October 29, 2017, 1:36 pm
DeMarcus Cousins rumbled into the Golden 1 Center this week and with that came the closing of a massive chapter in Kings history.
And no, it’s not all the way closed. Sacramento will have that conversation each and every time the Kings and Cousins clash for the rest of his career.
But now that this high-profile game has passed we’re on to the epilogue, and we’ve been given a decent-sized window to peer into the kingdom and see what is what.
Already, the complaints about Dave Joerger’s rotations have warmed up, but the product has been mostly encouraging and that’s a place this team hasn’t been since the Michael Malone days.
Still, the Kings leave a decent amount of money on the table when it comes to the business of rebuilding.
That’s not to say that we’re looking at a fatal flaw in the design — yet — as we’ve discussed this year’s Kings will be judged in the macro-view by how the big pieces develop.
Does the De’Aaron Fox development vehicle resemble the F-1 racing machine it’s meant to be, or does it plod along within the confines of a high-post, high-school bus ride.
Rather than spread the floor and let one of their best offensive players create against an obvious mismatch, the Kings went right back into the offense like a bunch of Hoosiers.
Labissiere has been strong in the minutes he has played, whereas Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos are who we know they are, and sometimes they haven’t been as effective as the second year player has been. Will the veteran Entitlement Minutes turn into minutes for the youth, whether they’re earned or bequeathed?
Can the Kings get Buddy Hield to take better shots, pass the ball faster and can they wrap their heads around the fact that he is a classic Sixth Man?
His defense has improved but he’s still a work in progress when it comes to all things not related to scoring. Sticking him into some defensive bench lineups would go a long way toward optimizing his talents.
Will the acquisition of George Hill prove to be a good fit for this squad? Yes, he surely appreciates (and deserved) the money he received but eventually Hill wants to be a part of the vision he was sold upon during free agency.
His slow start has raised questions about whether or not he’s healthy (already), but more notably is the system going to wash over him and render him just another Kings player.
He has $19 million reasons lording over his lack of production and no amount of veteran leadership he provides is going to make that go away for anybody involved.
As for the system, it has actually been an improvement for Joerger and the Kings to start this season so the news isn’t all bad on the front.
Rather than forcing Horns sets with two bigs at the elbows, they’ve popped a big out of the formation and that has created more space for everybody to operate.
The sets have been crisp at times and multi-faceted, but the larger issue is that so much decision-making gets run through non-threats in Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos that too many possessions grind to a halt.
Randolph has brought an important element of tempo via his extended-post game and that’s an important change-up for Joerger to have in his arsenal. If the matchup presents itself and especially if the team needs to settle down, they can at least put a defense on its heels for a few seconds.
Still, there are players like Hill, Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic that can thrive in the pick-and-roll, and the guys defenses fear because of their physical attributes — players like Cauley-Stein and Labissiere — they’re not being paired into that action because that action is usually secondary to the dribble-handoff and off-ball pindowns that the bigs in this offense facilitate.
The deployment represents a classic decision that a coach has to make.
Refine a structure by going to it repeatedly over and over and over again or try to ride the razor’s edge and maximize the output for each given situation.
In today’s game, coaches like to bring their bigs out of the paint and the high post is a perfect place to involve them in the screen game and the passing game. It brings the opposing big out of the paint and creates the lanes for drive and kick.
You’ve heard it so much that it’s now a rallying call for those both inside and outside the game. Spacing, spacing, spacing ….
Still, you don’t enter a basketball into a Kosta Koufos to create an off-ball motion situation when you have a Ferrari in Fox that can get whatever he wants when he wants against a VW bug in Jameer Nelson.
Even the great squads lack this recognition. The Warriors lost a 3-1 lead in the Finals because they refused to adapt to the Cavs’ switching-and-clenching defense a few years back, and the Cavs regularly let LeBron James take jumpers rather than beating up his overmatched counterparts.
The days of going repeatedly at the opposing team’s weakness have increasingly appeared be a thing of the past.
The Spurs, Heat and Celtics, among others, would argue against that. Maybe the audacity of great players on great teams like the Warriors and Cavs is the tipping point for that discussion.
Whether the Warriors want to jack up bad 30-footers or the Cavs want to let LeBron shoot over defenses rather than barrel through them, they’re good enough to do that.
Everybody else has to look at best practices and the Kings certainly fall into that camp. They’ve only played five games entering Sunday’s contest against the Wizards, winning one, and it’s way too early to say anything definitively about this squad.
But the 20-game evaluation timeline that has been floated by Joerger and others in the organization is a long ways away.
The concrete is currently very, very wet. Things that might appear to be problems now can simply go away with a quick and efficient choice.
Encourage Fox to break off sets against overmatched opponents, make the veterans earn all of their minutes and give the kids more minutes as their play dictates. Bend the system to match the personnel with more pick-and-rolls and know your own personnel by matching scorers like Hield with players like Kosta Koufos who need a dribble-handoff play to have any effect on offense.
Let a guy like Hill be a focal point so he doesn’t have to face criticism in December over his contract.
Do that stuff now and you’re riding the razor’s edge. Wait until 2018 and some of that concrete could be too dry to work with.