No rest for the wicked. After taking down the Washington Wizards 117-115 on a Joe Johnson isolation jumper in the Let’s Make Devin Revisit His Distant Nail-Biting Addiction Bowl, the Brooklyn Nets take on the Sacramento Kings tonight in Brooklyn. The 13-20 Kings are on a bit of a streak — they’ve won four of their last five, riding their enigmatic shooting star center DeMarcus Cousins (19.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, and most impressively, 5.4 assists per game in the streak).
The Kings do have their fair share of problems. They’re 3-13 on the road, rank 28th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and foul a ton — they give up .305 free throws per field goal attempt (fourth-worst in the league). The Nets should put them away easily, and because of that, I expect another double-overtime game that comes down to the last possession.
Joining me to help figure out what’s going on in Sacramento is the excellent Greg Wissinger, associate editor at SB Nation Sacramento Kings site Sactown Royalty. I’ve asked Greg to answer three questions on the Kings, plus offer a prediction.
Devin: Sacramento is only 13-20, but ranks in the top half of the NBA in offensive efficiency. What would you characterize as their greatest offensive strength? Or is there no strength, rather a balance of a few things?
Greg: Wow, I actually wasn’t aware that the Kings offensive efficiency was that high. The team does have efficient individuals, though. Although he’s still being kept to limited minutes, Jimmer Fredette has been incredibly efficient shooting the ball this season. It’s been a remarkable turnaround. Jason Thompson has also been a model of efficiency, mostly through never forcing the issue and taking smart shots when they’re available. Overall the issue with the Kings has rarely been their ability to score points, but rather their ability to stop the other team. Although the Kings are above average in offensive efficiency, their defensive numbers are atrocious.
Devin: DeMarcus Cousins. That’s the question.
Greg: Oh man. DeMarcus is so difficult to place. As most fans are probably aware, DeMarcus was recently suspended by the Kings for conduct detrimental to the team. He got in a shouting match with Coach Keith Smart, and apparently it got pretty bad. What fans outside of Sacramento may not be aware of is that since returning from that suspension, Cousins has been exemplary. His on-court attitude and demeanor have been much improved, and he’s elevated his play as well. It’s truly been a stunning transformation, and it’s changed the minds of a lot of Kings fans who were hell-bent on trading Cousins just over a week ago. However, Cousins is the type of guy where you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’s so, so talented, but there’s a lot of baggage that comes with that talent.
When Cousins was suspended there were a lot of trade rumors floated. Brooklyn was even mentioned in some of the rumors as a team that was interested in acquiring him. However, every report we’re hearing now is that DeMarcus is the only untouchable player on the roster, as is was before this season began. The Maloofs were the ones who sped up DeMarcus’ reinstatement, and it seems they would overrule Geoff Petrie if he attempted to trade DeMarcus.
Devin Are you confident in Keith Smart as the coach for this team? Do you think Smart can be successful coaching this team?
Greg: I’m glad you asked this the way that you did. I am not confident in Keith Smart as a long-term solution as head coach for the Kings, but I absolutely think he can be successful coaching this team. I lack confidence simply because of what we’ve seen so far. Smart’s rotations have been unpredictable, to say the least. He also seems intent on giving heavy minutes to veterans with limited upside, such as Aaron Brooks and Travis Outlaw, rather than young players who have a similar skill level but far more upside, such as Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette, and Thomas Robinson. And the new offense he installed this offseason hasn’t worked. To be honest, none of us can figure out what the new offense was even supposed to look like.
But if Smart turned this team around, it wouldn’t shock me. He’s got a lot of attributes that you need your coach to have with a roster like Sacramento’s. He’s very focused on player development, and has a reputation of relating well to players. Part of the reason he was extended through next season was that he connected with DeMarcus Cousins in a way Paul Westphal never could. Of course, recent events have called that into question, but to Smart’s credit he hasn’t backed down. He gave Cousins some tough love, but still seems committed to repairing that bond and seeing things through.
I also believe in Smart as a matter of self-preservation. Kings fans know the Maloofs won’t pay for a top-tier coach. If Smart were to be fired, he’d be replaced with another cheap option. And since he’s already been extended through next season, Kings fans know he won’t be fired this year. There’s no way the Maloofs will pay for two coaches. Since he’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and since we know we’ll never be in contention for a Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Stan Van Gundy, or even a Nate McMillan, it’s better to see how it someday might work out with Smart at the helm.
Prediction: Kings 107, Nets 104. I have zero confidence in this prediction, but the Kings have won 4 of their last 5 which I never would have expected. The key will be DeMarcus Cousins versus Brook Lopez. Three of Sacramento’s last four wins have come against teams lacking front court depth. I’ll be interested to see if Cousins can continue his current hot streak against Lopez, who’s been pretty impressive on defense so far this season.