I think the title, as I always try to do, says it all. But let's move back a bit for a moment. There are other things to notice here first.
About a month ago I repeatedly wrote tweets about Tyreke Evans and how ridiculously awful and terrible from just an effort level Tyreke was performing at. That's disappeared. Which is good because I was getting tired of trying to think of creative ways to lobby for Keith Smart to shoot grenades at Tyreke everytime Reke would jog back in transition. That said, Tyreke is making an adjustment he wasn't willing to make under Paul Westphal, and, not surprisingly, isn't very successful at the adjustment Keith Smart has asked of Tyreke Evans. Part of that is that Evans has not really understood that every team in the league knows he can get into the paint, and that there is only so much good defense by one individual can actually accomplish on his lonesome. Tyreke's issue's are not really about whether he passes too much or too little. Tyreke's real issue's are whether or not Tyreke understands the right read and progressions that are happening, quite often, in just a split second. Can Tyreke make that adjustment? We don't know, and we won't likely know that much about it by the end of this season either. I do know that Tyreke Evans can be a better player than the one that has shown up for a large chunk of the season, and has the capacity to improve in all the real weak area's of his game. None of that will happen unless the decision making improves however.
DeMarcus Cousins has shown incredible progress in a month under Keith Smart. Better attitude, some monster rebounding, and some real issue's remain. The one thing that Cousins has done with Keith Smart is established a relationship pretty quickly which is nice. If there is any player that can ensure the revolving door of coaches ends, it's DeMarcus Cousins. The thing about Cousins that has my eye is the minutes he plays under Smart has gone up. Cousins averaged about 26 MPG under Paul Westphal for the 6 games Cousins played. (Ignoring the 1 game Cousins did not play of course.) Under Keith Smart, Cousins has averaged about 30.5 MPG every night.
Marcus Thornton was super efficient in part because he didn't get the ball far too often during the 4th quarter. (I'll talk about that further below do trust.) But, Marcus Thornton has been Marcus Thornton under Paul Westphal, and now Keith Smart. The biggest thing I think the return of Thornton from injury illustrates is how much competiveness Thornton has and why it's so important to this team. Thornton is not the perfect player next to Tyreke Evans, and we know that. However, perfection is now what we are talking about here. This is not a championship team or anything near a 500 team yet. Let's be honest here: Marcus Thornton can help the Kings get to 500, and that's a far more important hurdle for this team right now than worrying about potential "success" down the road.
Jason Thompson has shown remarkable amounts of growth becoming a more reliable post player, a tremendous defender (one of the 3 best the Kings have on a night in night out basis right now), and a quality energy guy the Kings can rely on almost every night he is out there.
Jimmer Fredette is a rookie, and Jimmer is struggling with the speed of the game. This happens.
Fans, and media, love Isaiah Thomas, but what makes Isaiah Thomas so incredibly important to this team is that he always wants to make a play regardless of what's there. The desire, the ability to push the pace, the need to change the pace and tone of the game is what makes Isaiah such a valuable player despite how few NBA games Isaiah has had.
I love the Chuckwagon too much to ever mutter that I'm greatly irritated when Chuck makes an undefensable play. That said, Chuck Hayes is an integral part of this Kings team due to his leadership and veteran presence on defense.
Donte Greene has played better as of late which is a pleasant surprise. I've said many times I think he will end up being better as a stretch 3, but if Donte proves me wrong? I'll be rather glad. Not for any one particular reason or anything, but because Donte will have found a way to hang onto a career where most players in Donte's situation tend to wash out by now. If Donte can figure out a way to be more effective, than dribble driving that is, on offense while being the designated defensive stopper, Donte Greene has the talent to carve out a 10 year career without a doubt.
Keith Smart is clearly showing that a new head coach was needed not only from a new voice perspective, but one that comes with an outsider perspective from how the franchise had been operating. This development in particular has been a welcome change, and I don't care if it's Keith Smart providing it. Right now, I'd fire Geoff Petrie for hiring a caretaker head coach to secure his legacy, but I'm not the one in charge.
