In the post-game environment at The Gymmer, there were some bad vibes going on. Jason Jones and Ailene Voisin touch on it in each of their Sunday pieces, but here are the most important quotes, first from Tyreke Evans in Jones' piece and then DeMarcus Cousins in Voisin's piece.
"I just try to get open as I can and create," Evans said. "It's no real set for me, nobody really in the offense. Just pass, cut. We lost; nobody really knows what to do. I think that's what's really hurting us right now."
"What offense?" [DeMarcus] Cousins replied when asked about the Kings' most obvious weakness. "I really don't want to say anything."
I am legitimately concerned about, four games in, the starting point guard saying that the team is lost and that nobody really knows what to do. I am legitimately concerned about, four games in, the starting center asking "what offense?" in response to a question about that end of the game.
Given that the first half was abominable on every level -- the Kings trailed by 14, and had shot 15-45 from the floor with eight turnovers against a bad defensive club -- you would expect Paul Westphal to re-emphasize the key priorities on offense and for the Kings to at least make an effort to perform as instructed in the third.
Frankly, it looks like that is exactly what happened, despite the team's lack of success. A blow-by-blow below the jump.
Each line is a new possession. The smiley faces and frowny faces are my judgment calls on whether the play was a good result within Westphal's offense, insomuch as it has been explained to us. The result of the play shouldn't affect the judgment call -- I'm not going to :-) a leaning J.J. Hickson 20-footer even if it goes in.
Cousins gets a backourt steal we never see on the broadcast and scores a lay-up. :-)
Evans fastbreak on a rebound leakout. Thornton stops at three-point line, and no other King catches up. Tyreke misses the layup. :-\ (Who exactly is Tyreke supposed to pass it to on the break if no one else is breaking? That said, great point guards learn when to pump the breaks; if Evans had curled out around the FT line, he could have hit Thorton on the wing.)
Great ball movement; Salmons eventually goes off the dribble to score on layup. :-) (This is what Westphal wants. Passes, cuts and eventually a layup.)
Contested Salmons three from the wing with 14 secs on shot clock. :-( (Salmons is then yanked after the Knicks' defensive possession, though this could have been for foul issues in addition to of instead of the crummy shot decision.)
Evans curls off of Cousins in high post, hits open Greene for a missed three. :-) (Great pass, will be an assist half the time.)
Evans dives and feeds Greene in corner, who hesitates and takes it back out; after reset, Hayes rolls off of Chandler for unimpeded layup. :-/ (Greene hesitated, I bet, because of the prior miss. You can't do that, even though it worked out this time. Take the open shot.)
Cousins posts up Jorts, hits cutting Greene for layup. :-) (Every piece of this play is just gorgeous.)
Greene can't get entry pass in to Cousins, dribbles right and gets stripped on jumper attempt. :-( (If at first you don't succeed ... take an awful jumper?)
Evans curls around Hayes in high post, misses clean layup. :-) (Nice modified pick-and-roll with a shovel pass.)
Beautiful Greene outlet to open Evans, layup. :-)
Thornton-Greene off-the-ball pick to get switch, Thornton gets past reaching 'Melo, fouled on layup attempt, hits 1-2 from line. :-) (Creative.)
JT can't get Evans on (iffy) cut attempts, sets up Cousins facing up from 18 feet. Cousins drives left and misses layup; after an offensive rebound, Evans gets a slipscreen from Cousins, drives and kicks to Greene for three. :-( on the first shot attempt, :-) on the second.
JT dribbles laterally, sets up Greene corner three. :-) (Thompson dribbling laterally across the lane isn't optimal, but he creatively looked for an open man and a safe pass.)
Greene cuts backdoor, Cousins hits him (rim shot), hard foul by Melo, 1-2 from the line. :-) (Again, beautiful. Greene cuts better than anyone on the team right now. That says a lot more about Evans, Thornton and Jimmer than anything else.)
Greene looses ball in transition trying to feed Jimmer. :-( (I'm still not comfortable with Greene leading a break. This is why.)
Greene gets to rim after switch, misses circus layup. :-( (I'm still not comfortable with Greene driving into traffic. He's a poor passer, and the Kings have better options off the dribble.)
Evans gets to rim on secondary break, kicks out to trailing Cousins who dribbles into a charge. :-/ (Evans made the right play as he dribbled into traffic, but Cousins needed to pop up a shot if he were set -- he wasn't -- or needed to reset. Instead, he bulled right into an easy call for the refs.)
Evans on break, only JT keeps up but isn't open, missed layup. :-/ (Again, we complain about Evans not passing on the break ... but no one is getting open on the break here. JT did a good job running with the play, but the Knicks rotated back well and JT wasn't open. There was no one in the corners for Evans to give up the ball to. He needs to pull out and reset if he can't draw the foul or get a better shot here; it was well-contested.)
Jimmer gets in paint off dribble, drops it for Hayes, fouled on layup attempt, 1-2 from line. :-) (This is why fans are excited about Jimmer's point guard abilities.)
Thornton-Hayes P&R draws switch, Thornton gets floater over Jorts. :-) (I have no problem with Thornton taking runners and floaters off of the dribble.)
JT posts Walker baseline, swatted out of bounds by helping Chandler; on inbounds, Greene hits Jimmer for stop and pop, fouled, 2-2 from line. :-) (Thompson shouldn't be a primary offensive option. But I'm OK with him posting up Bill Walker. The inbounds play was a good one, but would have been better if Jimmer had gotten behind the three-point line. Greene pulled the trigger a touch early, but it was still well-executed.)
