Updated: Oct. 27, 2006, 12:06 PM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
Artest's leadership put to test

Kings

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Sacramento Kings finish in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference? Get 10 takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

ANALYST COMMENT
Marc
Stein
ESPN.com
Ron Artest and Eric Musselman are like-minded. They'll be fine. The concerns are almost everywhere else, starting with rebounding but also bench production and my oft-stated doubts that John Salmons can replace Bonzi Wells.
DIVISION RANK: 5 | CONFERENCE RANK: 12
Chris
Sheridan

ESPN.com
They should have found a way to keep Bonzi rather than turning their backs when he rejected their first offer. He was their best player in the playoffs, and John Salmons won't come close to replacing what he brought.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 9
Jim
O'Brien

ESPN.com
They brought in the best defender in the league in Ron Artest, and they've added a tough-minded, defense-first coach in Eric Musselman. Now their style will change to more of a smashmouth defensive unit.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 10
Tim
Legler

ESPN.com
Can Artest have a season-long impact on their defensive mind-set? That's the question. In Kevin Martin, they found a nice player. Now, Mike Bibby and Brad Miller need to play like All-Stars to get them to the playoffs.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 10
Scoop
Jackson

ESPN.com
Just as Bonzi going to Houston puts the Rockets over the top, not re-signing him could put the Kings six feet under. But Ron Artest hasn't killed anyone yet so the Kings can't be considered DOA.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
John
Hollinger

ESPN.com
Kings played great down the stretch last year, but it also was an easy stretch of the schedule with a ton of home games. The frontcourt lacks depth, size and strength, and for the first time in memory the Kings are short on shooters.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 10
Chad
Ford

ESPN.com
Musselman can coach, but you have to wonder how long Artest will be on his best behavior. Any distractions could be fatal. I think the Kings will compete for a playoff spot but fall just a little short.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 10
Ric
Bucher

ESPN Mag
The Maloofs believe defense wins championships, which is why they replaced Rick Adelman with Eric Musselman. That's so five years ago. Shooting and shot blocking are the new essentials and if you don't have those, you'd better be able to rebound. The Kings are short on all three.
DIVISION RANK: 5 | CONFERENCE RANK: 10
Chris
Broussard

ESPN Mag
Not your typical seventh seed. Just like last season -- post-Artest deal -- the Kings will be as dangerous as anyone in the playoffs.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
Greg
Anthony

ESPN.com
Ron Artest has proven to be a flat-out superstar, but the question is, is he ready to be a leader? Not signing Bonzi might be a good move financially, but the loss of him on the court could mean they don't make the playoffs.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 10
 
Average ranks

DIVISION: 4 | Standings
CONFERENCE: 9.5 | Standings


The Scoring King
Bibby
Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images
Mike Bibby averaged a career-high 21.1 ppg but saw his field-goal percentage drop last season to 43.2 percent, the lowest since his rookie year in Vancouver. When he returns from injury, he'll need to do better.


Lineup Breakdown

STARTERS ANALYSIS
Mike Bibby
Point Guard
6-1 | 190
Legs have started to fade. So too will open looks.
Kevin Martin
Shooting Guard
6-7 | 185
Play chicken with Bonzi Wells and this is what you end up with.
Ron Artest
Small Forward
6-7 | 260
On a team going nowhere? Tick … tick … tick …
Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Power Forward
6-9 | 245
Finally ended nine-year playoff drought. Next one begins now.
Brad Miller
Center
7-0 | 261
Hit 38.6 percent from beyond arc, green-lit to launch more. What position does he play?
Bench: GM Geoff Petrie must have a fetish for the 76ers' bench circa '03-04 (Kenny Thomas, John Salmons). That team didn't go to the playoffs either.

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands October 25.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Kenny Thomas
Player efficiency rating
projection: 14.37
vs. NBA avg.: -0.63
Kings profiles

Scouting report: Thomas' size hasn't hindered him from becoming a quality power forward and even playing center at times, because he's strong, elevates well, rebounds and plays hard. However, he tends to fall asleep on defense at times and lose track of his man away from the ball. On the plus side, he's nimble enough to switch out against guards on the pick-and-roll and slow their progress. He's also durable, playing all 82 games in 2005-06.

