Discouragement doesn't come in the form of Ws and Ls in the exhibition season. To be honest, I didn't pay attention to the score in the second half. It's hard sometimes, but it wasn't for this game. With the units both Reggie Theus and Mike Dunleavy presented in the final three quarters, victory or defeat became irrelevant.
This isn't to say the play or the plays became irrelevant. We learned, for instance, that Donté Greene can really cough up the ball repeatedly if he isn't focused. (Greene had two awful turnovers in the same of a minute of game time -- a blatant travel and a step out of bounds on a swing pass.) We also know from past experience that turnovers are one facet of youth play which typically corrects itself as experience is gained. Greene wasn't flying solo over Mistakeland, of course: Spencer Hawes had a whopping six TOVs in 28 minutes, Shelden Williams had three in 19 minutes, and Bobby Brown tallied four in 24 minutes.
We saw some great feist from Hawes under the rim. Williams wasn't an indomitable force this time around, but Hawes filled the job. He had three blocks, none of which were cheap. His offense continues to commence on the perimeter (he drained a littany of long jumpers), but he has shown an affinity for paint defense I'd been worried did not exist.
But all we can take away from these moments featuring the kids, one simple truth remains obvious: this team will only be as good as Beno Udrih, Brad Miller and Kevin Martin make it.
Udrih continued a strong preseason with 12 points on 8 FGAs and 5 assists. He has shown a willingness at this early stage to attempt Theus' desired pace, to push the ball ahead ... even if it means relinquishing control of the offense. One of the attributes I neglected to appreciate during Mike Bibby's reign had been his ability to let others run the offense. That's important if you aren't a Steve Nash or Chris Paul. When you're a shooting point guard (as are Bibby and Udrih), you can be taken out of the game with good defense. That's a harder task against playmakers like Nash and Paul -- to stop a slasher, you must commit more bodies; if the slasher is a tremendous passer, you'll see Peja threes and Amare dunks all night long. To stop a shooter, you get in his face and stay there. You open yourself to the dribble-drive, but the shooter doesn't really want to dribble-drive (see: Bibby, 2005-06 forward) ... he wants to shoot.
If this shooting point guard maintains complete control over the offense, and a defender takes him out of the game ... what does that do to the rest of the offense? It's murder. But this preseason and late last season, Udrih has shown the ability to defer from the top of an offensive set. Once the ball crosses midcourt, Udrih will often dribble at Martin and go elsewhere (the corner, the weak side). This is a principle of the Triangle, of course: your wing (Kobe, Jordan) runs the show. To be frank, Sacramento is a much better team when Martin has the ball in his hands. As such, Udrih's agreeable stance here is a boon to the offense. And of course this isn't to say Udrih doesn't often run the offense himself -- he does, to good effect. He ran a bloody gorgeous give-and-go with (ahem) Kenny Thomas, and drove to the rim a few more times. (He even finished with his right hand once. I saw it. It happened.)
Udrih's one piece. But Miller's even more important. When he's on, this can be one of the better offenses in the league. Really, Miller's excellent play most of last season is wildly underreported as a key to the surprise Kings showing. He didn't completely regain his touch of old -- his turnover rate was as bad as ever, and his shooting efficiency wasn't as high as it had been during his peak -- but basically being gifted an above-average center helped the offense an extraordinary amount. Miller's chemistry with Martin is well-documented on these pages, but he also makes the game easier for Udrih and whichever power foward and small forward are also on the floor. What Nash is to the Suns, Miller is to the Kings. Miller allows everyone to flourish.
Of course, Amare would be an All-Star with any point guard. And Kevin Martin would dominate no matter his running mate (lest we forget the short-lived Orien Greene era). For roughly 34 months now, I have bleated on and on about how marvelous the offensive weaponry of Kevin Martin has become. It always improves. It always impresses more and more as each game goes by. The kid is astounding ... he is very nearly unguardable. Theus seems to get it all of a sudden; if not, Miller and Udrih do. Martin ended up with 16 shooting possessions in 22 minutes, not to mention four assists and three turnovers ... he controlled the ball a ton, and seemed to have a permanent invitation to create. I like that. I know you like that. I think we can all assume Kevin likes that. If Theus, Udrih and Miller like it -- and you'd have to guess they do, based on the game last night -- we're in for 82 treats. I don't mean to reach for meaning here (you know I don't), but the fact that Martin controlled the entire offense -- and that it crumbled without him -- tells us all we need to know about the '08-09 Kings. Martin needs help to win games: he needs Udrih to fill that role of secondary playmaker and shooter, he needs Miller to distribute and relieve pressure, he needs John Salmons and Francisco Garcia to help him out on defense, he needs a power forward to get rebounds and look upcourt. But all of that will be for naught without this type of freedom and production from Martin.
While I'm on board with the youth movement, all geared up to watch Hawes and Jason Thompson and Brown and Greene ... I really can't wait to see what kind of damage Udrih, Miller and Martin can do. I predict a lot of bad nights for teams visiting ARCO Arena.