So, the Kings have started off their 2010-2011 campaign to relative success. Sure, the wins have come against inferior competition, two of the losses were very winnable, and it’s still very early. But the Kings are at .500, and perhaps more importantly, they’re above .500 on the road. Last season may have created some skepticism when it comes to strong starts, but why not go glass half full?
Of course, we must still remember that this is, in fact, the first week of the season, and as such some of the “trends” we’ve seen so far aren’t trends at all. This is why I’m not going overboard with Tyreke’s seemingly improved shot – mechanics are nice, but I want to see it stick – or why I’m not sinking into a deep depression because Pooh Jeter hasn’t broken into the rotation (it’s more like a light depression).
However, some things have stood out with this incarnation of the Kings, and bare mentioning. Presented in incoherent rambling form:
Perimeter defense: Not that we didn’t know this already, but something here has to change. Guys like Ramon Sessions and DeMar DeRozan killed the Kings, getting to the rim time and time again. Not that I don’t like Sessions and DeRozan, but some kind of effort has to be made. The main culprit here has to be Beno, who has done everything but give opposing players mints on their way to the hoop. Beno has been ridiculous on offense so far, so I hate to point out the bad side of the court over the good side of the court, but this has to change. Tyreke, Cisco and Omri have been better than Beno, but that’s obviously not saying much. Which brings me to…
Where are Donte and JT? After a summer long debate, Donte was declared a starter to open the season, but after playing 27 minutes on opening night, he was apparently demoted to a towel boy. This makes absolutely no sense to me. Donte certainly has his flaws, but he’s a young guy with upside on a young team with upside, and the best perimeter defender on a team that, as I mentioned, has struggled greatly in this regard. I don’t mind Omri starting over him, not one little bit, but 4 minutes in 4 games for Donte is a felony.
JT’s story is even weirder. He was expected to be the team’s 4th big man… only Darnell Jackson’s strong play has bumped him down to 5th. A drop from his career average of 29 minutes per game was to be expected, but that figure was nearly cut in half. Even worse, he was unimpressive when playing, even though he’s still a defensive improvement over Landry. I’ve warned that this season could cause Jason to stagnate – it’s looking that way right now, and it isn’t good.
I was hoping that after a full season on the job, coach Westphal would stop jerking his team around. So far, it’s been more of the same.
Big men shot selection: DeMarcus Cousins has taken 56 shots so far this season. Only 13 of them have been at the rim. Of those 13 shots, he has made 11. You then have 7 for 21 from inside of 10 feet, and 5 of 22 from 10 feet and beyond, including 6 baffling attempts from three point range.
Carl Landry has displayed a similar thirst for outside shooting, with only 16 of his 73 attempts coming at the rim, and 34 coming from 16 to 23 feet. Of those 34, he has made 13. Even Jason Thompson has attempted a third of his shots (11 of 33) from that dreaded “long two” area.
Big guys. We like that you can make outside shots. But don’t forget what your best skills are. DMC is a monster inside, and Carl has elite post scoring skills. Wasting that away is a damn shame, especially if both started off relatively cold from the outside.
Slow starts: This is very indicative of a young team, but that shouldn’t make it excusable. The Kings are digging holes for themselves early on, and though they may be recoverable against the Torontos and the Clevelands of the league, this is a terrible 82 game strategy. Third quarter surges are nice. It would be even nicer if they came when the Kings were already leading. Hopefully this is something that can be helped by moving Samuel Dalembert into the starting lineup.
DeMarcus Cousins is a man: There has been foul trouble. There has been bad shot selection. Doesn’t matter. Everything we have been seeing since summer league is for real – the passing, the rebounding (when he’s not distancing himself from the basket by taking long jumpers), the scoring instincts, the willingness to step up in the clutch. 99% of the learning curve is still ahead of us, but it’s good to know that the Kings have the commodity they thought they were drafting.
Beno and Cisco are legit: I won’t point out Cisco’s ridiculous shooting percentages, since they won’t last. Nor will I fret over Beno’s subpar three point shooting. Sample size should always be remembered this early in the season.
However, both players seem very capable of filling in the role of secondary guard next to Reke. Cisco has been brilliant as a scorer and an energizer on defense, leading the team in PER so far. Beno hasn’t been as strong as a scorer due to the shooting slump, but he has been finding his teammates for open shots left and right and steering the ship on offense. The Kings still need a better second guard if they want to return to the league’s elite, but these two are more than good enough in the meantime.
Another strong November for Omri: The real test for Omri this season will be to succeed where he failed last year – and that’s someime around January or February. One worry we can safely cross off our worry list, though, is that Omri’s blazing start to his rookie campain is a fluke. Omri has displayed the shooting stroke that helped him break into the rotation last year, and has seemed more comfortable defensively (he was absolutely everywhere against Cleveland, and not just on offense). Now it’s just a matter of keeping it up.
Role players are emerging: On opening night, it was Luther Head. Against the Nets, it was Darnell Jackson. While it still seems overly optimistic to expect the two to be solid contributors down the road, so far they have both taken their chances and used them to up themselves on the depth chart. If they prove they are here to stay, the Kings just picked up two solid pieces for virtually nothing.
Comebacks: The Kings displayed some of the worst basketball I’ve seen against the Cavs in that first half… but then, in the second, it was like they were a different team. Similar phenomena showed against the Nets, Raptors and Wolves. While giving up early leads sucks, it’s good to see that this team never gives up, and is capable of playing some actual defense every once in while.
Jury still out
Interior defense: Don’t get me wrong – though it hasn’t been as bad as the perimeter defense, the work inside was still terrible. But it has looked much, much stronger with Dalembert in the game, and will look even better once DeMarcus figures out how to challenge shots without fouling. I fully expect this to get better quickly, which is why it gets a pass.
All in all, a cautiously optimistic start to the season. Some problems seem fixable. Others are just the product of a young team trying to get out of the league’s cellar. Any way you look at it, this is a fun team to watch so far, which is really all one can ask for. You know, assuming that ring is still out of reach.