings. The Kings haven’t been good or at least in playoff contention out west since the days of Webber, Divac, and Bibby. While this version of the Kings don’t have those type of career credentials yet, they do boast a couple of very talented players that may have started to figure things out. The pair is not short in the talent department, but as that talent meets maturity, special things can happen.
Sacramento has one of the best bigs in the league in 24 year old DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, for the past few years he’s been known more for his temper or lack there of versus his immense talent. Even while going thru many ups and downs mentally and emotionally on the court where he seemed extremely unstable, the temper tantrums that resulted in techs often overshadowed his impact on the game.
After a busy summer with USA Basketball that resulted in winning a gold medal in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Cousins came into this season a much different man. That maturation has definitely translated to the court where he’s been nothing short of dominant to start this season. There have still been a few instances in which his temper has gotten the best of him resulting in stupid fouls, but it’s evident that he’s come along way from who he was the past four years.
Boogie has elevated his field goal percentage every year in the league with this year being the best, he’s shooting 51% from the floor. Some may look at him being a big and thing, that’s not that great of a number. For Cousins, it’s a very good number as he operates both on the block and at the high post. This season he’s averaging 24 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. Earlier this week, Boogie destroyed the front court of the Los Angeles Clippers: 34 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. His stellar play has allowed the Kings to play inside-out basketball, ranking them sixth in the league in scoring with 103.8 points per game.
The other half of Sacramento’s duo has been the running joke for folks that love analytics, Rudy Gay has been seen as one of the least efficient offensive players in the past few years. Much of which was deserved as he has been one of the most frustrating talents in the league, from the sense of what he could be if he ironed out some of the maddening issues in his game. The biggest being shot selection and the dependency on jump shots and nothing else, after being traded (from Memphis to Toronto) to Sacramento, Gay quietly started to round out his offensive game and took steps to being a more efficient scorer.
The 28 year old wing has finally gotten going on all cylinders on the offensive end of the floor, the most telling statistic is the reason for the change in efficiency. Thru five games, Gay is getting to the line 9.2 times per game. His previous career high was 5 trips to the line per game as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies back in the 2009-20010 season. Upon landing in Sacramento, that number increased to 5.4 free throw attempts per game in his first 55 games in a Kings uniform last season. His field goal percentage in those 18 games in Toronto last season was a paltry 38%, after the trade to Sacramento that number went up to 48% from the floor. The time spent with Cousins on team USA couldn’t have hurt their chemistry as Gay spent time on the floor with Boogie at both small forward and power forward in stretches.
The Sacramento coaching staff finally found the right formula for Rudy, putting him in situations that allowed him to use his talents best. Having Cousins operating in the post allows Gay to attack the rim from different places and take better three point shots, with those shots coming out of double teams in the post. Of the five games this season, Gay has had two horrible shooting nights (5-15, 4-13). The good news is those seem to be the outliers now versus the “new” norm in Sacramento, in the other three games he’s shot no less than 50% from the floor.
Gay had his best game of the young season against Portland, going for 40 points on 13-19 shooting from the floor, 3-4 from beyond the arc, and 11-13 from the charity stripe. That line also included eight rebounds, on the season he’s averaging 24.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. Gay is shooting 52% from the floor, 58% from deep, and 84% from the charity stripe.
It’s only five games into a very young season, but the Kings may be setting the foundation for something special. They have something that some of the “contenders” don’t have, a dominant big man and a gifted scorer on the wing. While it is very easy to dismiss what Cousins and Gay have done thus far, it seems far more likely that they will continue to thrive in this system. How far they go will be up to the Kings from a team standpoint, how well the “others” do will play a big role. But the Kings have to be ecstatic about their two best players and what they’ve done to this point.
After losing their opening game of the season to the Warriors, Sacramento has been on a four game win streak. All five of their games have been against Western Conference teams, in a very tough conference you have to take every win that you can. It also speaks volumes that they can hang with some of the better teams in the West, even beat them. Keep your eyes on the Kings, this duo may take them to the playoffs!