League's youngest roster couldn't finish games

The Sports Xchange

The Kings failed to make the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season after an eight-year run in the postseason. They were doomed by poor shooting, erratic defense and the inability to execute in close games down the stretch with the youngest roster in the NBA. Sacramento finished 22-44.

The Kings responded better under coach Keith Smart than Paul Westphal, who was fired seven games into the season. Sacramento was able to improve scoring under Smart, averaging 99.3 points, but without a shot blocker or many defenders, the Kings allowed the most points in the NBA at 104.6 points.

"The goal for this team is: Can we get between the top 15, top 10 teams defensively next year?" Smart said. "Off the bat, that's what we're going to be shooting for. Can we get there? I don't know. Will we get there? I have no idea. Coming in, that's what the goal is."

The Kings will be $15 million under the salary cap this summer, all the more reason to pursue free agents and trades. Last summer, the Kings had the most money to spend and their two big moves turned out to be flops with the trade for J.J. Hickson -- who was later waived -- and Chuck Hayes, who missed games with various injuries.

The Kings became a better offensive team when Tyreke Evans was moved from point guard to shooting guard, allowing rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas to come in and flourish. Still, the Kings were often doomed by their penchant for one-on-one play.

"We've been up and down with it," Evans said. "To be good, we've got to be smarter about that stuff."

Smart said the Kings improved on offense but need to improve dramatically on defense.

"I think they've made a lot of good strides," Smart said. "When our team was completely healthy, there was a stretch where we were playing very good, defensively, so I know the capability is there. I'm trying to take some guys where the DNA of a defensive player is not there. It's not something they think about all the time."

The Kings showed the ability to beat the top teams in the NBA, such as opening the season at Power Balance Pavilion with a 100-91 effort over the Lakers on Dec. 26, beating Indiana 92-88 on Jan. 18, beating San Antonio on the road 88-86 on Jan. 20 for the first time in 12 attempts and topping Oklahoma City 106-101 at home on Feb. 9. The elevation of second-round pick -- and the final pick of the 2011 draft -- Isaiah Thomas as the lead point guard boosted the team offensively. Thomas was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month in February and March and averaged 15.7 points in 37 games as a starter. DeMarcus Cousins had a very strong season at center in his second season, averaging 18.7 points and 11.1 rebounds with 37 double-doubles.

The Kings never could protect the paint, allowing a league-high 104.6 points and allowing Denver to score 78 points in the paint in a 110-83 loss in Colorado on Jan. 4, the most allowed by a team in 15 seasons. Injuries stalled leading scorer Marcus Thornton, who missed games with various leg ailments. The Kings went 2-12 without him. Sacramento's inability to defend or shoot -- it was the poorest shooting team in the NBA -- resulted in seven-game losing streak in April that sapped the club of any hope of a strong finish.

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