One of my favorite people in the world, Howard Stern, starts his show with a ‘hey-o’, as a recurring homage to the late and great Johnny Carson, or is he alive and flipping pencils, never mind that’s David Letterman, whom I know is alive, just ask his female interns, and his sidekick Ed McMahon, whom I know is dead, as lifeless as Quincy Douby’s NBA career, and his DOA jumper, during his stint with the Good Guys.
The ‘hey-o’ serves as welcome, and as declaration of the fun, intrigue and unexpected twists and turns that lie ahead.
The Kings season starts in three days.
This single word conveys my overriding sentiment leading up to the opener against the Bulls on Halloween night.
Enough with the analyzing, forecasting, exalting, critiquing and three-in-a-row shellacking of the geriatric purple and gold, well, let’s have more of that, and let’s hoop for real.
Whoa, quit acting like Jason Thompson with under two minutes to play and a tie game. Don’t be shy, man. Get in on the action.
With ghouls and goblins awoken, with Fright Night Eve and inaugural tip-off near, there are still a few issues worthy of profound contemplation, or idle disregarding, as long as it kills about 72 hours of clock time, in addition to those previously exposed and dissected in my bone-chilling, blood-curdling two-part 2012-13 Kings season preview.
Don’t worry, children and living dead rebel rousers, this won’t be as scary as a Travis Outlaw catch and shoot. This is a PG-13 post, not a blood and guts gore fest. Travis Outlaw from the three point land may remind you of the boogeyman in a Freddy Krueger mask, and your worst nightmare in baggy shorts, but he won’t hurt you.
Only backboards need fear his wrath.
Now, onto more pleasant topics than a Travis Outlaw jumper, like hangnails, Libya, and....
<u>Reke n’ Roll</u>
I am somewhat skeptical that it can work. But I am willing to relax my stance and wait patiently for synergy to manifest. In order to do so, a change in expectations may be in order. By fans, and perhaps by the player himself.
Most likely, Tyreke Evans will never average more than 20 points a game for the rest of his career. But he can be a damn good basketball player, an integral component of a playoff qualifier, and have his best season ever, not as a smaller version of LeBron James, but as a better version of Andre Iguodola.
After a season in which Tyreke admitted to ‘not being in the best shape’, carrying about 10 pounds of chunk, he looks fantastic. His off-season was rigorous, dedicated, and, given his performance arc and contract status, mandatory. With superior length, strength and agility at SG, a spot conspicuously void of high volume scorers, Tyreke can be a consistent defensive instigator.
If disinterest intervenes, as it did last year, a superior scorer and hustler can take his place.
Its past due for Tyreke to make a winning impact without the need for a reliable jumper. Of course, he should take open shots and strive to hit a respectable percentage. But the effectiveness of his game should not be predicated on whether his long ball is money. Getting into the lane, defense and transition are his calling cards, not coming off screens.
(Including 3 pointers, Tyreke made career low 27% of his shots outside of 16 feet, or 79 makes out of 296 attempts. Two years ago, he made 31%, or 120 makes out of 380 tries. As rookie, he had a 29% accuracy rate, or 115 out of 391. He has shot 1067 shots 16 feet and out, converting 314 FGs, a feeble 29% success rate. An average shooter makes 36%. Isaiah Thomas made 38% as a rookie.)
Tyreke can shut down most shooting guards. From side angle, as opposed to top of the key versus PGs to whom he must grant one half to full step, he can more easily crowd into the key and passing lanes, along with James Johnson, to form a duo of persistent havoc creators. Relentless anticipation and calculated gambles is how to jump start their collective games and set a defensive tone. Its inconceivable that Reke will ever transform into Ray Allen. Its perfectly conceivable he can be one of the best defenders in the league.
The worst defensive team in basketball a year ago can form a formidable trio about the perimeter. Tyreke, Isaiah and James Johnson are highly capable in terms of keeping their man in front of them while also assisting teammates. Doing so will help to keep ‘bigs’ out of foul trouble, trigger turnovers, misses and an occasional shot clock violation.
104 PPG allowed is too many. It is enough to make a coach decide to replace his (proven) best scorer with his (possible) best defender.
I reluctantly approve, therefore, of Marcus Thornton as the first guard off the bench, provided the defense gained exceeds the shooting sacrificed, and although MT did everything required to earn and retain his starting status at the end of last season, and the unwarranted loss of his role carries with it the risk for animosity and team chemistry issues.
Regardless, a trio of Tyreke, IT and Johnson can help catapult the Kings from dead last to middle of the pack defensively. Along with the addition of a defensively inclined T-Rob, a slimmer and trimmer Hayes and DeMarcus, this team does not have to be the Point Fairies of the West.
Defense is not as sexy as a Jimmer ‘three’, a DeMarcus past Dwight for an and-one, or a Tyreke spin and finish in the lane. All it does, however, is win games.
The aforementioned players know this, of course. But can they execute? Will they be as dedicated in interviews and rah-rah huddles as in Game 3, 22, 47 and 53? On back-to-backs? In the 4th in 5 nights? Can they get stops when it counts? Will they care where they have been so careless before?
Talent counts, but so does attitude. It can start with Tyreke, as anchor, as catalyst, as patrolling bad-ass, with a starting SG job that awaits his indelible stamp of resistance.
<u>The Chuck Hayes Grace Period is Over</u>
The Harlem Globetrotters, they are not. The Washington Generals are more like it. Careless, gifting, bordering on comical.
It’s talcum powder with which to assuage sweaty palms, guys, not movie popcorn butter.
