Keith Smart has gotten a lot of flak early this season, much of it deserved. But his edit to the Kings' starting lineup has paid dividends.
Before last Sunday's loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Keith Smart changed up his starting lineup. A suspension to DeMarcus Cousins and a personal issue for Isaiah Thomas forced some unplanned changes prior to that game, but Smart made a bold stroke in replacing James Johnson with John Salmons at starting small forward and Thomas with Aaron Brooks at point guard. This also forced Tyreke Evans into more of a playmaker role since Brooks is a scorer and shooter, and not much of a set-up man.
It's worked. The Kings are 2-2 with this starting lineup, and that five-man unit has been Sacramento's best by no small margin. The unit -- Salmons, Brooks, Evans, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins -- is +31 in 68 minutes, per NBA.com. The next best five-man unit -- Salmons, Brooks, Travis Outlaw, Jimmer Fredette and Chuck Hayes (?!) -- is +10 in six minutes. Clearly, the new starting five is working better than anything else Smart has tossed out there.
Salmons would appear to deserve a good portion of credit. He leads the team in plus-minus at +50 in 192 minutes. So in Salmons' 192 minutes, the Kings have outscored opponents by 50 points. In the 442 minutes in which Salmons has been on the bench, the Kings have been outscored by 113 points. Only one other player, Brooks, is in positive territory (+5). But before we get too carried away, note that Salmons had one of the worst aggregate plus-minus figures last season (-209 in 1,250 minutes).
Salmons is featured in each of the top four player duos by plus-minus, which much of that obviously stemming from the new starting lineup's strong work. Part of it could be that Brooks and Salmons are both shooting well: the point guard is hitting 43 percent of his three-pointers, and Salmons is at 39 percent. That helps create space for DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, who has been excellent over the last three games. While Thomas was shooting well as a starter, Johnson was certainly not. Perhaps adding that one extra outside threat and giving Evans the ball more often is the root of the resurgence.
Whatever the case, it's worth noting that the change has worked so far. We'll see if it carries over on the road next week.