Offensively, Thomas' size limits him at times around the basket, where he has a hard time finishing, and the Kings rarely post him up since he's usually giving up inches. But Thomas is a good fit in this system because he can hit jumpers from around the foul line area and handles the ball well enough to go by bigger opponents off the dribble.

2006-07 outlook: Thomas again will split minutes with Shareef Abdur-Rahim at power forward, though there should be plenty to go around in what looks to be a very thin Sacramento frontcourt. It'd be nice if he could involve himself a little more in the offense than he did a season ago, as the Kings aren't quite the scoring juggernaut they've been in the past, but either way his defense and rebounding fill a huge void in the Kings' lineup. For that reason, he'll probably keep his starting gig for another season.


Home Of The Ron
Artest
Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images
Ron Artest, please report to the paint. According to John Hollinger, it's up to Eric Musselman to convince Artest that he's not a 30-point-a-night jump shooter and remind him he's more effective when he bulls his way to the basket.


SportsNation Speaks
The waiter ignored our Bring Back Bonzi order. So SportsNation got the Salmons instead. Healthier, but not as fun. Sigh.

Do you expect Ron Artest to go all year without serious incident?
70.2% Sure
29.8% No way

Vote: Kings in 2006-07



Ask A Blogger
Kings

What would it take for you to get a tattoo of the Kings' logo on your chest?

The Kings, filled with potential greatness at every position, would have to do the unthinkable and win the title. What's it going to take for that to happen?

Another big season from Mike Bibby, a breakout from Kevin Martin, some toughness from Brad Miller, unexpected excellence from the young bench, and some sort of Optimus Prime-type coalescing between Ron Artest and Eric Musselman.

It's not completely out of the question -- name one other team critics are freely sticking towards the bottom of the playoff picture that has the talent to take home the O'Brien. You can't.

Tom Ziller | sactownroyalty.com



Coach's Corner

ERIC MUSSELMAN COACHING FILE
Experience: 2 years
Record: 75-89
Playoffs: 0-0
NBA titles: 0
Coach's profile

On paper, this team can compete for a title. But there are two major questions for new coach Eric Musselman:

Can he run the tight ship he desires while giving Ron Artest the freedom Artest needs?

And can he get Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kenny Thomas to buy into the "it doesn't matter who starts" philosophy?

He also is faced with a roster that doesn't quite mesh with his desire to really run and defend the entire court. Guards Mike Bibby, Kevin Martin, John Salmons, and Francisco Garcia -- along with Artest -- all excel in transition. But the Kings' bigs don't.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com NBA analyst



Hollinger's Team Strength
Ballhandling. This always has been a Kings strength and should be again this year. From top to bottom, nearly every important player on this team is an above-average dribbler and passer for his size, and historically that's made the Kings very difficult to defend.

Start with Miller, one of the best passing big men in the game and a deft left-handed driver despite his lack of speed. Thomas and Abdur-Rahim also handle the ball very well for their size, with Thomas comfortable playing out high and Abdur-Rahim even pushing it out on the break on occasion.

On the perimeter there's more where that came from. Artest, Francisco Garcia and Salmons all can handle the ball like a point guard, so much so that the Kings probably won't even play the man who is theoretically Bibby's backup (Jason Hart). Artest played point forward on several occasions after the trade last season, while Salmons' primary asset as a player is his ability to handle the ball at 6-7. The only weak ball handler among the rotation players is Martin.

More Hollinger Kings analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Martin
Martin

Sleeper: Kevin Martin, despite plenty of competition, should emerge as a solid contributor again this season. Martin thrived in a starting role last season, as he shot 10 percent higher from the field than he did as a reserve. He's not much on passing, but his shooting percentages across the board are a big help.

Bust: Shareef Abdur-Rahim came off the bench the entire second half of last season and it appears he may do the same this season, at least at the start. Although he and Kenny Thomas put up respectable fantasy numbers combined, Abdur-Rahim won't give you enough on a consistent basis to make him worthy of being owned.

Keith Lipscomb | Fantasy Hoops Index

 

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