The Kings current crop of front line ‘bigs’ do not inspire memory of Vlade.
DeMarcus has been generous towards opposition, though the trend line is favorable. JT treats the basketball like a hot potato, with interior, one handed, bounce passes existing primarily in fantasy. T-Rob shows intelligence and promise, but has never read an NBA defense. Sumo Hayes seems to have lost the dime-dropping knack he once possessed.
It got so bad a while back, I attributed an entire post to DeMarcus and his indiscriminate ways!
An undeniable weakness of this team is its ability share the ball astutely along the front line. It may not be of primary importance in the grand scheme of a perennial lotto team (six years, second longest in NBA) looking to reverse course, but the Kings did have one of the worst assist rates in the NBA (26th out of 30 in total assists per game, and 29th out of 30 in assisted baskets), and our ‘bigs’ played role in this ineptitude.
Our team has not play well with others.
Sumo to the rescue?
Two years ago, Sumo was impressive as a high post play maker, among other attributes, with his former team. Geoff took note. He courted him successfully, outbidding the Wolves. The front office enthusiasm over his arrival was palpable. Sumo survived a heart scare during a routine physical, yet was subsequently presented as the glue that would make a difference. The starting PF position was bestowed without hesitation. Leadership, savvy, and lock down post defense was promised in a rotund package.
A shoulder injury derailed Sumo, along with apparent cravings for Häagen Dazs, in vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan and assorted flavors. The rest is a bloated, best-forgotten memory.
Hayes apparently took more comfort in pasta, drive-thrus, and frozen treats than exercise bikes, wading pools or vegetables during his immobility period. A nickname and negligible spot at the end of the rotation resulted.
Tsk, tsk, tubby.
(I don’t take satisfaction in calling out a player for professional negligence. But there is honor code breached when a person that gets paid a tremendous salary betrays that agreement by neglecting the instrument of his craft. For that reason, criticism is justified.)
Sumo received $22.4 million dollars over 4 years to play for the Kings.
So far, he has earned zero of those dollars.
Its time for the Kings to get a return on their investment.
Hayes has had a pretty good camp, with 4 PPG and 6 RPGs, more assists than TOs, showing an increased level of activity at a decreased size.
At best, he offers something the Kings sorely lack: a post defender with unmovable base, who doesn’t foul, with soft hands, who pushes premier centers and power forwards off the block, who can pass out of the high post, and who can carve out room in the paint to garner boards for himself or a teammate.
Hayes will not be a difference maker to lead the Kings to the playoffs. But he is better than the one-armed Michelin Man he embodied a year ago. His 2.7 assists against 1.2 TOs, his handling efficiency two years ago, is the type of front line passing discretion the Kings sorely lack.
He talks a good game, with a somewhat smug demeanor unbecoming of recent accomplishment. Its time for Sumo to speak with actions instead of words. Its time for him to shut up and produce. Only then, will his nickname be deserved no longer.
With minimal evidence, I think he can still play. If Geoff has any sense left, if his later days with the Rockets were not a mirage, he can be a second unit asset. If there is any pride, skill and mileage left in a 29 year old plodder, he can play a stabilizing role in a playoff surge.
Frozen treats include sherbet. Fast food includes Subway. Injuries heal. And (fat-free) cream rises.
Prove me right,
<u>The Only Line-Up That Makes Sense</u>
In the first 10 games of the season, some of the opposing power forwards and centers the Kings will match up against include:
Carlos Boozer (CHI)
Tyler Hansborough and David West (IND)
David Lee (GSW)
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR)
Al Horford (ATL)
There are some bangers and bruisers in this group, but the trend in the league, particularly at the ‘4’ spot, is towards agility, a face up game and ability to make plays out to 16 feet.
JT does not fit in this group. Yet, he projects as starter against superior opponents, at disadvantage in terms of skill, agility and finesse.
It could get ugly, guys.
A natural back-up center dedicated to off-season conditioning, Jason will at least be buoyed playing next to an emerging all-star, and within the context of an offense that features him as 4th or 5th option. His role within the offense is to use his size and athleticism to follow rebound, catch and dunk, catch and flip, and little else.
Not a bad way to earn $30 million.
Where JT must make his presence known is on the defensive glass, an alleged strength, where the Kings were lazy and lackadaisical (29th in the NBA in defensive rebound rate), despite having one of the best rebounders in the league.
If JT wants to keep his starting job for any length of time, as opposed to being temporary place holder for 10 to 15 games while T-Rob receives minimal, yet requisite, seasoning as back-up, it would behoove him to contribute to a Top 5 team defensive rebound rate, not a Bottom 5.
JT needs to carve out space, move his feet, play aggressively without fouling, and pick his spots offensively. If he can make his face-up jumper, its gravy on a turkey leg, but don’t tell Chuck.
This team needs to own the defensive glass, or at least rent it out under preferential terms, to help to improve upon league worst opponent PPG. The extent to which JT can provide some level of effectiveness as a glass cleaner will correlate with how long he can remain starter, with T-Rob chomping at the bit, with sights ambitiously set upon ROY award.
Hence, the only line-up that makes sense…
PF – Jason Thompson (First 10 Games Guaranteed Only)
C – DeMarcus Cousins (No explanation needed)
PG – Isaiah Thomas (No explanation needed)
SF – James Johnson (See Previous Preview Post)
SG – Marcus Thornton (See An Enigma Wrapped in Bulldozer, and Caveat Above)
Enjoy the Season,
P.S. 72 Hours and counting….