This game was ... confusing. The Kings had their best statistical offensive performance this season, and yet I felt the offense was pretty bad (in terms of execution). The defense, which had been stellar the first three games, slipped back to terrible, almost allowing 50% shooting for the Pistons. The Kings had a near double digit lead for most of the half but watched it slip again and again. Somehow, the Kings managed to hold off yet another Piston's comeback and win this game, but still. Confusing.
Before we get into the nitty gritty on just what was so confusing, let's take a look at what DID work. The Kings were able to shoot the ball extremely well tonight thanks in part to a subpar defensive effort from the Pistons. Despite just 15 assists, Sacramento made 40 of its 82 shot attempts (48.8%) and made 7 of 16 three pointers (43.8%). They also turned the ball over just 13 times, compared to 17 for Detroit.
Rebounding was also good for the second straight game with the Kings outrebounding Detroit 42-33, and 14-10 on the offensive glass. DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Thomas Robinson combined for half of the Kings second chances and considering the slim margin of victory, every one of them was needed.
While the Kings defense was nowhere near where it had been the first four games, Sacramento still managed to do a good job of forcing turnovers. The Kings grabbed 8 steals, with Tyreke Evans (3) and DeMarcus Cousins (2) leading the way.
Sacramento's bench also came up big as every member of the Goon Squad contributed in a meaningful way. Rookie Thomas Robinson was an energetic beast in his 12 minutes, with 2 points, 7 boards, a steal and a block. He likely would have added more to his stat line were it not for a heat of the moment elbow to Jonas Jerebko's face which ended up getting him ejected from the game. He also had three turnovers, two of which were traveling violations from rushing his moves. Lots of rookie big men have trouble with traveling, but it's good for learning. DeMarcus Cousins was an especially big violator of the extra step in his first year but now rarely travels.
Chuck Hayes had a stat line that hardly reflected his effort on the floor. He was the only King not to score but he did grab 4 rebounds and dish an assist in 16 minutes. Hayes was also easily the best defender of Greg Monroe when he was on the floor. Speaking of Monroe, he had the quietest triple-double (21-12-11) I've ever seen. In terms of not noticing just how big of an impact he has, he's like the Kevin Martin of centers. You'll look up at the scoreboard and wonder "Whoa, when did he score 17 points?".
The bench guards saw a lot of time together and each took turns at bringing the scoring load. Jimmer Fredette had another nice shooting night, going 3-7 from the field with 2 assists and a steal. Jimmer looks loads more confident on the court now and I like seeing him be aggressive. Marcus Thornton had just 11 points on 5-12 shooting but hit a huge three in the final minutes to help keep the Pistons at bay. That's what he's there for. Aaron Brooks played 24 minutes off the bench and had 11 points and 4 assists.
Tyreke Evans started off slow but had a big third quarter to help the Kings keep the lead around double digits. Evans also dished out 3 assists and had another big rebounding night with 7 boards. Evans was also extremely active on defense with 3 steals and played a big part in keeping Kings-killer Rodney Stuckey down to just 5 points on 6 shots.
Jason Thompson had a good night efficiency wise, with 13 points on 5-6 shooting from the field. He also had an assist and block with some good help defense. If I would fault Thompson with anything tonight it would be just 4 rebounds. A final note on Thompson: He was 3-4 from the line, putting him at 11 of 12 for the season. He also shot extremely well from the line in preseason. After shooting 60% at the stripe the last two years, it's nice to see JT regain his stroke.
Now the not-so-fun part of the recap.
James Johnson has become my new Samuel Dalembert. Defensively, he's a big help, just with his size, length and natural talent. He stymies opponents and rebounds well for a wing. But offensively he's just a mess. He's a bit of a standout for the Kings in terms of making things more complicated than they need to be. A simple bounce pass instead turns into a no-look flip behind the head. Open jumpers are passed up for contested jumpers. He's just trying to do way too much on that end and he needs to just slow it down and pass the ball.
Speaking of passing the ball, that's another thing the Kings are not doing often enough and a big problem is how late they get into their offense. Throughout the game, but most prominently during the Piston's 4th quarter comeback attempt, the Kings were getting into their offense incredibly late. With 24 seconds to run the offense, Sacramento would start moving around under the 10 second mark. Fortunately the Piston's defense stunk and the Kings iso-players hit their shots enough that it didn't matter. But against a better team, this kind of offense will be negated very easily. It's hard to be efficient when opponents have a majority of the time on defense to rest since their marks aren't moving and the ball is staying in one spot.
