Okay, sarcasm aside, the road trip isn’t a complete failure at 0-3. Sure, wins are always better than losses. And could the Kings gone 1-2, 2-1 or won all 3 games? Of course. But we knew that. And we know the Kings won’t do that this year. So, it is what it is.
I’m not going to keep this running forever. Here is the boxscore. To the bullets we go……
* Last night in Minnesota Tyreke Evans stunk up the joint a lot of time. Until the later stages of the game where Tyreke got terrible shots off in both overtimes, Tyreke looked like the Tyreke in Chicago that looked like the part of a max player. I’m liking Tyreke the player more and more. Certainly Tyreke needs to get better shots than dribble drives (which is a big problem I have), and that’s just one area where I would like to see more post-up’s. There isn’t any SG’s in the NBA that can keep Tyreke from getting to where he wants on the block as long as Tyreke understands how to get where he wants to go. And therein lies the rub….
The defense though. Oh my, yes. I’m loving that.
* DeMarcus Cousins stunk the joint up again. His stat line looks okay in some respects, but Cousins did not have a very good game in any real way. It’s hard to win when your two top guys shoot 33% from the field (Evans went 5-15; Cousins went 9-27). But the difference between Evans and Cousins is that A) Evans is a much better defensive player and B) Cousins jacks up shots at a breathtaking rate that makes so little sense you often wonder why he does it so often. Unfortunately, because Cousins is so inefficient and is such a high volume shot taker it puts so much pressure on everyone else to be perfect.
Quite frankly, Cousins makes the game so much harder on his teammates and himself for all the silly mental and physical mistakes Cousins makes. Evans is problematic too, but less so when he plays like he did in Chicago and again in Indiana tonight. He actually makes the game easier for his teammates. Cousins on the other hand, puts pressure with his lack of rotation defense, his poor shot selection, his terrible turnovers (although Evans was worse there tonight to be fair), and dour attitude. It just adds up to impossible chemistry with Cousins around. The body language is the least of Cousins’ issues, and if Cousins’ can’t figure them out this is going to be another long season. Bank on it.
* I’ve said it before here, and I’ll say it again: The NBA is a star league in a team concept. Without stars, you are stuck. The Kings have one guy seemingly grabbing the star mantle often enough to look the part in Tyreke Evans. But Tyreke did that for much of his rookie season too, and just has not adjusted well since. So that Tyreke has done so is not a surprise. The fact that Cousins has not shown himself to be anything other than inconsistently inconsistent his entire career (sans a few big numbers games) creates the reality that Cousins, for the first time, has to put together a string of strong games that has plagued him from day one. Tyreke and DeMarcus are issue’s one and two on this team because the Kings lack star players. DeMarcus and Tyreke are the only two on this team that have the talent to qualify. If they don’t play like star players, everything else is meaningless becuase of the “star league in a team concept” part. It’s just that simple.
* Marcus Thornton is shooting to the point where most are calling for him to start instead of James Johnson. I am of the mind that Thornton is the kind of player who can help you off the bench, and Johnson is the kind of player that can help your defense in a way that Thornton never will. Over a 48 minute game, Thornton is always nice to have, but having Johnson start can help you in ways that Thornton simply can’t ever help you in. It’s really that simple. Thornton, again, was clutch at times during the game (especially in the late 4th and the 1st OT) and that’s that. Doesn’t mean MT23 shouldn’t come off the bench though.
* Aaron Brooks played a lot of minutes tonight. That’s not either good or bad. But it is interesting.
* Chuck Hayes was Chuck Hayes tonight. He made life miserable on David West down the stretch and overtime. West made a couple anyway because he’s that good, but for the most part Hayes had West locked down. That’s the good news on Chuck Hayes. The bad news is that either Hayes needs to start to get better ball movement with Johnson/Evans/Thomas in the starting lineup, or Hayes needs to play with Jason Thompson off the bench. Either way, the Kings lost the rebounding battle by 20 and the Hayes/Thomas Robinson lineup’s were a big reason why.
* Speaking of Robinson, there were a few moments where T-Rob looked like a NBA player. But he’s still getting there, and that’s okay.
* Jason Thompson is a player I have grown very fond of. But I think JT would be better off the bench than starting even if that means Hayes starts. I’m kinda hoping Smart makes that switch starting against Golden State on Monday. That dynamic is bothersome, and it would maximize JT more anyway with T-Rob. At the very least, few teams would out-rebound the Kings as often as Indiana did tonight.
* Isaiah Thomas didn’t have a great game which sucks because I like it when Isaiah has strong games. Other than that, it is what it is.
* One of the problems that I saw down the stretch in the 4th quarter and in both overtimes is how often the Kinggs have to scramble to get shots in difficult situations. There isn’t a player the Kings can throw the ball to and get a quality shot attempt at the basket when doing so. It would be nice if both Tyreke and DeMarcus could be those players, but they have to develop moves in those moments that allow the Kings to do that.
