The Kings have won three games in a row for the first time this season, and have won four of five overall. They’re currently 8th in the Western Conference and are finally starting to play better team basketball. Is this the Kings team we will see the rest of the season or are we just being buttered up for more disappointment?
The High Post
In and of itself, three wins in a row is pretty impressive, especially when the Kings managed to win both games of a home and road back to back against presumptive playoff teams, all without their second leading scorer. I’d like to particularly point out the play of Sacramento’s bench, which has proven to be a bit of a bright spot this year. Garrett Temple has already won fans over, but this week we also saw really good contributions from guys like Ty Lawson and Anthony Tolliver. Lawson is starting to look much more confident again and is actually outplaying Darren Collison at the moment. Lawson scored at least 15 points in each of Sacramento’s wins this week, including 20 in a game against the Jazz where the bench led the comeback effort.
Anthony Tolliver has also regained his shooting stroke, hitting 10 of 14 three point attempts in his three games this week. Having a floor spacer like Tolliver who can reliably stretch the floor and punish opposing teams for doubling inside on Boogie opens up so many options for the Kings. While I don’t expect Tolliver to keep making his threes at a 70% clip, it’s nice to see him become a valuable player.
The Low Post
I hate this feeling of not being able to enjoy wins because I’ve been disappointed so much in the past that I can’t really just relax when things seem to be going well. This past week has made me more anxious than happy. Over the holidays, one of my uncles asked me “Why do the Kings always do this to me? They make it so that I feel like I’m done with the team, and then they go win three in a row and reel me back in.” It’s definitely frustrating. All Kings fans want is a team that they can be proud of and that competes on a nightly basis. They don’t want distractions and they hate being the butt of jokes (the latter is a big reason why so many feel the media is out to get the Kings). Worst of all, nobody knows what this team is going to do from night to night. The unknown is scary, and those are the waters the Kings continue to tread. The only certainty with this team is uncertainty.
The View from Section 214
I opined in the threads earlier this week:
Debunking the urban legend of Rudy Gay's "addition by subtraction"
Did a little digging as it pertains to the two times that Rudy Gay has been traded -
Gay was traded during the 12-13 season by Memphis, in an attempt to shore up their defense. The Griz had Randolph, M.Gasol and Conley, and determined that Tayshaun Prince would be a better fit. The Griz went 29-12 (.707) with Gay in their lineup, and 27-14 (.659) when he was not in the lineup, so they were actually a little better by W-L record with Gay. Meanwhile, the Raptors were 18-33 (.353) without Gay in the lineup and 16-15 (.516) with him in the lineup, so they were significantly better with him. Overall these teams were 45-27 (.625) with Gay in the lineup and 45-47 (.489) with Gay out of the lineup. From a W-L standpoint, both teams were better with Rudy Gay than without.
The Kings acquired Gay early in the 13-14 season. They went 21-34 (.382) with him in the lineup and 7-20 (.259) with him out of the lineup. Meanwhile, Toronto was 6-12 (.333) with him in the lineup and 42-22 (.656) with him out of the lineup. Overall these teams were 27-46 (.370) with Rudy Gay in the lineup and 49-42 (.538) with him out of the lineup. From a W-L standpoint, the Raptors were better without Rudy Gay, and the Kings were better with Rudy Gay.
The grand total of these two seasons comes to 72-73 (.497) with Rudy Gay in the lineup and 94-99 (.487) without Rudy Gay in the lineup. The sum total reads that these teams won at a higher clip with Gay in the lineup than without. Three out of four teams won more games with Gay in the lineup than without.
There is some context and nuance also missing when it comes to dealing Gay in the here and now. Memphis had three bona fide top players in Gasol, Conley and Randolph. Toronto had Lowry and DeRozan. The Kings have Cousins and that’s it. It is not as though other Kings players are being deprived opportunities for growth due to his presence, and I don’t see anyone on the current roster that can step into his shoes. The notion of addition by subtraction only really works if the shoes of the exiting ballplayer can be adequately filled while those around him pick up the slack, and I sure don’t see Matt Barnes or Omri Casspi being anywhere near Gay’s class of player, and I sure don’t see other players on this roster capable of picking up that slack.
Again, I’m fine with trading Gay, as well as any of the other core players on this roster (with the possible exception of Garrett Temple). But as it pertains to this season, it will likely be the much simpler and reliable mathematical theory of subtraction by subtraction, as has been the case in 75% of Gay’s prior trades.
