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Three Keys to Success for the Sacramento Kings

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | As the Sacramento Kings enter into the 2013-14 NBA season, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

They've rid themselves of the Maloofs, arguably the worst owners in professional sports. A new downtown arena is hopefully just a few years away. A revamped roster includes a lot of fresh talent, headlined by a bona fide starting point guard in Greivis Vasquez. And new head coach Michael Malone offers hope that an actual team can be molded from a franchise that has recently suffered from stat-hoarding, me-first play.

Don't expect the Kings to push for a playoff berth just yet. They finished last season at 28-54, and getting wins in the mid- to high-30s in a Western Conference with a lot of parity would represent marked improvement.

How much they can improve depends on a lot of variables, but here are three key statistics to watch for that may serve as a bellwether for how this season goes:

1. How many technical fouls does DeMarcus Cousins get? The Kings' fortunes will be hitched to Cousins for the next few years. Last year, he led the league in technical fouls with 17, including four ejections. The Kings desperately need leadership from their most talented player, and you simply can't set a tone for the locker room if you lead the league in immaturity.

This offseason, Cousins said all the right things, commenting on how he seems himself as a leader and a veteran presence on a young team. But talk is cheap. When the games begin, can DeMarcus Cousins actually keep his cool and listen to Michael Malone? Hopefully, the looming figure of new minority owner Shaquille O'Neal can help keep him in check. If his technicals are on par with last year, expect a lot of dysfunction in the locker room.

2. How well does Ben McLemore shoot from 3-point range? Last year, the Kings were a respectable 12th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage at 36.3%, but there was no single player on the roster that excelled as a sniper. The closest would be power forward Patrick Patterson, but his use must be limited due to limitations with defense and rebounding. If a bona-fide outside jump-shooter emerges on this year's roster, it will be McLemore. They'll need him to help pull defenses out of the paint and open up things for the Kings' big men. If he hits close to 40% of his 3s, it will be a huge boon for Sacramento.

3. What's the team defensive rating? Defensive rating is a grossly undervalued statistic. It takes a look at collective defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) in a way that corrects for tempo (you can play quality defense and still give up a lot of points if you play fast). Sadly, the Kings were second to last in the league at this last year at 111.83. The top four were Memphis, San Antonio, Indiana, and Oklahoma City. What do they have in common? Deep playoff runs.

Nobody has more to do with this statistic than Michael Malone. Defense isn't so much a function of talent as it is effort level. If Malone can turn around the locker room, develop some on-court leadership, and build the right culture, the defense will follow.

Two of these three were on full display in the Kings' opening-night win against the Denver Nuggets. Cousins kept himself in the game and dominated, and the team defense was solid. But McLemore will need to step up for the Kings to be competitive. Isaiah Thomas may have had a nice shooting night (3 of 4 from 3-point range), but he's too much of a defensive liability to be a cornerstone of the team.

Doug Brockwell is a lifelong follower of NBA basketball who grew up cheering for the Denver Nuggets. After relocating to Northern California in 2008, he began to follow the Sacramento Kings, who remind him of the endearingly hapless Nuggets squads of the '90s that he endured as a kid.
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