This was, all things considered, a pretty important game for this team if you are hoping for better improved play over the long term. There were some positive signs, some negative things (too many turnovers) and the reality that Miami just wasn't very good last night.
All these things happen. But, something else happened last night that needs to be remembered: The Kings held Miami to an ORtg (or their DRtg) of under 100 for only the 7th time this season. That's right, 7 opponents of the Kings have been held to sub 100 ORtg's for a game. Denver on opening night, against Brooklyn, at Utah, against Dallas, against Houston, at Charlotte, and against Miami last night. Well this is according to Basketball Reference.com anyway.We'll see how NBA.com scores it. Which is to say, they don't have advanced box scores that I can find as of now. No matter, NBA.com scores the DRtg at 106.2 and the ORtg at 102.3 for the season (B-Ref has the Kings at a 108.8 DRtg and 104.9 ORtg so as you can see the differences are essentially the same on both ends).
Notice a common theme? The Kings are holding teams either below or well below their normal ORtg's, but have only done so 7 times.
There could be good things coming down the pike long term if Malone is able to convince these guys to continue to defend at a higher level than they have for the season to date, and realistically over the last few seasons with prior rosters. That alone will result in more wins. This team's DRtg might only experience an uptick to somewhere in the overall 25 ranking by the end of the season, but that's an improvement given where this team started and with the personnel changes they have made during the season.
Now onto the stuff after the jump…..
One interesting thing to track is how many assists nightly this team is going. Since Rudy Gay's first game against Phoenix, here's what the total number of team assists look like:
12 in Phoenix
15 against Houston
18 in Charlotte
25 in Atlanta
25 in Miami
17 in Orlando
15 against New Orleans
'23 against Miami
This team is much happier sharing the ball (what a shock) than it is without it. They are more competitive. On the other hand, this hardly means anything. Nothing new has been noted here. Just thought it was interesting.
* I was critical of DeMarcus Cousins for his play the other night against New Orleans that included his calling out teammates afterwards. While I don't think that really worked, DeMarcus at least played better against Miami after a slow slugglish start in which he looked pretty poor in the 1st half. Once Rudy Gay got it going, it seemed like DeMarcus did too.
Hopefully Rudy and DeMarcus can figure out a way to play off each other.
DeMarcus had 5 assists which is always good to see. A few less shots and a lot more passing could easily result in a more effective offense for this team. As strange as this may sound, DeMarcus is not really an elite scorer despite his volume and points per game. He is an elite rebounder and passer (for his position) but that's nothing new. If DeMarcus can continue his increased effectiveness around the rim (there's been a little improvement there in the sense he's taken more shots at the rim than even before even though his conversion rate is well below where you would prefer for it to be), while not increasing his shot rate, this team's offense could rank in the top half in ORtg for the rest of the season. As it is, the Kings are 15th in ORtg. Last season, they finished 12th, and if you can match that effectiveness you are doing something right.
* Rudy Gay was the reason the Kings won last night. He was a positive contributor at the one position where they needed something to counter LeBron and his brilliance last night. (LeBron had a terrible 2nd half and finished with 33 8 & 8. That's greatness. And, long time readers know I'm not a fan of LeBron. But those three's to finish the game were ridiculous especially given how off LeBron was before them.) Hats off to Rudy for his best all around game since getting to Sacramento. While I don't expect that every night from him, it would be nice to see him get 16-20 points every night with above average defense and reasonable rebounding.
* I've been wondering for awhile why Derrick Williams isn't starting, and the need for scoring on the 2nd unit isn't good enough for me. Williams has suffered with the 2nd unit and hasn't nearly been effective as he is with the starters. I think Malone needs to make that switch for the good of everyone.
I am wondering if he's been told by management to start Jason Thompson until he gets traded so that Malone doesn't have to switch his lineup around again. Again, I don't think it's helping anyone to keep Thompson in the starting lineup unless he performs decently (which he did last night) in the starting lineup. Hopefully JT gets traded soon because his game and DeMarcus' don't mesh well under Malone's system. And regardless of how you feel about DeMarcus (which is well chronicled in my case), JT is not going to win that battle. Hopefully for all concerned he gets moved soon.
That said, Derrick Williams played 29 minutes to JT's 21 last night, and that sounds about right minute distribution wise anyway. So I think the right minute distribution is there, but I am wondering if JT could be more effective in the here and now coming off the bench. Until JT ends up on the bench or traded, that's going to be a continuing line of thought. I don't think either way it makes a big difference long term, but question marks always bring out the skeptics.
* Isaiah was big again last night. Hit a big 3 in OT, had 11 assists, led the team in minutes with 41, and had 7 big boards to top it off. I just don't know what to say about him anymore. He's clearly of starter quality, but is he an elite starter? I don't know that he is. An elite 6th man certainly, but not an elite starter. Not yet. But he very well may get there. His defense needs to improve on the perimeter though as it has not been as good as it needs to be. His size is not an excuse. Isaiah, like Ben McLemore, is still very much a work in progress.
* Speaking of Benny Mac, his game has dramatically suffered against NBA starters. Which may, or may not, help him in the long run. Let's hope that he figures out by the All-Star break or March and shows some strides by then. I'm not even close to giving up on Ben yet, but let's see how things work out in the end. 28 games and a tick over 700 minutes a career does not make. Ben needs time to adjust, and while there is a certain amount of time to adjust, there's also a time where it needs to pay off in the end, too. Hopefully that's what happens. Personally I think Ben can do it if he's healthy and maintains a good attitude. Which, thankfully, he has up to this point as far as I can tell.
One of the things young players have to learn is how to let the last play go. Every play is different from the next in this league.
