Posted by: Kingsguru21 | November 17, 2010

The Kings are 3-6, and struggling, so what now?

The title is the crux of the issue ain’t it? I mean, isn’t that the problem here? I’ve suggested Tayshaun Prince here, and elsewhere, and it’s still my suggestion. But let’s step back for a moment and talk about the game vs Detroit on Sunday.

Perimeter defense. As in, it doesn’t exist. So, that’s one issue the Kings need to resolve. A consistent starting lineup is one way to find cohesion in my view. Well, that’s pretty much been not a problem. There has only been 4 different starting lineup’s for the season. There was Udrih-Garcia-Greene-Landry-Cousins to open the season. Then there was Evans-Udrih-Casspi-Landry-Cousins and this lasted from the Nets game until the Laker game (game 2-5). Then, it’s been Evans-Udrih-Casspi-Landry-Dalembert for the last 4 games. Not a ton of rotation issues there from the starting POV.

Quite frankly, it would be one thing if the starting lineup had a ton of changes, but it hasn’t. Not starting Cousins was a function of Dalembert being healthy. Starting Cousins was more like you had to start someone and why not Cousins? The idea is that he will be ready to start sooner than later.

Other than Dalembert starting for Cousins right now, the only other real tweak I see being effective is Cousins and Dalembert playing together. And, right now, that doesn’t seem possible unless Daly becomes effective guarding PF’s. Which he very well may not be.

******

Monday at Sactown Royalty, TZ put up a snippet from Marc Stein’s Daily Dime:

Thompson is averaging just 15.4 minutes per game off the bench and has been shopped by the Kings, who according to one source with knowledge of the talks offered the 6-11, 250-pounder to Atlanta in a deal featuring young point guard Jeff Teague. The Hawks declined.

The implication here is clear: The Kings made a play for Teague to complement Evans. And, I ask again, why? Who knows. I don’t know how clear it is given that Geoff Petrie stated 2 days ago that the franchise was “not having any discussions related to (JT)”.

I’m not going to criticize JT here; I’m just going to say that if the Kings want to play Landry, Cousins and Dalembert in front of Jason Thompson, there’s a reason. Other than energy, JT is worse than all 3 in enough categories on both ends. In my view, he is not an ideal 4th option big in a rotation. His skills and talents lend him to be a 3rd rotation big and unfortunately the Kings actually have plenty of bigs with more potential (Whiteside) or are ahead of JT already.

This isn’t the only problem because apparently Paul Westphal is winning his grudge match with Donte Greene, and Geoff Petrie is starting his descent into full blown senility with his belief that the biggest problem for the Kings at the moment is offense. (I agree, actually.)

Now, I have no problem calling Geoff Petrie senile. I also have no problem changing my tune if the need arises. I have no problem holding a different opinion or going with the flow. Readiness is all in these deals.

I’m not against saying that Geoff Petrie is wrong or right here; I just don’t think it’s as simple as pointing out that the Kings statistically are last in defense as the main problem. This is not a team with players who provide a great defensive presence and the fact they are not performing well in an area, where the team’s best defender (Dalembert) was out until the 3rd game of the season, is not a great surprise. Especially when you factor in that young players out of college take awhile to learn the game defensively; is it that big of a surprise the Kings are struggling here? I mean, really?

I also don’t have a problem in criticizing Petrie for the Kings deficiencies. It’s anyone’s right to do that; I just think there isn’t a ready made cure to fix the Kings defense in one fell swoop, and I damn sure don’t think Donte Greene is that answer. I’ve wanted to give Greene for room to develop after his disastrous rookie season, but the fact is he hasn’t picked up the ball to show he is a quality NBA player consistently. That’s on Donte Greene and not anyone else. Does he need a new environment to ply his craft? Yes, he almost certainly does.

Having said that, and while I disagree with TZ and others (like HighTops), I don’t have a problem with anyone who is disillusioned by the bad start. I’m not particularly disillusioned by it, but I am curious to see how this start effects this group moving forward. Does it provide a launching point for improvement? Does it snowball and players/fans/management/coaches starting pointing fingers at every turn? (Provided this hasn’t already happened.)

