Dec 19, 2012, 10:17 PM EST
If you’ve caught yourself watching a Sacramento Kings game lately and thought to yourself, ‘this can’t get any worse’ only to see it get much, much worse – you’re not the only one.
As it turns out, the Kings players themselves are having a real hard time understanding the train wreck they’re a part of on the court every night.
“They know that they’re playing terrible basketball right now,” said one source close to the players. “But they’ve thrown their hands up trying to figure out Keith Smart.”
Smart is in his fourth year as a head coach in the NBA. He had an interim stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002-03, and then took a job as an assistant for Don Nelson in Golden State until he was elevated to head coach after Nellie’s retirement prior to the 2010-11 season. He took a roster primed for improvement to a 36-46 record, but the Warriors’ new ownership opted not to keep him.
The reason team insiders overwhelmingly pointed to for his departure was his handling of franchise player Stephen Curry, who Smart benched nightly for out-of-the-NBA guard Acie Law.
Smart could never clearly articulate to the press what Curry wasn’t doing to please him, and while Curry could have played more defense or taken better shots he was twice the player that Law was. Curry’s benching cost the team games and it cost Smart respect in the locker room and within the organization.
The same thing is happening in Sacramento all over again, but this time Smart has the backing of general manager Geoff Petrie – who appears to be more interested in promoting his free agent acquisitions and draft picks than he is in playing the right guys.
Namely, sources close to key Kings players have told ProBasketballTalk that they are frustrated with the fact that point guard Isaiah Thomas isn’t starting and acting as the team’s floor general. Thomas finished seventh in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting, but arguably could have finished as high as second place when one compares his numbers to that of Ricky Rubio, who held that spot.
Thomas boasted shooting lines of 47.7/40.6/84.1 while averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.0 turnovers in 31.6 minutes per game in 37 starts, which compare favorably to Rubio’s shooting lines of 35.7/34.0/80.3 with averages of 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 3.2 turnovers in 34.2 minutes per game in 41 starts.
Independent of that comparison, Thomas played well against the league’s best guards, holding Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, and Rajon Rondo to 26-of-76 (34.2%) combined shooting for a stretch while being considered by scouts to be an above average defender at his position. Despite standing 5’ 9” tall without shoes, his strength and leaping ability made him a surprising plus-defender in the post.
Being the team’s best player at times down the stretch of last season, Thomas was able to win the starting point guard position, but the Stephen Curry treatment continued. On a team that has lacked ball movement in recent years, one would think that a playmaking point guard with charisma on and off the court would be a high priority. But the window to develop Thomas last season was lost, and separate from the Kings’ off the court struggles, the window to create a cohesive team approach is rapidly closing this season and Kings players are frustrated with it.
Perhaps the team didn’t have faith that Jimmer Fredette could turn into a competent NBA player, or maybe it was Petrie’s well-documented quest to obtain Aaron Brooks, but the Kings took a big step toward destroying their continuity at the position when they signed Brooks over the summer. He was a cheap acquisition after playing and talking his way out of Houston and Phoenix, and with Fredette looking like he couldn’t dribble the ball up the court most Kings analysts were okay with adding depth at the position.
Unfortunately, nobody in Sacramento fully understood Smart’s history with point guards, nor did they fully appreciate the impact Thomas could have to rally the team and rally the city toward a product they could be proud of. Immediately Thomas’ role was questioned by team-friendly media sources, despite the fact that Brooks had lost backup duties to Zabian Dowdell in Phoenix before spending a season in China.
Meanwhile, Thomas spent an offseason organizing team workouts, building camaraderie, and eventually he and his teammates would be tasked with learning a tough new Triangle offense.
The Kings started off slow and the resulting confusion and losses gave Smart and Petrie the window they needed to get Brooks in a starting role, which was aided in part by Thomas pressing just like Curry did in Golden State, albeit in a much more dysfunctional situation.
That offense has since been scrapped according to player sources, and right now “they don’t know what they’re running.” The Kings turned to the old failed strategy of Tyreke Evans left and Tyreke right, with random excursions to the hoop by DeMarcus Cousins, high-post offense initiated by Chuck Hayes, and the occasional Jason Thompson post-up.
