Last night’s loss against the Miami Heat was a frustrating one for many reasons. DeMarcus Cousins picked up all 6 of his fouls in the crucial fourth quarter, at least a couple on very dubious calls, but the Kings still had a chance to win. They had 10 seconds and the ball to try to generate any kind of offense and prevent overtime and instead Rudy Gay settled for a 25 foot step back three pointer at the buzzer that missed everything. It was baffling shot selection, and the Kings never recovered, getting outscored 17-5 in the five minute overtime period. For reference, Miami scored just 18 points in the entire 4th quarter.
There has been a lot to like about Sacramento’s early season, particularly the increase in defensive effort, but one thing hasn’t changed; the Kings absolutely rely on DeMarcus Cousins, perhaps more than ever. With Darren Collison suspended for the first 8 games, Cousins and Rudy Gay are the team’s only two reliable shot creators. Rudy himself is also far more effective when Cousins is on the floor taking attention away from him.
The Kings as a unit have seen their offense disappear when Cousins leaves the game. Per NBA.com, when Cousins is on the floor, the Kings have an offensive rating of 109.9 which would put them among the top tier of the NBA. That offensive rating drops to an abysmal 84.6 with Cousins off the floor, a net difference of 25.3 points per 100 possessions. By comparison, the NBA’s worst offensive team last season, the Philadelphia 76ers, had an offensive rating of 98.8.
Cousins himself needs to do a better job of staying on the floor as well. Cousins has fouled out twice already, picked up five in another, and amassed three technical fouls through five games. He’s seemingly taken a step backward in his reactions towards officials, and letting his emotions get the better of him. There’s no doubt that he doesn’t get nearly the benefit of the doubt as some players, but if he continues to react the way he has, it will continue to be part of other team’s game plans to be physical and chippy with him. The Kings are a completely different and far more effective team with Cousins on the floor, so getting him off it is one of the best defensive strategies another team can have.
Right now, the Kings need to find a way to generate points with Cousins off the floor. Darren Collison will be back in a few games and will help, and Omri Casspi probably needs to be used a little more liberally by Coach Joerger in those situations when he comes back from his illness. It’s unfortunate that Casspi got sick when he did, because these last two games in particular would have been good opportunities for him to come in and perhaps spark some offense from the bench, which he did so well at last year. The Kings will also need other players to step up; Ty Lawson has been very good at distributing the ball, but is shooting only 35.1% from the field. Arron Afflalo has been struggling with his shot as well, but finally got going against the Heat to the tune of 18 points. Ben McLemore has played well in the early season but had his first bad game of the season against the Heat, missing most of his shots.
This offensive discrepancy and unreliability also showcases why the Kings might be hesitant to trade Rudy Gay. The team doesn’t have many reliable options to create offense as it is, and trading Gay would almost certainly not return a player who can fill that void. It will be interesting to see how Coach Joerger balances this going forward, and what adjustments he makes. Much of the early season and training camp has been focused on defense, with Joerger saying that only 25% of the offense has been implemented. Hopefully with more time and development of the system, we will see this disparity shrink meaningfully, so the team doesn’t become so reliant on Cousins that they can’t succeed without him.