Posted by: Kingsguru21 | September 28, 2009

My pre pre-season preview

I suppose I could wait until the very end of pre-season with 3 deadlines at class to write this. But, I’m trying to be responsible. So, cut me some slack.

Tunage to listen to while you’re being induced to sleep by a wall of words:

Who are the best players?

I don’t think this is too hard. The problem will be figuring out the pecking order after Kevin Martin (who is clearly the best player right now in terms of bonafide NBA performance), and Tyreke Evans (who will I think be the clear best player by the end of the season).

The question is after that, and it’s a mighty important question. With a young roster littered with so many question marks there isn’t a lot of expectation for this group at the moment. Which is why Marc Stein listed the Kings as his worst team (30th) in his 1st Power Rankings of the season. I doubt the Kings will improve much to be honest.

Bethelham Shoals, in a reasonably length preview (no preview should be more than 200 words) from The Baseline, believes the team will be mostly Evans and Martin or bust. It’s pretty hard to disagree with that. The only problem I see with that is that Evans is going to be making a huge adjustment. (More on this in a bit, I promise. You want pontification: You’ve come to the right place i promise.) Anyway, it was sort of a relief reading something by Shoals in which he didn’t connect the Kings dropoff to corn syrup which makes PED’s which makes Chris Webber’s knee healthier post microfracture surgery which means the Kings get a superstar in return for Webber when he no longer is one which then means the Kings don’t get Kenny Thomas, don’t sign Shareef Abdur-Rahim, or suck ever again. (Or, some such linear nonsense.) The beauty of that last sentence is that it’s only proof of how much better Shoals is as a writer. (He would make the sentence work, in otherwords.)

But, at any rate, I think the pecking order will look like something like this offensively: Martin, Evans, Hawes and who knows else at this point. Defensively? I don’t even want to contemplate how the worst team a year ago (with a Don Nelson apathetic defensive Warrior team to beat out) would be that awful again, defensively. I really don’t. Other than Tyreke Evans and Francisco Garcia, there isn’t a plus defender on the roster. Other than Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes, I don’t see that even happening for awhile honestly, I don’t see much other potential or likelihood of this happening. (One possible major exception is Omri Casspi. But, we’ll see.) Between Shawes & JT, I can see JT making a bigger impact defensively simply because he is stronger and less prone to injury if he bangs in the post (which is what post defense is about).

I expect 2010 to be a much happier/enjoyable team if all goes well this season. (Which, I think, it probably will.)

How bad was this team last season offensively and defensively, and what can we expect this time around?

Last season, the Kings were 26th in offensive efficiency, and 30th in defensive efficiency. That isn’t bad; it’s so impossibly putrid that I feel I need to invent a new word to accurately describe it. The reality is that because the Kings have an offensive coach who has a tendency to encourage his teams to push the pace, and offensive players who thrive in that environment (Martin, JT, Cisco, Hawes, Rodriguez), I can see the Kings going that way simply because it’s their best opportunity to win on a nightly basis. This team will, still, give up a lot of points one way or the other. Most teams aren’t comfortable constantly pushing the pace, but the Kings are very much built for that reality at the moment. Other than Evans (who will have to prove his worth creating shots for teammates in the open court), I can see Rodriguez, Udrih, Garcia, Thompson all doing their share of ballhandling and creating for teammates. Additionally, I can see Hawes being both effective on a secondary break in passing as well as delivering an initial outlet pass that sets up a potential score as well. If things go perfectly (and it’s rare that they do), Casspi will likely develop some of his skills in this area, too.

Paul Westphal isn’t stupid. He may be friends with Rush Limbaugh (never a plus), but basketball wise he’s honest and savvy. As I mentioned a few days ago, he’s smart enough to see what this roster is, what it isn’t, and what’s the best way to utilize it. Whether the players buy in, whether they can handle the losing even if they’re competitive, and whether they don’t break down completely for 2 weeks at a time (which is what happened with the Kings veterans like Garcia and Miller last season) is another thing entirely. Most basketball players are used to not just winning, but at a very high level. It becomes a culture shock that the NBA team that picked them suddenly doesn’t win like the Lakers every year.