Okay that's pretty much all I gotta say on that part. Now onto the game.
First off, if you read the boxscore and all that implies, you would notice the Kings shot terribly. So terribly that the Kings shooting percentage doesn't even do the percentage justice.
The Kings had 5 turnovers at the half, and 11 turnovers in the 2nd half. Why 11 turnovers? Because the shooting never corrected itself, frustration set in, and the Kings really pressed to create shots that weren't there. The Kings lost this game because they shot 35.1% from the field. When you take away the 8-23 from 3pt land the Kings shot, that percentage from 2 actually dips to 33.9%. That's nasty ugly.
Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds mentioned it on the telecast at the very nearly end of the game, but if Tyreke Evans is not playing well this team doesn't have a chance to win let alone win in the first place. Tyreke's game from a shooting standpoint was awful, and that's something that needs to change. No if's and's, or but's about it. That said, Tyreke needs to develop a mid range game and a left hand and complaining/bitching about it again for the upteenth time on here or Twitter or anywhere still won't change the fact that Tyreke needs to develop that aspect of his game to keep teams like the Phoenix Suns from packing the paint.
DeMarcus Cousins played 34 minutes tonight, and that I'm happy about. Cousins started out pretty well scoring inside, but the nature of that scoring led to greater problems down the road as the game progressed. Cousins simply has to understand that he's a quality 17 foot shooter and taking those shots will not hurt the Kings if Cousins takes these shots when teams are sagging off him. Cousins doesn't have a reliable post up game which is why, I think anyway, you often see Cousins try to dribble drive into the paint. Cousins has an excellent handle for a 6'11 guy, but the greatest big's in the history of the game with quality handles (Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett come to mind) do not dribble into the paint in the way that DeMarcus Cousins does about 5-10 times a game. Big men can't afford due to the packed nature of the lane to dribble more than 3 times before getting into a shooting motion or get into the process of shooting.
The one thing about DeMarcus Cousins that stuck out to me was in the 4th quarter when Cousins showed on a screen to help Francisco Garcia cover Jared Dudley (or at least I think it was Dudley). It was the kind of "help my teammate" action that has been missing from a number of young players including DeMarcus Cousins. I hope to see that a lot more as Cousins quick feet isn't just an asset in drawing charges, but also in hedging/showing on screens that could make the number of paint points given up actually move the needle in the direction of down.
Isaiah Thomas was off tonight, and that really hurt the Kings when Tyreke couldn't get it going. Thomas, like Tyreke, often tried to get shots that weren't really there. Most of Lefty Speedy Gonzalez's mistakes (yes I call him that and will continue to call him that) were of the youth/aggressive variety which does not bother me a great deal. Thomas wasn't the problem tonight, but he could have been a solution. I'm betting in a year Isaiah "LSG" Thomas will be.
As far as Chuck Hayes goes, the #Chuckwagon has had better games.
JJ Hickson and John Salmons didn't play incredibly well tonight which is what it is. Which is unfortunate, but the way it is. Bad games do happen, and it's not like Hickson/Salmons were alone in that regard.
Jimmer Jimmer Jimmer. I like Jimmer, hate his maniacal dipshit fans, and I hate to the nth degree more when Jimmer passes open 3's because Jimmer thinks that taking that 3 will hurt the team. I got news for Jimmer: You're out there because you can shoot. You can shoot, do so. If you're wide open, you should shoot. After all, why do you think were drafted at 10th overall son? The reality is that Jimmer is still struggling far too often with the speed of the NBA game, but Jimmer can and will adjust at some point. Jimmer is too smart and too committed to be kept down by the inertia NBA reality that the NBA routinely chews up (and spits out) young players, even hyped one's, and that's the way it is. I think the real question for Jimmer is not a matter of can he play at the NBA level, but how long it takes. The talent is there, and it's not a fluke. Jimmer made one incredible upcourt pass to Marcus Thornton in the 2nd quarter that you will likely see on every highlight reel. (Or you should.) It's little things like that tell me that Jimmer is struggling to understand his place with this team and in the NBA as a whole. But, like most things, patience is a virtue. With Jimmer, it's certainly a virtue. Now the Jimmermania idiots? Tell them to go fuck themselves anytime you want.(Note: I'm not talking about Mormon Jimmer fans who understand what's going on, or even Jimmer fans who are realistic. Just the idiots. Which there are too many.)
