Games like tonight get coaches fired. The anti-Westphal sentiment has been building steadily over the course of this six game slide, and after tonight it should reach fever pitch.
Cutting your nose to spite your face: Tonight’s starting lineup was less about strategy or long term permanence, and more about sending a message to his players to play defense, or sit. Result: Didn’t work. Kings allowed 113 points and 52% shooting to a Knicks team averaging 103 points on 43% shooting, playing on second night in a row, while Kings were rested.
New SF starter JT played only 11 minutes, and was a non-factor. Back to the bench SF Omri played 13 minutes and was a non-factor. The swap at the SG had better success with Luther contributing 13 points in 21 minutes, and Beno coming on late to score 18 points. But there is no cohesion among the players, and the game reminded me of a pre-season contest much of the 48 minutes with the revolving door substitutions.
Donte Freed!: We knew Donte would get his chance eventually, and just had to hope he would make the most of it, and he did just that. I was impressed that Donte did not force the action, or launch quick threes while he was on the court early. He played with patience, enthusiasm, and looked to find the open man. He was active on defense with a big steal and offered resistance in the paint. I was encouraged too that Jerry Reynolds said he was within 1 pound of last years playing weight.
The last three weeks being humbled with DNP-CDs hopefully have sent a message that his NBA career is at crossroads, and he can be out of the league as soon as his contract expires, if he does not take pride in his profession, and responsibility for his development. Fans can point to tonight’s effort as proof of Westphal’s incompetence, but I am more inclined to conclude the last three weeks allowed Greene to get into NBA shape.
The Progress of DeMarcus: I think it is appropriate to measure young teams and rookies in 10-game increments, and to look for improvement in areas of weakness, and refinement of strengths. At the 10-game mark of the season, Big Cuz has improved at playing defense on the interior without fouling. His footwork and positioning are better. He is putting his hands straight up, trying to force players to make plays, and avoiding unnecessary contact. His instincts are solid. And his hustle stats in 30 minutes were impressive. He committed only 2 fouls, had two blocks, 2 steals, and went to floor more than once to scramble after a loose ball.
The negative number was 5 TOs: two travels, two three second violation, one poke away by Turiaf. In 4 of last 5 games, Cuz has had at least 4 TOs, a total of 19 against only 3 assists! This is an alarming rate, and negates so much a team could or would otherwise do well. It is difficult to win when a player who does not assist the ball coughs it up regularly, as we have seen with JT the last two seasons.
Cuz gets whistled when he tries to make his move simultaneously with his dribble, because he is unable to keep his pivot foot planted. (Add the fact that the refs are looking for slimmest hint of a violation to make call against Cousins.) Until he improves his footwork, he needs to put the ball on the floor before going to his post move. We saw that in the 4th quarter a couple of times effectively.
Landry in The Paint: Top Hat is back where he belongs (21/9 on 8 for 13 FGs). Down low to do damage, driving and powering through, to exploit a horrible Knicks interior defense. Carl seems quicker with his first step and jumping off two feet lately, likely due to slimming down. Unfortunately he was absent late, and only shot 13 times. I think this number should have been 16 to 18 FGAs with advantage he possessed. I am not opposed to the mid range shot as other fans are, and should be taken to set up a power dribble to the hoop. But Carl is smart enough not to settle for this shot when he knows he can overpower his man. 20/10 games for Carl seem about an average nights work.
But as the second best player on the team, Landry needs to exert more leadership. And do more of the little things to help teams win. Loose balls, hustle plays, box outs, post defense, smart interior passes. Landry should not be noticed only when he is scoring the ball. And the fact that he is a limited rebounder should not prevent him from making other plays to help the Kings win. If the team is going to turn the season around, it is going to start with the Kings best players, and Landry needs to find other ways to make contributions than just points.
Are the Kings the Worst Team in The League? Record wise, no. Philly (2-10), the Clips (1-11) and Rockets (3-8) have poorer records than Kings 3-8. But based on strength of opponent (weak), and woeful home record (1-5), I would have to say ‘yes’.
There are a few positives as outlined, but right now this team is suffering mightily from lack of leadership off and on the court. Westphal seemingly cannot inspire this team, nor find an effective combination, nor stick with a combination long enough to give it a chance to succeed. Tyreke has shown improved playmaking skills, but not improved leadership, nor any leadership for that matter. And playing at less than 100% certainly hasn’t helped. The season is only 10 games old. But if the Kings do not improve significantly, and soon, through improved individual performance, through trade for a new guard, through a coaching change, or all the above, fans may as well be prospecting for the 2011 draft by XMas.