Posted by: Kingsguru21 | October 24, 2009

What did we learn from pre-season?

I think there are several obvious things, not so obvious things, and maybe some debatable questions at this point. I’d just like to make this as succinct (and not 5000 words for a change) and reasonable as possible. So, yeah, here I go.

Is Tyreke Evans going to start?

I think this question has been settled from day one. It was obvious that he was the day 1 starter, and he is expected to be the player at the PG/SG position for the Kings over the next 10-15 years.

The bigger question is not whether he will learn to start, but what players fit best around him.

We learned, if by learning you mean listening to opponent radio broadcasts and watching box scores update every minute, that Tyreke Evans is brilliant with the ball in his hands. (We kinda knew that anyway.) We know he causes teams to think about how they want to match up with him. At times last night vs Utah, Evans posted up Deron Williams. Deron Williams, as I’m sure many of you know, is not a chump. While Williams has never been the defensive stopper Utah sort of needs him to be, they ask so much of him offensively that it’s almost understood that his defense sort of falls by the wayside.

Tyreke Evans is a 2 way player, and wants to be that. But, playing 2 ways is tiring work, and it takes a ton of incredible play to be truly effective on 2 ends. Will Tyreke meet that challenge? Not by his rookie year.

We also learned that shooters around Tyreke give him the best options to drive and kick, or simply find players who don’t necessarily operate around the same area’s of the court as he does. After all, if he’s playing 10-15 feet from the basket consistently, you’re going to need at least 3 players around the perimeter to keep proper spacing. That’s how the NBA works.

As a result, you will see Sean May and Spencer Hawes on the court a lot together with Tyreke Evans. What he does helps them; what they do helps him on the court as well.

Did Kevin Martin missing the last 2 games mean anything serious long term?

Not likely. If anything, he was held out as a precaution. What was originally described as an ankle tweak probably meant that the Kings wanted to rest Martin for the regular season to see what the rotation somewhat looked like without him in the game.

Did the Kings accomplish what they wanted in the 2 games without Martin?

I’m beginning to think that Martin’s absence wasn’t just about the coaching staff seeing how the team played without Martin & Evans in the backcourt. I’m beginning to believe that it was more about seeing how the players reacted, and handling it from that angle. This is a young team with some very interchangable talent, and as a result figuring out what positions that each player can play as early as possible in the season could provide a strong benefit to Paul Westphal and the coaching staff down the road.

Should Omri Casspi start?

No. In a word, no. You’ll see people argue that the Kings are not going to win anything this season anyway, and that it’s a lost cause and why not start Omri? (You’ll probably see a run-on that bad or worse, too.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a huge difference between checking Nicholas Batum during pre-season and checking the starting SF’s in the Western Conference. In the Pacific Division alone, these projected starting SF’s are: LA Lakers (Ron Artest), LA Clippers (Al Thornton), Golden State Warriors (Stephen Jackson or Corey Maggette) and Phoenix (Grant Hill).

Now, I don’t have to explain this to anyone, but that’s not necessarily the toughest SF group the West has. Omri Casspi is, to put it bluntlly, a very talented player, and risking his development is probably not the wisest career move if you’re Paul Westphal. (Then again, he’s a born-again Christian. Clearly he does not follow the herd every which way.) With the starting lineup, there is more than shooting and the best players to think of. With Desmond Mason, you don’t need to find a way to get him shots because the shots he will get are whatever are left over from the remaining starting lineup. With Omri Casspi, and his effective offensive game, you have to find him shots if you’re PW. That’s a problem, and until you find a way to merge the starting lineup to the point where Casspi’s shots are not an issue (and that’s not as easy as it sounds), than this will be an issue.

One could even look at it as strengthening the bench and the starting lineup in the most realistic route that PW has available to him at the moment. (You gotta admit, PW has not been dealt the kindest training camp hand.)

I think one of 2 things will push Omri Casspi into the starting lineup. The first, there is an injury to either Desmond Mason or Kevin Martin (hopefully not), and missing one or the other makes PW feel the need to augment his starters with a player of Omri’s capability. The second possibility is that when Francisco Garcia recovers and is ready to play in a rotation again, and that could be late February at the very earliest, than it makes more sense to bring Mason off the bench and start Casspi at that time.

What is wrong with Spencer Hawes?

There will be people who will tell you that Spencer is not physical enough. I might be alone, but I don’t ever remember him being like Dwight Howard. If that was the case, I think he would have gone first overall provided that his health held up.

In otherwords, he went 10th overall in 2007 for a reason.

