Sitting together sideline, head coach Keith Smart and president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie watched on, as the bench mob occupied the floor of the Sacramento Kings practice facility Friday.
On one team: Jimmer Fredette, Travis Outlaw, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Honeycutt . On the other: Donté Greene, Isaiah Thomas, Francisco Garcia and J.J. Hickson. As the starters rested, the two squads composed of the Kings second and third units scrimmaged against each other to finish off practice.
“They kind of know the routine now,” said Smart following Friday’s workout session. “Guys who played a lot of minutes worked at the top half of the practice and the other guys – bench guys, guys who are not playing at all – get a chance to be on the floor and play (in the bottom half).”
Due to a number of factors (among them – the compressed calendar and early season coaching change), it was just the second time this season Smart and his staff gave the Kings bench extensive work. Following his promotion, Smart made it first priority to develop and work his starters.
“Now I’ve got to devote that same amount of time (to the bench),” said Smart. “I feel it’s important for me as a coach to be involved with them in plays…when we have practice days as well.”
That reinforcement can only help the Kings backups, who’ve made strides despite little practice time. In their last three games, the second unit has averaged a solid 30.7 points per contest and the starters have taken notice.
” They’re getting better,” said starting point guard Tyreke Evans. “Especially Isaiah. He comes in and does a great job picking up the tempo. And Jimmer’s hanging in there. (He) hasn’t been playing that much. But when it’s time, he comes in and plays hard.”
Despite decreased minutes, Fredette has shown progress when afforded the opportunity. The rookie guard has continued to show less hesitancy finding his shot. In Tuesday’s near-win over Minnesota, Fredette came off the bench and scored 13 points in an 11 minute stretch during the fourth quarter.
“And Donté too,” Evans added. “(He’s) been playing great. Did a great job on Kevin Durant – he always does. Nobody actually shuts (Durant) down, but (Greene) just makes him take tough shots and that’s what helped us out a lot.”
Greene recorded three consecutive “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decisions” against Portland, Golden State and New Orleans. But the Kings forward was instrumental off the bench in Tuesday’s close contest in Minneapolis, where he chipped in 11 points and almost made a game-winning three. And again Thursday versus Oklahoma City, when he finished with 10 points in just 16 minutes of play.
“I think one of the biggest things is that we are a staff of communicators,” said Smart. “And I’m communicating to the players that ‘Hey, you may not play for a little bit,’ or ‘Your minutes may be short here,’ but you have to be prepared.”
As demonstrated by Fredette and Greene, the reserves are buying in. By diving deep into the bench certain evenings, the Kings head coach is proving that motto isn’t just lip service.
“On any given night in the NBA, you have to be ready because someone may not be playing well,” he added. “(Or) I may need an energy boost somewhere and you could be the guy that will do that…and this group is understanding that right now.”
Video: Keith Smart on developing his bench.
Jonathan Santiago is co-editor of Cowbell Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter.