Sacramento's added a lot of new pieces this summer and so far this preseason we've seen a lot of sloppy play as a result. Last night's win against the Portland Trail Blazers wasn't exactly a masterpiece of basketball, but it was probably the most cohesive this team has looked through four games.
While the Kings still had some issues, especially early on, they managed to limit their miscues and only committed 13 turnovers the entire game, including just 5 in the second half. It's clear that some of the turnover problems have come from a lack of familiarity with each other; Rajon Rondo in particular made a couple of passes in the first quarter that ended up going to nobody because the person on the other end made a move that he didn't expect. Those are the kind of issues that will go away with time.
The Kings were still experimenting with different lineups and rotations tonight, as we saw our fourth different starting lineup. Rudy Gay didn't play at all as Karl opted to rest him and Caron Butler started in his place. The other major change was starting Darren Collison at shooting guard next to Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. That's not a look that I expect to see as an actual starting lineup as it makes for a very small backcourt, but I do think it's a lineup that will see a lot of minutes throughout the season. Collison works well off the ball and it gives the Kings a little more playmaking across the board.
One thing that has become clear over the first four preseason games is that it's not going to be a cakewalk to score in the paint against the Kings anymore. Not only has Cousins improved as a defender in recent years, the Kings now have two very good defensive-minded big men in Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein. Koufos' reputation preceded him, but it's another thing to see how well he understands the team concept. That's a big difference from someone like Jason Thompson, who could be a very good individual defender but was lackluster when it came to switching and helping. Last night in particularly, Koufos recorded a couple of blocks but made an even bigger impact with his presence, forcing guys out of the paint and into tougher or longer shots.
Cauley-Stein has also shown phenomenal instincts on that end of the floor. He already understands the concept of verticality and doesn't go out of his way to chase blocks if he can simply defend a guy straight up. He's so long and quick that he covers a ton of space on defense, from the paint to the perimeter. He's a presence no matter where he is on the court, and that's going to cause him to be invaluable to this team. That's not something that I felt I could expect from him in his rookie year but he's quickly proving his worth.
We also got to see our first extended look at Seth Curry running the team, and I liked what little I saw. Curry doesn't have the same playmaking ability as Rondo or Collison, but he's got a good feel for the game and showed some very good potential as a shot creator. I also liked his defensive effort. Curry got this team re-energized and it carried over into a win.
This team is an unfinished project, but we're starting to see some of its capabilities, and that's exciting.
- I'm a little uncomfortable with how much time DeMarcus Cousins has been spending on the perimeter in the preseason. I just don't think it's a winning strategy to have such a good inside scorer and rebounder hanging around the three point line so much. I'd like to see more plays run for Cousins from the mid and low post.
- This was probably Ben McLemore's best game of the preseason even though he still didn't put up big numbers. He was aggressive attacking the basket and got to the line as a result. That's something that he's needed to add to his game. While he doesn't have the best handle, he's so quick and explosive that he can still get past guys and to the basket consistently. I also thought he showed some good passing instincts with a couple of nice assists.
- Having a scoring and shooting punch like Belinelli off the bench is so refreshing after years of nothing from the bench.
- There were times where the Kings seemed to be committing to the pass too much despite having open shot opportunities. One such possession saw the ball swing between every player with the final shot being a Rajon Rondo three point attempt. It was good ball movement but it ended up in a shot for the worst shooter on the floor.
- The Kings have had some very nice inbound plays this preseason, especially when Rajon Rondo is the one doing the inbounding. They've been simple but effective.
- The Trail Blazers have a lot of nice young talent. I don't think they'll be very good this year but I think they will be a fun team to watch and will be well positioned for the future.