Here's what bothers me the most about what happened with Marcus Thornton tonight: After 3 quarters, Thornton has 20 points on 13 shots. The Bayou Bomber finishes the game with 21 points (the 1 point on a very fortunate technical called against Markieff Morris), and this is what really gets me. From the 11:10 mark (where Thornton shoots the technical), Thornton doesn't take a shot--or turn the ball over on his next "official" used possession --until about 4:45 remaining. If you are curious as to how Marcus Thornton doesn't get a shot for the entire 4th quarter, welcome to watching this Kings team. This group still struggles to understand how to work a hot hand like Thornton.
For me, and I think this is the bottom line of the way this game unfolded, what really stands out is what didn't happen. The Suns never blew the Kings out of the water like the Nuggets had. Granted the Nuggets are a lot better team than the Kings, but that's not the point here. The Suns shot really well, especially in the 1st half when the Phoenix boys were shooting something like 58% (I should really take notes when I'm watching the game eh?). The Kings defense was there, and hell the 98 points was rather misleading. The Suns banked in 2 3pt'ers; 1 by Markieff Morris and the other by Jared Dudley. A heavy percentage of the time those shots miss, and the Kings only give up 92 points in that situation.
I'm not saying the Kings played incredible because they did not. But the Kings effort to try and actually be in the game was there all game long. The Kings just never had anything going offensively from start to finish, and a lot of credit goes to the Phoenix Suns for their scouting report, the Phoenix players for following it (one hallmark of a veteran team) and the coaching staff for coming up with small counters to tweak things that weren't working off the initial scouting report.
It really doesn't matter what the scouting report says at the end of the day. The NBA is about counters, and it's about understanding why counters really really matter. I'm not diminishing the scouting report part of this, but the Kings do not understand subtle little things like keeping the ball in Marcus Thornton's hands so that he can score the ball more often. The Suns keyed in on him sure, but that's to be expected. You have to work to get a scorer open at times, and the Kings simply failed in understanding how to do that tonight.
Tonight was a good example of this team has a lot of raw talent and can still figure out a way to make it work for them when things are kind of going their way. The Suns took the Kings out of their rhythm, and did it from the opening tip. Tonight was an example of why professional basketball players still win a lot of games in the NBA, and hopefully the Kings take stock of that moving forward.
That said, the Kings hung in there despite things not going their way virtually all night. At any given point had they been able to put a run together at any juncture, this game and the tone of this game changes somewhat into the Kings favor. Once that happens, you never know. Especially when you are at home. But hey, there are games where it's just not your night, and there were times where the ball literally went straight to Phoenix. I'm a big believer in making your own luck, and tonight is no exception. I thought the Kings hung their head far too often far too frequently tonight to give themselves a real chance at winning.
This isn't a moral victory nor should it be seen that way in the long term. This Kings team lost because they have difficulty A) getting quality shot attempts at any place on the court and B) having trouble converting open attempts when available. A has been somewhat alleviated by the insistence to push the ball but B is always going to be an issue until the decision making improves.
Tonight the Kings lost by 14, but I'm okay with that. A lesson that professionalism, playing with the right intent and purpose, and having the right attitude is exceptionally important. The Suns aren't a playoff contender anymore, let alone a championship contender, but they kept a younger more talented team discombulated and bottled up virtually all night. Say whatever you want, but the Kings need to understand why the last sentence is so important.
Until the flip side appears again (which is probably tomorrow or at the latest Monday).