One of the fears in the back of my mind once Ron Artest left Sacramento was that against Houston -- a team the Kings have competed with over the last 2-3 years, even in the lean times -- Kevin Martin would get locked up by Ron. I thought of Brandon Roy, quick and crafty and largely unable to get anything against Artest. It seemed like Martin might get the same treatment.
Artest didn't check Martin on any one play last night. A relief, right? Well, Artest did an insane job on John Salmons, tiring him out on one end and forcing him to take jumpers or run into Yao Ming on the other. Everyone has talked about Ron's limitations as a man defender on the perimeter for a few years. We forget that at his defensive peak in Indiana he had Jermaine O'Neal, a great post defender in his prime, as a backstop. In Sacramento, he had ... Brad Miller, not exactly a dominant paint enforcer. Ron's smart. If he can't get a steal or stop an aggressor outright, he'll funnel. That's what happened to Salmons the entire first half, and it showed in the box score.
The more confusing struggle was the lack of Martin's FGAs early in the game. For the first three possessions, Martin didn't touch the ball. Then he drew a foul, but didn't touch the ball again for a while. Part of that's on him -- make cuts, call for it, find a way to get free ... especially with Rafer Alston checking you. Part of that's on Beno Udrih and Brad Miller -- find your best player. And part of it's on Reggie Theus, who needs to have a plan to get his offense going early.
Martin turned it around and ended up with a productive game. Udrih's shot didn't fall and his defense on Aaron Brooks was atrocious, but he lead the offense and the break fairly well for the most part. The bench mob was fesity but sloppy, Miller made smart decisions but couldn't shoot, and Mikki Moore's flawless offense was muted by his continued inability to seal the defensive glass. Overall, I found the defense to be somewhat encouraging -- the guys were talking, and Yao met resistance on almost every possession.
But I fear this game is a fair microcosm of the season to come. When you're running with so much youth, so many players in new situations -- Martin as #1 weapon, Salmons as starter, Udrih as full-time starter -- you're going to have repeated struggles. Hopefully once the regular season begins we'll get enough spare electricity -- a Martin explosion, some primacy from Mikki, a little Shock and Hawes -- to keep the lights on.
And yes, Donté Greene's rooster expression is a great start.