When I was about seven, my family took a trip to the Great America theme park in Santa Clara. I was a newbie when it came to these kind of parks and there was one ride that I took a particular liking to. It was called "The Grizzly," this wooden monstrosity that was by far the biggest roller coaster I had been on until that time. The ride was fantastic and left an imprint on my memory for a long time. In the following years I would go to many theme parks and ride many coasters, but I would always fondly remember that one ride on "The Grizzly."
It would be at least a decade before I would find my way back to Great America park to ride "The Grizzly." But this time, I had an awful experience. It was one of those rides made of wood so it rattled to hell and back right in your ear the entire way. The seatbelt left too much slack so I was painfully bouncing up and down on the plastic seats. Moreover, the ride was just boring. The car would just go up a hill and come back down without any suspense. The twists and turns had lame speed and acceleration. The entire ride was barely two minutes long but I couldn't wait until it was over.
I'm beginning to feel the same way about this 2015/16 version of the Sacramento Kings. Its been ten years since a team with any kind of expectation was fielded here. At first, even following a season like this one, maddeningly inconsistent as it is, was exhilarating. Sure, they'd lose to the Timberwolves a few days before beating the Raptors, but it was part of the fun, and with the eighth seed in the Western Conference a wide open free-for-all, having a team with erratic wildcard talent seemed fun.
But then 2016 rolled around, and things changed. George Karl compromised his laissez-faire approach to offense and the Kings began running some structured Princeton sets that brought some much needed organization to the team's halfcourt attack. With either Rajon Rondo or DeMarcus Cousins at the elbow, the Kings could use the same formation to flow into postups for Cousins or Rudy Gay, they could flow into dribble handoffs for Rondo or Darren Collison to get into the paint and make plays, or even a side pick-and-roll between Rondo and Cousins. The structure both kept the defense guessing as to what was coming next and allowed the players to read how the defense was playing it to their advantage. Sure, the defense was still a steaming pile of wreckage, but at least they were posting enough offense to mitigate that.
Tonight, with Karl in a hotel somewhere fighting off the stomach flu, that structure seemingly disappeared. The offense once again devolved into the chaotic free-for-all that brought so much inconsistency in the past. But this January we've seen what the team can do in a structured environment. Cousins is basically having the month of his career and the Kings were actually posting a winning record. They won five in a row against all ranges of competition, grabbing the coveted eighth spot in the West. Now it feels like all of that progress was reversed. Mathematically, it actually almost has; after a five game winning streak, the Kings have dropped three straight and are back out of the eighth seed.
We don't want to go back. The defense has been awful all year with almost no indications that can change, but at least this roster under this coaching staff is capable of producing offense when they have structure. They should not be losing to a Pelicans team missing Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Gordon. They should not be as wild and clueless on the offensive end as they are.
Sorry this feels more like an opinion piece than a recap, but that's basically the gist of what I saw tonight; a reversion to bad habits developed over the year and a defensive scheme that hasn't been able to stop anyone all year. There was, of course, more to the game. Ryan Anderson went absolute bonkers in the first half, scoring 30 of his 36 points to power the Pelicans to an 18 point lead. Many of his shots were unguardable, but he was given too much breathing room by Willie Cauley-Stein (who is still really raw defending the perimeter despite his athletic gifts). Anderson was too big for Omri Casspi and James Anderson to handle in the post. Quincy Acy did a fine job on him in the second half, pretty much the only reason the Pelicans weren't putting up near-40 point quarters again.
Several Pelicans went wild tonight, even beyond Anderson. Norris Cole and Jrue Holiday took turns getting comfortable in the usual soft spots in the Kings defense, the midrange. Bryce Dejean-Jones, a player few know exists, had the game of his young career with 14 points. Even Alonzo Gee and Omer Asik, defensive roleplayers with limited offensive game, got in on the action.
Meanwhile, for the Kings, Ben McLemore had his best game of the season with 26 points. The Kings offense, as mentioned before, was an absolute free-for-all, and McLemore was guarded by a guy the Pelicans signed off the street seven days ago, so take the performance for what it's worth. Cousins was largely left to fend for himself once again, so it was a return to the December version of Boogie; putting up big counting stats (26 points, 10 rebounds), but under the surface is the rotting smell of high turnovers (6 total) and low efficiency (.488 TS%), so the opposite of how Cousins has performed this month. Rajon Rondo thrived offensively in the chaos with 17 points and 15 assists, but was so checked out defensively you barely even noticed he was there. Again, nothing different than what we saw earlier this year.
Basically, the Kings need to become more disciplined and focused if they want to make the Playoffs. I've lost all hope in the defense, but if they can at least put in effort, they can sputter at least into the postseason. Today we got neither a focused team or one putting in the necessary effort, and the results speak for themselves. Onto the observations:
- I can't believe that Kendrick Perkins is still in the NBA. Even in his "prime" his only real skill was defending the post, and tonight Boogie almost walked around him as if he wasn't even there. Hard to imagine what kind of value he adds to an NBA team now. It was funny listening to Grant and Jerry throw shade at his corpse trying to do basketball things.
- Speaking of Grant and Jerry, even they were complaining about the random offense the Kings were "executing", specifically what it seemed like a lack of plays leading to a lot of feeble dribble drives and swinging the ball around the perimeter.
- Marco Belinelli: 2/8 shooting, 0/3 from three, a team-worst -24. Presented without comment.
- Cauley-Stein got annihilated by Anderson (as mentioned before). He really needs someone to help him with his stance defending the perimeter. He both sags off the offensive player and is always so upright, meaning he is neither prepared to defend a shot nor track a drive. Acy does a much better job on the perimeter. Willie can learn a lot just by watching Acy's stance and how much pressure he puts on the ball.
- Say what you want about the system in place, but there's no excuse for poor effort. The Kings probably would have still lost tonight because what they were doing is so flawed but at least they wouldn't have been as humiliated. I know a lot of Kings fans will point at this as the main culprit for the hot garbage we watched tonight, and even I have to admit that the intensity was sorely lacking from the beginning. The players need to play with more heart.