The Problems With Beno

It's understood that with a core assumed to be focused on the continued development of Kevin Martin and Spencer Hawes, the Sacramento Kings intend to build an elite offense. Of course, with Jason Thompson and Francisco Garcia (and Ron Artest, for now) aboard, defense won't be relegated to nothingness. But offense will be the priority, I'd imagine.

Beno Udrih is not a defensive stalwart. He's a bit strong, but not strong enough or long enough to make up for his lateral unquickness. I won't bolt him to Bibby status or assure Chris Paul will drop 30/15 every time the Hornets visit, but I'm certainly not going to pretend Beno can become a stopper or anything resembling a great defender.

So, Beno's offense: is it good enough to help the Kings put together an elite assault? The early returns would seem good: Sacramento had the #13 offense in the league last season, despite missing a month of Martin and a month of Artest. The offense got better under Beno, though some of that could also be attributed to more touches for Martin, better efficiency from Artest, and the elimination of Eric Musselman's clusterjunk.

On the individual level, Beno has proven to be an exceptional deep shooter, a strong penetrator, and capable of bringing the ball up the floor without wasting 10 seconds. There are two things keeping him from being a great offensive PG, though ... and I'm not confident either can be fixed.

He doesn't finish well.
Our view of Beno's talent has been clouded seriously by Mike Bibby's long-observed weaknesses. Near the end of his Sactown reign, Bibby stopped driving to the rim. It wasn't because he became a better shooter or because teams clogged the lane against him -- he just couldn't finish any more. He still drew fouls, but it's understandable that once you stop making lay-ups regularly, you're going to stop taking it inside. Bibby lost a touch of his never-spectacular athleticism, and lost at least half-a-step as he aged. Those factors conspired to make him an inefficient finisher, which lead to less penetration, which lead to fewer nifty assists and more jumpers, which lead to less offensive chemistry and less individual consistency. And that's all folks -- Bibby's no longer an elite PG.

Beno wasn't a good finisher last season, and has been below-average on his career. Using NBA.com's excellent Hot Spots data, I broke the field goal percentages on layups or 'close' shots for a random collection of starting point guards. I didn't go after everyone, but tried to include some similarly styled (shoot-first) PGs.

Udrih       -- 50.2%
T. Parker -- 59.8%
A. Miller   -- 58.9%
Nash       -- 56.7%
Telfair      -- 45.1%
B. Davis  -- 54.9%
Alston      -- 46.5%
Calderon -- 66.3%
Ford         -- 51.3%
Billups     -- 56.6%
Arroyo      -- 53.2%
Nelson    -- 58.8%
Harris      -- 55.8%
Kidd         -- 44.4%
Rondo     -- 54.3%

It's hardly scientific, but ... most of the great offensive PGs on that have high inside FG%s, yeah? Alston's better than he looks -- he makes a ton of threes. Telfair's simply awful. Kidd's overrated, but passes better than everyone but Nash (at a cost -- both those guys make a ton of turnovers).

What this says to me, though: great offensive PGs can finish at the hoop. Beno's not so hot in this category. He's better than Bibby has been his past two seasons (48.8% in 2006-07, 46.8% in 2007-08), but closer to that pole than fellows like Billups, Nash and Calderon.

Thanks to Beno's exceptional three-point shooting and good mid-range game, this isn't a pox on his game. But at the very least, the iffy finishing hurts the other factor killing his chance at being a great offensive weapon ...

He does not regularly help his teammates get easy shots.
The assist is a tricky matron, and I'm not going to get into all of that noise here. A quick summary of my thinking on the subject: assists are overrated, but probably important to some degree, but painfully misunderstood. That Tony Parker is not considered one of the elite point guards in this league because of his low assist totals is a great sham. There is historically no connection between offensive efficiency and assist percentages, nor between shooting percentages and assist percentages. On the whole, according teams and seasons, assists add nothing to a team's offense.

But certain players most certainly depend on good passes to get good opportunities to score. I'd even say all players would be helped by a good pass. This roster has a few of those guys -- Martin's a stunning isolation threat, but give him some screens, some kick-outs, some lobs and he becomes one of the best offensive weapons in the league. Spencer Hawes needs help getting loose inside -- he's not strong enough to establish deep position against most post defenders, so his dunks are going to need to come off picks-and-rolls and transition opportunities. (Ditto Shelden Williams and, I suspect, Jason Thompson.) Francisco Garcia is much, much better as a spot-up shooter than an off-the-dribble threat. I imagine Quincy Douby would be similar if he ever got any minutes.

How much of that is Beno offering? I'm trying to remember a single Beno-to-Martin alley-oop; I can clearly recall two deliveries from Anthony Freaking Johnson in one half. That glorious "Shock and Hawes" highlight against the Lakers -- Beno drove and dished back to a bulldozin' Hawes for the transition jam. That was way too rare ... way too rare.

I hardly think it's a coincidence the Kings became the worst 'assists' team in the league when Beno took over. He doesn't have the tunnel vision of the true chuckin' PGs, but passing is clearly the last resort when he drives the lane. That's good sometimes, as the Sacramento frontcourt of 2007-08 either couldn't hang onto a ball (Mikki Moore) or finish with a jam (Brad Miller) -- but with Hawes and (hopefully) Thompson, and Garcia and Martin on the wings, the pass off the drive will be the preferred play ... especially with Udrih's stated problems finishing in the lane.

Is the low assist performance of '07-08 a product of Beno's intuition about his teammates? Highly unlikely, considering his record in San Antonio. This can improve marginally, but don't bet on Beno's rebirth as the next Calderon.

(Turnovers are also a problem, but it's a lesser concern as his numbers there aren't atrocious and it's something that usually gets better with age and experience.)

To sum up: I'm not mad at Beno at the full mid-level for five years. I just happen to think -- with the above arguments leading the way -- that he's not going to be good enough to get you where you need to be offensively in order to balance your obvious defensive warts. He's almost certainly the best option next season, and almost certainly for 2009-10 as well. Beyond that, you're risking being stuck with a good point guard when you need to a great one (on either end).

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