Jimmer pulls up around high JT screen, misses three. :-( (We don't need stepback Jimmer threes off the dribble right now. Sorry.)
Time running down, Thornton drives at basket, stripped out-of-bounds. With 0.4 seconds left, Jimmer lob fails on saddest at-the-buzzer inbounds play I have seen since ...
Needless to say,
This Jimmer inbounds play isn't LOL enough to end up on YouTube, so let me set it up for you, in case you shielded your eyes reflexively. There are 0.4 seconds left in the third. The Kings have just pleaded the case that the ball went out of bounds with time left on the clock for a solid three minutes. The refs checked the video and all of that. And after all of that, the Kings' great 0.4-second inbound play consists of ... three Kings standing around the perimeter, where they are completely useless with 0.4 seconds left, Donte Greene in the paint with his back turned away from the basket, and Jimmer prepping to inbound the ball. On cue, Greene turns and leap for the basket (with three Knicks going along with him) as Jimmer lobs *the ball and the other three Kings ... stand around the perimeter.
This is your inbounds play.
This is your inbounds play?
This is your inbounds play.
It was batted away by one of the three Knicks who were prepared for the lob at the rim.
I didn't see Westphal getting in anyone's face at the quarter break, so I assume that this was the play he called in the three minutes the team had to prepare for a potential last-ditch buzzer-beater at the quarter's end. In which case, HOLY SHIT. That's your play? No attempt to deceive the defense beyond "Donte Greene acts like he's going to walk away from the basket, then turns back toward the basket because, duh, he's the only one who can score with 0.4 seconds left on account of 0.4 seconds allowing only for tips." The Knicks didn't even have to guess which player Jimmer would lob the ball to, unless Chuck Hayes can secretly fly. (I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not counting on it.) This was easily the least creative 0.4-second inbounds play that I have ever seen, and I have watched the Kings since I was a young lad. I have seen more creative 0.4-second inbounds plays called in donkey basketball leagues, which isn't to imply that donkey basketball coaches aren't incredibly creative, but that there simply aren't many lob plays in the donkey basketball playbook, that's all.
But, you know what? For the most part in the third quarter, the Westphal offense did as it claimed it would do on the box. Most of the shots came on cuts, passes out of penetration and in the general area of the rim. Evans consistently pushed the ball. Donte Greene consistently cut through the lane. There were some bad plays -- Salmons and Jimmer each took a head-shaking three, and Greene made two bad decisions, and Evans needs to use his brakes a little in transition, and Thornton was largely invisible when he didn't have the ball in his hands -- but overall, I see what the team is trying to do. Westphal is trying to relieve the pressure on Evans and Fredette by spreading the shot creation responsibilities among everyone (except Hayes, who almost never has the ball in his hands, which is strange given what Petrie and Westphal said about Hayes' offensive value back when they signed him).
The Kings ended up scoring 23 points in 23 possessions in the third, which is not good but is not the end of the world. Sacramento won the quarter 23-22, but they needed to win it by a lot more to get back into the game. Things devolved in the fourth, and enough of the deep bench got into the game so as to not allow us to take much from the pain.
I am deeply concerned with Evans and Cousins quotes ... but I'm not sure the overall worry is completely justified right now. Nothing is black and white. The team's offense struggles more than it needs to because, yes, Tyreke Evans is not John Stockton. He's far more likely to make a brilliant layup or defensive stop than pass. The team's offense struggles more than it needs to because, yes, DeMarcus Cousins mimics Chris Webber in his prime without being that skilled. DMC makes some gorgeous passes but also some bad shots, bad passes and bad decisions to drive. The team's offense struggles because Marcus Thornton has little interest in cutting off of the ball, because Donte Greene can be reckless, because Jimmer Fredette is inexperienced and a bit of a gunner, because Jason Thompson plays faster in his brain than in his body, because Travis Outlaw's shot looks broken right now, because J.J. Hickson continues to rely on his athletic makeup than a set of regularly applicable basketball skills. And yes: the offense struggles because the coach is not setting an example that every possession matters.
I understand if you think Westphal needs to go. I understand if you think Evans needs to be replaced at point guard (whether by trade, demotion or lineup shift). I understand if you are pessimistic. Westphal deserves criticism -- his point guard is lost after four games. Evans deserves criticism -- he's not leading this team to success on the court, when he is clearly its best player. I understand if you think Geoff Petrie needs to be replaced. And maybe one or two of those things will happen. Maybe Westphal will throw Evans under the bus to save himself; he's done it before, with Kevin Martin. Maybe Evans is beginning to throw Westphal under the bus as an excuse for himself. (Maybe there's no maybe about it; those quotes aren't terribly fuzzy.) Maybe Petrie will unload Westphal to preserve his own aura of untouchability, to insinuate that his roster decisions have been great, but that the coach isn't putting it all together.
Or maybe, just maybe ... maybe the losses and disappointment will fade as the Kings have some success and figure each other out. Maybe Westphal will be emboldened to help his team figure out the offense he has installed and, in the process, save his job. Maybe Evans will hear the complaints and make it a point to pass the ball on every play. Maybe Thornton will watch tape, realize he's become a statue and start moving. Maybe Salmons will have an epiphany and stop taking contested three-pointers. Maybe the we're-all-in-this-together spirit will develop on the road, and the politics of my-shot-now-you're-shot-now-my-shot ball will disappear. Maybe I'm being hopelessly optimistic, and maybe this is the first stop on the team's short journey to the bottom of the Valley of Hell. Or maybe time can save the Kings.