Living down here in sunny Southern California, my opportunities to watch our beloved Kings are understandably limited. As the team has entered a full rebuilding mode, national coverage has become practically nonexistant and I'm restricted to the odd televised Lakers or Clippers matchup to get my fix. So you can understand how happy I was to learn that last night's preseason game against the Lakers in Las Vegas would be shown locally. So happy, in fact, that I decided to try and take notes with the idea of sharing them with everyone here at StR. Check out my thoughts and impressions after the jump.
This is the first I have seen of Shock, Hawes, É, and the rest of the gang in many, many moons. It was a really interesting to observe how they have developed (or not developed) since I last saw them play. That it's against the Lakers just makes it that much more engaging, though I have to put up with more than my fair share of verbal abuse as my wife and her entire family are Lakers fans*.
* In that they care about the Lakers during a) the playoffs or b) when they're beating my team.
So first some observations about the team in general:
- This team is scrappy. Throughout the entire game it was painfully obvious that the worst team in the league was playing the defending champions, but the Kings never quit. They played hard for all four quarters and this led directly to that sweet little run in the final period.
- I was pleasantly surprised with the passing game. Everyone seemed eager to share the ball and, while this led to some silly turnovers, there was a definite sense of burgeoning chemistry on the court.
- Enjoy the offense, because there's not a lot to be happy about on the defensive end yet. For large stretches of the game, the Kings looked completely lost on defense. When they played man to man they forgot assignments, created ridiculous mismatches for themselves, and generally ran around with the seeming goal of just standing in front of someone. Our interior defense was particularly atrocious at finding and stopping slashers. If there was a bright spot, it's that while the execution may not have been there, our guys really seemed to want to do well at that end of the floor. There was some solid energy and hustle and that resulted in a few well-timed steals.
- We have trouble finishing. From our guards not getting quite the right spin on their layups to the big guys putting the ball back on the floor instead of going strong to the basket the number of easy ones (and the missed followups to those easy ones) we missed last night was staggering. I expect this to improve drastically as PW continues to put his stamp on this team and our guys get more comfortable with the skills and inclinations of their teammates.
- Evans and Martin can absolutely play together. In fact, even after last night's piecemeal performance, I feel pretty comfortable saying that these two have all the potential to develop into one of of the league's most potent scoring backcourts. They really seemed to be aware of one another on the court and to coexist well in the time they shared. Right now it's very much an inside - outside game, but if 'Reke is dedicated to improving his shot this duo is going to create nightmares for opposing teams.
I tried to take some notes on each player individually as well. Here they are in order of who I paid the most attention to:
- Tyreke Evans: Well it's becoming a cliché, but 'Reke really can get to the rim just about any time he wants. The question is what he does after he gets there. My impression of Evans last night was that he desperately wanted to create for his team, whether by finding his own shot and keeping the offense moving or by finding a teammate. And he seems to recognize that, right now, his driving ability is the best way to open those options up. So he drove, and drove, and drove and sure enough some good things happened. But he also missed layups, threw the ball away on ill-advised passes, or got lost in the traffic and had to choose between several bad options. His jumper, on the other hand, is horrible. Really, really, really, really bad. On a couple of attempts he fell away and threw both legs out in front of him. Even when he has a good look the release is shaky. If I'm on the coaching staff, this is my number one goal for Tyreke this season and going into the offseason. He's probably never going to be a great three-point shooter, but if he can make opposing teams respect his jumper from inside the arc he's going to be one hell of a player. Other random notes - he played some pretty respectable D (even on Kobe) and had active hands in the passing lanes - his free throws are very flat - this kid has no fear of heading deep into enemy territory - I almost cried when he went down with that calf cramp.