None of this, though, answers the initial question. My guess for the season will look like something like this: The Kings will be in the bottom 5 in defensive efficiency, and maybe somewhere between 15-25 in offensive efficiency. (One reason the Kings were 26th last season was because Kevin Martin was hurt for 31 games.)

(Another Music Break. Click on the link to get the video. Right click if you don’t want to navigate from the page.)

Will a Kevin Martin injury devastate this squad as it did last season?

The short answer in case you want to skip ahead: No. The long answer is forth coming.

So here goes: It won’t be as devastating IF, and only IF, Francisco Garcia doesn’t get hurt during training camp as he did a year ago. As it stands, the Kings have depth at the SF, and by extension, at the SG because both Evans and Garcia can play there. Because of the existing multiple options at SF that can play the SG (Casspi may be able to play there as well), I doubt a long Kevin Martin injury will devastate the Kings as much as it did a year ago.

If Martin misses a lot of games again, it will dramatically decrease whatever trade value the Kings could get for him in the future. I don’t think they want to trade Kevin, nor do they believe (I think) that they really think Kevin can’t stay on the court for 70-75 games. I don’t think there will be any private insistence on the coaching staff’s part to play too many games when it’s easy to see how valuable Kevin is to the franchise. They won’t take any chances on him because, let’s face it, he’s a very valuable asset for this season and down the road. I believe if this team is going to win a championship, both Jason Levien (who will probably be the GM of the Kings when they get to that point) and Geoff Petrie want to see Kevin Martin as part of that group. Levien, being Martin’s former agent, and Petrie think the world of him. (Me too, actually. Have I mentioned he’s my favorite Kings player? Him & JT. But, I digress.) The point here is that the Kings will do everything they can to make sure that he can make it through a whole season, but for his sake, and the franchise’s sake.

I should be worried about this, but I’m really not. I think part of the problem with Martin’s playing on his ankle last season was Reggie Theus trying to make Martin a tough guy when he’s not. (That’s what really got Reggie fired.) Because Paul Westphal isn’t that stupid, I can see how this season will work out much better for Kevin.

Is this a bigger year for Jason Thompson (JT) or Spencer Hawes (Shawes)?

Spencer Hawes without a doubt. As Jae of GSoM noted, Hawes has shot a low percentage, not rebounded well, or gotten to the line. Make no mistake, I think there are many reason’s why this is so and have said as much in my Spencer Hawes preview. Am I optimistic about Spencer this season? Yes, but under a few conditions.

The first is that Shawes has become more aware and/or deliberate with making moves when he gets the ball intially in the post. Because he’s so crafty and skilled, he often over-does it and out-jukes himself before he can make a move.

The second part is that he’s gotten stronger (which by all indications he has). I think the biggest problem (I have ranted about Garcia not throwing it into Shawes when he had position enough times I think) was that he generally would lose position on the block and too many guys could simply bump him off. If he’s gotten stronger, I think the coaching staff will find ways to get him the ball and insist that he do some of the things I’ve already outlined above.

I think Spencer’s ultimate peak could be a guy who gets 18-20 pts, 9-10 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks a night. That is All-Star caliber right there, and it’s no surprise I think of Shawes that way for a reason. But, if Shawes also improves his post defense that would be a majestic help to a franchise that has badly needed better post defense since a healthy Webber and Divac roamed the paint.

I’m going to give JT some leeway here. He bulked up in the off-season, and struggled a bit in summer league (I’m paraphrasing others here) because he wasn’t used to the bulk he was carrying. As a result, he was a bit off and trying to find his way. I don’t think the season will go as badly for JT because his bulk will help him more against actual NBA players as opposed to smaller quicker guys who probably won’t see a minute of PT in the actual League.

