In the midst of a total youth movement, the Sacramento Kings are playing their best ball in over a year. Their 111-97 drubbing over the Knicks was partially due to New York’s incompetence, but also to the young talent the Kings are beginning to acquire. Let’s look at the individuals:
Tyreke Evans is Sacramento’s prized rookie, and while he’s an uneven talent, he’s a talent nonetheless. He has the handle and the speed to get into the paint and displayed a nifty left-to-right spinning banker among his more impressive finishes. He also forced numerous drives and passes, particularly in garbage time, when his streak of 20-point games was in jeopardy. Hopefully he isn’t displaying a tendency to value his own numbers over team play.
His jump shot is maddeningly inconsistent. He cocks the ball behind his head as he shoots, creating an awkward follow-through. Of his three misses, two were airballs.
However, Evans used his uncanny size and strength to post up the Knicks and make timely passes when double teamed.
Defensively, Evans was usually hidden with Chris Duhon and Toney Douglas shooting poorly.
Evans needs a thorough ironing to smooth out all the wrinkles in his game. But he can create his own shot, make plays for others, and against the Knicks, rebound the basketball (11 REB). He has the talent, the strength, and the creativity to be the big-time athlete the Kings definitely need.
If Evans is Sacramento’s prized possession, Donta Green was its best player against the Knicks.
Exploding to the hoop, and splashing in triples, Green dominated New York from near and far—9-13 FG, 6-7 3FG, 24 PTS.
Green also ran side screen/rolls expertly, made extra passes, made a veteran high-post flash and pass to a fronted Evans in the low box, terrorized the Knicks with his prime-time shot blocking (6 BLK), and played with jubilation not seen by Sacramento’s opponents.
As extraordinary a game as Green had, he was confused on several rotations and committed almost as many turnovers as assists (5 TO, 6 AST). Also, he had difficulty shooting and creating when the Knicks crowded him.
Still, Green is a remarkable athlete who can boost the Kings through whatever doldrums they may experience. A definite keeper.
Spencer Hawes showed a soft touch on several right hooks, plus he drained a triple. However, he plays below the rim, doesn’t move or jump quickly, and isn’t overly strong. While he showed nice touch, at least a pair of his hooks had the benefit of dancing around every possibly inch of the rim before crawling in.
Hawes can be a useful rotation player, but if Sacramento becomes a good team, it won’t be with Hawes starting for them.
Jason Thompson can hit mid-range springers and face-and-go, but he has no back-to-the-basket game, isn’t an effective defender, and is toothpick thin. He too looks like a useful athlete off the bench, but ultimately, a backup.
Andres Nocioni and Ime Udoka are short-term stopgaps, but each played hard-nosed defense that would be wise to emulate. If Nocioni was overaggressive at times, his activity on defense is a valuable lesson for his teammates to follow. He also splashed in a pair of threes in seven attempts. And when Danillo Gallinari briefly heated up in the second half, Udoka put a clamp on his early-offense step-in-rhythm triples.
Sergio Rodriguez is a third-stringer and nothing more. If he consistently got to the rim, it was the product of horrendous Nate Robinson defense as opposed to his own offensive creativity. He overpenetrated, forced several ill-advised shots and drives, and played no defense on Robinson.
Omar Casspi is frail, shoots jumpers from his hip, has too much arm movement in his free throw routine, and is another poor defender. However, he cuts hard off the ball, is always moving, and has a number of tricky release points, as evidenced by an impressive lefty drive, righty floater, plus a foul.
Jon Brockman is too undersized and underathletic to be a valuable player. However, his smarts and energy will always find him on a roster as a practice player.
Defensively the Kings packed the paint, sagged off, and relied on their length to close out shooters. Their defensive rotations sometimes had nobody covering a shooter, and sometimes had three players running at one guy. In short, the Kings players sloppy, inexperienced defense.
Offensively, the Knicks offered no resistance, so the energetic Kings took everything that was given to them.
All in all, the Kings are starting to develop a backcourt that can provide enough punch to lead to wins. Evans provides muscle in the backcourt to offset Kevin Martin’s flimsines, and is a better passer. Ultimately, Evans may prove to be more of a shooting guard than a point guard though, which may facilitate trading the fragile Martin.
As constructed, the Kings need an athletic low post scorer, better point guards, more practice time for Evans to hone his game, and a total frontcourt upgrade. However, considering how the only thing they appeared to have last season was Kevin Martin, they’re already making progress.
Also, Paul Westphal appears to have the Kings well-coached on offense, and his strategy of selling out to protect the paint at the expense of jump shots is probably best for the Kings.
While they’re still many players and several seasons away from becoming a playoff team, after two years of listless mediocrity and last season’s disaster, the Kings finally have a light at the end of their tunnel. And they don’t need K-Mart to provide it.