For a team that is supposed to have so much young talent, it just seems like the talent never equals the wins. For a team that was supposed to contend for a playoff spot, or at least show some major improvement, 2011-2012 was another season of little growth and a team basically going nowhere. So what went wrong? Why does a team that on any given night that can beat the Houstons, Phoenixs, Utahs of the world, with an arguably more talented roster, fall so far behind those "average" teams in the win column?
My friend asked me, "I saw you beat the Lakers twice, OKC on national TV, and you have Cousins, Evans, Thornton and that star rookie, how in the world did you finish 5th worst?" My best answer is this, I believe this team has been plagued by lack of leadership, players not knowing or accepting their roles, no commitment to defense both individually and as a whole, and generally selfish play.
LACK OF LEADERSHIP
This comes all the way back to Paul Westphal and frankly back to the broke Maloofs not willing to spend any money. Not willing to replace a GM who has lost his grasp on the NBA and his team, and allowing Westphal to linger and poison this franchise for parts of 3 seasons. With Westphal gone, I don't need to harp on that too much, but his impact lingers. Coach Smart has done a solid job trying to bring a positive attitude and accountability to this young roster, but the bar is set sooo low, that some of Smart's bonehead rotations and minute distribution is simply accepted because at least he isn't feuding with his players and trying to force our franchise big man out of town. After our coaching staff, there has been an enormous void in leadership from a player on the court or a "leader" on the team in general. Evans has not been that player, its not his personality and with his diminished role, it wont be him. Cousins is not that player yet, his play might demand respect, but he still has immaturity issues and isn't vocal with his teammates demanding accountability. Some hoped Chuck Hayes would be that guy, next. Thornton is a scorer, but not a vocal team guy, and needs to show he wants to play on both ends of the court. So I would argue the best candidate on this roster to take that role is Isaiah Thomas. Strange a 2nd round rookie is the closest thing to a vocal leader this team has, but thats the case. It would be impossible for Thomas to completely take that role this year as a rookie, who only started half the season, but hopefully IT can demand accountability for players to play to their roles and commit to defense moving forward. IT plays hard, people like him and respect him, he's vocal and he plays the PG, lets hope that equals our team leader.
This is common among teams near the bottom of the NBA. If we aren't gonna win, I want to get my numbers. No more obvious does this show up in a team ranked 32nd, dead last, in Assist Ratio. And remember this is in a season where numbers are compared to the Bobcats, the worst team in NBA history. The assist rate has a lot to do with players simply not making shots (the Kings finished 31st in 3%), and goes back to bad shooters refusing to play to a role and jacking up shots as soon as they get a chance. (coming up in players accepting roles). JJ Hickson was probably the clearest example of a player thinking selfish on a bad team... this Kings team. JJ shot a horrific 37% for a big man, but Brickson only thought about himself and jacked up something as soon as he touched the ball. A remarkable 173 FGA in only 644 minutes, throwing up a brick almost every 3 minutes, all this with 22 assists all year, playing terrible defense and asking to be traded. Thanks Geoff, that one goes down in the history books, especially when we break down the SFs and no Omri in the next section.
PLAYERS REFUSING TO ACCEPT ROLES
To see where the Kings lose games, we can look no further than the SF position and players not accepting their role as a "role" player. When you enter the game you can do what it takes to help your team win games, or you can think that this is my time to jack up a shot, in this case a 3. The entire reason I started this article was that my eyes told me that Donte Greene seemed to jack a 3 or two every time he entered the game and I felt like he never made them, and guess what... I was right. And this turned out to be true for the entire SF position for the Kings, if you thought the SF position was bad and want to leave it at that, then please stop reading now, it was AWFUL.