Spencer had an awful game last night vs the Jazz (0-6 floor 1-6 line) shooting wise no question. He also grabbed 5 boards in 20 mins.

When you compare this to Jason Thompson, at 35 mins played, he grabbed 5 boards.

I hardly think Spencer is perfect, and the fact that he shoots 3’s as a C is not going to endear himself to many fans who want to see a Shaquille O’Neal banger down on the block.

On the other hand, are you going to tell me that Jason Thompson is a worse rebounder than Spencer Hawes based on that Hawes had a better rebound rate in this particular game?

While Hawes play this pre-season was not ideal, lots of teams are working kinks out as the pre-season stretches on. It’s hardly worth more than anything other than what it is. Which is: I have no clue.

A few days ago, Kevin Pelton posted a link that I linked to on Sactown Royalty, and I’m sure no-one read. What Pelton basically said that effort stats like rebounding tend to have a higher correlation from pre-season to the regular season. Where scoring and things like that do not.

Really, honestly, I don’t know what to make of Spencer Hawes pre-season. And, rather than worry about it too much, or make it seem like it’s part of an overall screwy career pattern, I’ll just let it be. 5 games in to the regular season if he keeps it up (5 games I’ll be able to see), than it’s clearly a problem. We’ll see what happens though.

So who has been the real star of the pre-season?

Ignoring the fact that the Kings have done some stupid PR moves (like not allow their radio feeds to be broadcasted over the web), or not televise any of their games period, it’s not been a bad month overall from the franchise point of view.

After all, there has finally been continuity with the front office and coaching staff. Nothing is perfect, and this month wasn’t perfect on that token for Paul Westphal and his coaching staff. Cue Francisco Garcia’s injury with the wah wah violin pedal.

Really, when you consider who the Kings played (Portland twice in a b2b, Lakers in Vegas, Warriors at home, Suns on the road, Thunder on the road and Jazz at home) and the toughness of the schedule, I thought it did the team a good deal of service to see them compete in games where those teams will either be playing the same players, or more of their talent than what the Kings saw.

Paul Westphal really hasn’t panicked. Last night is a great example. Check out what he said after the game vs the Jazz:

“I was very proud of our team tonight. I thought in the first half we let them kick sand in our faces a little bit. We challenged them to go out and win the rebounding battle (Kings -43, Utah – 42) and to attack the basket. We did both things. I thought Jon Brockman was excellent, coming in and setting the tone. He gave us a chance to get back in the game. I thought that if we just made a decent percentage of our free throws, it was right there for us to be close or possibly win, probably win. We missed 17 free throws. I told them after the game that I am very proud of them and the things that we needed to improve, we improved. We’ve improved our field goal defense, really improved our rebounding and now we have to keep it up. Utah is one of the most physical teams in the league and after they pushed us around a little we made a stand and held our own. I told them that they learned how to compete tonight, and next thing that’s need is to learn how to win.”

That’s a guy with a 63% winning percentage who knows that a veteran team with it’s 2 All-Stars (plus it was beat up coming into the game) were playing hard down the stretch. Deron Williams played 41 mins last night, and Tyreke Evans 37 mins. It’s true that Utah was missing some of their talent last night; it’s also true that the Kings were missing Kevin Martin and there isn’t a single missing player who wasn’t available last night who matches anything near what Martin contributes.

PW refuses to panic about having a young ballclub. Which, given that he was aware of that, he had to know to begin with. When you have a roster than is less than 26 years of average age, you expect that youth will rule the day. If PW didn’t want to deal with a young, albeit youthful talent, roster, than he shouldn’t have taken the job.

If anything what I’ve been impressed about is the level of what he’s pushed and been relaxed about. After the games, he’s not steaming too often (I’m sure the regular season will change that), and has spent most of his criticism behind closed doors without prying ears around. I think that’s the way you handle a young roster, especially with one so many varied talents on it.

Tyreke Evans will turn the ball over a lot this season. Easy Reke probably won’t average 7 turnovers as he did last night vs Utah, but when he has the ball in his hands all the time, it’ll happen. It’s the nature of the beast. Jon Brockman isn’t a 20 MPG guy, but that’s not his role. What Brockman did last night was a perfect example of what PW is looking for Mancakes to do every time out. Donte Greene, in all honesty, should be taking notes. That’s exactly what PW expects out of him at this point. If he can’t even do that, he’ll wash out of the league. Ball is on you young fella; it’s time to put up or shutup.