When on the court, Thomas has been sent to the corner to watch the carnage unfold, because like last season the team refuses to run a pick-and-roll based offense featuring him as the primary or even secondary decision-maker with the ball.
With Kings players in an utter state of confusion nightly, they have reverted to one-on-one ball and rank dead last in assists per game (18.2) and that number has dipped in the last three games to 15.3. This is a far cry from the days of when Thomas was piling up between 5-10 assists per game in 17-of-23 outings to finish last season despite being a second, third or fourth option handling the ball.
Since moving Brooks into the starting lineup, Smart and Petrie have also put a premium on playing their bad contracts, giving heavy minutes to Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, and Travis Outlaw while Thomas and an improving Fredette ride the pine. It’s crazy, because the only time the team looks coherent on the court is when the Mighty Mite lineup of Thomas and Fredette is on the court – even if Fredette can’t cover a rocking chair and shoots nearly every time he gets the rock.
The players already know, and Cousins even took to wearing an IT jersey for the press the other day, but even casual observers can see that the Kings need to get their high basketball IQ guys on the court. While Brooks’ scoring ability has never been in dispute, he knows only one way to impact a game, and too many times that’s with poorly conceived jump shots and flailing drives to the hoop. More importantly he can’t make it through screens and is responsible for more points on defense than he scores. Evans is the same type of player and is a physical freak, but his inconsistent jumper and bad shot selection in a standstill offense negate any gains he could possibly provide. Marcus Thornton has been dealing with very real off the court issues due to his mother’s health, but his deployment within the non-existent offensive structure has bordered on laughable for one of the league’s best big-time shot-makers. Cousins still takes bad shots, but it’s hard to fault any of these guys when there is no plan, their best playmaker has been sidelined, and the team is making playing time decisions from the Smart and Petrie handbook.
Then again, the Maloofs might just be making Major League 4: The Search for More Money, which makes any conversation about basketball a moot point.
Dec 8, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The reports surrounding the status of Rockets big man Omer Asik will continue their steady stream until the inevitable trade happens. Houston wanted to make it work with Asik playing alongside Dwight Howard, but that experiment failed and with Asik being disgruntled in his situation and constantly requesting to be traded, the Rockets seem determined…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
Coming into Saturday night’s game against Dallas, the Blazers had used the top-ranked offense in the league to get out to a 17-3 start to the season, best in the Western Conference. Portland’s defense is ranked just 20th, however, and playing against a Mavericks team whose offense is ranked fourth and can score almost as…
Dec 8, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
The Nets are going through an especially rough time right now, and even mentioning as much seems like a gross understatement of the facts. Brooklyn has lost several of its key players due to injury, including Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, and Jason Terry. Head coach Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant Lawrence Frank…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are simply devastating together when the Heat get out in transition, and this highlight from Miami’s easy win over a Timberwolves team playing without Kevin Love is a perfect example. Now of course, a two-on-none fast break will always result in points. But LeBron and Wade often make a spectacle…
Dec 7, 2013, 9:30 PM EST
Remember last season when an idiot fan in Cleveland ran into the court during live game action? Apparently, there are plenty more like him in that lovely city. During the second quarter of Saturday’s contest between the Cavaliers and the Clippers, we once again had a fan walk onto the court while the game was…
Dec 7, 2013, 8:00 PM EST
Luol Deng missed Saturday night’s game against the Pistons with a sore left Achilles, head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed before tip-off. Deng’s status is listed as day-to-day, and it’s not believed to be anything serious. After averaging 48.5 minutes per game over the last two contests thanks to logging 56 minutes in a triple-overtime loss…
Dec 7, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
So, I had this whole thing written and ready about how Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn’t believe that Michael Carter-Williams is injury-prone, despite the fact that after sitting out Saturday, the rookie will have missed six of his team’s first 21 games. But then the news broke that Carter-Williams had been hospitalized with a bacterial…
