The Sacramento Bee has two pieces dealing with the small forward position today -- one from Jason Jones that looks at the contenders for the still undecided starting spot, and a column from Ailene Voisin on the early returns for Omri Casspi. Jones susses out what exactly each option (other than Andres Nocioni, who will be the team's first wing off the bench) can bring. For Francisco Garcia, it's ball-handling. For Desmond Mason, it's slashing and defense. For Donte Greene, it's potentiall defense. For Casspi, it's hustle and energy.
But there's an unspoken skill that is absolutely vital for the success of the starting unit, of which two of the four contenders stand out: shooting.
Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans are going to drive to the hoop. A lot. The Kings have little post game. Ergo, you need shooters on the floor to open things up. You need shooters to hit those buckets off Martin/Evans kick-outs. You need shooters to keep the defense from sagging in. You think putting Mason in the corner is going to keep his defender from helping on the dribble penetration? Garcia can nail those shots, and Casspi shot 45% from three in Euroleague last year. Having spot-up shooters on the wings will help Evans so, so much.
Defense should also be a primary consideration, and I understand the attempts of Westphal to plug Mason in. I may not agree with them. But I understand them. No disrespect to Mason or any player over the age of 30, but if it's going to turn into a season of fits and starts for him -- if Mason is going to miss a few games a month with spasms or soreness or swelling -- Westphal should go a different direction from Day 1. Injuries happen, and you can't do much about that. But when your oldest player misses the first two preseason games after being named the initial starter at the one true question mark position ... you need to rethink things.
And it isn't as if the others won't play defense. Casspi, particularly, has been all over the place -- and effort is a big part of defense, especially on the wings. (Skill and size matter more in the frontcourt, and speed matters most in defending the point.) Casspi has nothing if not effort. I'm not calling for Casspi to get a shot at the starting slot, but he belongs in the conversation every bit as much as the others do, given that the others have not been overly impressive while Casspi has been quite impressive. And he certainly deserves consideration for substantial minutes, in my opinion.
I doubt that's a consideration, which is unfortunate. Why do I doubt it? Because of this Westphal quote in Voisin's column.
"[Omri] just needs some experience."
He hasn't needed NBA experience to be one of the team's three best players in the first two games. And as a kid who played four seasons of professional basketball in Israel, he's not exactly green. Look at Nicolas Batum last season. Young rookie from France -- starting small forward on a 50+ win team. Experience might be one important consideration, but it's not more important than talent and production. If it were, Kenny Thomas would be starting over Jason Thompson.
There's a lot of preseason left, though, so I'll just be over here in the corner hoping Casspi makes this an urgent matter by continuing to blow everyone away.