In a tightly contested and up-tempo game, the Kings managed to win their first game of the preseason thanks mostly in part to the facts that the Kings simply had too much size for Phoenix to handle, and the fact that Phoenix only played Steve Nash and Grant Hill 6 minutes each. Player notes after the jump.
The Kings' first half was very sloppy in general, and it was clear that the team still was not used to playing with each other. The offense became stagnant at times, and careless mistakes prevented scoring opportunities. It also didn't help that the Kings found themselves in early foul trouble in both the 1st and 2nd, reaching the penalty by the 6-minute mark in both quarters.The free throw disparity shows in the box score (30 FTA for Phoenix and 18 for Sacramento) even though the Kings did a much better job at not fouling in the second half.
The second half featured a lot more of the Kings taking it to the basket, and playing within the offense. The Suns ended up just doubling every single time the Kings threw it down low, whether it was JT, DeMarcus or Carl. They had no answer for our bigs, or Tyreke as he came driving through the lane. While the first half seemed to focus on a more perimeter-oriented game, the Kings forced it inside in the second, which in turn opened up the floor for the rest of the team. Phoenix's offense became a lot sloppier as well without Nash running the point, and Sacramento's guards were really active at trying to disrupt the ballhandler.
The Kings offense is definitely looking to run as much as possible and the pace was very up-tempo. As soon as a player rebounded the ball, they were running the other way. It makes for exciting high-scoring basketball, but it also led to some out-of-control mistakes as well. On defense, the Kings were getting killed by Phoenix's ball movement and guard penetration for most of the first half of the game. They still managed to force a lot of Phoenix turnovers, but all that swiping for the ball also led to a lot of ticky tack fouls called by the referees.
Rebounding was a big advantage for Sacramento, and the disparity should have been even more drastic if there weren't so many long rebounds from missed Phoenix 3-pointers (they missed 14). Rebounding is definitely a statistic that I can see the Kings dominating night in and night out.
Overall I thought the Kings played a decent if not great game, but still need some time to figure out how to play with each other, as there were plenty of mixed signals between teammates. If this were a regular season game, I doubt the Kings would have won with the kind of start they had.
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Tyreke Evans: He was definitely not afraid to shoot the ball from the perimeter, that was for sure. He missed a few of his jumpers to start, but Phoenix kept daring him to shoot it, so he did, eventually hitting on quite a few of them, and going 2-3 from downtown. He also played a surprising amount of time off the ball, with Beno Udrih bringing up the ball most of the time. He was pretty successful at it too, getting a couple of nice passes for easy buckets as he cut to the basket. Don't worry about his driving ability diminishing at all either, because it's still there, and it's still incredible. He had an absolutely ridiculous sequence where he blew by about four Suns with a couple behind-the-back dribbles, and he unfortunately messed up the wide open layup (luckily DeMarcus was there to clean up). On defense he was active, poking at the ball, although I would have liked him to stay in front of his man more.
DeMarcus Cousins: Boogie played about as well as anybody could've hoped for his first NBA game. He mentioned after the game that he was really nervous, which explains his slow start, especially defensively, where Robin Lopez got off to a really nice start, but he composed himself and ended up having a pretty nice game. His jumper looked good tonight, and it helped draw out Lopez to open the lane up for his teammates, and when he took it inside he was almost unstoppable. He had one of the most ferocious one-hand slams I've seen since the days of C-Webb at around the 2-minute mark of the 1st quarter. On defense, he was surprisingly active, contesting shots, denying his man position. He still needs a bit of work, but I think he could be a quality defensive presence someday, especially with his knack for drawing charges. Another nice thing about DeMarcus is that he eats rebounds and craps nice outlet passes. Many a fastbreak was started last night after DMC corralled the board and threw it out to Tyreke or Beno. His solid performance was not without flaws however, as he made a few silly mistakes with the ball (including once trying to run the ball up the floor himself after a rebound, leading to a quick turnover) which led to five turnovers, all but one of them because of careless mistakes that can be fixed with experience. I really liked what I saw from DeMarcus today, and I really think he'll be a future star.
Jason Thompson: Jason was probably the MVP of this game from Sacramento's perspective. He was the only one that was effective when the Kings were struggling, and he was just doing it all: rebounds, defense, points, you name it. His go-to move is quickly becoming a fade-away jumper on the baseline, and its been going down consistently. He has less luck with shots around the basket however, getting some of the unluckiest bounces I've seen. On defense I was especially pleased to see him alter shots consistently, in addition to his three blocks. He also managed to find his teammates consistently as well, including a couple nice pick-and-rolls with Beno. After the game he mentioned how at halftime, he and DMC decided to have a contest to see who would get 10 rebounds first, even though JT only had 4 at the half and Cousins had 8. Still they both did, and the two of them together had more offensive rebounds than Phoenix combined. He did manage to collect 5 fouls, always a problem with him, but a couple of those fouls were really questionable.
