The Sacramento Kings began the season with all sorts of lineup questions. Darren Collison’s suspension and multiple offseason signings produced a litany of possible rotations. Almost the entirety of last year’s roster was placed on the trade block prior to the season, but no deals have occurred. A roster deep with role players and short on star talent has proven a challenge for Dave Joerger as he hasn’t found the right pieces of the puzzle that fit together.
The starting squad of Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kosta Koufos simply isn’t going to work. Four of the five players are most effective when they are featured in the post. Afflalo likes to bully smaller guards down low, Rudy is always best when he’s driving into the paint and not settling for fadeway jumpers, Cousins can work inside and out, but he needs room to use his speed and ball-handling skills, and Kosta Koufos has nothing to offer outside of post defense and rebounding. With this unit, there isn’t enough spacing for anyone to do their job correctly or effectively.
And yet, for some reason, Dave Joerger honestly believes that this group can be successful. As Omer has pointed out several times, Arron Afflalo may be the slowest starting shooting guard in the NBA, Rudy Gay is on the slow side for a small forward, DeMarcus Cousins is slow for today’s power forwards, and Kosta Koufos is just slow. There can’t be quick actions, high post reads, and a swarming defense when everyone on the court is faster than you. The group also don’t match up well against most small-ball teams as Rudy, Boogie, and Kosta are all large for their position. For example, Cousins and Koufos have no business being paired up against Markieff Morris and Marcin “The Fippin” Gortat.
Last night’s loss to the Wizards was a prime example of our coach’s slow reaction to groups that don’t work well together. For the second game in a row, Sacramento quickly fell behind to an inferior opponent as the starters were losing 16-12 when Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson entered the game after eight minutes. As usual, the bench began to bring the team back into the game and the combination of Collison, Temple, Gay, Barnes, and Cousins performed the most admirably. The third quarter was even more egregious as Joerger stuck with Collison, Afflalo, Gay, Cousins, and Koufos for the entire third quarter. Unsurprisingly, the Kings were outscored 24-19 in that time. After that costly mistake, coach decided to run with the “no baskets shall be scored” unit of Lawson, Temple, Casspi, Barnes, and Cauley-Stein. The correct adjustments aren’t being made when they are so obviously needed.
It’s clear to almost every reporter, blogger, and fan that Garrett Temple has massively outperformed Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore. Temple is a better shooter, ball-handler, and defender than either player. His three point shooting and high basketball IQ work perfectly next to ball-dominant players such as Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. Temple doesn’t need to the ball in his hands to perform at a high level and that’s exactly what we need right now.
The starting power forward position is a bit dicier. No Kings player has stepped up and firmly claimed the spot which is why I believe Joerger has stuck with his old faithful, Kosta Koufos. Matt Barnes will turn 92 this year and brings good energy off of the bench, Cauley-Stein has royally crapped the bed to begin the season, and Omri Casspi and Anthony Tolliver have taken turns being out of the rotation. Right now, Matt Barnes or Omri Casspi is probably the best option as they both can spread the floor with their shooting to open the court for Rudy and Boogie.
A starting lineup of Collison, Temple, Gay, Barnes, and Cousins provides the right combination of perimeter scoring, outside shooting, defense, and rebounding. A bench squad of Lawson, Afflalo, Casspi, and Koufos can feature Afflalo as the post scorer with Casspi stretching the floor and Lawson driving the lane. These groups just make too much sense to not give them a chance.
Changing the lineup may be rearranging the deck chairs to some and pointless to others, but a coach’s number one responsibility is to set his team up for success. Joeger is often closing games with the combination of Collison, Temple, Gay, Barnes, and Boogie. If those are the guys you trust to play in the fourth quarter, why not start them?
In the end, the Kings aren’t a very talented team. We have two definitive starters, ten bench players, and three non-contributing rookies. The roster is jam-packed with medium-level role players and short on real contributors. A trade to upgrade the talent level of the team is desperately needed if we really hope to compete. Until then, play the five best players and see what happens.