A number of interesting things in this game that surely stuck out about why the Kings won. The big one for me, if nothing else, is that the entire starting lineup (Evans, Thornton, Salmons, Thompson and Cousins) was exceptionally productive and instrumental in the victory. Even though Isaiah Thomas, Chuck Hayes, JJ Hickson, Travis Outlaw and Francisco Garcia got minutes, none made close to the impact that the starting lineup made. Which, if nothing else, is progress for a team that many have complained about not having a rotation. It seems like Smart is doing everything short of willing hell to freeze over (and he might get his wish) to carve out a real rotation. And, for everyone who complained about Paul Westphal never carving a rotation out, this is one way a head coach does it.
Let this sink in for a moment. The starting 5 had a combined 40-87 from the floor, 9-19 from 3, 15-18 from the FT line, 46 rebounds (15 offensive), 20 assists (!!!), 13 TO’s, 10 steals and 4 block shots. Combine the starting 5 minutes (rounded up) and you over 217 minutes combined as an unit.
Lotsa bullet points to point out tonight so I suppose this is as good a point to start as any…..
* Tyreke Evans did some good and bad things tonight. But, lets start off with the bad first. The bad really comes down to neither passing nor shooting too much for me. One of the things that really bothers me is that A) Tyreke takes too long to initiate offense far too often (this isn’t news) and B) he settles for terrible shots far too often.
On the flip side, there were some beautiful plays that showed that Tyreke is certainly receptive of some of the things that Keith Smart has been in his ear about. The Tyreke tonight was the Tyreke that was around in the first 4 months of his rookie year. That was the Tyreke to get excited about. The Tyreke tonight was that Tyreke of those first 4 months. Hopefully some legitimate growth is still possible, but I want to wait and see. For now, it’s nice to know that Tyreke is still around. The defense tonight in transition and in the halfcourt still leaves something to be desired, but Tyreke has gotten better in that area since his rookie year. Maybe the best stat of all was that Tyreke was able to go for 48 minutes. See? I’m not all negative towards Tyreke…..
* DeMarcus Cousins does his work, and then he does his work. 21 points, 20 boards (14 defensive!!!!), and 10 missed shots. I’m going to ignore the missed shots.
What I’m going to focus on was that Cousins played nearly 35 minutes in regulation, and then another 5 in OT on top of it. For the last 5 minutes of regulation and OT, he did so with 5 fouls. (The refs did call fouls on Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton that would have been called on Cousins a year ago. That shows his maturity and the leeway that you get when you aren’t constantly harping at the zebra’s all the time.) What I liked was that Cousins was able to play, and play effectively on 2 ends for long stretches tonight. The tip-in to tie the game at 99 even with a minute to go in regulation was just majorly impressive. What really impressed me was that the play started with a PnR by Salmons to Thompson who missed the 5 footer and Cousins mopped up. Cousins is progressing nicely, and that’s just the reality of things right now.
The emotional maturity, the ability to overcome adversity (foul trouble), the ability to find ways to be productive, that’s all starting to seep in for Mr Cousins. The only question with Cousins is can he remain consistently productive.
* John Salmons was the best defensive player on the Kings all night long. Defense is disruption, and Salmons disrupted the Warriors perimeter players all night long. Particularly Monta Ellis and Nate Robinson at different times throughout the game. There was the matter of 5 steals and 6 assists by Salmons as well.
The thing that stuck out to me about John Salmons was that at the end of regulation, Salmons missed the 2nd FT to put the Kings up 3. On the first possession of regulation, Salmons takes a 3 in the corner off a Tyreke Evans kickout and without hesitation takes the 3 and makes it to boot.
Is John Salmons going to be great and incredible every night? No, of course he’s not. But Salmons is a quality player who is still capable of illustrating the good things about his game on a consistent basis when allowed.
Just in case you were wondering, coming into the Portland game Salmons 3pt% was about 21%. It’s not 28.1% after going 6-9 these past 2 games. Is Salmons going to hit 67% of his 3’s on a consistent basis? No of course he’s not. But throughout Salmons career he has been a 36% career 3 pt shooter, and I’d be very surprised if Salmons didn’t return to 33-35% by the end of this season too.
* Marcus Thornton scored 18 of his game high 28 points in the 3rd qtr alone. Thornton went ballistic in that 3rd qtr when the Kings absolutely needed him to. Yes, Thornton went 11-24 from the field and 4-11 from 3, but that’s okay. That’s what Marcus Thornton does. Tonight the Kings need his scoring in that 3rd qtr as it gave them the shot in the arm they desperately needed.
* Jason Thompson is beginning to become one of the most underrated players in all of the NBA if he keeps his production up. 15 points, 16 boards (9 defensive), 7-13 field (including 1 3pt attempt that was a necessary shot or the Kings would have had a 24 shot clock violation), and made his only FT. Oh, and Jason Thompson, along with DeMarcus Cousins, has shown why his interior defense is so valuable these days. JT had another remarkable game, and it makes me glad the Kings have not traded him up to this point.
