With the NBA on hiatus, Sacramento Kings fans turned out in force Sunday night to catch the first annual COS Goon Squad Classic hosted by Donté Greene. Maybe the gym wasn’t packed to the rafters, but I’ve watched enough of these promotional games to tell you that it was a huge success. According to Lisa Allen of the COS Foundation, not counting media and family members (which easily totaled a few hundred), more than 3,000 fans were in attendance.
From my seat at the scorers table, there was a lot of good to take away from the game, most noticeably that the players appeared to be in great shape. Of the current Sacramento Kings roster, Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, Donté Greene, Hassan Whiteside, Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas showed up to play. Former King Spencer Hawes, current Laker and Sacramento native Matt Barnes, and Wizards star guard John Wall also made the trip out to Sacramento, but Wall kept his hoodie on while nursing a sore groin.
Here are my impressions of the Kings players on hand.
Tyreke Evans- Clearly Evans was thicker than last we saw him. I wouldn’t say he was out of shape, he did drop 54 points on the night, but he was noticeably bulkier. Tyreke’s jump shot was smooth and he even got a little bit tricky with some high arching jumpers over Donté Greene. Most of his 54 points came from the perimeter (10-3pts), but the fall away look that he tried to go away from last season was back. Maybe it’s time to work with the shot that is most comfortable for Evans and stop worrying about body positioning.
As a side note, a lot of fans were there to see Jimmer Fredette play for the first time in the Sacramento area. Tyreke seemed to notice and responded to this. By responded, I mean that if the crowd called for Jimmer to take a 35-footer, Evans would shoot and hit one of his own on the other end on the next sequence. Evans is still the big dog in Sacramento and he showed it on Sunday night.
Jimmer Fredette- Every time Jimmer crosses the ball over half court, the crowd began yelling for him to shoot. How he is going to handle that issue during an NBA game will be interesting, but this kid has mad skills. He ran the point full-time opposite Tyreke and played most of the game. Don’t be fooled by the 54-point outburst by Tyreke, no one played any defense in this game. What I liked was Fredette’s court vision. He spotted teammates all over for open shots and ally-oop dunks. He started out very hot, but really cooled down in the second half. Maybe it was all the dancing at halftime.
Beyond the court vision, Jimmer is a leader. You can see the quiet confidence in his game and his mannerisms off the court. He is a guy who can kill it on the court, let loose for a few minutes to entertain a crowd and then give you the most thoughtful interview following the game. He scored 34 points, which doesn’t exactly jump out of box scores in this particular game, but his team won the game in overtime, in part because of his shooting.
Jason Thompson- Outside of Evans’ performance, Jason Thompson easily stood out as a player who has been working tirelessly on his game this elongated summer. Thompson finished with authority on ally-oops and moves to the hoop. He buried a three pointer and a fall away jumper over DeMarcus Cousins, finishing with 45 points. JT was shaky from the line, but he looked explosive everywhere else. Kings fans have been waiting for Thompson to finish aggressively at the rim since he came into the league like he did Sunday night. It was only a promo game, but Thompson clearly looked like an improved player.
DeMarcus Cousins- DeMarcus went for 42 points and he did it with style and panache. This wasn’t exactly a game where people were feeding the post and letting the big man do his work, so DeMarcus became a point guard and ran the floor. Cousins looked lean and strong, although he said he was about five pounds heavier than he would like to be. He was gregarious as always, even grabbing Jimmer and flinging him around a bit after a big dunk. Like Thompson, Cousins looked explosive and mobile.
Donté Greene- The host of the event spent a lot of time working the crowd and doing his best to entertain his 3000+ guests. That included some long threes, some impressive dunks and a lot of really ugly shoes – oh yeah, he also scored 35 points. It was hard to get a feel for where his game was because he was being pulled in a few different directions, but if there is a season, there shouldn’t be a repeat of last summer’s weight gain issue. I’ve said this before, but in talking to Donté, I get a real sense that he has matured on and off the court.
Hassan Whiteside- This guy is a monster. Although there wasn’t a ton of defense being played, Whiteside still blocked a good seven or eight shots. He has an incredible wingspan, nice lift and he is developing as an offensive weapon. The questions surrounding Whiteside have always been whether he can put all of this talent to good use. For those in attendance, Whiteside put on a show of what might be. He is still a work in progress, but man this kid has a load of potential. Jon mentioned the Vince Carter dunk in his wrap-up, but that was one of many athletic plays the young big man out of Marshall made. The Kings would love to have a post defense specialist off the bench and Whiteside might be able to fill that void.
Isaiah Thomas- The little man out of Washington didn’t really get it going in this game. I expected him to draw in the crowd, like I have seen him do in other promo games, but he never had that one moment that got the fans going. Maybe this is a good thing. Kings fans are going to embrace this kid, maybe it’s better if everyone gets to see him break out on TV and not just an isolated group in Davis.
Overall, the entire night was a huge success. The players put on a spectacular show for the fans. Donté Greene and his COS group did a great job hosting the event and it was nice to have basketball back, even if it was for just one night.
Wednesday morning, we will post the overtime session in its entirety.