We're asking 30 questions about the Kings' 2010-11 season.
Just two years ago, the coach of the Kings (that'd be Reggie Theus) complained that outside of Ron Artest, a player on the fringe of the team's plans and a sure bet to be tradebait, Sacramento had no players to throw the ball to. A brouhaha erupted as this was widely perceived as an insult tossed at one Kevin Martin, who many felt had been the team's best player over the preceding 2007-08 season.
Ignoring the controversy behind the nature of Theus' comments, the coach had argued he meant that, outside of Artest, the Kings had no one to give the ball to in the post. This -- this specific statement or (perhaps) complaint -- was dead-on accurate. The Kings had no one to play the post. The pivots were Mikki Moore, a set shooter with lobster claws for hands and a frame more spindly than a treble cleg; Brad Miller, less athletic at age 19 and 20 than Kevin Willis at age 47; and Spencer Hawes, a budding 19-year-old with skills, swagger and a complete lack of strength, rendering his post skills and swagger unusable against all post defenders outside of Pau Gasol, Brad Miller and Mikki Moore. The guards were Martin, who has never been accused of hogging the potato salad, and Beno Udrih, a lefty magician who likes physical contact less than does Christine O'Donnell.
Artest was indeed traded that summer, for Donté Greene and an Israeli cyborg to be named later. No beef other than lottery pick Jason Thompson was brought in to replace Ron-Ron. And outside Thompson's phenomenal work in securing the Jammin' James Bailey Hacker of the Year Award, the Kings were as close to haphephobic as any team in memory. The Kings had no one to throw the ball to in the post, and only Martin regularly attacked the paint, resulting in an absurd number of free throws by few lay-ups or (gasp!) dunks.
(Note: this didn't exactly bear out in the data, as the Kings were middle-of-the-pack in the frequency in which their shots came at the rim. I would like to project this on Martin's attacking, as well as Thompson's electric offensive rebound/putback game, the too-hot-for-TV Bobby Brown experiment, a dose of Shelden Williams, Bobby Jackson, not to mention Hawes' unfailing program of at least trying to become a low post big man.)
The acquisition of Tyreke Evans changed things dramatically. As is noted in every third comment thread at Sactown Royalty, Evans led the league in lay-ups attempted last season. As a -- check his I.D.! -- 20-year-old rookie. While Evans didn't play in the post as often as some would have liked, his repeated dribble-drives served as a de facto post game for the Kings through February. A post game works in demanding defensive attention near the rim, theoretically leaving shooters open from outside and weakside scorers available in the paint. Reke's dribble-drive game does the same thing.
The Kings enjoyed the new reality in the paint, even enough it didn't necessarily vault the team up the standings. Then, Martin was traded for Carl Landry. Landry was a beastly post scorer off the bench for Houston, racking up an absurd 8.1 attempts at the rim per 40 minutes in the first half of last season. (Evans, a higher-usage player, was at 9 rim shots/40 last season.) When the trade was executed, Evans and Paul Westphal alike commented that it'd be good to have a post scorer help balance the offense with Evans' play from a guard position.
Only it didn't work like that. Evans, a less accurate shooter than Dick Cheney and Plaxico Burress combined, continued to drive, to shoot in the paint. Landry turned into a mid-range jump shooter. In Houston last season, Landry took about 2.85 shots at the rim for every long (16-23 foot) jumper. In Sacramento, he took (almost exactly) one rim shot for every one long jumper.
When he joined Tyreke, a paint scorer, Landry went from post scorer to jump shooter. Instead of bolstering the post game, the combination of Evans and Landry served to dilute the lesser of the two, and push him away from the rim.
Luckily for the Kings, Landry is a good shooter: he hit 44 percent of shots from 16-23 feet, a strong mark. But, of course, shots at the rim are more valuable -- they draw fouls more frequently and go through the hoop at the higher rate. (Landry's 70 percent conversion rate at the rim is far from surprising.) There's just a huge difference in the effectiveness of long jumpers and lay-ups. No surprise, really.
Is Landry's backtracking reversible? When Landry and Evans play together -- as they figure to do in large doses this season -- can Landry remain a significant post presence? Or is this a physical necessity? Is it spacially infeasible to keep Landry in the post and Evans on a boulevard to the rim?
And, perhaps most centrally of all, where does DeMarcus Cousins fit?
Cousins was drafted with the intent of creating a fatal guard-big pairing, a duo to rival all NBA duos. This is not hyperbole; this is what we all cheered for when Kahn picked Wes, when Stern read the card with a hint of whimsy. "The Kings select ... DeMarcus Cousins." BOOM. Kobe-Shaq. Magic-Kareem. Cousy-Russell. We saw the future, and it was wonderful.
I, for one, didn't see the journey, didn't catch the section of the blueprint that explained how exactly Reke's big flying body careening toward the rim and Boogie's big static body dominating the area around the rim were going to coexist, going to help each other thrive. Luckily, we (or Mr. Westphal and Mr. Petrie, more precisely) have a few spits of time to figure that out.
In the meantime, how Evans and Landry work together (or not) could be a decent indication of where this caravan's headed.