As we try to do before every game (and with 20 of them in the month of March, that may prove overwhelming, but we'll see), I exchanged some questions with Tom Ziller of SBNation NBA and SBNation's Sacramento Kings blog Sactown Royalty. Ziller was kind enough to answer my somewhat obnoxious questions below, and you can keep an eye on Sactown Royalty for my answers to his questions. Many thanks to Tom for taking the time to provide these insights to the
Anaheim Royals Sacramento Kings. And congrats on the good arena news. My answers to Tom's questions can be found here.
Steve Perrin: Are Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins viable building blocks for the future of the franchise, or a complete train wreck? Those are your only two options.
Tom Ziller: Since I don't see a gun to my head, I'm going to ignore your last directive. Cousins is definitely a viable building block; he might -- might -- be the best center under 25, with apologies to Greg Monroe and, heck, Anthony Davis. He's a deft scorer, top-five rebounder and he has that Rasheed-like ability to be surprising on defense -- such quick hands and agility. He has some areas to work on, conditioning and temper toward opponents and officials included. But he's a gem.
Evans is a little less certain as a cornerstone, especially now that he's been removed -- at least temporarily -- to small forward. Keith Smart's trying to win, and John Salmons was simply awful, so starting Isaiah Thomas at the point necessitated putting Evans at the three. The thinking is that a solid three will be the next acquisition, and Evans will replace Thornton at two-guard; Thornton and Jimmer Fredette would be the bench guards. Needless to say, Evans is much more desirable at the two (where he still has a physical advantage most nights) as opposed to the three. But he needs some stability before we can really assess his potential. I'm cautiously optimistic he has an All-Star berth somewhere down the line.
SP: Don't say I didn't warn you about Paul Westphal. That's not strictly speaking a question I realize, more in the patting myself on the back genre. Here's a question: how's Keith Smart working out? Kind of weird that he got a two year contract after replacing a guy 10 days into the season.
TZ: Smart's contract turned out to have a team option for 2012-13, so he's still pretty much a lame duck. He has the team playing much better, he's obviously been able to turn Cousins' season around and the decision to sit Salmons for Thomas has paid real dividends. The biggest risk to Smart is that the Maloofs could look to replace Geoff Petrie in the offseason, and we know what new GMs like to do with old coaches. But I like Smart a lot, especially compared to the team's last three coaches.
SP: Realizing that it's a big and complex topic, can you give us the "New Sacramento Arena for the Complete Idiot" Cliff's Notes? Is it a done deal? Are the Kings in Sacramento to stay? How happy are you? I still think Anaheim Royals has a nice ring to it.
TZ: There's a major City Council vote on March 6, which would give the thumbs-up to the deal the city reached with the Maloofs, AEG and the NBA on Monday. If that passes, everything else -- barring a referendum and lawsuits -- should be perfunctory. We're looking at a 2015-16 opening for the new facility. I could not be happier with the change of fortune, and I really hope the City Council makes the right decision.
SP: Tyreke was the Rookie of the Year in 2010 (did he send a thank you card to Blake Griffin for getting hurt?) and then had a terrible sophomore slump last season, due in large part to plantar fasciitis. He's been better this season, and has played in all 33 games, but his shooting percentages remain pretty abysmal, with a true shooting percentage under .500. Was his rookie season an outlier, or are we going to see that guy getting to the rim at will again at some point?
TZ: That's the question we all have. Part of it is that the 2010 Kings were so bad that Evans was the playmaker, scorer and best player all by default. He played few games with Kevin Martin, and Beno Udrih was fairly passive (though effective) that season. Tyreke didn't exactly have to be a point guard -- the Kings just need someone to do anything well. Things became different last year, both because Evans couldn't explode like he was accustomed to and because Cousins took over vast swaths of the offense. Now Evans needs to be effective, not just productive. That's proving more difficult than we'd hoped. Pairing with Thomas in the backcourt with a good shooter at small forward and Cousins and a defender (Jason Thompson or Chuck Hayes) up front seems like Evans' best bet for success.
SP: Marcus Thornton, the team's leading scorer, was re-signed for 4 years/$33M in December. He can score, but is he more than a chucker? And do the Kings have a potential log jam with Evans and Thornton and first round pick Jimmer Fredette?
TZ: Thornton's presence made the Jimmer pick pretty bizarre from my perspective, but that's all spilled milk now. Jimmer is a far better ball-handler than Thornton, and can be a point guard (reserve, most likely) in the NBA. Jimmer's also the better shooter, but Thornton's a better ball hawk and is good in transition. (That's where his differentiation from a chucker comes from.) I think they both have roles, but what happens at small forward sort of has their interplay and roles in flux right now.
SP: Last question: Hassan Whiteside has played 14 minutes in 115 games with the Kings. Is that some kind of record? Why keep a project center around, and then not find more than 14 minutes total for him?
TZ: His deal is guaranteed this year, but it's so small that it doesn't matter in that sense. Also, the Kings aren't in dire need of a roster spot right now. He came pretty much as advertised: a completely immature, underdeveloped shotblocker. In the time we've seen him -- 2011 Summer League, preseason, scrimmages, D-League -- he has made a rookie DeAndre Jordan look like Tim Duncan. He needs an alarming amount of work on his fundamentals ... for everything but shotblocking, where he's a monster, even at this level.