No one likes a loser

Tom Ziller is editor of

The Sacramento Kings have certainly won the hype battle this fall. Giant banners hanging off of skyscrapers, the (supposedly unironic) Second Saturday presence and greater overall community outreach have certainly helped the still-struggling franchise get back in front of the all-important casual fans of Sacramento. But if the Kings manage to get a few thousand more fans into Arco Arena, can they keep them coming back? To do so, they need to win some games. Are they fit to handle that?

Progress on defense will go a long way toward improving the win-loss ledger. The offense is decent and trending upward, with 21-year-old guard Tyreke Evans at the reins and top draft pick DeMarcus Cousins already fairly advanced, even at age 20. But Cousins has a huge learning curve on defense, and Beno Udrih, heavens bless him, has no chance of keeping up with the league’s best point guards, most of whom are speedsters.

The team also starts Carl Landry, who is among the toughest dudes in the game (he fled carjackers with bullets in his leg and took no days off after leaving five teeth in Dirk Nowitzki’s arm). But Landry can’t guard the NBA’s skilled power forwards. Small forward Omri Casspi, who has apparently had Donte Greene kidnapped, still isn’t sure where he should be on defense. Paul Westphal is trying to game around the deficiencies with Samuel Dalembert and heavy doses of Francisco Garcia. But at some point, the kids will need to figure it out so that the Kings can compete on that end every night.

On offense, Evans runs the show—and runs it well. Folks who fell in love with the Webber-Divac-Peja Kings might groan at some of the more dribble-heavy possessions Reke offers up, but a jaw-dropping crossover or two will allay those concerns. Evans is one of the league’s few guards who almost never needs a teammate to set a screen to help spring him into an open lane to the rim; he can literally do it all himself against all but the most brilliant opponents. Of course, there’s a downside to the solo act: It often leaves teammates standing around like outfielders during a Tim Lincecum outing. That’s actually the biggest reason Casspi is in there. A deadly shooter, the Israeli is vital in making defenses pay for collapsing in the paint around Evans and Cousins.

Speaking of DeMarcus: The big rookie’s start has been rather rough, with Cousins struggling to avoid debilitating foul trouble. Most young players learn what they can get away with fairly quickly, but until Cousins gets into better shape and learns some staple tendencies of opposing players, his problems may continue. And problems for DMC might well be considered problems for the Kings, as the rookie was their big addition, the big draw for this campaign. If he can’t stay on the court, the Kings won’t win a whole lot more than last year (despite Evans’ growth). And that’d be a bummer, because no one likes to watch a loser.