30Q asks the important questions about the Kings all through September.
Last year, Kings fans got a tiny taste of giantball -- when Brad Miller, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson all player together -- but more often a dose of smallball, with Andres Nocioni, Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene getting some minutes at power forward.
According to 82games.com, Garcia received 7% of the team's allotted power forward minutes. Nocioni took 8% of them and Greene took 4%. That equivocates to smallball happening roughly 20% of the time last season. (By contrast, Thompson played 4% of the team's minutes at small forward ... and that was the only alignment for giantball.)
So that's smallball 20% of the time, giantball 4% of the time, and something like normal basketball alignment 76% of the time. Is that what will happen this season, or will smallball take greater precedence?
The key, I think, is how Paul Westphal uses Andres Nocioni, and how long Nocioni remains in Sacramento. Nocioni is a proper tweener, even though he's short for the PF spot. He's burly, and he bangs, and those traits seem to be the most important in terms of playing small. When you play small, you necessarily give up post presence, which generally translates to conceding the rim area. It doesn't have to be like that (see Shawn Marion's heyday) but it tends to be the case.
Nocioni, again, is burly, and while he's not as good a rebounder as your typical power forward, he can get the job done. That he stretches the floor is key -- there's no use playing a small forward at the four if he isn't dangerous from outside. The real benefit of playing small is adding speed or range. Nocioni has range covered, whereas other small forwards may not.
Defense is obviously a concern -- Nocioni got burned at the power forward position last season, both in Sacramento and Chicago. The Kings aren't likely to be good defensively regardless, but it's something that'd need to be watched.
The interesting twist to Sacramento's smallball possibilities, of course, is in Greene's development. Donte packed on some muscle over the summer, lifting frequently at the behest of the franchise. He did look much stronger on the court in Las Vegas; he rebounded extremely well for a small forward, and what would be considered average-to-good for a power forward. At some point, actually, Greene could bypass the smallball talk and just become a power forward, though the team currently has a lot more potential power forwards than small forwards.
Omri Casspi is another candidate; it remains to be seen how he'll fit in the rotation period, let alone in moving up a weight class. The team hopes to mold him into a point-forward, likely more easily done as a small forward where many of the typical big man duties can be avoided. If Casspi becomes a good rebounder, it will be on the offensive end, where his energy and athleticism can be more easily implemented.
There's another facet to smallball more concerning the center than the PF -- as in, if Thompson is your center and a true PF like Jon Brockman or Sean May lines up next to him, is this smallball? I would think not, as Thompson seems like an actual center to me. Opinions can differ on this, and Thompson certainly isn't a prototypical post player, but I think he qualifies as a center. Now, if the team lines up Nocioni next to Thompson, that's clearly smallball. But Thompson/May or Thompson/Brockman (or even Thompson/Kenny Thomas) would be considered normal fare anywhere else; the fact that the Kings have bestowed Thompson with the title of Power Forward of the Future has diverted attention from the fact Thompson might actually be a center.
With just one true center, and one power forward (Thompson) we'd consider an able center, there will no doubt be ample opportunity for smallball. But it remains to be seen -- and will affect the season very much, I think -- how heavily Westphal will feature it, and how well this roster can pull it off.