That being said, JT’s post defense needs to get better, as does his defensive rebounding (his offensive rebounding is pretty spectacular), and I think he need to find a rhythm offensively to contribute in ways other than just posting up. Between Evans ability there, along with Shawes, I think the Kings will have enough block players. I think if JT can find a way to score garbage points, hit a few 15 footers, run the floor all the time, and play incredible defense he will find his niche.

I’m not convinced that JT ever will be a star, but I am convinced he can be a DC13 type of role players whose unusual mix of skills and body make him a force for a team trying to compete on a game in/game out basis and win games. You need stars in the NBA, as Jerry Reynolds once said in his bright breezy memoir, and you need guys who allow the Stars to be Stars. JT, who may not be a star, absolutely, along with Cisco, has the best chance to be that guy for the Kings. Besides any of that, his abilities fit very well with Shawes and other than a Derrick Favors type of player (who could declare for the 2010 draft if he does well), or another big in a very big rich 2010 draft, I don’t see many other bigs in the NBA, other than the super-stars, and a few role players, who could make a potential impact that JT can.

All that said, I think JT is a safe bet to pan out as a player regardless of what his exact role and “player type” actually becomes.

Who else is likely to make a really valuable contribution to this roster?

Even though most people are down on Beno Udrih, I’m not. I don’t think, in the grand scheme of things, he really matters greatly to the Kings other than he’s a poison pill the Kings can make a team eat if they give up a young player down the road (I’m thinking Donte Greene specifically).

As a contributor, though, I think Udrih can make a team run okay and specifically help it with his 3pt shooting. (TZ had a great breakdown of what the difference between pre MLE Beno and post MLE Beno was. It was 3 balls, basically.)

Andres Nocioni is another guy who can hit the 3 (did it very well last season actually), but I think he will be traded by mid-season if the Kings can dump his salary for a good price (like the one I’ve mentioned with Miami).

I’m not sure what Donte Greene or Omri Casspi will develop. A lot of things depend on other things, and roster fit is not always a clear cut choice of which player should get PT at a particular point. Matchup’s somewhat dictate this, but more importantly, what players complement the core players (I’d identify those as Evans, Martin, JT & Shawes) the best at whichever point the Kings are looking at them.

Which of those guys do that? I don’t know. Casspi I can see being more valuable than Greene because of any potential facilitating ability that he might have today helping the Kings believe that he would do more. I think Greene has more of a Vinnie Johnson super-sub feel to him than anything offensively, and defensively he could do good work if given time.

I think Donte Greene is a potentially very valuable trade chip several years down the road because he will be very cheap and the Kings could move Beno Udrih along with Greene to get what they want in return.

On the other hand, it could be that Casspi doesn’t pan out, and having a cheap asset like Greene is more valuable than getting monetary savings that doesn’t equate to much other than saving money and comprising a competitive nature of the roster. That’s down the road.

As far as everyone else, I don’t really think it matters with Sergio Rodriguez. He was acquired to save money for the Maloof’s, and in part, I think, as insurance against a potential looming long term Beno Udrih injury. He’s in the last year of his contract and I doubt the Kings will re-sign him given that there isn’t 2.9 million of Paul Allen’s money coming with a Sergio re-signing.

Sean May is another interesting case, but, while I hope he does well, I’m not going to hold my breath that the Kings re-sign him. Long term I think he’s a bad risk, and the Kings have taken way too many of those in the past that I’m skittish about thinking any dollar amount and a multi-year contract tied to May’s name. I hope he does well this season and walks. That’s my line and I’m sticking to it.

Jon Brockman is going to have to fight his way into the rotation, and I think he eventually can given a potential injury to May, Hawes, or, less likely, JT. The biggest problems for Brockman will be defending C’s, not getting into foul trouble quickly, rebounding defensively, hitting a 15 footer, and finishing inside. If he can shore up 3 of those weaknesses quickly, he may find himself with a multi-year deal on the cheap (for the Kings) given that he’s only 23 years old at the moment. (That’s the biggest difference between May and Brockman. Brockman hasn’t been hurt for most of his NBA career, and he’s younger/cheaper than May.)