The Kings finished 31st in 3%, IT, Jimmer, MT were decent, but the rest, specifically the SF position were AWFUL. There were 13 players in the NBA that shot 99+ 3's and were 29.5% and under, 13, and 4 play SF for the Kings. Read that again, there are 13 players total, 9 in the rest of the NBA and 4 on the Kings (all SFs) that shot 29.5% with 99+ plus attempts. John Salmons at the 29.5 mark, at least he made an adjustment when they weren't going down, he slowed to a 3PA per 11.2 minutes. Francisco Garcia shot 29.0%, but didn't get the memo, and jacked up at an amazing 3 every 6.1 minutes on the court (keep in mind this a bottom 13 3pt shooter in the game putting them up at an amazing rate, probably the highest of any of the bottom 13). Why Garcia was on the court at all, who knows? This brings us to Donte and Tyreke, leaders of the just keep shooting 3s even if they never go in club. Donte finished 3rd to last at 24.8%, jacking one up ever 7.4 minutes on the court, (Toney Douglas 2nd at 23.1%) and Tyreke was by far dead last at 20.2%. Some of this goes back to coaching and leadership, why on a team going nowhere did Garcia, Salmons, Outlaw (26.7%, didnt get enough minutes to qualify), and Greene get a chance to play and why didnt the coaches or leaders tell them to simply STOP SHOOTING! You cant entirely blame a guy like Garcia or Greene for taking a 3 if they are put on the court and left open, but I can blame them for taking so many when they arent going down and I can blame the coaches for not playing our youth, Jimmer, Honeycutt, T Will, and Whiteside instead of constantly running out a retread Cisco, Donte, Fish, and Outlaw. Why didn't these players say to themselves, or a coach tell them, or leader tell them, "You are not shooting 3's well, stop taking them, focus on D, and help your team". This is players not understanding or willing to accept a role and help the team, this is losing basketball.
By comparison, here is what role player wings do on successful teams. I grabbed the first 3 that came to my mind, and checked them. Sepelosha on OKC shoots 29% from the 3 over the last 2 years, at the high end for our SFs, He shoots 1 ever 18.3 minutes, he differs to the better scorers and plays defense. I know, I know we don't have Durant and Westbrook, but we have our better scorers in IT, MT, Cousins, Evans, even Thompson and Jimmer. Matt Barnes with the F******s shoots 32 percent over the last 2 years, better than all our SFs, and yet he shot one ever 10.4 minutes, he differs to the devil and their other scorers. Remember our guys are Garcia (6.1), Outlaw (8.3) and Greene (7.4). Last example is Ronnie Brewer with Chicago, hes an awful 3 pt wing shooter at 25 percent, right in line with our guys, but he buys in and doesn't shoot 3s, he plays defense and takes one every 35 minutes on the floor.
This brings us to team and individual defense, what many view as the Kings biggest problem. The numbers are pretty simple, 32nd in defensive FG percentage, that's dead last, with the worst team in NBA history in the league. The other damning defensive stat is the Kings giving up 100+ points 35 times, that's 31st in the NBA, only ahead of... you guessed it, Charlotte. So those are team defensive stats, but where do the individuals fit in? I would have to say, for the team defense to be that bad, no matter what our eyes or stats tell us, there can not be a single King that even plays average defense, at least consistently. Cousins draws charges, but he is a bad interior defender. Thornton, Jimmer, and JT are very poor defenders. Some people will probably defend them, but 32nd is 32nd, dead last for a reason. Tyreke, Salmons and Thomas show flashes, but aren't good or consistent enough to make an impact. Chuck Hayes was supposed to make an impact as a stud individual post defender, that did not happen. Chuck was overweight, injured, and ineffective. Any positives because of the Chuck wagon's toughness and post defense were more than negated by his lack of height and athleticism that often killed us on the defensive glass, to be blunt, he just simply cant rebound with 7 footers who can jump over him. I thought Whiteside and Honeycutt showed flashes on D, but for some reason they were not given many minutes and that's on Keith Smart, with a team long out of the race, Smart would not let the kids play. So what can we do? What do we need on defense? The team is screaming for somebody who can protect the rim, Anthony Davis, Whiteside, Dalembert, Josh Smith, Gasol, anybody, I think it has to start there and then everybody else, including the coaches have to buy in.
So why doesn't the talent match the wins, those are the 4 primary reasons. I know people will point to youth, but at some point we have to see some wins. And the majority of the players to blame aren't that young, Garcia, Hayes, Hickson, Greene, and Outlaw. Make Oko the GM.