Last night was not a particularly beautiful game. There was sloppy play on both sides and the Kings got off to a rough start, falling behind to a much worse Orlando team early before storming back in the second quarter to hold onto the lead for good. Sacramento eventually pulled all the way away in the second half as Orlando's offense sputtered.
We could talk about how the Kings held Orlando to just 33.3% from the field (a season-best), how DeMarcus Cousins continues to dominate (24 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and a block) or even how rough a night Isaiah Thomas (9 points on 2-13 shooting) had, but I'm going to focus on Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams.
At the time the Kings acquired both those players, the consensus was that the Kings were buying low. In Williams' case, a former #2 pick hadn't been living up to expectations and for Rudy, his contract combined with his terrible shooting in Toronto made him seem irredeemable in the eyes of many. In his article on the trade, Grantland's Zach Lowe shared this on Gay: "I know GMs who say they wouldn't touch him now in free agency for the midlevel exception".
As Kings fans, all we could do was hope that these guys would turn out to be at least better than the players we sent out to get them: Luc Mbah a Moute, John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes. We had low expectations.
The narrative has now changed from one of hope to one of redemption. Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams have not yet been in Sacramento a full season, but they both are thriving in their new home. Gay, no longer forced to be the go-to man, has flipped the script upside down and become one of the most efficient players in the NBA. Williams meanwhile has embraced the freedom Michael Malone has given him.
Gay and Williams were both key contributors in last night's win. Gay notched his second double-double for Sacramento with 22 points (8-13 from the field) and 10 rebounds, but he also had 5 steals and a block. In the last couple games he's either turned his defense up a notch or is becoming more comfortable with the schemes, or maybe both. With his shooting performance last night, Gay is now shooting 51.4% from the field as a King, and 56.6% on two-pointers. The only Small Forwards shooting better are LeBron James and Chandler Parsons. Being able to play off of both Cousins and Isaiah Thomas has taken a lot of pressure off of Gay, whereas in Toronto he was handed the reins and was asked to do way too much.
Williams scored 14 points off the bench for the second game in a row and also grabbed 6 rebounds. One of the things that he's been allowed to do in Sacramento that he wasn't in Minnesota is to lead the breaks if he grabs the ball. He's got a good handle and he's quick to get up the floor as well. He's been getting most of his points by attacking the paint and drawing fouls, an efficient way of scoring and one suited to his strengths. Williams has become Sacramento's go-to bench scoring option the last few games, and that's something I've wanted to see since he went to the bench to make way for Rudy Gay in the starting lineup. Perhaps getting Marcus Thornton out of that unit is what allowed that.
Malone has also been using Gay and Williams in big lineups together. In both the Portland and Orlando games, Sacramento has run a lineup of Isaiah, Gay, Williams, Thompson, and Cousins for significant stretches. According to NBA.com's lineup data, that lineup has shot 59.1% over the last two games and has a +/- of 25.8 per 100 possessions. Obviously that's a small sample size, but it's a lineup that I expect we'll see more often as the season progresses.
Gay and Williams seem to be integral parts of this team going forward. As Kings fans, we've been waiting for years for our GM to turn nickels and dimes into quarters rather than the other way around and Pete D'Alessandro has found a way to do that with both of these last two trades. It's too early to say whether or not Gay and Williams are part of this team's long-term plans, but I think it's safe to say that so far, it's been mutually beneficial.
- Jason Thompson has been busting his ass lately, especially on the defensive end. He's also been way efficient as he's taken only shots the defense has given him.
- Cousins PER is now 27.3, 4th in the league. How is this guy not an All-Star again?
- If Jimmer Fredette keeps giving us solid minutes like this, we don't need a guy like Andre Miller, at least not this year. He's shown he can be more than competent running the team as a backup PG, and he's still able to look for his shot when necessary.
- Quincy Acy is a bundle of energy that I want to be on this team as a bench big for a long time. He's been an underrated part of the Rudy Gay trade.
- Ray McCallum got to play for a second and he made a nice stop-and-pop jumper at the elbow. That was fun to see. The Kings haven't really been in a lot of blowouts this year (either way) for him to get much of a chance to play.
- I just realized during this game that I should have been calling Marcus Thornton "the Bayou Bummer" all season long. I'm slipping.
- What is it with this rookie class of guards? None of them seem to be able to shoot. Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams and Nate Wolters are the only ones above 40%, and they're just barely.