What got me tonight was that Jason missed a few shots (especially that 5 footer with a min remaining that Cousins tipped in) that was simply right there for him to make. But, let’s be honest. That left hand runner with 2:51 remaining of OT is where JT has shown so much growth in his game. JT has become a fairly reliable inside scorer (remember JT can score from the perimeter at a high rate too–plus he can pass!) and become a remarkably effective interior defensive presence.
The biggest concern I have with these days is can JT grab defensive boards because his numbers are badly down in that area. But this is a very minor quibble I have right now.
* The bench wasn’t a whole lot to write home about tonight, with the exception of Isaiah Thomas, but that’s what made tonight so remarkable in many ways. The 5 best players on this roster played a tremendous game as a starting unit and sometimes you need your starters to do that. As far as LSG is concerned, the defense, intensity and confidence was there tonight. That’s what makes Isaiah Thomas such a pleasure. Would it be nice if Jimmer had that? Sure, it would. But that’s not where Jimmer is at right now so let’s roll with that.
* Speaking of Jimmer, there is a reason Jimmer isn’t playing. Jimmer isn’t really ready for NBA minutes, and in the long run this can help him grow as a NBA player. It’s Keith Smart’s job to play the best players every night, and there have been few times where Jimmer has counted one of those. But, let’s be patient. Jimmer started slow during his BYU years, and it may take a crappy lockout season for him to gain his legs. Know this though: I don’t think there is any desire to bench Jimmer on the basis of a personal issue with him. It’s simply a matter of production, and right now Jimmer isn’t giving you the needed level of production you need nightly against NBA players.
* As far as what bench players could be productive, and who won’t be productive, I’ll leave that to the ebb and flow of the game to decide. My personal opinion is that any NBA bench is always a work in progress on teams with a real pecking order. The Lakers are a classic example of that right now. They lost in Utah tonight because that lack of a consistent bench.
* The Kings outrebounded the Warriors 55-36 tonight. Cousins and Thompson had 36 rebounds (13 offensive; 23 defensive) by themselves.
* The Warriors shot 16-29 from 3 pt land for 55%. From 2 pt land, the Warriors went 23-61 for a shade over 37%. The Kings had 56 points in the paint; Warriors had 36 points in the paint. The Warriors went 12-13 from the FT line tonight, but the Kings went 18-21 from the line. Plus, the Warriors shot 43.3% overall and the Kings shot 43.9% overall. Even when you factor in the 3 pt FG’s (which skyrockets the eFG%), the Kings and the Warriors shot evenly tonight. With the 3 extra turnovers the Kings had (which led to 33 points for the Warriors; likewise the Kings scored 23 points off 18 Warrior turnovers), the Warriors didn’t take nearly enough advantage to offset the other area’s where the Kings beat the Warriors.
To me the bottom line is that quality production from your starters is a tipping point from where this team could conceivably get to at some point. The next step is getting 2, 3, 4 or even 5 bench guys to give you consistent production. Who are those bench guys? Chuck Hayes is one, Isaiah Thomas seems like another so that’s 7 guys in the rotation. JJ Hickson has a lot of talent and has shown he can do some things. Francisco Garcia has played well at times. Travis Outlaw does have talent if nothing else. Jimmer Fredette has a following for at least reasonable reasons (he was really that good last year at BYU).
So the potential for this team to develop is still clearly there. Tonight was the first step, of many, to help fix what ails this team the most: A consistent measure of production. Tonight I think we saw that this team is trending towards average defensively, if not above average, and has the potential to be more as players develop and gain cohesiveness. On the other hand, offensively the PnR’s late (that made me smile seeing JT & Salmons run that PnR that got JT that lefty layup in OT) and the willingness to go to Jason Thompson for a bucket with just over a minute in regulation when things hadn’t been going the Kings way was nice to see. Emotional, defensive and small strides offensively are the kind of growth this team needs. It won’t happen all in one night, but it’s clear that Keith Smart has made a difference this far.
The question now: Can it translate to something more moving forward? The Kings are 8-15 right now, and given all the struggles that this team has had, I can’t say I’m that upset over the record. This Kings team is clearly showing that, unlike 2 weeks ago, is capable of beating teams to win games. This Kings team is learning how to use their freneticism in a positive and useful way. This Kings team is learning how to play the 2 end game that is so critical to NBA success. There is a lot of young talent, a lot of growing talent, and a lot of new talent all trying to come together right now. I get that. It’s just nice to know that these players and this coaching staff is capable of working together. That’s a start, and 3 weeks ago I was hoping I could write that by about next year.
Maybe I sold this group short.