The Numbers Behind the Post-Malone Sacramento Kings
Prior to December 15, 2014: The Sacramento Kings were a respectable 11-13 after starting the season 5-1 and losing All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins to several weeks due to viral meningitis. Cousins was playing the best ball of his career, along with newly-extended wing Rudy Gay and sophomore guard Ben McLemore. They were respectable on defense with head coach Michael Malone and Cousins, despite most of the world not catching up on the latter being a good defender.
After December 15, 2014: New head coach Ty Corbin has coached about as many games (23) as Malone did before being canned (24). The Kings have gone 6-17 during this new stretch of games, and both the offense and defense have fallen off a cliff.
Let’s look at the numbers.
By the time Malone was released, the Kings were about average defensively. However, that understates things, as having a healthy Cousins worked wonders for their defense. He is not a traditional rim protector –- perhaps that's why most viewers think he’s a bad defender, since he’s not what people think a big man defender should be -– but he still gets the job done.
Opponents are shooting 48.6% at the rim with Cousins defending, which is a very good number, and ahead of celebrated rim protectors like Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, and tied with Marc Gasol. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus agrees with this notion, as Cousins’ DRPM of 5.26 is second among all centers in the NBA only to Andrew Bogut. That number is actually double Roy Hibbert and DeAndre Jordan's marks of 2.70 and 2.52, respectively.
However, the rest of the team can’t keep up. Point guard Darren Collison –- who the Kings signed because of his defensive prowess over isaiah-thomas –- has been a negative defender, with a -0.22 DRPM. Ben McLemore has shown improvement this year, but is barely positive at 0.37. Gay is negative as well with a -0.83 mark. None of them are terrible, but none of them are that great, either.
And that makes coaching and chemistry so important, which thus makes the Kings move of replacing Mike Malone for Ty Corbin such an odd one. It’s unclear what front office expectations were (playoffs?), but Malone was clearly getting his players to buy in defensively, and they were good on that end when Cousins was in the game.
Offensively, the Kings haven’t fallen off quite as much as on defense, but it’s still significant. They were scoring 103.6 points per 100 possessions before Malone’s firing, good for 15th in the league. Again, that included a lot of time without Cousins on the floor. They were shooting at an above-average rate and were the best rebounding team in the NBA, posting a 54.2% rebounding rate.
Since then, the offense has dipped to 101.4 points per 100 possessions, which is Nets and Pacers territory. Their shooting has stayed on par, but their rebound percentage has fallen to 50.9% and their total net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) is currently at -6.7, just barely above the Lakers for sixth worst in the league.
However, it’s not all bad. Both Rudy Gay and Darren Collison have been very positive on the offensive end, posting respective ORPM’s of 3.12 and 2.58. Oddly, Cousins doesn’t rate as highly on the offensive per RPM as he does on defensively, but he’s obviously a beast in the low post. He turns the ball over too frequently –- he’s averaging a career-high 4.3 turnovers a game –- but part of that is par for the course when it comes to high-usage players.
They’ve had some success, albeit in very limited minutes, with going small and ramping up their offense. A lineup with Collison, McLemore, Omri Casspi, Gay, and Cousins has dominated offensively, scoring 116.8 points per 100 possessions. However, they’ve also hemorrhaged points at a bad rate, posting a 110.6 defensive rating.
It might be worth exploring some of these lineups throughout the rest of the season, however. McLemore looks like a rotation piece after struggling in his rookie year and Cousins has emerged as maybe the biggest low-post weapon since Shaq. They definitely aren’t making the playoffs this year and probably weren’t going to with any coach, so maybe the Malone thing is overblown. However, the Kings have a rare thing –- a franchise superstar -– and need to make sure they find a coach and a system that fits him in the future.