The Sacramento Kings are digging themselves a hole. With DeMarcus Cousins sitting out in street clothes, it almost looked as if the five guys on the court had never played together before. Its still early in the season, but with three top-flight Western Conference teams looming in the next few days, that hole might be about to get deeper.
There is no flow to the Kings offense. The first play of the second half involved Rajon Rondo dribbling the ball for about 20 seconds before being forced to hoist up an errant jumper. The ball movement isn't crisp; the ball tends to stay on one side of the court, and instead of playing off of eachother the offense is bogging down to a "my-turn, your-turn" style. Darren Collison and Rondo are struggling to mesh together; each wants to put their stamp on the offense but it just feels like they are getting in eachother's way.
When the ball is swung out, you can almost see the gears grinding in a players head while they decide whether to shoot or pass. Rudy Gay had a dreadful night, unable to get anything consistent going offensively and having some misadventures handling the ball. Most of Gay's attempts came on isolations, which isn't a great way to get him going. The team hasn't adjusted to eachother spacing the floor; Rondo once tried to drive into the same exact area that Omri Casspi was cutting into. The confusion led to 17 turnovers, far too many to compete on most nights. To top it off, the Kings were miserable from the free throw line, only hitting half of their 12 attempts.
It wasn't all hopeless. The Kings did show flashes of competent offense. They tallied 25 assists on the night, mostly on the back of really good three point shooting (11/24, or 46%). Kosta Koufos led the team with 16 points on only 11 shots, and most of his baskets were assisted. James Anderson came alive in the second half after a dreadful first, hitting some much needed threes off of kickouts to 15 points. Marco Belinelli looked like the only King who could consistently keep the offense greased with smart passes and solid shooting. Ben McLemore looks like some time on the bench will do him some good, coming out with his best outing in a while with 9 points on 6 shots. He's still making some terrible mental errors but at least there is production to go along with it.
But the defense... man. It flat out looks broken. There are all kinds of communication errors all over the court leading to open Phoenix shots and layups. The Suns shot 54% overall and 61% from three, and their 118 points speak for themselves. Not exactly a winning defensive formula. You can see Kings players jawing at eachother with bewilderment and frustration because they flat out are not on the same page. Eric Bledsoe ate the Kings alive with 19 points and 8 assists, and Brandon Knight exploded for all of his 17 points in the second half. Most of the Suns' guards points came on good looks due to defensive breakdowns.
Honestly, I'm afraid the defense might be broken on a fundamental level. George Karl has implemented all these exotic looks that make me pine for Mike Malone's conservative schemes. The Kings are switching everything; there is nothing wrong with switching on principle, but you have to make the offense earn it. The Kings are switching non-threatening actions really early in the shot clock, and the opposing offense has all the time it needs to exploit those mismatches. The Kings defenders are flat out confused on when they need to switch or not, and its leading to open shots. The Kings are still sagging far too low off of midrange shooters coming off of picks. Midrange jumpers are generally inefficient, but these are wide open with barely a half-hearted contest.
The Kings are now facing down the barrel of a Western Conference gauntlet. They next play the Houston Rockets on Friday, who look like they're finding their groove with two straight wins. They next play the last two NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. DeMarcus Cousins is trying to come back and that should help the defense, but even so, the Kings need to pull a rabbit out of the hat in order not to fall to 1-7.