Marcus Landry: After watching Marcus at the game, I will be absolutely shocked if he doesn't make the team. He plays tough, scrappy defense, hustles after the boards, and knocks down his open shots when he gets them (hitting 3-5 from downtown). Phoenix began to respect his shot near the end, so he smartly took it to the basket and got to the line. He was a very effective player, and I feel his NBA comparison was playing on the other team. I think he could be Sacramento's version of Jared Dudley this year.
Beno Udrih: Beno looked a little rusty to start the game, at least offensively. His jumper wasn't falling early, but he had a lot of success later in the game taking it to the basket. He does a great job of protecting the ball on the way to the hoop and switching his hands when he's near the rim, a trick I want Tyreke to learn, because Hollinger is right, Tyreke only uses his right hand to finish, and it does cost him sometimes. Beno looked comfortable handling the ball, and I would venture to say he handled the ball more than Tyreke did tonight. Most impressive to me was how active Beno was on defense, poking at the ball and trying to stay in front of his man. The effort was definitely there, and even though he was only credited with two steals, he caused a couple more Phoenix turnovers in other ways.
Carl Landry: I really didn't like what I saw from Carl tonight. He was extremely tentative on offense, especially early in the game. I figured the Kings would try to feature him a lot early, especially since Hedo was guarding him for much of the time, but he spent a lot of time on the perimeter and looked to pass the ball more than take it inside against Hedo. He looked more like himself in the second half, showing that great patience inside and soft touch from outside, but I would have really liked to see a much more aggressive Carl. He played the most minutes of any player in the game, and I couldn't really tell from his contribution. I will say that he surprised me with some of the assists he had from the high post (he had 4 in total for the game), but he did make some poor decisions with the ball as well (3 turnovers). I hope this is just rust for Carl and he shakes it off by the time the season rolls around.
Omri Casspi: Besides Jason Thompson, Omri was the most effective player off the bench for the Kings. He moved a lot off the ball, and it reminded me a lot of the way the Kings used to get Peja open. A few of Omri's shots (including both his missed threes) barely missed, looking good until they rimmed out. As usual he was extremely active on the boards, and he did a good job at setting up his teammates. On defense he was getting burned by Jason Richardson, but did a decent job on the other players he guarded. Plus, everyone on the Kings was getting torched by Richardson. Unlike the Omri we saw in Summer League who took it inside a lot more, Omri was on the perimeter for a lot of this game, although his last points of the game were on a sweet running floater.
Pooh Jeter: Pooh looked a bit troubled by the defensive pressure the Suns put on him tonight, especially by Goran Dragic, but he still managed to be a pretty good floor general. His shot looked really smooth, and he reminded me of Bobby Jackson on more than one occasion. There weren't many flashy passes of the sort we saw in the Open Practice, but there also weren't many mistakes. On defense, he got abused a little bit by the taller Dragic, but he was a big part in forcing a couple of Dragic's 6 turnovers on the night. Pooh acquitted himself nicely for his first NBA game.
Donté Greene: It seems clear to me that Donté right now is behind in the race for the starting Small Forward spot, playing only 10 minutes, but I think he did alright in those minutes. He was active on defense, and I know he had a block on Jason Richardson that isn't showing up in the box score. On offense his outside shot isn't falling, but he had a couple nice trips taking it inside. He also looked like he wanted to set up his teammates more, but he had much less success than Omri at it, mainly because of miscommunication with his new teammates.
Antoine Wright: It's clear he's a good defender, but his offense is pretty bad. He missed all of his shots pretty badly, and at least two of them were wide open. He also tried to go one-on-one once and ended up turning the ball over. I think he'll only end up seeing spot minutes when the opposing team has a wingman that is really torching us.
Luther Head: Head shot two wide open threes and missed both. He completely airballed the second one. When you're brought in to training camp for your shooting prowess and you can't manage to display it, your chances of making the team are very low. I could see him being one of the next cuts.
Final observation: If I had to guess the Kings starting lineup just based off of this performance, it would be DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, Omri Casspi, Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih. There is still a lot of preseason to go however, and we have yet to see Dalembert or Whiteside in a game at all.
Bold Prediction: DeMarcus Cousins will be the starting center sometime early in the season, possibly at the start.