As I've mentioned repeatedly over the last few days, the new offense has negated the role of a "traditional PG". The PG is simply another guy who can shoot the ball. Then there is the fact that the Point Guard rotation is all kinds of messed up right now. Isaiah Thomas, the starting Point Guard and easily the best facilitator on the team (based on last year) has barely seen any minutes in the 4th quarter the past few games. Instead, that time has gone to Aaron Brooks, and tonight to both Brooks and Fredette. Isaiah got looks in the final minute of the past two games, but I believe both games wouldn't have been as close as they got if he got longer looks. Even if the role of the PG in the offense isn't to be a facilitator anymore, there are still merits to playing Isaiah over both Brooks and Fredette late in games. Keep in mind that I'm not trying to knock either Brooks or Fredette, who both played well tonight.
For one, Isaiah is your starting PG, the guy you've publicly put trust in since last year. Isaiah helped lead one of the highest octane offenses last year and improved steadily as a decision maker as he got settled in. He's still probably the best decision maker on the team, even with his struggles early this season in the new offense.
Second, even if you have Brooks and Fredette in because you want shooters off the ball, Isaiah has been a better shooter than both of them, both last year and so far this year. Tonight was no different, as when Isaiah came out of the game in the 3rd quarter, he was the games leading scorer with 15 points on 6 of 9 from the field.
Third, Isaiah is also the strongest defender of the available guards, although for the sake of fairness, he did not do a good job on Brandon Knight tonight. But neither did anyone else as Knight went for 21 points on 10 shots. Still, I think it's been his defense that has seen him put in the game for the final couple of minutes of the previous game. What, we didn't need defense the 9 minutes before when the other team came back in?
In other Smart rotation weirdness, I really didn't like the extreme small ball the team played at times. Brooks, Jimmer and Thornton were on the floor at the same time for large stretches, and while they managed to score a bunch of points, they also gave up a bunch of points.
Simply put, Smart's rotation needs to be more consistent, especially with regards to the Point Guard spot. The Kings are 2-3 but they're just a few baskets away from being where the Pistons are at 0-5. Every minute on the court counts. It doesn't help if the team gets big leads if they just give them right back up. Smart has a habit of sticking with certain lineups too long, as the other team puts in fresh legs/better players in. Anyway, that's my rant for today. I'm not an NBA coach and in all probability never will be, but I find it hard to see a team be successful without a consistent rotation that the team can rely on.
The Kings will face a much tougher test on Friday when the San Antonio Spurs come into town. Tonight's offense and defense is not going to cut it against a team that skilled and talented. We'll need to see a return of the good defense of the first four games as well as a much smoother offense.
Let's end on a high note: Five games in, we have a better record than the Lakers. SUCK IT LA.
- Tyler Honeycutt, newly assigned to the Reno Bighorns effective Saturday, threw down a dunk-contest worthy dunk during warmups and made it look easy.
- Speaking of dunks, DMC's dunk on Maxiell probably would have ripped the rim off if the NBA didn't have the super-reinforced hoops.
- If you're wondering why I didn't expand on Thomas Robinson's elbow above it's because I didn't really see what happened. I was looking away from him and all of a sudden I saw Jerebko on the ground and the ref immediately signaling an ejection. After watching the replay, it was a good call by the refs, a bad overreaction by T-Rob to Jerebko's physicality, and he'll likely learn his lesson with a league suspension for a game or two.
- TarpGate didn't occur tonight as the team quickly rectified their haphazard fix-it rig by simply replacing the Thunder Valley sponsor boards with Wells Fargo boards.
- Brandon Knight kind of reminds me of Brandon Jennings in that he's super streaky and you absolutely don't want to be playing against him when he is on one of those streaks.
- Marcus Thornton simply does not give a damn about your comeback attempts.
- Shout-out to Will, aka StR user maloof-fool-am, who section214 and I met at In-N-Out before the game. Thanks for the kind words Will, hope you and your girlfriend enjoyed the game. Comment more!
- Things not heard during the game: "I wish Travis Outlaw was playing" "James Johnson should take more shots"
- On one Brooks, Thornton and Jimmer fast break, I jokingly yelled "Alley-oop to Jimmer!". I wasn't expecting Brooks to actually try to throw an alley-oop to Jimmer. The result was pretty much what you would expect.
- Nostradumbass of the Night: Wow was attendance worse than I or apparently almost all of you anticipated. The announced attendance for the night was an abysmal 10,185. Guess Pistons-Kings on a Wednesday night isn't a huge draw. Three winners tonight as brianspider, lilrecruit21, and kwlarson all scored 3 points. Congratulations guys.