I get that losing is tough for any fan. I don’t blame any Kings fans for being angry about the team’s performance in wake of the arena issue’s that have cropped up in recent months. The sort of snowball effect has created a manic feeling (I believe) amongst fans in part because of the fear of losing the team. There will be people who will point out that these criticisms are valid and have no consequence on the arena issues, but I disagree on that point. The fact is, regardless of how you feel, the players have no control over fans feeling on a team moving somewhere else, and it has little to do with these players (or previous one’s) as a whole when it comes to their performance on the court. (That’s the other counter-argument for people who say the arena has no bearing on this. And, again, I would disagree.)

Here is what is indisputable: There are a lot of fans who have felt pretty bad about the team off the court, and the performance on the court is not helping the off-court feelings regardless of what analysis is performed. The other indisputable truth is that many fans saw this team being better improved and saw the early season schedule as an opportunity to have a quality record that might have seen the team propel itself into the playoff race. The exact opposite has happened and the good feelings have gone away as a result. Personally though, I think that is difficult for young teams to gel quickly and in a cohesive fashion where a quality chemistry on the court is helping your team with more wins. I always thought that possibility was low, and that the Kings would win games early on in the season on pure talent. That hasn’t happened, and the issue’s with PT have caused some issue’s in the locker room. While DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t amazed early on, he has shown up to this point why the Kings drafted him #5. Conversely, we’ve also seen why he wasn’t the 2nd or 3rd pick, too.

I DO think taking a deep breath is necessary. I’m not going to finger point at anyone (other than what I’ve said) and simply stick to: It’s your prerogative to think what you wish.

I do think, also, that it’s counter-productive to claim that others are off-base without suggesting from your POV what the problems are. So here are my issue’s with this group.

* I think, and have thought, that the Sammy Dalembert injury has given rise to 3 major problems for the team early in the season. The first is probably fairly straight forward: The Kings were planning to camoflouge many defensive deficiencies by using Dalembert as the goalie in some similar fashion to Dwight Howard. But, there is one issue with that that I see: Dalembert is not the man defender Howard is. Dwight Howard is the best defensive player in the NBA right now. Dalembert is an upper echelon defender (I think he isn’t as good as Andrew Bogut either), and probably top 5 at his position. However, I do think the goalie ideal was in effect and may end up happening at some point. Because of Daly’s injury, it has limited the amount of impact Daly can help his teammates defensively.

Another big issue was that I believe that Sammy Dalembert was always acquired with the idea that they would play DeMarcus Cousins and Daly up front. Because Daly was hurt in training camp, and because winning NBA games takes precedence over experimenting with players to see what they can do in combinations, it has limited the amount of time the coaching staff had to evaluate this.

Third, and maybe of most importance, the idea that Daly and DMC could play together was in part because of the belief that DMC or Daly could defend the PF depending on the matchup. However, that’s not been the case with either player so far (although defending Amare Stoudemire would be a great start for Daly to prove he can defend PF’s), and DMC certainly doesn’t have the foot speed or natural athleticism to be running around with 4’s on the defensive end. Consequently, DMC had a ton of pressure to be the backstop and picked up a ton of fouls. Subsequently, this contributed to DMC’s deterioration on the offensive end combined with his trying to figure out where he can get shots off inside. I’ve always been worried that DMC would need shots to be effective, and I was worried that his belief in his skills lent him to the idea that it’s okay to shoot 3’s. The problem I have with DMC is that he’s not showing any of his polished post moves that I thought he did have coming out of Kentucky.

I do recognize some stuff with DMC however. He’s young, and needs time. He can rebound, and he can learn the NBA game on both ends. I’m not disillusioned that he was the wrong pick because I can easily argue that he was the best player at the 5th pick. I’m just saying that he needs time to adjust, and he isn’t likely to make a quick adjustment given how steep his learning curve. (And I can state this a million times, but hopefully you get it after 15 or so times said in this piece alone.)

As I said last month, I’d be happy with 15 & 8 from DMC on a consistent basis. I’d also be happy if he did some facilitation offensively because that was one reason (or that’s what I believe now anyway) the Kings were so high on him in last June’s draft.