- Spencer Hawes: Hawes really loves that long ball. He took four (and made two) attempts from downtown and didn't show any hesitation with the long two either. Some of those shots were rushed, with poor looks, and hands in his face (I'm thinking specifically of a long two somewhere in the first half). He could have done better in the paint, but just couldn't finish. Missed dunks, putbacks, and layups really hurt him. On the bright side he looked strong, finishing one dunk with some serious authority in the second quarter, but a lot of times simply failed to put that strength to good use inside resulting in his getting blocked and some of the aforementioned misses. He also does not seem to have much of a nose for the ball and gave up a number of easy rebounds. The team looked like they were making a conscious effort to get and keep him involved and, for the most part, he played well, but there's still lots of progress to be made.
- Jason Thompson: Wow. Just...wow. His energy last night reminded me of Animal from the Muppets. Just crazy non-stop fierceness all night long. On a few of those rebounds (of which he gathered 14 - 6 offensive) he was vintage Rodman - going sky-high, kicking his legs out, and pulling that ball right into his abdomen where no one has a chance of taking it. Really impressive stuff. He was always right there for putbacks, fouled hard (but didn't get into foul trouble), and never gave up on a play. He suffered the same inability to finish as his teammates, but his offensive rebounding created lots of opportunities to keep trying. If he can manage to stay on the floor as he did in this game, I would expect this night in and night out.
- Kevin Martin: K-Mart was a little off tonight on the offensive end, but then so was everybody else. He took relatively good shots, and got to the line, but just couldn't convert. I wouldn't expect to see him missing four of six free throws (or shooting only six free throws) very often. He looked like he was really trying on defense, but was lured off of his feet a couple of times and called for blocking another. Still, it was a passable effort considering it isn't a noted strength and he was on Bryant for good stretches of time. What most impressed me was how comfortable he seemed passing to his teammates. I think as the young kids settle in and PW does his thing that we're going to see K-Mart's assists (for those who continually hammer him about them) trend upwards.
- Beno Udrih: Beno played well. Someone mentioned in one of the other game recaps that he seemed to be exerting control as a way of making a statement, but I really didn't see that last night. He played within the system (such as it exists at the moment). He is what he is - a grossly overpaid reserve, but one who's capable of giving a team some decent production and a steady hand at the wheel for the second unit. He showed good awareness on defense with some really nice steals and good passing. His warts are there and are well documented, but I think if his attitude were consistent and we were paying him much, much less we'd be okay with having this guy on our team.
- Andres Nocioni: Noce proved to me last night that he absolutely deserves to be a starter. He played with hard-nosed defense, passion, and did all the things he was supposed to do. And he was the only guy last night capable of knocking down the open corner triple. He should absolutely be our starting three as of this point in the season.
- Omri Casspi: Loved the energy and the hustle, though it seemed like he had a ton of nervous energy when he first entered the game. He's not afraid of contact and he hit his free throws - all things you want to see from a young guy. But he's not ready to be a starter. I was all excited about the possibility after checking out the box scores from the previous two games, but last night I saw a rookie pure and simple. He may settle in and it may be something we're discussing again later in the season, but right now it is clear that he isn't ready to produce consistently at the level we need from a starter. He should get plenty of minutes though so I expect him to settle down, start knocking down his shots from beyond the arc, and show some steady improvement as the nerves from the opening of the season dissipate.
- Sergio Rodriguez: Good passer, pushes the ball well, hit Casspi for a nice little play. Third string behind Beno based on what I saw last night.
- Sean May: Looked comfortable, ran the floor well, hit a long two. Didn't really see enough of him to offer any useful insights.
- Desmond Mason: Bleh. I'm not impressed. Only one play stands out to me and that's when he gathered the rebound and rather than take the shot that was available, moved further away, shot, and missed.
- Jon Brockman: Only saw Mancakes briefly. The dude is built like a truck. Nobody pushed him around.
- Kenny Thomas: He played! Woof!
So there you have it. I enjoyed watching the game, our guys never looked downtrodden no matter what the score, and fought until the final buzzer. If this is a sign of things to come, I think - even when we're clearly overmatched - that this squad is going to be a lot more fun to watch than last season's edition.