November 17, 2017, 4:00 pm
More than any other year in recent memory, the Kings’ rotation remained almost entirely unknown throughout the preseason and into opening night. George Hill was the only player that seemed to be a lock for the starting lineup, and attempting to guess how minutes would be distributed seemed like a waste of time.
One clear theme for Dave Joerger in the preseason was making players earn their spots. When speaking about balancing minutes between veterans and younger players, Joerger repeatedly mentioned that older players need to be beaten to lose minutes. When asked about that balance at media day:
“You want your older guys — if they’re going to lose minutes — they should be beaten out. The sophomore on a varsity team should have to beat the senior out, or work harder or just be better.”
In an interview with Sactown Royalty this summer, Joerger gave a similar response when asked about how he would handle questions about the rotations:
“How can we create a culture of competitiveness where you are rewarded for doing things right and the better players play? So, all of those things factor into it.”
The issue here is that the rotation remains relatively stagnant through 14 games despite some alarming losses. The team has seen few major changes to the starting lineup and players that have struggled to perform have been left in their roles without consequence.
Some of this can be attributed to poor play throughout the roster. How many players at this point are honestly deserving more opportunity? Malachi Richardson and Frank Mason both may have a good argument for an increased role, but there isn’t enough of a sample to really know how much, if at all, that would help.
With that said, the team does have a lineup that seems to have worked well in the past. The lineup below, despite playing just two games and 29 total minutes together, has been one of the more successful groups that the Kings have put together this season:
One of the first things that sticks out with this group is the use of the pick and roll. The team has emphasized playing through Cauley-Stein and Randolph in the high-post, but this lineup tends to shy away from that. In the two videos below, you can see De’Aaron Fox use a high screen from Kosta Koufos to get a good shot in the mid-range:
Fox has had a bad habit of settling for jump shots instead of driving, but if the defense backs off of him this much he’s more than capable of making them pay.
Labissiere’s ability to catch-and-shoot is also a plus in this lineup. In the video below, you can see how quickly Fox gets the ball to Labissiere after drawing a second defender for an easy mid-range jumper:
The lack of high-post offense can at least be somewhat explained by the players involved. Labissiere and Koufos haven’t embraced the high-post offense in the same way that Cauley-Stein and Randolph have, and the team looks much more comfortable operating without it anyway.
Another thing that stands out is the defense. The mobility of Koufos and Labissiere is a clear plus on that end of the floor, and their length helps them bother plenty of shots at the rim as well.
In this next video, Labissiere ends up switched on to Devin Booker, who then drives hard left to the rim. Labissiere does a great job staying in front and times the block perfectly:
The lineup also has plenty of switchable players defensively. You can see here how much the Kings’ activity on that end of the floor bothers the Pelicans before blocking a shot at the rim:
In another case, Labissiere does a great job rotating here to help Bogdanovic and Koufos when Ian Clark gets a wide-open lane to the rim:
The point here is that despite the small sample size, these stats are not just a mirage – This team looks much more dynamic on both ends of the floor with Labissiere and Koufos paired down low, and having athletic players that can switch on the perimeter makes them even more dangerous.
The most concerning part of this is that the lineup has only been shown in two games, despite all five of the players being regular parts of the rotation. Not only that, but this lineup has not seen the floor together since the team’s game against New Orleans in late October. If the Kings are truly looking to push the pace and play with more energy, then why hasn’t this group gotten more time on the floor together? This gets back to the larger issue of Joerger needing to stay true to what he was saying earlier in the season.
As shown in the tweet below from Hoop-Ball’s own Aaron Bruski, Joerger has continued to play Zach Randolph over Labissiere despite the evidence suggesting that this is detrimental to the team on both ends of the floor:
Your updated net rating rankings for the Kings (min 18 mpg). The best part of the Skal issue is that he’s CRUSHING his teammates here. pic.twitter.com/cAsPdm5WoQ
— Aaron Bruski (@aaronbruski) November 16, 2017
While plenty of fans have also pointed this out, not many have talked about how this applies to Koufos and Cauley-Stein.
Cauely-Stein has had on-and-off issues with effort seemingly since his rookie season, and he has shown in multiple interviews that he doesn’t seem to understand his strengths as a player. The most outrageous of all of these was his quote after playing against one of the most promising young players in the league.
After a loss to the Knicks, Cauley-Stein told Howie Kussoy of the New York Post that he and Porzingis “have the same body size, the same skill-level”. Confidence is important for young players, but Cauley-Stein’s skill level offensively is nowhere near Porzingis’, and if you’re inclined to nit-pick he’s also a good bit smaller than Porzingis.
Cauley-Stein has not shown much growth over his second season, and his defense isn’t likely to get much better until he shows more commitment on that end of the floor. Meanwhile, Koufos has been one of the steadier presences on the team, and he has been a great fit with Labissiere on both ends of the floor.
The lineup shown above should get more opportunity, but more importantly Labissiere and Koufos have clearly been fighting an uphill battle when it comes to proving that they belong in the rotation. There’s evidence to suggest that they could be the team’s best big-man pairing, but so far that evidence seems to be ignored.
If Joerger plans to use a merit-based system to distribute minutes, then changes need to be made to the rotation, and the frontcourt would be an easy place to start. Until the team starts making these adjustments the blowout losses are going to continue to pile up, and the development of the team’s young players could suffer as a result.