Cousins, Kings Form Next Preseason Challenge for Suns
When the Suns travel to Sacramento for their Thursday preseason game against the Kings, they can thank Phoenix legend Kevin Johnson for ensuring their flight wasn’t a lot longer.
The former Suns point guard spearheaded a last-ditch effort this offseason to keep the Kings franchise in Sacramento, rather than relocate to Seattle. Johnson helped coordinate and put together an ownership group that helped stabilize the uncertain future of the team, actions which made the city mayor a basketball hero in a different city for a different reason.
The Kings’ first order of basketball business after that saga was locking DeMarcus Cousins into a long-term contract. The highly talented center has received renewed support from Sacramento’s ownership and coaching staff as they market him as their franchise player.
The numbers back the billing: 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season. He’s also just 23 years old. Cousins exploded for 31 points in just 28 minutes against the Clippers on Monday, four days after logging a double-double against the Lakers.
Sacramento is 2-1 in the preseason while doling out fluctuating minutes and roles before narrowing down its roster. Former 60th overall pick Isaiah Thomas has been the Kings’ most consistent threat other than Cousins, scoring in double-figures in all three exhibition games.
Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek said on Tuesday that the roles/minutes juggling could continue through the Sacramento game, but “after that we’ve got to narrow it down.”
The Kings are entering a similar phase in the preseason, which means the role players, reserves and fringe guys will all be trying to make a big last statement to their respective coaches on Thursday night. Don’t be shocked if there’s an upturn in energy when the bench units enter the game, nor if the outcome is decided by which group of non-regulars performs better.
The Kings don’t get as much recognition for rebounding as the more consistent Clippers or Grizzlies. But they should. Between Cousins, Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes, Sacramento is loaded with glass-eaters.
The results through their first three games have been telling. In their two wins, the Kings outrebounded their opponents by a combined 36 boards. In their lone loss, they lost that battle by four.
The Suns struggled on the glass against the Clippers, particularly in their slow first-half start, when they were outrebounded 26-12. Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Phoenix’s backup bigs will need to find and box out their frontcourt counterparts quickly and consistently in order to contain the damage on the boards.
Both Hornacek and Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough stressed the need for outside shooting during the offseason. The slash-and-kick styles of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, they said, would create that need, putting an onus on the rest of the team to perform respectably behind the arc.
Phoenix has done that over the last preseason games, hitting at least nine three-pointers in each of those contests. The Suns are shooting 43.3 percent from distance in that span. Dragic and Channing Frye lead the team with six three-pointers apiece in that stretch of games.