Paul Westphal is not in an enviable position. He has a very young roster that will likely lose 55 to 60 games (the Kings lost 65 games last season) this time around. He has a potential all star if not franchise player in Tyreke Evans, a talented young sparkplug in Omri Casspi, a lumberjack in Jon Brockman, one of the most efficient scorers at the 2 position EVER in Kevin Martin, a versatile skilled PG-SF in Francisco Garcia (assuming he returns), a versatile PF/C in Jason Thompson who is still learning, and an enigmatic sometimes difficult but mostly learning on the job with serious growing pains in Spencer Hawes.

Rather than figuring out how to make this roster completely effective, it seems to me that PW is trying to keep his roster as open as possible by starting Sean May and bringing Spencer Hawes off the bench. (PW also mentioned that it would help limit foul trouble as well.) If I’ve learned anything about PW this pre-season, he’s a pretty patient guy who doesn’t need to scream and yell to get what he wants. Yes, I know he screams at players (he wouldn’t be a coach if he wasn’t), but he’s also a professional who understands that you deal with grown multi-millionaire men differently than a college kid.

Any coach who understands that is always going to get a plus in my book. This is not Paul Westphal and the Sacramento Kings. It’s Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin and the Sacramento Kings.

One positive I’ll note is that Tyreke Evans can be understood when he says something. Easy Reke is very rough around the edges talking to the media, but he’s gotten comfortable doing. Hopefully the culmination of this development should produce some interesting thoughts basketball wise. After all, while Reke is not necessarily a Rhodes Scholar, he often illustrates how he see’s the game. I may be a bit off base here, but Tyreke Evans knowledge of the game itself seems extremely cerebral. That’s a very good thing from where I stand. I’d rather a player learn how to curb his instincts than try to figure out how to incorporate his instinctual side into the game.

Has anything really surprising happened in pre-season?

I think Omri Casspi’s play is a bit surprising, but he also took advantage of the opportunity that was there after Garcia’s injury. If anything I’m surprised by what didn’t happen. There wasn’t great difficulty in running Evans as a lead ballhandling G who has to create for teammates. Evans & Martin seemed to have meshed well. Evans provides a variety of matchup problems for many teams in the NBA, and the rest of the lineup around him seems to be configured to take advantage of that very scenario.

Again, I wasn’t expecting it to be that easy for Tyreke Evans, but it shouldn’t be surprising. The kid can play hoop, and he is a bulldog.

I was surprised by Jon Brockman’s lack of minutes during the pre-season. I was neither surprised or disappointed by Donte Greene. I just hope he can hang on to his career. Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes did nothing during the pre-season that will change my opinion of them.

Who is the most disappointing player so far?

Beno Udrih by far. He is pouting, and has all training camp. He is not playing well, and if he doesn’t recover he could find himself sitting on the bench for a very long time being Kenny Thomas’ replacement. I doubt he wants to be that.

At this point, as a Kings fan, I feel that the Kings got pretty lucky that all the money they committed to Beno was the full MLE for 5 years. It could have been worse, and worse contracts have been given out to worse players believe it or not.

I don’t think the first week will make or break Beno, but my gut tells me that the less effective Beno is early on, the less confidence PW will have in him.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’m excited to see this product merge and see what parts ultimately fit. Yesterday, or 2 mins before midnight, Section 214 had this to say about how he see’s the rotation for Paul Westphal shaping up:

Conjecture: If this team starts the season healthy (Garcia notwithstanding), you may have seen the last of the significant minutes for Greene, Rodriguez and Brockman, at least for awhile. JT/May/Hawes/Noc are your up front minutes, Mason/Martin/Casspi have the wings covered (plus a little from Evans), and Evans and Udrih get the minutes at the point. Greene, Rodriguez and Brockman may draw specific assignments on specific nights, but that’s about it.

PG: Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih
SG: Kevin Martin, Tyreke Evans, Desmond Mason, Omri Casspi
SF: Desmond Mason, Omri Casspi, Andres Nocioni, Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin
PF: Jason Thompson, Sean May, Andres Nocioni
C: Spencer Hawes, Sean May, Jason Thompson

Look at this list, and tell me how compelled Paul Westphal will be in wanting to go beyond 8 deep in his rotations? I suppose the burning question is can Donte Greene break in the rotation at all, and will Brockman and Rodriguez ever be more than situational role players?

If pre-season has taught me anything, it’s just a way for coaches to experiment with players and combinations. Which, quite honestly, I didn’t need 7 games of box scores and opponent’s radio feeds to tell me. I suppose what I did learn is the immutable truth about being a hardcore NBA fan: It’s a living hell.


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