I wrote yesterday that changes need to be made with regards to the Kings starting lineup. Tonight's game was a perfect example of just why those changes need to be made.
Tonight's game was lost in the first and third quarters, with the current starting lineup of Thomas-Evans-Johnson-Thompson-Cousins. That lineup came out stagnant on both offense and defense and allowed the Hawks to get out to big leads that Sacramento simply could not climb out of. The offensive spacing of the Kings opening lineup is absolutely atrocious, and it's because of the personnel. Normally, a pass to a wide open wingman in the corner is a good shot. Not so when your options in those corners are Tyreke Evans or James Johnson. To be fair to Evans, he actually did hit his jumpers tonight, but Johnson was another story. Johnson, who wore prescription goggles for the first time, shot just 1 for 7 from the field in 17 minutes. His defensive contributions hardly make up for how terrible he is offensively, and it is hurting the Kings. If the Kings make lineup changes (and it looks like they will judging by Keith Smart's post-game press conference) removing Johnson from the starting lineup and adding another shooter needs to be a priority.
Keith Smart also needs to be a lot more consistent and tight with his rotations. Sacramento is not a deep team. There is absolutely no reason we should be seeing 11 men on the court each night unless there are players that only come in for certain situations. Too often, the Kings have either all starters or all bench players on the court. Not enough time is seen with a mixture.
Sacramento's bench saved this game from being uglier than it already was. Aaron Brooks was absolutely fantastic in spurring the Kings comeback in the second quarter, particularly from range. Marcus Thornton recovered from a shooting slump to score 17 points on 7-13 from the field. John Salmons had 9 points on 6 shots and chipped in 4 assists and 2 steals.
Brooks' and Thornton's hot play in the second was why we only saw 7 minutes of Jimmer Fredette tonight. However there was another player that saw just 7 minutes of action that probably should have played more and that's Chuck Hayes. In the second half especially, Al Horford began to kill the Kings down low and absolutely abuse rookie Thomas Robinson, who picked up 4 fouls in just 16 minutes. Hayes should have been in to stop that.
Defensively, the team was a mess no matter who was playing. Atlanta shot 55.3% from the floor and 53.3% from three. The Hawks also got to the line 27 times compared to just 14 for the Kings. I got to catch a little bit of the Hawks television feed, and they mentioned a rather incredible statistic; So far throughout the season, Kings opponents have made more free throws than the Kings have attempted. That's kind of incredible.
Speaking of defense, I've been a bit disappointed with Isaiah Thomas' defense so far this year. Last year he (rightfully) earned a reputation as a tough and pesky defender, but so far this year we've seen several instances where he's just gotten absolutely lit up. Brandon Knight for example. Tonight it was Jeff Teague, who really helped get Atlanta going early. Teague finished with 15 points in just 19 minutes on 7-10 from the field. I know Isaiah can play better defense than he has been, and I think he knows it too. The whole team is at fault for inconsistency with defensive effort though. The promising flashes from the first four games of the year have all but disappeared as the focus has seemingly returned on making the offense better. This shouldn't be an either/or proposition, and the Kings won't become good until they consistently execute on both ends.
The Kings lineup changes also need to happen to help open up the paint for DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins came back from suspension and played passionately, but just 4-15 from the field is not going to cut it for a guard let alone a big man. One thing I really liked seeing though was his passing. Those 7 assists were all earned and showed off a facet of DeMarcus' game that has been severely under-utilized the past couple of years. If there was one thing the Kings did do well tonight, it was pass, and the season-high 25 assists reflect that. That's one good thing the Kings can take from this game.
Fortunately, it sounds like changes are coming and that the Players know they need to play better. After the game, Chuck Hayes and Francisco Garcia called a players-only meeting. Keith Smart also said post-game that lineup changes are coming. James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom got some great quotes from the team post-game. Be sure to check Cowbell Kingdom's recap or peruse James' Twitter feed for those.
The Kings picked a very bad time of the year to falter like this. They've lost some very winnable games so far, and being forced to make changes this early does not bode well, especially when the next two games are against very good opponents in the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. Things might get worse before they get better.
- If I was running the Kings, I'd be handing out fines post-game for each complaint to a referee. Bad call or good call, complaining can only make the situation worse.
- Jason Thompson had a very quiet 19 and 10. Almost all of those points came at the basket.
- Kings were outrebounded once again, a recurring theme so far this year. Aside from Cousins, there aren't many plus rebounders on this team.
- Kyle Korver is one of the smoothest shooters in NBA history. I was having Peja flashbacks when he shot the ball.
- Boos from the crowd at the end of the game. I don't condone booing for my own team but with everything going on with the franchise currently, this is not surprising.
- Nostradumbasses of the Night were section214, wallywagon11, elfboy_, and Dub_TC. I'm surprised so many of you didn't choose two pointer as the type of shot for the final points just going on probability (says the guy who also didn't choose two pointer)