The Sacramento Kings made just enough plays in their 86-81 win over the New Jersey Nets to offset their youthful mistakes. Let’s examine Sacramento’s roster to see what the Kings have now, and what they’ll need going forward.
Tyreke Evans—8-21 FG, 0-1 3FG, 4-5 FT, 4 AST, 5 TO, 3 STL, 20 PTS—is the point man of Sacramento’s attack, despite questions surrounding whether or not he’s a true point guard. The Kings mostly featured wing or high isolations or screen/rolls for him against the Nets, though they sometimes posted him 16 feet out along the baseline and allowed him to go one-on-one.
Evans has a terrific body and attacking mindset that favors him someday being a primetime scorer. He also has a tight crossover with either hand and an explosive first step that always left him a half step past his defender before that player could react.
Despite knocking down 5-of-9 jump shots, his form still needs tweaking. While it isn’t as pronounced as it was in the past, Evans still brings the ball above his head before he releases it.
His touch is somewhat better as his release point is somewhat lower, but the catapult motion generated by his mechanics is still too great. One of his pull-up jumpers was an airball, and another pinballed between the front and back rim several times before dropping through.
Evans also has a bad habit of fading away on his jumpers when it isn’t necessary, causing his shots to fall short. In time this should be corrected if he cares enough to correct it, but it’s still a problem in the short term.
The biggest hole in Evans’ offensive arsenal is his lack of a short jumper. Inside 15 feet, Evans is either putting his head down and attacking the hoop no matter what, or he’s over-penetrating and making wild kick out passes back to the outside. Evans forced several drives this way resulting in missed layups through multiple defenders, offensive fouls, and stolen passes.
As a passer, Evans almost exclusively looks to drive and kick back to the perimeter. Not all of his passes are on target either. Several drives and kicks that found their intended targets were still made at the players legs or caused the player to break out of his natural movement. He also tends to over-handle and over-penetrate.
Because of Evans’ proliferation as a slasher, and his relatively flawed passing skills, he projects to somebody best served as a two-guard than a point guard, though he’ll need to learn to work more off the ball to make that switch.
Defensively, Evans applies more ball pressure than he has in the past, and he has great ball skills to intercept lazy dribbles and passes, but he still gets caught on screens, still fouls jump shooters, and is still flat-footed on defense, on one possession letting Anthony Morrow blow by him while hardly leaving his stance.
With all of Sacramento’s defensive difficulties this early season, and with Evans’ role as the face of the franchise, the onus is on him to stop being lazy on defense. If he doesn’t take defense seriously, why should anyone else?
Carl Landry—7-12 FG, 1-1 FT, 6 REB, 0 AST, 6 TO, 15 PTS—has an explosive first step and is comfortable finishing in traffic, but he can’t jump and is undersized, which causes his shot to be blocked an inordinate number of times.
Also, like Evans, he’s a bull in a china shop around the paint who goes full-speed ahead, with no finesse around the hoop.
Landry is not a good rebounder, as he’s often out-jumped in a crowd, or too short to keep players from reaching over him for loose balls. Defensively, he’s too short to alter many shots, and he’s not good at closing out, though a switch and hard closeout late on a Travis Outlaw three forced a huge miss.
To compensate for Landry’s poor defense, the Kings start Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert held his own in forcing the disappearing Brook Lopez into another rough game (3-9 FG, 7 PTS), but he seldom boxes out, misses rotations, and can be overpowered around the hoop.
On offense Dalembert is a capable high post passer who otherwise displays terrible shot selection. Against the Nets he missed badly on a 10-foot fallaway, a clumsy right hook, and a short jumper, while also bricking a layup.
Luther Head has come a long way in improving his once-disastrous defense to respectable levels. He also made several crisp passes, didn’t make any egregious mistakes, and knocked in a trey.
He’s not good at penetration, partially because he doesn’t have a great deal of talent, but moreover, because he doesn’t use ball screens well, coming off of screens too flat to allow defenders time to fight or squeeze their way through those screens to stay in front of him.
Donte Greene spent the game against the Nets going through the motions when the Kings ran sets that didn’t involve him, and he was habitually late on his rotations. This after reporting to camp out of shape and winding up in Paul Westphal’s doghouse. It’s time for this kid to grow up.
DeMarcus Cousins—2-8 FG, 10 REB, 1 AST, 1 TO, 8 PTS—is Sacramento’s prized rookie, but he can’t stay on the floor because of perpetual foul trouble. When showing on screens he has a tendency to jab at the ball, a needless exercise that will only continue to feed his foul problems, and when defending shot attempts, he throws his hands more forward than high, leading to more contact with opponents arms than the ball.
When guarding the post or defending cross-screens, he’s all about fighting and shoving with his upper body than using any kind of positional advantage, and he’s flat-footed as a defender.
Offensively, Cousins’ foot work is slow and clumsy, and none of his moves—a mechanical right hook, an awkward step through, a clumsy baseline spin—are executed with any degree of grace.
What Cousins did do well was read double teams and make the appropriate pass to both spot-up shooters and cutters, no easy task, and he always, always boxed out. He also has good touch on his shot, and executed an impressive high-arching, reverse pivot fadeaway jumper that dropped in—shades of Rasheed Wallace.
Until Cousins unlearns his bad defensive habits he’ll be hard-pressed to improve because he’ll never be on the floor. Until he improves his footwork, he’ll be predictable to defend by good defenses. At the very least, he has good potential as a rebounder and help defender, though the Kings need him to develop to move Landry to a sixth-man role off the bench.
Beno Udrih—5-9 FG, 2-3 3FG, 3 AST, 0 TO, 12 PTS—is a good backup point guard because he has good vision, takes care of the ball, and has an accurate mid-range jumper. Against the Nets, Udrih’s clutch three in the final seconds eventually iced the game. However, Udrih is another poor defender who lacks the athleticism to stay in front of most NBA point guards, hence why pairing him with Evans gets problematic.
Francisco Garcia—3-7FG, 7 PTS—is little more than a streaky, inconsistent scorer who only has eyes on the basket.
Jason Thompson knocked down an 18-footer, was active in tracking down three rebounds, and played some effective defense in contesting a Jordan Farmar drive, and stuffing a Derrick Favors layup, though he tends to get pushed around down low because of his thin frame.
What will the Kings need to rule the Western Conference?
A defensive minded guard or wing who can shoot the three.
Evans to improve his passing, his decision making, his jump shooting, his left hand, and his defense, while also developing either a floater, or a short jumper.
Because of Landry’s limitations, he’d be best served as a designated second-unit scorer. To
facilitate that, Cousins needs to improve his offensive game to become the designated frontcourt scorer.
A power forward with three-point range to take advantage of Evans’ drive-and-kick game.
Greene to take the game more seriously.
Omri Casspi to get tougher.
In lieu of the above two, one more creative wing scorer or a wing defender who can shoot.
The entire team to start committing itself to playing defense on every possession.
Right now, Sacramento’s offense, while raw and rugged, at least has the right idea. Westphal calls a lot of split cuts that take advantage of Cousins’ and Dalembert’s passing, and the players play with physicality and aggressiveness.
However, as the Kings’ defense rests, so too does the approach of their potentially bright future.