(3rd music break.)

What’s a win total we can realistically expect?

Quite frankly, I have no idea. I can see this team winning 30 games (although I heavily doubt it), but I can also see this team winning 15 games, too. It’s not that the Kings have gotten worse; the rest of the NBA has improved from last season. The Clippers (who won 19 games) got Blake Griffin which helped filled a major void and practically forced MDsr to abandon his half court stylings for a more up tempo open court system that greatly benefits Baron Davis. This, in turn, will make the Clippers better.

The Suns may be better with a healthier Amare Stoudemire and no Shaquille O’Neal around. They won 46 games a year ago. I can see them winning 45-50 games because Steve Nash and Stoudemire will have something to prove (Stoudemire is in a contract year) given that this will be his last big opportunity to show teams that it’s worth throwing big money at him next summer.

The Warriors are a team that may digress some, but they won 29 games a year ago without Monta Ellis on the court very often (and very ineffective when he stepped on the court). Still, the Kings have a major uphill battle and that’s okay. I would much rather the Kings win 21 games this upcoming season, pickup Derrick Favors in the draft (noticing a trend?), and contend for a playoff spot in the 2010-11 season.

That is the end game here. That’s the goal, and that’s the point. You can’t get franchise talent unless you pick high in the draft. Unless you’re Chicago and beat steep odds, it’s much easier to beat the odds by being higher in the draft hopper than everybody else. While I don’t really have googly eyes over John Wall (mostly because I don’t think it matters with Evans and Martin around), I think Favors is the precisely exact player the Kings need. He’s tall (6’10 with long arms–his wingspan hasn’t been measured), is very athletic, blocks shots and rebounds at a high rate (and hopefully does both at a high level at Georgia Tech). He fits in with the rest of the very young roster, seasoned professionally at every level, along with veterans like Martin and Garcia. If the Spurs haven’t proved to people that a homegrown talent base can win championships, I don’t know what can. While the Spurs weren’t losing during the years they selected both Ginobili (first championship), and when they took Parker (won 58 games the season prior to Parker), what they did do was so unique it probably can’t be replicated again unless the same exact circumstances work out exactly the same again. What do you think the chances of that are?

Look at the position of the draft where the main Kings core of players were drafted: Kevin Martin (26th in 2004), Francisco Garcia (23rd in 2005), Spencer Hawes (10th in 2007), Jason Thompson (12th in 2008), Donte Greene (28th in 2008), Tyreke Evans (4th in 2009, and Omri Casspi (23rd in 2009).

4 of the 7 players I listed were drafted in their 20’s, and the Kings have beat the odds already by having Garcia and Martin pan out as well as they have. If Greene, and/or Casspi fail, or, worse, both failing the odds could be just as likely in all honesty. I don’t think both will fail because they will be given many chances to succeed on a young team that is developing talent rather than focusing on winning the most amount of absolute games by playing only veterans. (How do I know that? How many veterans are on this roster?)

Still, you need franchise players, and the best chances to get franchise player talent is in the top 5 picks of the draft. The best way to get those picks is to be a team that loses a lot of games to pick that high. It sucks for the years that it happens, but the fact is that the Kings have most of their core built already with low lottery, and non-lottery picks, as it stands. A top-5 pick will actually have more long term impact than signing a Free Agent will. I realize that fly’s against the nature in the NBA has often operated (including the Kings) over the last decade and half, but that’s the current situation as it stands.

I think GP & Co., Westphal (he knew he was losing a lot of games this season either way with the roster–why not try to get young players more time to help them develop and learn?), and the Maloof’s have quietly braced for a long season. The Kings don’t have cap room (as it is often reported), and the only way GP & Co. can realistically expect to leverage Kenny Thomas’ expiring contract is to take on another contract they probably really don’t want short or long term. If Thomas and Nocioni are moved, it will likely be in tandem for a big expiring contract (hence why I’ve pushed the Miami idea so hard).

