Why The Sacramento Kings Are Better Than…The Denver Nuggets

As a part of a series (and a way to pass the time before the NFL starts), I’m going to compare Sacramento’s playoff chances to some others in the West. For reference, this series will assume that the following teams (in no particular order) will make the playoffs:

  • Warriors (Basically the same team that just won the ‘ship)
  • Spurs (Improved, though older)
  • Clippers (Much improved on paper, though number of neck tattoos has decreased)
  • Grizzlies (Lost Koufos, added Brandan Wright and a few neck tattoos)
  • Rockets (Lost some interesting role players in exchange for a few DUIs)
  • Thunder (Basically the same team…just added a healthy[?] Durant. Also, I can’t help but laugh when I see Dion Waiters on that depth chart.)

Also, I’m going to show rosters broken down by “position” even though I realize that positions are only marginally real. I’ll analyze with that in mind, but visually it’s just easier to go by position.


The Nuggets are an oddly compiled team. How will Wilson Chandler, Gallinari, and Faried fit together? Will their young, foreign talent make a significant impact? Will Mike Malone make my dreams come try and agree to a coach swap with the Kings?

Let’s get into it…

Point Guards

Every NBA fan I’ve talked to (minus Kings fans) has discounted Sacramento’s point guard strength because of Rondo’s…let’s say, questionable character, and I understand that angle, I really do. The fact that Rondo has changed his jersey, does not blind me to his issues. Plus, on the Nugget side, I have also bought into the Mudiay hype. But that said, I still can’t give the edge to Denver.

Let’s say Mudiay plays fantastically and Rondo plays poorly. Darren Collison could then step in, start in Rondo’s place, and likely perform nearly as well as Mudiay. As we move down the depth chart, Jameer Nelson is just not an enticing backup to me compared to Rondo/Collison…it’s not even close.

Lastly, I don’t exactly consider myself an Erick Green expert, but I think I can confidently say that I’d prefer Seth Curry and/or David Stockton.


Shooting Guard

Say what you will about Ben McLemore, maybe he’s a starter in this league, maybe he’s not, but if you say I can have McLemore or Randy Foye, I’m taking McLemore every single time. In traditional stats, they’re pretty similar in a few ways: They shot 0.1% different from the 3-point line and 0.5% from the free throw line, but Ben is clearly a better scorer, he’s way younger, and he’s more athletic. Foye is a better passer, but has a slightly worse defensive rating. For this upcoming year, I’ll take Ben’s potential over Foye’s experience.

Belinelli and Will Barton are very different players, but they are actually fairly similar in terms of their effect on their respective teams. Belinelli has a higher effective field goal percentage, thanks mostly to his 3-point shooting, but Barton has a slightly higher Player Impact Estimate.

Comparing the potential of Gary Harris’ sophomore season to James Anderson’s prospects this year is a really good way to make me shrug, and I’ll leave it at that.


Small Forward

Let me preface this by saying that I am a fan of Wilson Chandler…but I think Rudy Gay is better. I tend to think of Chandler as a stopper, but according to NBA.com’s Defensive Rating, the Kings only allow 0.9 points more with Gay on the floor than the Nuggets do with Chandler. Considering that Gay is better than Chandler on the offensive end, I think you have to take Rudy. Last thing I’ll say about this, since Chandler joined the Nuggets (let’s not count ‘11-’12 where he only played 8 games) his PPG has stayed the same, his FG% is down, and his 3P% is way down. Rudy, in the same time frame, has improved in all of those categories.

Here’s a matchup you have probably never thought about: Omri Casspi vs. Danilo Gallinari! Excitement abounds… Gallinari puts up more numbers, but Casspi shoots about 5% better from 3 and nearly 9% better in terms of field goal percentage. To be fair, Gallinari kills Casspi at the free throw line (16% better last year), but Casspi has a higher Assist Ratio, Rebounding Percentage, and Effective FG%. Edge to Casspi in every category except free throws and notoriety.

My question is, clearly Gay is the starter and Casspi is the backup, but on the Denver side, how will Mike Malone balance Chandler (31.7 mpg last year) and Gallinari (24.2 mpg)? The Nuggets also added Papanikolaou who further complicates the log jam without adding a ton of numbers, though he has a nice upside.

Last question, would you rather have Nick Johnson or Caron Butler for the next two years? I’m a Pac-12 guy, so I’ve known about Johnson for awhile, but in the two years will he have the opportunity to be more impactful than Butler? I hope so…

Power Forwards

Before Kings fans absolutely lose their minds, here’s why this is a draw: 1. I don’t like the lack of big men depth on Sacramento’s roster especially when compared to all the options the Nuggets have, and 2. I really love Faried’s game, and the upside of their young power forwards and centers.

Look, I know Boogie is a good deal better than Faried. First of all, Faried is simply not on the court as much as Boogie is. Did you know he has never averaged more than 28 minutes per game in a season? I don’t know if Denver is just trying to increase the length of his career or they simply have some good depth that they want to give minutes to, but either way, he’s less of a factor because he plays less. Now, when he’s on the floor, he’s a great player, but not as great as Cousins.

The average NBA fan may look at Joffrey Lauvergne’s numbers from last year and shrug, but if you look at his per 36 minutes stats, you’re looking at a potential 12.5 and 10 guy. If you check out his highlights, albeit often in garbage time, you see a guy with quick feet, good fundamental post game, shot-blocking abilities, and a decent shot. He may not change many games, but he should see increased minutes, and look for him to continue to improve.

Darrell Arthur and J.J. Hickson are nothing at all to write home about, but they provide experience and depth that the Kings don’t really have. Sure, Boogie is better than Faried, but Arthur plus Hickson plus Lauvernge’s potential is clearly better than Quincy Acy, and for that reason, I have to conclude that this is a draw.


Centers

Jusuf Nurkic is an interesting dude. He averaged basically 7 points and 6 rebounds in 17 minutes per game last year. I just spent five minutes on YouTube watching him make players like Marc Gasol and Blake Griffin look silly, allowing them to think they have a wide open look and at the last minute, stuffing them and their dreams. He’s not going to create a ton of offense himself, but he definitely looks for the ball on the offensive end and has good hands. I like him a lot, and you have to think he’ll get more minutes this year. Many of Nurkic’s traditional stats from last year were better than Koufos’, though Kosta is more efficient.

The Nuggets also have Nikola Jokic, a second-rounder from 2014 who shot 63% last year abroad. I won’t pretend to know anything about him, but I do know a bit about Joey Dorsey. Obviously not a big impact guy, but a beefy rebounder who can bang.

Now, I obviously love WCS and I’m excited to see what he’ll do, but since he and Jokic are rookies, let’s put them down as question marks, though we can assume that WCS will eventually be better. I, personally, put Nurkic and Kosta Koufos on a similar level, and Dorsey won’t do much, so all I can conclude is Draw. I really had to resist the bias here because I’m so excited for what WCS is going to do, but I’ll fight the temptation to give SAC the advantage.


The real problem I have with Denver is their shooting guard depth, and though I like what I’ve seen of Nurkic, I’d be a little worried about their unproven center depth as well. I think Mudiay has a great shot at winning Rookie of the Year because he’s going to get plenty of opportunity, but I don’t see the Nuggets as a contender for the 7th or 8th seed in the West.

Stay tuned for more comparisons! We’re getting closer and closer to the much anticipated (by me) Lakers/Kings comparison.

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