Suffering from back spasms, Tyreke Evans sat out the Sacramento Kings’ final visit to Utah Friday. Reserve Travis Outlaw started in his place at small forward.
It was Outlaw’s first start this year. Fast forward just three days later and the veteran forward recorded his 24th “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision” of the season.
Regardless of what you might think about Keith Smart’s distribution of playing time, the head coach of the Sacramento Kings says he “keeps all guys…ready to play.”
“When you are a guy that’s not in the top eight,” said Smart during media availability before Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Nets. “You have to always be ready to play.
“So based on your rotation, he’s (Outlaw) on the fringe,” he added when I asked him about the peculiarity of starting a player who appears to be on the periphery of his rotation. “Based on my rotation, he is as close to the fire as any of our players.”
Smart’s lineups have become the ire of some Jimmer Fredette fans, who complain about the rookie guard’s inconsistent playing time. But just like Outlaw, Fredette’s minutes have fluctuated depending on a number of factors, including team injuries and match-ups presented by the opposition.
“I look at the game, the situation,” said Smart, who also noted that the condensed schedule hasn’t played a role in deciding playing time. “After the eighth man, I look at how the game is going to be played.”
Take starter Jason Thompson for example. In 31 minutes Saturday, the Kings power forward recorded a double-double in the 12-point loss to the Nets. In the Kings’ next two games, Thompson played sparingly, due to the match-ups presented by Phoenix and Minnesota’s stretch forwards. In 37 combined minutes between both games, he recorded just 10 points and five rebounds.
Pecking order and tenure also determine how Smart distributes minutes. In seven games as a King, Terrence Williams is shooting 52 percent from the field and has displayed excellent court vision and passing ability while on the floor.
But despite compiling a 12-point-12-rebound effort in Monday’s win over the Timberwolves, Williams wasn’t inserted into the starting lineup after Marcus Thornton went down to injury. It has, after all, been just two weeks since the third-year forward joined the Kings.
“I’ve got team and player dynamics I’ve gotta work through as well,” said Smart.
Perhaps Williams’ follow-up performance against the Suns (16 points, five assists, six rebounds and two blocks) gives Smart enough leeway to start the third-year forward tonight. Or in an effort to manage egos, he continues to play Williams off the bench.
Such is the balancing act played by an NBA head coach.