After a positive offseason and pre-season, a lot of momentum and hope has been lost after a bad 2-6 start. The team looks out of sorts and something needs to be done quickly before yet another season is lost.
The months of November and December are the most home friendly of the schedule for Sacramento before it turns extremely road heavy in January and February. The Kings need to take advantage of all this time at home to get into a rhythm and establish some momentum. Starting Friday against the Hawks, the Kings face 6 of their next 7 opponents at Sleep Train Arena, and they only have one multi-game road trip in December (a 4 gamer from Dec. 8th to 14th).
So what needs to be done?
For one, the defense, which was so good to start the year for the Kings, needs to get back on track. Sacramento has already slipped back to below average on defense, currently at 22nd in the NBA in Defensive Rating. Offensively, the team is starting to hit more of their shots, but the execution is still lacking. In Tuesday's game against Portland, both Jimmer Fredette and Chuck Hayes had 6 assists. Before that game, nobody on the Kings had more than 4 in a game.
The team has also been prone to slow starts and slow third quarters. Aside from his starting lineup, Smart doesn't really have a consistent rotation of players he likes to play together. That's why I propose the following:
- Start Chuck Hayes at Power Forward. Hayes has been much improved this season. He's a fantastic defender, good rebounder and good passer. He's also one of the few players on this team who will not look for his own shot first. Pairing Hayes with DeMarcus Cousins also comes with other benefits. Hayes can play the other team's main offensive threat more often, saving Cousins from picking up fouls. It also puts Jason Thompson on the bench, so that he can come in to be a low post threat for the Kings when Cousins is out.
- Remove James Johnson from the starting lineup and add more shooting to it. Currently, the starting lineup features exactly one good shooter: Isaiah Thomas. It's no surprise that Isaiah's assist rate is down so much when he can't pass to himself. The team also needs better spacing. One option is to bring back last year's three guard lineup with Thomas, Thornton and Evans. Another is to start Marcus Thornton over Tyreke Evans and have Evans be the sixth man. The team could also start John Salmons at SF like they originally planned to last year. Salmons lost his starting spot last year thanks to some atrocious shooting, but he has seemingly rediscovered his stroke. If he becomes more of a spot-up threat, he could be a good addition. Bringing Johnson off the bench worked successfully in preseason as well, as he was able to infuse a lot of energy along with Thomas Robinson.
- Promote Jimmer Fredette to backup Point Guard and make sure to pair him with another playmaker at all times. So far this season, he's looked much improved, particularly with his shot and playmaking. He's shooting 56.8% from the field, and he's also getting his teammates involved. His assist rate of 31.6% is by far the highest on the team and while it's not likely to remain that high, I'd much rather see him on the floor than Aaron Brooks. Brooks, for all his supposed strengths as a shooter, has hit just 32.1% of his shots and just 28% of his threes despite firing them at a prodigious rate. If there's one spot that Brooks has been good at, it's been defense, which is weird considering that's been the opposite case for most of his career. But Jimmer needs to be paired with someone else who can handle the ball, to take the pressure off of him when the defense begins to focus on him. Tyreke and Jimmer make the most sense as partners, which is why bringing Tyreke off the bench could offer more balance to both the starting lineup and bench rotation.