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The prospects for the Kings coming off consecutive 28-win seasons with only five returning players from last year’s squad and facing the toughest early schedule in the NBA were not rosy.
However, second year coach Michael Malone guided the Kings to a 9-6 start including a five-game winning streak before losing DeMarcus Cousins for the last eight games due to viral meningitis.
The Kings are 2-6 without Cousins and now 11-12 overall. But the hot start provided one of the surprises of the early NBA campaign and also changed the expectations for their season.
[REWIND: Kings humbled at home by Harden]
Here’s a look at the quarterly report card for the Kings starters.
DeMarcus Cousins: A+
Cousins led the Kings to a 9-6 record and was putting up All-Star-caliber numbers – 23.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game - before being sidelined with virl meningitis. However, more impressive is the fiery demeanor has been channeled the right way.
Avoiding foul trouble and unnecessary turnovers can improve his game and maintain his spot at the head of the class.
When Cousins returns from his illness, he is not expected to play big minutes initially.
Rudy Gay: A
Gay has been solid despite playing through right Achilles tendinitis averaging 21.2 points to go along with 6.3 rebounds per game.
The next step in the former UConn Huskie’s evolution – dishing. Gay has dished out five or more assists in 12 games this season, including five of the last six.
Facilitating will earn Gay a higher grade.
After the Team USA experience this offseason, Gay refers to Cousins as a “brother” and inked a three-year, $40 million contract extension on November 16 to stay in California’s capital city.
[RELATED: Gay, Kings agree to contract extension]
Darren Collison: A
Acquired as a free agent, Collison is a true “provocateur,” getting the offense to percolate and is a good on ball defender. True testament is praise he draws regularly from opposing coaches.
After going 12-16 in games decided by two possessions or less last season, the Kings are 5-4 in the same scenario with Collison this season.
Underlying the 16.7 points and the 6.3 assists per game is Collison personification of the “play for each other mentality” that Kings coach Michael Malone is preaching.
Raising the grade for Collison is tied ultimately to the squad winning. But improving his 2.74 assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point shooting will convince the professor.
Ben McLemore: B
Malone has lauded McLemore for his second year improvement, not just offensively, but defensively as well. Offensively, the numbers reflect modest improvement as he is averaging 11.6 points per game up from 8.8 points last year.
Consistency can raise the grade. McLemore has been in double-digits in 15 of 23 games and the Kings desperately need better 3-point shooting, which is 32 percent at this juncture from the former Kansas Jayhawk.
Jason Thompson: B+
Thompson often gets overlooked but basketball intelligentsia respects the Rider products' defensive efforts, including holding Blake Griffin to 17 points and Anthony Davis to 14 points.
Thompson has shown offense as well of late, going for double-digits in three of his last four games. However, it’s folly to expect big scoring from Thompson.
Is averaging a double-double realistic from his current 5.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game average?
Thompson can raise the grade by embracing his primary role of defending, rebounding and rim running which may deliver the aforementioned increase in production.