I think that you could survey 100 Sacramento Kings fans, tell them DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Thornton are out and Tyreke Evans is just coming back from injury, and ask them to select a starting five, and I'm pretty sure not one of them would pick the starting five that Keith Smart did on Wednesday. Bring Evans off the bench and start Francisco Garcia? That's understandable. That's something a bunch of people would do. Start Travis Outlaw at power forward next to Jason Thompson? Wha ... what?
The Kings aren't a very good defensive rebounding team with DeMarcus Cousins, and he's on the better defensive rebounders in the league (and the best on the team). So starting a small forward at PF against a team with active bigs (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert) is a bad idea. Sure enough: Outlaw gathered just two defensive rebounds in 16 minutes, and Milwaukee picked up 24 offensive rebounds in 58 opportunities (42 percent). In other words, out of the 58 shots Milwaukee missed, they got a second chance on 24 of them. Assuming no added benefit in efficiency from the rebound itself -- which isn't right, but conservative -- that's an assumed 24 extra points, and about 12-14 over normal. The scoring margin was 13.
Chuck Hayes, who is obviously better than Outlaw in every facet of the game but outside shooting, got 14 minutes. Thomas Robinson, who still can't put the ball in the hole very efficiently, had six defensive rebounds in 25 minutes, and is almost always going to be a better option than Outlaw. Aaron Brooks was atrocious (3-11 from the floor, 1-7 on threes, six assists, four turnovers, repeatedly scorched by Brandon Jennings in the pick-and-roll), but he got 35 minutes. Jimmer Fredette (4-8, no turnovers) got 15 minutes. Isaiah Thomas (2-5, a couple of bad plays to end the second) got 11 minutes.
The Kings are very deficient of talent, especially when Cousins is suspended and Thornton is focusing on family. (Prayers go out to M.T.'s mom.) But even when they are shorthanded, the coach is still seeming to raise that hurdle by playing the team's worst players. I like the guy, and I've actually enjoyed pretty much every story about him throughout his career. But Travis Outlaw is not the answer. He's just not. He's played in 10 percent of the available minutes this season. The Kings have been pretty bad the other 90 percent of the time, with a -4.8 efficiency differential. (That means teams score 4.8 points more per 100 possessions in that time.) But with Outlaw on the court, the differential careens down to -15.8. Now Trout's not that bad. He's not the difference between a bad team and a historically bad team. But Smart plays him at power forward, where he can't effectively defend, rebound or run the offense. So it makes the job harder for your center (often a power forward playing up a weight class) and your guards on both ends.
Playing Outlaw worked on Saturday. Let's please consider that a lunar eclipse moment and not ever assume that it's going to be a good idea to start him in a game, no matter who is out.
A few other notes:
* The starters combined to shoot 16-46 (35 percent). The bench shot 16-40 (40 percent). Not really a good night for the offense.
* Tyreke Evans played well (17 points, 7 rebounds), but he was gassed the moment he stepped on the court. That resulted in some sloppy turnovers, not his best defensive effort and a few too many jumpers.
* The Jimmer-Isaiah pairing was +6 in 7-1/2 minutes. Brooks-Isaiah was -2 in 3-1/2 minutes. Brooks-Jimmer was -8 in about 4 minutes, all in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, after a few gnarly, out-of-control possessions in the second, Isaiah got left out of the rotation in the second half. It's too bad because he looked pretty good earlier in the second.
* John Salmons came alive in the third with 11 points, and Thompson rebounded really well. They both just needed some help in the starting five, and didn't get it.
* DeMarcus: please stop giving them any reason to boot you. This team is crummy with you. It's an unwatchable disaster without you.
Check out Brew Hoop for thoughts from the other side.