Last year Keith Smart took over a flailing Kings team early on in the season and didn't really get to change too much due to a lockout shortened season, little available practice time, and no time for anything drastic. The few tweaks he did make included moving Tyreke Evans off the ball and promoting Isaiah Thomas to starting point guard, utilizing him as a Pick and Roll creator.
This year, Smart finally is getting his chance to put his stamp on the team. He had a full offseason and preseason to prepare and arguably has more talent on this year's roster than last years. So why is it floundering so bad?
One sticking point with me in particular but also among many other fans has been the inconsistent rotations. Basketball-Reference recently began to track lineup data so I decided to take a look at which lineups the Kings used most often and just how different each lineup was.
Sacramento's Top 10 Most Played Lineups (Time played in parentheses):
- Thomas-Evans-Johnson-Thompson-Cousins* (100:01)
- Brooks-Thornton-Evans-Hayes-Cousins (26:09)
- Brooks-Thornton-Garcia-Robinson-Hayes (16:06)
- Fredette-Thornton-Salmons-Robinson-Thompson (14:13)
- Thomas-Thornton-Evans-Hayes-Thompson (13:53)
- Thomas-Thornton-Evans-Thompson-Cousins (13:31)
- Brooks-Evans-Salmons-Thompson-Cousins** (12:24)
- Thomas-Evans-Outlaw-Johnson-Thompson (12:15)
- Brooks-Thornton-Salmons-Thompson-Cousins (10:20)
- Brooks-Thornton-Outlaw-Robinson-Hayes (9:53)
* Old Starting Lineup
** New Starting Lineup
In terms of weird rotations, the data seems to back my initial observation up. Those lineups are all over the place. DeMarcus Cousins, considered our best player, appears in five of them. Tyreke Evans is in six. Marcus Thornton appears the most, in 7 lineups. There's also a lot of variation in the backcourt.
Last year's starting lineup of Thomas-Thornton-Evans-Thompson-Cousins is just 6th on that list with 13:31 played. That lineup was able to play at a very fast pace, but it also gave up a lot of points on the other end of the floor. I understand Smart's decision to go away from it this year.
Still, there needs to be consistency, and the composition of players on the court need to fit. Tyreke Evans should always be surrounded by shooters. The Point Guard rotation needs to be figured out. Yesterday against Brooklyn the 48 minutes of PG was split thus: 18 to Brooks, 10 to Fredette, 14 to Thomas, 6 to Evans. That's indicative of how the season has gone and I can't think of any other team that splits their Point Guard play up that much. Someone has to sit.
Small Forward remains troublesome as ever and that's not going to be fixed with the current personnel. John Salmons is a better fit than Johnson but that's not saying much. This is still a position that needs to be fixed by Geoff Petrie. Smart can't do much about it.
Smart also can't control how much his big men foul, which will throw off rotations. Cousins has actually done a decent job at managing his fouls in recent games, down to just 4.0 PFper36 on the season, but he's got a definite target on his back and hasn't proven he can reliably stay out of foul trouble yet.
As we can see from the discussion on this very website, nobody can agree on a definitive answer for the Kings rotations. Everyone has their own solutions. But I think these are all just symptoms of a greater problem, that being that this roster just doesn't mesh, and problems that should have been resolved years ago (the SF position) are still around. Things need to change, and that's on the Maloofs and Geoff Petrie.