Zach Lowe of Grantland recently sat down with Kings head coach Keith Smart for a one on one interview. It's an excellent interview and I highly suggest reading the whole thing before delving into this post. Lowe is an excellent NBA writer, and asks some really insightful questions. And Smart's articulate enough to respond to the questions with thoughtful, well-reasoned answers. But if you dig a little deeper, questions remain.
On why Smart has been playing DeMarcus from the high post:
It gives him a better angle to see the floor, and he shoots the ball well. He can drive the basketball from there. It also opens up the ability to pass the ball. From that area, you have a better angle of the floor to make passes to certain players. And when in doubt, you still have that opportunity to run a pick-and-roll on the side. It's just moving him around instead of just trying to keep him in the low box. Because I don't think he's a real low-box player yet.
Really coach? Because DeMarcus' shot chart says differently. Lowe goes on to call out that DeMarcus shoots terribly from long range (because Lowe is very good at what he does), to which Smart responds:
I get a chance to do things in practice, so I know what he can do and what he can't do. I just think sometimes when you run a play for the low box for him, he has trouble there.
Again, really coach? Because in the deep post is the only spot on the floor where Cousins' shooting percentages are anywhere near respectable for a big man.
Throughout the interview Smart talks about how they want to develop Cousins' post game, but that he's not ready yet. And while Chuck Hayes is a fine post defender and I'm sure Cousins can learn some things by facing him in practice, it really doesn't address the thing Smart says Cousins needs to learn:
There are flashes there because of his size, but when you play against equal size, your post-up game may be negated if you're not a developed player yet.
Well, there's nobody on the roster who can truly match Cousins in terms of size. Jason Thompson is probably the closest, but Smart has a splendid opportunity 82 nights each season to let Cousins gain experience battling players of the same size.
Smart's critique is certainly not without merit. We all know that Cousins' big games generally aren't coming when the other team has size and skill down low. But I fail to see how Cousins' post game is being developed if you aren't giving him opportunities to work on his weaknesses.
Later in the interview Lowe asked Smart about Cousins in the pick-and-roll. That when this little nugget popped up:
One big thing that has happened is that John Salmons has been probably our best pick-and-roll passer because of his size.
For ****'s sake, Smart. No. John Salmons is not your best pick and roll passer. There's a little thing called Synergy Sports. Chris Paul has heard of it. Why haven't you? Per Synergy Sports, Isaiah Thomas has been the pick and roll ball handler on 177 plays this season, resulting in 0.8 points per possession, which ranks him 59th in the NBA. Salmons, has been the pick and roll ball handler for 69 plays this season, resulting in 0.64 points per possession, ranking 119th in the NBA.
HOW DOES KEITH SMART STILL NOT REALIZE THAT ISAIAH THOMAS IS GOOD IN THE PICK AND ROLL?
Sorry, got a little out of control there.
One final answer I took issue with, regarding why the Kings rank last in defensive points per possession:
Smart: You can shave away three putbacks a game. Shave away two or three turnovers a game that lead to a transition basket, and you've taken 12 points off the board — and you haven't changed one coverage, or one changed rotation. Those putbacks — we don't have a shot-blocker, or even a multiple-effort player, so once the guy gets a rebound, he goes right back up. We really need that multiple-effort player in the paint. But shave away just four or six points …
Lowe: And you’re average instead of bad. That’s how the NBA works — tiny little things over a hundred possessions add up, right?
Smart: Just gotta shave those points away …
That sounds really intelligent. It makes sense. Just a few points here and there. So my follow up is why the hell aren't the Kings doing that? Or better yet, if you understand that nuance and the importance of those little things, why haven't the Kings overtaken a single NBA team in terms of defensive points per possession?
Oh, and that second effort guy you're saying you don't have? Please glance down the bench. I'd like to introduce you to Thomas Robinson. He's that guy you've been playing for less than 17 minutes per game the past month. The guy the team spent the 5th overall pick on. The guy who makes his living on hustle and second-effort plays. The guy who is putting up 11.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per 36 minutes over the past 20 games, per NBA.com/stats.
It's safe to say I'm not a huge fan of Coach Smart these days. But overall it's an excellent interview. And Smart does give some very interesting answers to some of the questions. I certainly didn't cover the entire interview, so I encourage everyone to give it a read.