Dec 7, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Kobe Bryant will take the court on Sunday against the Raptors, seeing his first action of the season since suffering a torn Achilles injury this past April. The buzz surrounding Bryant’s long-awaited debut continued at the Lakers practice facility on Saturday, when Mike D’Antoni answered questions about how much Bryant will play, at what level,…
Dec 7, 2013, 3:31 PM EST
It’s all on Jason Kidd now. Lawrence Frank is gone as a scapegoat, Kidd is in charge of the ship — a 5-14 ship with the worst defense in the NBA. You can see how bad the defense is by looking at the stats, where you see the Nets give up a league-worst 108.6 points…
Dec 7, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
Kyrie Irving has been far from the dominating, game-changing point guard he showed capable of last season, and people around the league are beginning to take notice. He’s had games where he’s put up some decent numbers, but has done so inefficiently in recent weeks. After an 0-9 performance in Cleveland’s blowout loss to the…
Dec 7, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
If you’ve only been paying cursory attention to the NBA in its early stages this season, you may not have noticed the rise of the Portland Trail Blazers. But following Friday night’s 130-98 pasting of the Utah Jazz, Portland now has a record of 17-3 — the best in a very deep Western Conference. Guys…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The Knicks have won two straight in blowout fashion, looking a little like last year’s club with the hot three-point shooting and briefly returning some sense of sanity to the team and its fan base. The media has yet to catch up, however, as the reports and rumors continue to fly about Carmelo Anthony‘s future…
Dec 7, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
The Knicks rolled the Magic 121-83 on Friday to earn a much-needed second straight victory, but Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo came up with at least one play that was worthy of the highlight reel. As Carmelo Anthony drives the lane for what looks to be a certain slam, Oladipo rises up and rejects him at…
Dec 7, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
Kobe Bryant‘s return — and the Lakers’ decision to announce it with a video on Facebook of Kobe’s jersey — is the focus of the latest edition of NBC’s ProBasketballTalk Podcast with myself and Eyton Shander of NBC Sports Radio. We talk about what this means for the Lakers, both in the short-term this season…
Dec 6, 2013, 11:47 PM EST
Russell Westbrook wasn’t the only one showcasing his range under pressure on Friday. Paul Millsap of the Hawks heaved a shot from well beyond half court to beat the first quarter buzzer against the Cavaliers, and it found nothing but the bottom of the net. We’d like to tell you that this particular heave mattered…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:31 PM EST
Anytime a player on either team hits a shot from a distance that borders on the absurd, the announcers on the telecast seemingly can’t wait to break out the local references in describing just how far away the attempt actually was. In this case, we had Russell Westbrook hitting a shot from near halfcourt to…
Dec 6, 2013, 9:23 PM EST
Ray Allen couldn’t do it. Neither could Reggie Miller or Stephen Curry or any of the other three-point marksman you can name. Kyle Korver has now made a three in 90 consecutive games, breaking the record Dana Barros set in 1996. He did it midway through the first quarter from above the break on the…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:52 PM EST
Otto Porter, the No. 3 pick of the Washington Wizards and the guy seen as their small forward of the future, could make his NBA debut Friday night. Porter, who strained his hip flexor in September and missed all of training camp and the start of the season, is active for the Wizards Friday night…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:04 PM EST
Kobe Bryant decided to stay home from Sacramento, but he will be in the Lakers lineup Sunday night against Toronto. Steve Nash went with the Lakers up to Sacramento after a week of limited practices but nobody has any idea when we will see him. Or even if we ever will. Nash spoke with reporters…
Dec 6, 2013, 5:23 PM EST
Kobe Bryant’s jersey has faced snow, rain and wind. Yet, it’s endured. That’s the lesson I took from the above video, which Kobe posted to Facebook today. Oh, and that Kobe will return Sunday against the Raptors. I guess he’s been through a lot, too. Sunday will mark just 240 days since he tore his…
- Report: Sixers a viable trade destination for Omer Asik 0
- Report: Jason Kidd safe as Nets coach until team gets healthy 2
- League execs on Kyrie Irving’s recent struggles: ‘He’s pouting’ 25
- Report: Knicks have ‘zero intention’ of trading Carmelo Anthony 12
- PBT Podcast for Dec. 7: Kobe’s back and for the Lakers that means…. 8
- LeBron says Wade is “getting that Kobe deal” in next contract. Should he? (64)
- Dwight Howard frustrated with Rockets’ effort in recent losses (48)
- Kobe Bryant dunks, looks good in Lakers practice; Friday return possible (45)
- Michael Beasley finding a role, groove in Miami (44)
- The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps (42)