You can certainly expand the conversation beyond the two years of the respective trades. Bottom line, the Grizzlies have never achieved the winning percentage that they had with Gay the year they traded him, and the Kings have improved their win total every year that they have had him. Only Toronto has improved in his absence, and that seems to be a pretty clear example of teammate fit. DeMar DeRozan basically became the younger, more offensively potent Rudy Gay, and I don’t see that happening with (insert Kings wing player name here).
So is it his ball-hogging tendencies? The numbers say no. Gay’s 25.2% usage is closer to Darren Collison (19.6). Ben McLemore (18.4), and everyone else on the roster not named Anthony Tolliver (11.9) than it is to that of DeMarcus Cousins (37.6). His usage is on a par with most other NBA “Robins.”
Gay also chimes in with the second best efficiency rating on the team (behind Cousins), and adjusted field goal percentage that is equal to Cousins, the 2nd best points per shot numbers among the eleven Kings that have averaged t at least five shots a game, an assist percentage that is on a par with Matt Barnes and way ahead of Omri Casspi, and a turnover percentage that is significantly below that of Barnes and Casspi.
The only thing that I can come up with is Gay’s ball-stopping tendencies. Dusting off this old chestnut from 2008…and again in 2011:
“Using a similar pathology as the murderer in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” John Salmons gives the Kings offense the “vulture eye,” kills the offensive flow, then cuts up the remains and buries them under the hardwood of ARCO Arena. The sound of Salmons dribbling basketball against floor replicates the sound of the dismembered but still beating heart. Salmons takes the ball at the top of the key and dribbles left. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Finding no lane, he dribbles back to the right. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The shot clock and my patience winding down, he forces himself to the middle. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. By the time he (perhaps) gets the shot off, the result matters little to me. John Salmons has already driven me to the Poe house.”
Aha! I think that we may be on to something here. Rudy Gay is not aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The team gives off the appearance of looking better when he is not in the lineup. I get it – I was right there with John Salmons…while also admitting that the team would be worse without him than with him.
The thing is, the numbers don’t support the appearance. It is a mirage, a mirage created by the lack of any other alternatives on a roster bereft of legitimate upper end talent (with the exception of Cousins, of course). Rudy Gay out of the lineup means that Matt Barnes or Omri Casspi are in the lineup. From a talent standpoint, Gay is simply on another planet than these two guys, and “fit” does not close the wide gap that exists. The small W-L sample size of these past couple of weeks dissolves when you look at the overall point differential and strength of schedule. The moment that you begin to expand the sample size, the more that you see the difference of life with Rudy Gay and life without Rudy Gay.
To be crystal clear, better alternatives than Rudy Gay at small forward in Dave Joerger’s system do exist in the NBA. It’s just that none of these alternatives are currently employed by your Sacramento Kings.
I’m all for trading Rudy Gay. And his trade could indeed improve the team if you could obtain a starting power forward or starting shooting guard for him (which could return Temple to super-sub status), or a starting point guard that would be an improvement over Darren Collison, which in turn could make Collison or Ty Lawson expendable for additional help. And as one that is not concerned about a playoff run this season, I welcome a trade that does not help this year but adds assets for the longer term. But the notion of dealing him for a bag of chips and magically improving the team is ridiculous to me. Even the one team that indeed improved the year that they dealt him – Toronto – received players in return that instantly and magically began playing over their heads (Patrick Patterson, hello!), and they had better incumbent talent at the top of their roster.
And once Gay is traded? I’m interested in seeing who the next consensus scapegoat would be. Before the season began, I think I picked Gay or Koufos, with McLemore as my dark horses. My bet is that Koufos would become the next target for not passing the vaunted eye test, especially if Willie Cauley-Stein strings together five consecutive minutes of non-buffoonery play.
Kimani’s Photo of the Week
You can see the freaking mouth piece mid-flight. What a shot by Kimani.
Player of the Week
36.2 PTS, .500 FG%, .529 3P%, 9.3 RPG, 3.7 AST, 1.7 STL, 2.0 BLK in 36.2 MPG
DeMarcus Cousins was an absolute monster this week, and not in the way that sometimes causes the fanbase to get a collective aneurysm. His 55 points against the Portland Trailblazers was the single best scoring performance in regulation in Sacramento Kings history. For reference, during the game that Chris Webber scored 51 points, he needed 47 FGA to do so... and the Kings lost. It’s games like this where you understand why the Kings have tried so hard to make things work with DeMarcus Cousins.
Highlight of the Week
(all times Pacific)
12/26 vs. Philadelphia 76ers at 7:30 p.m.
12/28 at Portland Trail Blazers at 7:00 p.m.
12/31 vs. Memphis Grizzlies at 2:00 p.m.