* Speaking of facilitation, let’s have the 8 billionth and 1 conversation about why Tyreke Evans is not John Stockton Jr. (Or Magic Johnson Jr, or Oscar Robertson Jr, or Dwayne Wade Jr. Or a Junior….well maybe he is that.) Let’s remember something: Tyreke Evans is 21 and would be a junior at Memphis if he stayed there. Youth is exciting, but frustrating. We all know that, and that is no surprise. It also should be no surprise that Tyreke Evans is not exactly running the Kings like Chris Paul runs the Hornets. This wasn’t a strength of Tyreke’s coming out of Memphis and it’s not a great strength of Tyreke’s now. You can’t just give up on him facilitating over the long term because he hasn’t instantly made a conversion in the way you wish.

Of course, the team wanted to pretend that Tyreke Evans was a PG all along and was simply mis-labeled. Sam Amick said that part of the problem is that other players feel that Tyreke Evans gets a pass for being the best player (which is stupid since that’s true on every team in the NBA–but young players don’t necessarily know that), and this is certainly true too. Plus, Amick has talked about how difficult the franchise was to outsiders who ever questioned Tyreke Evans’s ability to run an offense. Here is the capper on that piece that I want to highlight:

The larger point is this: questioning anything relating to Evans results in these kinds of reactions in Kings Land. There has been frustration all season long from the Kings that the local paper wouldn’t put the cart in front of the horse and wanted to – imagine this? – actually do our jobs and analyze the team. You always got the strong sense that they wanted us to be sure and always call him a point guard, to not talk so much about how he often struggles to keep the ball moving or why his teammates get benched for saying things similiar to what he publicly said or how his jumper has a long ways to go.

It’s a silly exercise, really, because he has earned a good amount of hype in our pages while already showing with his play that he is a unique and dynamic talent in just six short months as a pro. And as Kings director of player personnel/TV color man Jerry Reynolds constantly and accurately reminds me, let’s remember that he’s without question one of the best 20 year olds to ever play this game at the NBA level. The scary part? There’s plenty of room for improvement.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: How Tyreke develops as a facilitator (and this is equally true of DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi so many people consistently identify those 3 as the core of the team) will determine how effective the Kings become with him running the offense. If Tyreke Evans can’t effectively keep his teammates involved and score in his individual matchup’s, he’s not a superstar. It’s that simple. But, it’s not like that process is as simple as passing the ball more. There are a lot of little things that go with this type of thing that is not happening because of so many young players.

* Speaking of Tayshaun Prince, and his incident with John Keuster, you might notice I’ve spent no time talking about DMC’s suspension. Part of it is, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I also don’t think Prince’s blowup with Keuster is a big deal. (No, not because I think the Kings should acquire Prince.) I don’t think it’s a big deal as it’s a bi-product of having competitive players in a hyper-competitive environment. Should everyone be neat & orderly in this manic chaos like you would if you attended church? (Or something like that.)

I know that Tayshaun Prince’s numbers are a bit down from some of his career high’s. But, does that mean he’s on the downslope? I don’t think he is, and I don’t think his salary should be prohibitive in acquiring him.

I’ve criticized Omri Casspi for his lack of facilitation on offense. I think DMC has lacked in that area too, but I’ll give him a pass 9 games into the season. Tyreke Evans has had that rap since the draft process a year and half ago. Yet, these 3 guys are your core and you want to build around 3 guys who are having difficulties getting others involved while getting their own shots, too? Championship caliber these 3 are not as a pair (although whose to say it can’t happen?) yet, but time is on their side.

Having said that, I think Casspi needs to develop that end of the game and is the least suited of the aforementioned trio. I think Cousins will be fine once he can get his own shot selection and shot creation in the paint into a reasonable place. Passing is one of the things that Cousins has surprised me with, and I’m a bit disappointed it hasn’t surfaced more often. I don’t have a great problem with Evans’ development in this area as I knew it would take 2-3 years before we saw a major development in this area. But it’s an issue and noting it is fine; jumping overboard and saying that Tyreke Evans can’t facilitate is another matter. He doesn’t do it the way the Kings need today and there is no argument from me (or from very few) on this. There is a process involved, though, and I do think one part of that process is having multiple passers and shot creators on a team that will force teams to have to pick which poison they which to swallow. The Kings are nowhere near creating that type of problem for opposing defenses.