* Speaking of the bench, it's dicey on whom Malone uses. But now that he has something fairly close to a starting 5, and finishing 5 I guess if Marcus Thornton is getting those minutes, (Thornton played 29 minutes last night, McLemore 23.), it'll be interesting to see which guys off the bench can find their way. So far Quincy Acy is doing his job. Jimmer had some nice moments passing out of the pick and roll but still is passing up way too many shots. Ray McCallum isn't ready for minutes, and until he is you can't even put him out there. Travis Outlaw is still Travis Outlaw.
So while this is not a team with much depth still, there is a rotation starting to form around the top 6 or 7 guys if you include Marcus Thornton and Jason Thompson in that top 7. That's……something. Better than it surely was. Last night, only 10 guys played and only 5 guys got 25+ minutes. Isaiah and DeMarcus each had 41 & 40 minutes respectively (36 & 35 without OT), Rudy played 39 minutes (or 34 without OT), and Marcus Thornton and Derrick Williams had 29 & 27 minutes respectively (don't remember how much OT they played off the top of my head; it really also doesn't matter).
So while this team is still playing probably a guy too many to get a cohesive unit together, there are some signs that this team may actually get it's act together.
There's only one problem. Most of the cupcake part of the schedule (if you can call it that) is now over. With the exception of the next homestand, these are the road games the Kings are going to be doing for awhile:
@ San Antonio tomorrow, @ Houston on Tuesday (New Years Eve), and then back home for 5 games (Philadelphia, Charlotte, Portland, Orlando and Cleveland) which features at least 4 very easily beatable teams for Sacramento.
Then the gauntlet really gets dropped. Remember, the Kings after the game in Houston have only played 13 of their 41 road games, and the 2nd half of the season is absolutely brutal from mid January on. After the 5 game homestand, of the remaining 47 games, 28 are on the road leaving only 19 at home. In fact, from now on, there are still 30 road games and 24 home games.
Even though this team may be turning a corner now, it's going to be too late. The schedule will do this team in, and well, everybody pays the piper at some point. Even if this team improves enough, the schedule alone will knock this team back a few pegs.
Maybe this team can turn a corner, and maybe it can't. But progress will be interesting to watch as this team goes on the road a lot in the 2nd half of the season. The good news is that more practices and continuity can happen. I wouldn't be surprised if this team can eek out something close to 13 or 14 wins by the time they hit the road.
The good news is that while what this team needs most is still a franchise player, and only really finishing high in the lottery is likely to give them that player, the also good news is that I think it's a strong possibility that this roster won't be as weak as the one that started the season.
That's something to move ahead, and as this roster continually gets disassembled from previous seasons and has a different feel to it, let's remember a few things: This was always going to be a huge work in progress, and measurement in progress was always going to be something more than just slices in statistical categories, change in culture, and even DeMarcus Cousins' behavior if we're getting right down to it. This new management, ownership, and coaching staff undertook a massive rebuilding project that was literally from all angles a rebuild.
This team has sold out games. DeMarcus Cousins has put up big time numbers (even if some of it's suspect) and has made some reasonable strides (although has had numerous problems too), the fans have a different feeling about the team even though many are disappointed by the lack of overall improvement so soon, and there's already been positive movement in terms of the roster overall.
That's something. It's not the grand finale by any stretch, but let's remember something: The Kings got their 9th victory on Dec 23rd last season with the same roster the whole way. The Kings got their 9th victory this season with a dramatically overhauled roster being turned over at multiple points. Upheaval has a cost, and one of those is victories. With all that said, I'd like to see how this team performs after the All-Star break. There are 15 road games, 13 home games. There are some relatively easy road games, and some difficult games. And everything in between. Let's say the Kings manage to win 10 games by the break. (A difficult maybe even impossible task but let's go with it anyway.) That's 19 wins. If you can manage to win 40% of your remaining 28 games (or 11 games), that's 30 wins.
That's a slight improvement. Combined with slicing into statistical categories (like opponents eFG%, DRtg for starters), there can be improvement made on small increments. If you can start with the small things, perhaps a larger improvement for next season can be made. And, then, comes the cap room in 2015.
30 wins, a 25th overall ranking in both eFG% and DRtg would be a huge improvement for this team. Especially if they are nearly a top 10 team in offense again as they were last season. That's…..something. Sacramento won 8 games on the road last season out of their 28 overall victories. Let's shoot for 10 this season. Sacramento won 20 games at home last season and let's stay even there. And it's worth noting that among the defensive 4 factors, the Kings are decent in forcing turnovers or turnover percenage (8th overall), in Defensive Rebounding percentage (8th overall), and not exceptionally terible at Free Throw to Field Goal percentage (17th). This is…..something. It's not everything with the way this team gives up easy shots, but it's something. You slice into the eFG% and keep the other area's steady and you're doing something. That's called improvement.
Rome wasn't built in a day and the Sacramento Kings aren't going to be eiither. But there is potential and opportunity for improvement before the 2014 draft. Incremental improvement is hard, and changing out this roster will not exactly be easy. Sometimes all you can do is let time do it's deal.
On the other hand, when a sellout crowd comes to see the best player in the world, and Miami stinks up the joint in your home building even after building a huge lead that looked nearly insurmountable, and you win in OT, those are the kinds of things that make you feel better about yourself. Or they should. They aren't worthy of winning a championship, or even worthy of being a 500 team if we're being honest, but this is not a 500 team let alone a championship level squad. Let's keep that in mind before delving into all the silliness and abject nonsense that surrounds wins like these.
Take it for what it's worth, and move on. That's my suggestion because, if you don't, you're always going to be sorely disappointed.