Everything else tends to devolve from that point down which leads to all the visible problems. But the problems we saw tonight were symptoms of the issue described above. Simple as that.
* The biggest problem with the Kings offensively is that there isn’t any cohesion in part because Cousins and Evans have not shown themselves to be rocks. If that solves itself, everything else comes into place.
* Last but not least, should Keith Smart be on the hotseat? No. Seriously. That’s just ridiculous on a number of levels. This team is better on defense for starters. Offensively this team isn’t all there yet, and okay. The Kings have just played 3 likely playoff teams in the East and West in 4 days. With the exception of Minnesota, these are groups that have been together a little while. They were playing at home. None of these excuses for why the Kings lost because there are numerous reasons why. But, winning these games was always going to be a challenge that this team wasn’t quite up for. This isn’t not a veteran group we are talking about here. This is a team that is banking on a 4th and 3rd year players to lead them to the promised land of the playoffs. That is typically not a recipe for success in the NBA no matter how often teams hope for it to work.
So Keith Smart is to blame because he’s looking to make the Kings at least average (which they were in DRtg coming into Indy and I suspect better than that after the game) where one area of significant improvement is the eFG% given up overall. That can win you games if you ever get your offense into the game. That can win you games when your offense struggles. (Or that’s the theory. I think it’s bullshit myself.) At any rate, putting a guy on a heatseat over 3 losses to 3 likely playoff teams on the road because it hasn’t looked the way you want? I get frustration, and all that, and I get the dis-satisfaction with the offense. I just don’t quite get why hysteria needs to break out because the Kings are 0-3 right now. It’s not the end of the world. Sure it’s not ideal, and it’s not fun. But it’s not exactly a surprise. I had the Kings 1-2 at this point in my “could the Kings win 50 games” post, and frankly that was long before I knew Luol Deng would play. I would have predicted a loss in those circumstances. With this team nothing is guaranteed, and with your “two best players’ shooting 33% combined over the course of the game, who wins that way? Nobody.
That’s the bottom line. Firing a head coach because the two “star” players are a combined 14-42 from the field is asinine. Is anyone really advocating that Keith Smart not play Cousins or Evans until they become more efficient offensively? Is Marcus Thornton shooting really going to make the team more effective offensively? Thornton played 42 minutes, tied for 2nd on the team with Cousins, and Evans had the most minutes at 44. That was with both overtimes. How is Thornton helping a dilapidated offense to the point when he’s on the court more minutes than everyone eles but the two “stars” and yet the offense struggles anyway? Perhaps there is another solution than starting a 6th man.
Keith Smart should be fired because DeMarcus Cousins is an inefficient dodo-brain on the court who often imitates a slug? Keith Smart should be fired because Tyreke Evans has not morphed into Dwyane Wade Jr yet? Keith Smart should be fired for not starting Marcus Thornton even though the impact of Thornton’s offense is just as important off the bench as it would be as a starter? Keith Smart should be fired because Thomas Robinson hasn’t instantly morphed into Al Horford? Keith Smart should be fired because this Kings edition doesn’t remind you of the best teams in franchise history 10 years ago? Keith Smart should be fired because the Kings have shiftless crummy ownership?
Alrighty then. Push the panic button. Do whatever you want. But I want a stronger sample size before I start calling for Keith Smart’s head, and I’m talking a month. A month is a long time to get your house in order. A month of mostly home games from here on out is a long time to get your house in order. A month is a long time to get your players on the same page offensively and defensively. A month is a large enough sample size to guage what a team does well, doesn’t do well, and where can realistic improvement come in over the course of a season.
There are good things that happened on this road trip. This team learned that you can’t “mostly” play well and get wins on the road against quality teams. Frankly, Indiana didn’t play all that well and was very easily beatable. A more mature and better chemistry laden squad would have won tonight. Hopefully this young Kings team gets that. Talent is all good fine and dandy, but in the long run it doesn’t mean shit if you can’t use it to the best of your ability. When’s the last time you could say Cousins does that? Or Evans? Especially on a large enough sample size? You can’t, and that’s the problem.
This is a team that is a hot stinking mess for a lot of reasons, but it won’t solve anything to fire another head coach because the players aren’t ready to help you win at the highest level right now. That’s unrealistic, and if you want to fire Keith Smart for Geoff Petrie and the Maloof family’s failings, be my guest. But in the meantime, I choose to be patient and wait enough to see a larger sample size before I judge just how “ineffectual” Keith Smart really is.
Right now 0-3 is understandable and not the end of the world. The start of the season happened on the road, and that’s okay. Somebody has to start there, and eventually this group will learn how to pull games out like the game in Indiana. Tonight wasn’t that night, and hopefully nights like tonight help this young team grow to get to the point where winning games like tonight is possible.