- Teams: Detroit Pistons (2-5) at Sacramento Kings (2-5)
- Date: November 15, 2013
- Time: 10:30 p.m.
- Television: ESPN
What to look for
The Sacramento Kings are a team of multiple identities. Last season, they were arguably the most selfish unit in basketball based on their style of play. The extra pass was a luxury more than anything because their players operated under the premise that the first man with the ball got to shoot it.
To be fair, it was entertaining to watch because the Kings had very little chemistry and the players often appeared irritated with the way things went on the floor. Sacramento was a ticking time bomb that never detonated but certainly came close.
No one exhibited this better than DeMarcus Cousins. The volatile center led me to write a series of posts about him that rarely had any correlation with each other. One day he had Hall of Fame talent and the next day he was the perfect illustration of what was holding the Kings back.
The present speaks to an entirely different reality. The Kings brought in Michael Malone as the team’s head coach during the 2013 offseason and he has clearly made a difference.
Granted, it’s still early in the season but Sacramento looks like a different group even though the record might not exactly indicate it. The Kings have an actual offense that requires ball movement and screens.
Players are no longer simply drifting around the floor hoping the rock finds them. Instead, there is action with purpose. Malone even has a few misdirection plays where the sets look as though they are designed to get Cousins the ball on the block.
Mind you, it’s a setup. Indeed, they will run a cross screen for the big man from the opposite baseline and have him pop up around the free-throw line area and begin to drift towards the low post. From there he will explode and set a ball screen and get himself into the open area on the court.
The ball-handler is then afforded with a series of high-percentage decisions.
What’s surprising is the fact that the players seem genuinely invested in running the offense and finding the best possible shots. Keep in mind, Boogie Cousins is at the forefront of this based on his play.
The big man has also made the commitment defensively and is doing small things he failed to accomplish last season. He bumps cutters, helps out on off-ball screens and recovers back to his man and contests shots. Cousins must do a better job of avoiding fouls, but there is a lot to like in his maturation process.
Sacramento is a smarter ball club in 2013-14 and that also means they are a better team. Mind you, an argument can be made that after last season the only direction they could go was up.
This is still a talent driven league and the Kings do not have good complementary parts around Cousins. They have ball-handlers and scorers, which is one way to build a team but not a great one.
The Kings lack knockdown shooters and playmaking can be an issue every now and then even though Sacto does a good job of protecting the ball. Complicating matters some is the lack of smart defenders on the team.
Opponents can take advantage of them especially on the interior with clever screen actions that result in throwing the ball over the top of the defense. The Pistons run some pretty bland stuff from that standpoint, but simple post-ups are also one way of attacking the Kings.
The tandem of Jason Thompson and Cousins are certainly more eager to defend this season, but they are also a little too active. Both have very high foul rates and thus can be exploited.
Watch out for a neat trick that Malone uses to protect his big people: pack the paint. The Kings will essentially give up mid-range jumpers and even some long-range ones in an effort to provide some help to his frontline.
That philosophy will be tough on the Pistons given their lack of perimeter shooting. They certainly will be tested, but Detroit’s offensive rebounding prowess will serve as the equalizer.
One fun tidbit to keep an eye on as the season progresses: The Pistons started the second half of their last game (versus the Golden State Warriors) with Josh Smith on the bench.
They eventually had him retake the floor at the 5:24 mark of the third quarter to replace Andre Drummond. That might be a small concession from the coaching staff that they no longer believe in the trio of Drummond, Smith and Greg Monroe.
The sample size is small but telling nonetheless. In 141 minutes together (averages out to 20.1 minutes per game), the trio is allowing 116.9 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com. To put that figure into context, no team in the league is scoring as many points.
In other words, the combination of Smith, Drummond and Monroe turns opposing offenses into the best in the league. Tonight’s contest might give us an indication of whether the experiment is truly doomed.