In our effort to provide the best pre-game intel to our readers we enlist the assistance of our ultra-knowledgeable blogging frenemies who follow the opposing team regularly. Today, we are fortunate to pick the brains of two of the best experts on the Sacramento Kings – James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom (ESPN Truehoop Network) and Bryan R. of A Royal Pain blog (Fansided network). In addition to covering the Kings, James H., one of Sactown’s very passionate fans, has been an active participant in the grass roots campaigns that helped the Kings stay for at least one more season. Bryan R. is the editor of A Royal Pain. He is also co-admin at KingsForum.net and lead blogger of FanSided’s San Francisco Giants blog, Around The Foghorn.
1. At this point in the season, what kind of game should Knicks fans expect to see from the Kings?
James Ham, Cowbell Kingdom: This is a tough question. I’m not really sure the Kings know what to expect out of themselves on a night-in, night-out basis. The Kings are young and make a lot of mistakes, but they are very talented and shouldn’t be taken lightly. 40% of the starters and 80% of the bench rotation were not on the roster last season, so expect some growing pains early in the season.
Bryan R., A Royal Pain: An energetic, tough one. Ever since the Kings acquired Marcus Thornton towards the end of last season, they’ve competed very well, despite their win/loss record (even though they finished 9-9 in their final 18 last year). They’re still learning to play together, which makes the end of games a bit difficult, but they’re an energetic group that can take the punches from the opposition and give them right back. They might go down 10, 12, even 15, but they’ll fight tooth and nail to get back into the game on most nights. The mentality is so much different from the Brad Miller/Kevin Martin lead Kings of just a few years back.
2. What must the Knicks do to beat the Kings?
J. Ham: Get out on the break and run. The Bulls ran up and down the court on the Kings on Thursday night, scoring 33 points in transition. Chuck Hayes has done a lot in a very short amount of time to provide defensive leadership on the court. The Kings still lack an offensive identity, so slowing them down and forcing them to get into their half court offense is also a must.
Bryan R.: Keep Tyreke down. If Tyreke goes off, the Kings normally do so around him but when Tyreke’s game is held to a minimum, the Kings struggle as has been the case this season. The first game of the year versus the Lakers, Tyreke had a fantastic game and the rest of the Kings followed, but in the past two he’s been quite sub-par (even though the stats haven’t been terrible) and the rest of the Kings had trouble getting their games going. Marcus Thornton will most likely get his, so when the Kings backcourt is pushing 50 points as they did versus the Lakers, they become a challenge. If the Knicks do a good job of keeping Evans out of the paint, it’ll go a long way towards a victory for them.
3. The Kings are the second lowest in assist in the league and seem to play a lot of one-on-one ball. Is there a problem with leadership and guard play?
J. Ham: There is a lack of offensive leadership on the court through three games. With a compact training camp and rough early schedule, the team has yet to play as a cohesive unit. That doesn’t mean that they won’t get healthy on a Mike D’Antoni defense. There are some schemes that even Tyson Chandler cannot help. The Kings have a lot of offensive talent – Evans, Thornton, Cousins, Salmons, Hickson and Fredette, but sometimes that is a curse. The Kings need to get into their offense earlier, move the ball better and continue to the second and third options once things begin to break down.
Bryan R.: They certainly do play a lot of one on one ball, but it’s not so much a selfish thing as they just haven’t learned how to play like a team yet. Evans wants to pass, so much so he’ll completely take himself out of the game at times trying to be a facilitator, but they just don’t have that mental part of the game yet. They tend to get into tunnel vision mode at times and force things when there’s no need. The passing will come with time as they play together and learn, but it’s frustrating to watch when they just stand around and go into streetball mode.
4. What has matured the most, DeMarcus Cousin’s game or his attitude?
J. Ham: After a rookie season under a microscope, Cousins looks not only physically lighter, but emotionally lighter. He is still making a lot of mistakes on both ends of the floor, but his talent is undeniable. DeMarcus just wants to win. It’s something he has done his whole life and he isn’t ready to accept defeat as a standard. He is still bouncing all over the floor. He is still smiling big and grimacing larger. There is a lot to love about this kid both on and off the court. Eventually he will put it all together, until he does, you have to deal with an issue here and there.
5. How is Paul Westphal going to be able to get the best out of this group of players, especially his rookies Isiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette?
J. Ham: It’s kind of funny, but Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas are the least of Westphal’s worries at this time. The rookie guards are running the offense much more effectively than the starters. Westphal is facing an up hill battle because the Kings have way too many people who think they should be scoring 20 points a night. Jimmer has been slightly hesitant to pull the trigger early on, clearly trying to fit in with his teammates. His ability to stretch the floor really opens up the offense for both Cousins and Evans and his passing skills are much better than advertised. Thomas will give you the strongest 5-13 minutes you can hope for out of a rookie. Think Nate Robinson without the ego.
Bryan R.: If Westphal has a strength, I’d say it’s getting players like Fredette and Thomas in situations that will normally benefit them, so, he’ll most certainly put them in good positions. Most of Sacramento has fallen in love with Thomas’ style, he’s such a blast to watch – though he’ll struggle to get more than 5-10 minutes of floor time given the logjam at guard the Kings have. As for Fredette, the guy can score at will – it’s crazy. But his defense leaves something to be desired. He doesn’t lack trying, which is always nice, but he just doesn’t understand rotations yet so he’s continually getting lost, resulting in a domino effect for the rest of the Kings playing defense. He didn’t have any training camp really nor a Summer League, so he’s trying to learn on the fly which is difficult. He just needs some time to learn things and he’ll be adequate, but right now he looks pretty rough on the defensive end.
Bonus Question: Are Sactown Fans and the municipal government going to be able to keep the Kings in Sacramento for the foreseeable future?
J. Ham: God I hope so. Mayor Kevin Johnson is working overtime trying to leverage the cities parking to make this deal happen. We will know more in a month or so, but I’m betting that KJ finishes the deal like he finished the break as a player.
Bryan R.: It really comes down to money. If the Maloofs and the NBA are willing to throw in enough, I’m pretty confident that they’ll stay in Sacramento. The fans have done an amazing job at keeping them in Sacramento so far, so now it comes down to money. I’ll say this – it looks better than it ever has. There is an excitement in the fanbase, the team looks like they’re getting close to turning the corner – hopefully they can ride the momentum to a new arena.
Editor’s Note: In addition to blogging all that’s Kings, Ham is the producer of a documentary called Small Market, Big Heart which is due to release on January 9th and covers Sacramento’s fight to get and keep a professional franchise over the last 26 years. The film trailer below is posted at www.smallmarketbigheart.com. We encourage you to follow @James_Ham and @aroyalpain on Twitter. I’ll be following both guys too.