As I did last year, I'm presenting 30 questions about the 2010-11 Kings season in advance of the start of the preseason schedule. Every weekday from now until October 1, a question about the team will be presented here. Usually, my opinion will accompany it. Of course, yours will as well. -- TZ
There are questions about the starting rotation all over the place. Tyreke Evans will start in the backcourt; that's a no-brainer, and a given. The likely frontcourt starters are Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert to begin preseason, though few would be surprised if Jason Thompson or DeMarcus Cousins won one of those spots before the schedule tips off in Minnesota. Donte Greene and Omri Casspi are fighting, and will continue to fight, for the starting small forward spot.
But perhaps the most intriguing and impactful decision comes at the second guard spot. Does Paul Westphal continue down the path set in 2009-10 and start Beno Udrih? Or does he try again to pair Evans with a two-guard and start Francisco Garcia?
First, let it be said this is another decision which could play out during training camp and preseason. More precisely, Westphal could be looking to see how good Garcia looks. His brief run after recovering from a broken wrist last season hardly showed what El Flaco can do, and I know Westphal is eager to see the full assault of Garcia's skilled offense and energetic defense.
But whether now or in October, the equation is pretty straight-forward if unresolved.
Evans is a point guard or he is not a point guard. Hurf durf. Those who argue he is not a point guard correctly point out he looks for his own shot first, second and sometimes third. Those who argue he is a point guard must admit that's the case. And that affects his teammates. Players who cannot create their own offense need help, and there's no question players like Dalembert, Thompson, Greene, Casspi and in many cases Garcia fit that bill. These players will be better if a passer is putting them in quality scoring position. (Landry can create in the post, and Cousins is headed down that path. This doesn't mean those fellows wouldn't benefit from receiving nice passes -- Chris Webber could create, and playing with good passers always improved his production. But it means they could still produce without a Steve Nash-type out there.)
There is no question Udrih is a far better creator and playmaker than Garcia. No question. With Evans ailing, Beno produced 17 assists against the Clippers and 15 against the Cavaliers last season. Garcia has averaged 2.5 assists per 36 minutes for his career; his single-game high is seven (accomplished twice). There's no comparison when it comes to playmaking: Udrih has it, Garcia does not.
But how much does an Evans-led line-up need that playmaking? If we assume Beno and El Flaco will produce the same individually on the scoreboard (their career per-minute scoring and shooting efficiency are fairly even), and that each spaces the floor equally, then each's value added on offense comes from the boost they give the other players (including Tyreke), most explicitly through their passing but also, in the case of Evans, through the acceptance of responsibility for running the team with some frequency. (That's a convoluted way of saying it's tiring to play point guard vs. shooting guard, so one would assume playing with Beno over Garcia would help Evans' lungs and legs.)
So let's call this factor -- the impact on offense -- variable o.
Then there's defense. Beno is one of the worst backcourt defenders in the league. No measure disputes this, except Beno Efficiency Rating, which rates Beno an A++ in defense. Beno is bad at guarding point guards, but he's worse at guarding two-guards. (And theoretically, worstest at guarding centers.) On defense, he's Mike Bibby, but handsome. (Never underestimate how difficult it is to take a clean jumper with Bat Boy staring back at you.)
Garcia is perhaps not good or great on defense, but he's certainly better than Udrih in all facets of defense. Rebounding, getting into passing lanes, blocking shots, communicating, rotating, admitting fault (cue raising hand and knowing nod), clapping in opponents' faces. You could make the argument Garcia is a good defender, or that he's average, or that he's below-average. Regardless, he's better than Beno.
There's also the matter of Beno having to guard point guards almost exclusively because of size, which forces Evans to guard shooting guards (bigger) or small forwards (biggerer), depending on matchups. With Garcia, Evans can take PGs, unless Garcia is a better matchup. Remember: under Rick Adelman, Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus and Kenny Natt, El Flaco largely played small forward. But he also switched onto small guards a lot. He's a versatile defender.
So let's call this defensive factor d.
Then there's the bench factor. If you start Beno, it follows that you'll likely need to play Eugene Jeter more. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. If you start Garcia, that likely means less Jeter, or more Jeter+Beno lineups, or more Antoine Wright, or more Greene/Casspi at two-guard. I'm certainly not sure which would be preferred from this angle, but it's present.
So let's call the bench production when Beno starts variable u, and the bench production when Garcia starts variable g.
So here's what the question boils down to: Is o + u more or less than d + g?
I think the gulf between Garcia and Udrih on defense is so great that it'd be better bet to start Garcia. But Evans needs to prove a team with him as the primary and only real ballhandler can work efficiently. We'll see.
The argument above represents a "should," for me. Don't dismiss that the Kings front office and coaching staff, seeking to prove Evans is indeed a point guard, will use other criteria.