Wednesday against the Hawks, the Kings defense visually looked better than it did at any point in the 2008-09 season. The pick-and-roll defense was solid, the help defense came appropriately at least half the time, and for the most part Hawks wings were forced into jumpshots while Hawks bigs were denied embedded position. There were some serious mishaps, leading to flying Josh Smith dunks and whatnot, but for the most part, the defense was solid.
It never really stopped Atlanta, though, as those guards made lots of jumpers. Through three quarters, the Hawks had shot 35-66, a 53 percent clip. In the fourth, the Kings defense -- visually solid but effectively bad throughout -- just went sour. The Hawks shot the lights out (11-19) and the Kings fell.
And so it remains -- the Kings' major downfall is shooting defense. Rebounding has improved. The turnover situation in undeniably good. For a night the opponent didn't live at the line. But it's for naught when the Kings can't force a bad shot.
The Kings won all Four Factors but shooting. (Statsheet.com has really awesome embeddable charts showing this now.)
The defensive rebounding wasn't too good ... but the Kings -- err, Jason Thompson made up for it on the offensive glass. (Kevin Martin, by the way, had nine of the team's 24 defensive rebounds.) The Kings scored more free throws and committed fewer turnovers. Sacramento had 11 steals (three for Tyreke Evans, two each for Thompson and Spencer Hawes), to only two for Atlanta.
But that shooting. Even with Martin having another stellar shooting night (29 points on 24 shooting possessions, a 60 percent True Shooting clip), the Kings shot just 43 percent on two-pointers, and 33 percent on threes. The Hawks, meanwhile, shot 58 percent on two-pointers and 38 percent on threes. You can't make up those gaps on offensive rebounds and turnovers. Not without perfect timing, which the Kings didn't have in the end.
It was a disappointing night for Hawes, but a killer performance for Thompson, who scored 22, added 12 rebounds and five assists with no turnovers. On the season, Thompson has 19 assists and only two turnovers. (Point-center Hawes has 11/10. Point guard Tyreke Evans has 18/12.)
Speaking of Evans ...
I thought this was a worse offensive game than his halted San Antonio performance (though 'Reke's defense on Wednesday was far superior, his best effort since New Orleans). Right now, Evans is too often letting the opposing defense dictate his play. The Hawks sagged far off Evans in the second half ... and Evans rewarded them by taking the long twos. That's bad shot for most players, and especially for someone like Evans. In three of five games this season, including Wednesday's Atlanta game, Evans has only drawn two free throw attempts. For a player whose offense should be completely based on getting to the rim, that's too few. Al Horford and Josh Smith blocked him a few times, and perhaps that aided the decision to fire away from long range. But Evans needs to make better decisions. He has a few quality scorers on the court with him, between Martin, Thompson, Hawes, Andres Nocioni and Omri Casspi. They used to play off Rajon Rondo like that, and he used the opportunity to pass the ball. Evans should do the same.