This season will be about the development of Evans as a ball handler, Casspi as an all-around player, Greene figuring out a way to become useful, to see what steps JT needs to make (beyond the one’s he’s already taken), ditto with Shawes, seeing Martin stay healthy, find a way to make Noc, Udrih, May and Brockman as useful as possible, and be, on the whole, far more competitive on both ends of the court. It may only translate to the number 21 in the victories column, but a positive direction with a team having a positive outlook means greater things on the horizon.

Remember: The NBA is cyclical! What goes down must go up again! Yippee!?!?!

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Responses

  1. Very great read!
    I totally agree on the draft of Derrick Favors. Even if it’s too soon to have an overall view, I think that favors would be a great fit in the Kings’ lineup. A Evans/Martin/Favors/Thompson/Hawes starting lineup would definitively be playoff contending in his first year.

    • Thanks Panzer. I didn’t pick Favors out of a hat. He’s athletic, blocks shots, rebounds at a high rate (sounding like a broken record yet? LOL) and he can play alongside both JT & Shawes. He’s the perfect big for what the Kings need, and he has a chance to be a real star, too.

      I don’t care what people say about John Wall. If you take Wall, you’re going to have trade away Tyreke Evans in the process. Why do that? If the Kings took Wall, that means they feel either Evans is a 2 guard and they should trade Martin away, or it means they have no faith in Evans. Either way, it means that Evans is not the right player for the Kings ultimately in what they expect (franchise player).

      The interesting thing about your lineup, Panzer, is that I believe you have Favors as the SF. I’m not sure that would work, nor am I sure that would be in the Kings best interest to not start Omri Casspi by that point to get some ball handling and energy in the lineup. You need stars, true, and you need guys who can allow them to be stars. Casspi is one of those potentially very valuable role players, as JT is, who can really do so many things to help you that don’t necessarily show up in a box score.

      Either way, we will see. A very long season (as they all are) is upon us. Thanks for stopping by Panzer!

      • I picked Favors as a SF cause I think he could definitively blossom as one of the most efficient SF in the league. He is not as athletic as Josh Smith (sincerely, just a few are as athletic as him) but he’s very more smart on defense.
        As a SF he could improve our perimeter and inside defense, our rebounding and amount of fastbreaks without renouncing at having two bigs on the floor playing 4 and 5. With Martin at the 2 and Garcia, Greene and Casspi coming from the bench we’d be full of versatile players that can give us perimeter scoring, while Evans, Favors would go for slashing plays.
        In that way you could use a very long rotation, with Evans playing 1&2, Martin 2, Garcia 2&3, Greene 3&4, Casspi 3&4, JT 4&5, Hawes 5 and Favors 3&4….doesn’t sound that bad!

        • Fair enough. There was a time when JT played the 3, and that did not work. While Favors is a better athlete than JT is, it’s not just about athleticism really. Josh Smith, for whatever he is, is a real NBA SF. Favors, right now, is mostly considered a PF/C. There isn’t a team in the NBA that wouldn’t want to play him there because, as we know, the Kings have plenty of SF’s already (even without Noc to start the 2010-11 season).

          On the other hand, you very well could be right. Should be interesting to see how this plays out over the long term.

  2. […] Also, if you enjoy good PR bullshit, watch this halftime feature that was the “Preview” for the 2009-10 season. (Yeah, I too wonder why it was shown in the 3rd game of the season. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Meh. At least the Kings aren’t alone in this head scratcher. Consider me a stone thrower when I live in a glass house.) […]

  3. […] in too many fashions, have weaknesses defensively. But why is this that much of a surprise? We knew it wasn’t very likely this group would tear it up defensively. And, last night was proof […]

  4. […] End of the season review Part 1: The Players I don’t really want to do a full out discussion of this season, but I fear I must. The season never unfolded the way I expected it (when does it though?) and there is much to discuss about the various aspects of the team. Part 1 is about the players themselves. Part 2 will focus on the coaching staff. Part 3 will focus on upper management and ownership. Here is my season preview. […]


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