This is where Tayshaun Prince comes in. Yes, he would help the defense simply because he’s a better defender than anyone on the team minus Dalembert. He would also help from a team ball movement standpoint because he does that. He hits his open shots more often than not and that would be a nice complement to Tyreke Evans isn’t it?

Any way you slice it, I think it would be wise to bring in a veteran player who isn’t after more shots but winning games. I think bringing in a guy and giving Omri Casspi a glimpse on how you can help a team without shooting quick shots from 3 is a bonus.

The only problem would be the money Prince is making and the players Detroit would ask for in return. If it was Jason Thompson and Donte Greene, I do that trade. (Like, duh?)

******

Right now, I think the issue of the Kings offense is that they aren’t creating enough quality shots with their bigs down low, or with Evans from the perimeter. There is too many contested J’s, and too many contested shots on the inside, too. I contend that a team that is offensively minded (as this team is) will play better defensively if they can get into a rhythm offensively. They are no great shakes defensively, but unless Evans, Casspi, Cousins, Udrih among others change into different players overnight than I’m going to assume it’s a process of figuring out how to integrate players on 2 ends who make the Kings better. Few teams end up in the top 5 in offensive and defensive efficiency (last season the only team to perform this feat was the Magic), and doing this doesn’t necessarily mean you will win a championship.

I know the Kings are having many problems defensively, and that isn’t in dispute. But I do think perimeter defense can be fixed with a veteran presence in some temporary fashion, and Prince perhaps could ease a lot of problems in starting Dalembert and Cousins.

There are many ways to skin a cat, but I don’t think assuming that Geoff Petrie’s focus on the offense is an issue. I think it’s a point of contention that the franchise expects this team to have growing pains defensively but be very effective offensively. Top 10 offense even. I’m not saying that Geoff Petrie is right on that, but I think his point is clear: The first fix is to get this team to play to as many of it’s strengths. Then you go about fixing the weakest area’s of your game. I don’t think the Kings can magically become a disruptive high end defensive team, and I don’t think any amount of focus will create that scenario either. I do think that it’s possible that the Kings develop defensively in time and become a better offensive team sooner rather than later.

If you expected a defensive juggernaut to emerge from a Geoff Petrie franchise, I wonder why. When have the Kings ever committed to doing that type of deal under Geoff Petrie’s watch? Oh, 2006? And how well did that work out again?

My solution is simple: Trade some of the redundant talent like Jason Thompson & Donte Greene, get a veteran like Prince (or anyone that fills the hole; I just think he would be the best fit right now) and get the team to play at it’s best offensively on a consistent basis. I think there are too many young players still trying to establish themselves (and think they are stars to boot), and there are too many young players who are duplicating each other’s talent. It’s nice to have that much talent in theory, but in reality it doesn’t work nearly as well if only because young players want to play more than they should sometimes and this creates dissent.

Right now, unless the Kings want to commit more minutes to both Thompson and Greene, their chemistry is going to be difficult unless they figure out a way to push some of the pieces in the right manner together. There is no magical solution on the horizon, but there are plenty of logical approaches out there. Expecting that your players play defense in a way most of them are not capable of doing is simply not a reasonable approach regardless of how impeccable the logic is.

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Responses

  1. A very thought provoking post Pookey, thanx for posting this.
    I’d love to see Tayshaun Prince here if Detroit would let him go; I love his length and I’ve been a fan of his for a while. He’d be a good court leader for this young team, i’d take that trade in a heartbeat….

    But would Detroit?

    • At this point, the Kings need to seriously consider the mix of these players and why it isn’t working. My main theory is that there is too many role players who think they are stars or starters and it’s messing them up because they haven’t figured out the reality.

      But guess what? It’s only 10 games into the season, and there is time for a turnaround. I’ll give the franchise until mid-December, and then I’m going to be dumping hard on them like everyone else.


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