Posted by: Kingsguru21 | December 21, 2011

Kings managed to nip Warriors at the end; Win 95-91

If you’ve seen the boxscore, you’ll know it was ugly. 27 Turnovers ugly. And, I’ll get to that. First I’d just like to say, again, for the record, that it’s nice to be discussig actual basketball. Even though we’ve had a slew of games recently of the pre-season, after the long lockout and the silly Free Agency period (not to mention the depressing Chuck Hayes news and the Peja Stojakovic retirement yesterday) it felt like the lockout extended with better headlines.

So, onto the standard bullet points….

* Wins and losses are not really what the pre-season has to be about. It’s more about being able to get players rhythm and a feel if nothing else. This Kings team has a lot of new players, has one player that has yet to play with anyone else of note in a game situation in John Salmons, and a lot of young new players still figuring themselves out at the NBA level. So unfamiliarity and difficulties were just a part of the deal here. I’m not really sure, as Jerry Reynolds and Grant Napear discussed during the telecast (and on a sidenote it’s always pleasurable to listen to Jim Barnett share his basketball thoughts Warriors homer and all) I think fairly successfuly, the Kings will be able to run out of the gate very well. There is just too much unfamiliarity and new things coming a number of young guys way. That adjustment is real, and will cost the Kings some games along the way. The good news is that the much tougher part of the schedule is during the 1st half of the season so hopefully some of the real adjustment struggles are in part due to the tougher competition.

* DeMarcus Cousins is the guy most will be concerned about after the game. I suggest you keep in mind, and take stock of while you’re doing all of this, that DeMarcus Cousins is a 21 year old high usage, bright future Center who is being asked to make plays he is not going to be able to make as often as we would all prefer today. Part of the struggles a young player makes is learning how to make plays effectively on the NBA level. DeMarcus sorta took us on a ride of his rookie year by showing his carnival trick of Turnovers. Tonight was another trip on that ride with the offensive foul, the multiple forced passes, and the pass out of a double team that led to a break.

On the other hand, there aren’t many 21 year old Centers in the history of basketball that can pick off a pass then take it the length of the court and drop it off to the, in this case 23 year old PF teammate JJ Hickson, fellow running next to him. There are highs and lows with DeMarcus Cousins, and, while another year of growth will certainly come, there will still be growing pains. There was 8 games where Cousins had 6 or more TO’s last season.

That said, the biggest concern about Cousins for me is that his emotional lows sometimes causes him to have an uneven stroke at the FT line. He needs to figure out a way to temper the high’s and diminish the low’s. That’s part of the growth process.

Oh, and in case you think Cousins is a complete lost cause, he did grab 10 boards (8 defensive) tonight. That’s something. There was also that big block Cousins had in the last minute to help keep the Kings within 2 before the big Marcus Thornton 3. (Relax: Good things come with time.)

* JJ Hickson showed why the Kings wanted him. Some of the offensive rebounds were just simple athletic bouncy springy plays. The last time the Kings had a PF as athletic as Hickson was Chris Webber.

I would say more about Hickson’s game, but he still will struggle defensively. I think his stat line (and the note of athleticism) illustrates the game for Hickson quite well: 6-11 floor, 7-9 line, 9 boards (4 offensive) and 1 incredible defensive rebound that was all athleticism (and no boxing out).

* Since defense is a talking point, Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida says the Kings are about to re-sign Sam Dalembert. The interesting thing is that it could be a 1 year or 2 year deal as opposed to a 4 year deal. I happen to like that for both sides as the flexibility a lot of people are worried about will still be there at the end of Dalembert’s contract.

* Tyreke Evans is an interesting question. Some of his turnover’s were really frustrating, and yet, it happens quite a bit. When you have the ball in your hands a lot turnover’s do happen. Yet, Marcus Thornton only turned over the ball once. At any rate, there were times I was really impressed with Tyreke and times I wasn’t.

If anything, we are going to see how Tyreke handles the attention and different looks every team in the NBA will throw at him. The one thing I saw tonight was that, other than the 7 TO’s, the passes Tyreke made were clean looks that allowed his teammates to get a quality shot up. That is something that I think Tyreke made a concerted effort to attempt tonight and was fairly successful that way.

Like most things, the pre-season wasn’t likely to tell us much about Tyreke. And, shockingly given the circumstances, it hasn’t.

* I like Jimmer Fredette a great deal. Great shooter, very good scorer in some ways, a high hoops IQ, and has work to do defensively. What’s new about that? Nothing, and that’s the good news.

