November 5, 2017, 4:29 pm
The Kings entered last Sunday’s game against the Wizards smarting off an unfortunate loss to the lowly Suns and a loss in the DeMarcus Cousins Bowl.
Prior to that at 1-2 with a win in Dallas and a competitive loss against the Rockets, the early talk was about how smart the Kings had been for turning the page and how fun they were to watch.
Fast-forward to now and the Kings folded for three consecutive games against the Wizards, Pacers and Celtics last week, before putting together a solid first half of basketball on Saturday — before folding again in the second half to the Pistons.
One doesn’t have to look hard to find quotes from the team or those that cover it to know where the analysis is heading for this year. This is a young team with 32 players under the age of 23 and they’re building for two years from now.
All of that is good and fine and true — to an extent.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s reductive to a fault. Currently, the Kings’ veterans and management are holding on to a few Ls themselves.
Zach Randolph got destroyed by Tobias Harris in the loss to the Pistons and couldn’t beat Skal Labissiere in a footrace if Skal had David Stockton on his shoulders. The fact is that Harris has dealt with weight and explosion issues for the past few years and is better as a power forward.
He also happens to play some small forward and that was cited as the reason Skal did not play much in Saturday’s loss.
Joerger says the league playing a lot of 3s as 4s is making it tough to play Skal.
— Aaron Bruski (@aaronbruski) November 5, 2017
More on that later …
As we saw on Saturday and throughout the season, the Kosta Koufos units have really struggled to keep up on offense. He’s being utilized in the screen or dribble handoff game on nearly every play and opposing teams are sitting on those plays like they’re the ones that drew them up.
It’s not just Koufos’ issue, either. Systemically, there have been many games in which the high post offense has produced nothing of value only to see it again and again and again, though Saturday’s loss marked an improvement in that area. We’ll see if it lasts.
Of players that have played more than 20 mpg this season, the bottom-five producers on offense in terms of offensive rating are: Koufos (94.0), Willie Cauley-Stein (92.6), Hill (91.2), Buddy Hield (89.1) and Randolph (88.4). The top-four are Skal (104.7), De’Aaron Fox (100.7), Garrett Temple (98.8) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (97.0).
Bogdanovic is clearly a playmaker that the team can rely on but he’s being benched, partly because of roster math and partly because Joerger and the Kings don’t want to give him too much, too fast, despite clear indications he will be both good for results and the development of other players.
Hield, who was the prized asset in the DeMarcus Cousins trade — one that owner Vivek Ranadive reportedly thought could be like Steph Curry — has to be given minutes to at least see that wobbly bet down to the river. What we’ve found is that Hield has one bankable skill in scoring and question marks the rest of the way down the line.
George Hill, who was electric in Utah and their best playmaker on a team including Gordon Hayward, has been a no-show.
His play has been as enigmatic as his day off for rest and absence from Saturday’s game for personal reasons, and he’s taking the brunt of that, despite the light bulb in Joerger’s offense flickering on and off.
Sometimes they run smart stuff and other times they make Cauley-Stein, Labissiere and Koufos initiators while the defense snickers.
Hill, in the meantime, gets blasted for not being aggressive as if he’s supposed to run and intercept the first entry pass going to a big to start up the offense.
De’Aaron Fox has been among the best Kings to play this season, even with the kinds of defensive awareness issues that rookies almost always struggle with.
But when he saw 87-year old Jameer Nelson across from him against the Pelicans, he was instructed to pass the ball to Koufos, dilly dilly for 10 seconds along with the rest of the squad, and move into some sort of dribble-handoff double team rather than put on the afterburners in an isolation set.
The other returns from the Cousins trade don’t really play. Justin Jackson can shoot with anybody but has a long way to go before he’s even sniffing the preseason overhype. We’re all rooting for Harry Giles but let’s see him stay on a basketball court before endorsing all of those ‘A’ grades the Kings got for the draft and free agency.
Of course, it’s early and all of this can change. The question for another column is whether they can buck past trends of being unable to diagnose the Xs and Os on the court.
The point of this column is that there is a ton of blame to go around for the Kings right now. Though they competed for a half against the Pistons, they still ran an obviously ineffective lineup out there for not just one shift but two shifts starting in the late-third through most of the fourth quarter.
The veterans aren’t carrying their weight and they’re not being put in a position to succeed, which is all underscored by the decisions that management made to create these logjams in the first place. And as we know with Joerger, if he’s given veterans he’s going to play them even when they’re being outplayed, because that’s his coaching style. It has its pros and it has its cons.
Joerger wants a young player to cross a threshold that he intuitively knows, and it could very well be an appropriate threshold, but because he keeps his cards close to the vest in a prickly way it’s going to come across as vague misdirection.
Should the Kings be much better than 1-8 right now? Phoenix and Indiana were winnable games and with the advantage they could have had running Zach Randolph at center in a small ball lineup against the Pistons, that was also a very winnable game. 2-7 or 3-6 are fair benchmarks that they’re falling short of.
The big million dollar question that’s going to drive this development cycle for the Kings isn’t about records, though, it’s about whether or not the development on the court is happening in an optimized manner. Are Entitlement Minutes being appropriately doled out, are veterans both earning their minutes and contributing to the young players’ growth and are the young players getting enough experience — and the right type of experience.
Losing experience while the veterans largely carry the weight of the operation has a lot more red flags than green ones.
And yes, there is plenty of bad basketball going on because 72 of the Kings players are under the age of 23.
What you don’t get to do if you’re the Kings, though, is blame the kids when the parents are running the show. Do too much of that and they’ll eventually start to resent it.