* Jason Thompson is making me very wary of him by the day. I’m not against the Kings looking for a backup 2 guard by moving JT & Francisco Garcia if necessary. I don’t know if the Kings will let JT walk or not, but he seems so sub-standard for such long stretches it makes me wonder if he can ever turn that corner into consistency. I suppose we will see moving forward.

* I love Isaiah Thomas. Obviously there were some turnover’s and poor shot selection but you know the deal: That’s part of being a young growing NBA player. Thomas’ speed and ability to change the game up is going to be a necessary component for this team so get used to seeing him quite a bit. Oh, and the play to end the half? I love my Speedy Gonzales Isaiah. (I called him Speedy Gonzales Roadrunner Thomas on Twitter.)

* Tyler Honeycutt showed why the Kings were so high on him in the draft. Like Thomas, it was surprising the Kings were able to take Honeycutt at the draft spot the Kings selected Honeycutt at. On draft day I didn’t spend much time talking up Thomas or Honeycutt although in general I wasn’t against either selection. (I had liked Thomas quite a bit before the draft and didn’t really spend a lot of time focusing on Honeycutt.) Since the summer was spent doing little else but speculating, I’ve been happy in general with the Honeycutt/Thomas selections. Honeycutt is that rare mix of athleticism (although he is really skinny), skills (can really handle although he did turn it over a bit too often tonight not to mention the court vision) and intensity (he can guard). Sound like something the Kings might need out of a SF or a 3rd wing with Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton?

We know Honeycutt needs minutes to develop, but I think time and sitting on the bench can help him improve as a player too. Honeycutt is literally the perfect complementary talent for this team if he can ever put it all together. But, Honeycutt is a long term project that will probably not be earning minutes consistently before next season at the very earliest. Please remember this when you are cursing the ridiculousness that is Travis Outlaw.

* Speaking of Outlaw, I hope you were pleased with what you saw tonight. Because that’s what you’re getting.

* And last but not least, the star of the Kings pre-season: Marcus Thornton! I mentioned this in March when I made my official mea-culpa of Marcus Thornton, but the one thing that stuck out from day one about Thornton that he doesn’t turn the ball over. Like, hardly ever. We saw that in 2 pre-season games as well. The Kings turned the ball 19 times in Oakland, and Thornton had 1 of those. Tonight 27 TO’s; Again 1 turnover for Thornton.

Thornton took 14 shots in 39 minutes which is hardly an eye popping amount. Thornton had 4 assists which, especially given he is not the primary creator of this team, is a pretty big deal. It’s very clear that the big winner of the pre-season for the Kings was Thornton given how valuable he showed hitting the clutch shot to put the Kings up 1 with 27 seconds to go, and the fact that Paul Westphal was able to use Thornton in a variety of situations tonight.

Marcus Thornton may or may not be able to be able to score 20 points a night in very efficient fashion. If Thornton can achieve this, especially if he isn’t taking worse shots due to the Kings offense consistently breaking down (as it did towards the end of last season) and having to bail the offense out, Thornton will be an exceptional efficient weapon that along with Fredette will be a difficult matchup for the Kings opponents to counter.

Here’s a thought to consider: Tonight Thornton had a 68.5 TS%, Fredette had a 60.7 TS%, Hickson had a 63.5 TS%, Outlaw had a 60 TS% (making 3’s matters a lot in TS%), Evans had a 51.2 TS%, Thomas had a 54.6 TS%, and Cousins had 24.8 TS%.

The last time you had 3 quality offensive outings like what Thornton/Fredette/Hickson put up (which is hardly Fredette or Thornton’s best offensive performance capability) where 3 teammates shot 60 TS% or better on 8 or more shot attempts (outliers like Outlaw are not what I’m interested in here) was the 2nd of last game of the season against OKC. When this happened last season, more often than not the Kings were efficient offensively. (These offensive performances also tended to be outliers and not consistent as befitting a 24 win team.) I doubt we’ll see it much in the first couple of weeks that often, but my hope is that when a month goes by the Kings are able to win (and the closer to 500 they are at the All-Star break the easier the 2nd half will go) games in part because they are signifcantly more effective at creating more effective and open shots.

Is that a lot to ask for? Sure it is. But if every team was judged by the season prior, nobody would ever improve or digress for that matter. This is a young team that has a lot of growth ahead, and some young players like Tyreke that will set the stage. Next Monday is the first step of what will surely be the most important journey this Kings franchise has taken in over half a decade.

Are you ready?


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