Offensively speaking, it’s been a rocky start to the NBA season for newcomer James Johnson. The Sacramento Kings small forward hasn’t been able to find his rhythm and is shooting a team-low 23 percent from the field through four games.
Johnson has looked out of sync when the Kings have had the ball, but his struggles aren’t a major concern for Keith Smart. The Kings head coach believes that the 25-year-old forward is still adapting to his new surroundings.
“I don’t think there’s anything ailing him,” Smart said of Johnson following Tuesday practice. “I think it’s all new to him. I’m giving him freedom to function as a wing player and I think that’s maybe something new to him.
“I’m saying to him do whatever you need to do and do it decisively,” Smart added. “And I think he’s kind of shell-shocked (with) that, you know?”
The Kings head coach also thinks that Johnson’s unfamiliarity with his teammates has to do with his slow offensive start. The fourth-year wing briefly worked out with Tyreke Evans while preparing for the 2009 NBA Draft. But other than the Kings’ starting shooting guard, Johnson had never played with anyone on the team before he was traded to Sacramento back in July.
With a team full of capable scorers, Smart contends that he doesn’t need offense from Johnson at this moment. For now, the Kings coach is pleased with the defensive proficiency that Johnson has brought early this season. Currently, Johnson stands third on the team in defensive rating, just behind Thomas Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins, allowing just 95 points per 100 possessions.
“He’s not a shooter right now,” Smart said. “But he doesn’t have to be that shooter right now. We don’t need him for that right now. We’ve got enough scorers right now.”
In three of his first four games, Aaron Brooks has found himself as the Kings’ closer at point guard. Chuck Hayes, who teamed with Brooks in Houston a few years ago, has no problem with the veteran point guard taking big shots in a tight contest.
“He can get his shot off just like Marcus (Thornton),” Hayes said. “And he can handle the ball just as good as Tyreke. The guy, he’s clutch. He’s won most improved out of 450 players. So I’ve seen him do that and I’m comfortable with him being in there in the fourth quarter.”
Brooks scored five of the Kings’ final six points in Monday’s win over the Golden State Warriors.
John Salmons update
The Kings veteran swingman missed most of the preseason due to the birth of his third child. Salmons rejoined the team in Minnesota last week, but has yet to suit up this season.
Smart would like the Kings’ oldest player to have at least two more practices under his belt before bringing him back into action. But the Kings head coach also trusts Salmons’ judgment when it comes to knowing if he’s ready to play.
“One thing about veteran guys, they know their bodies,” Smart said. “They know when their bodies are ready and so that won’t be my call. Whenever he says he’s ready to go and the training staff says that he’s okay, then we’ll put him on the floor.”
Since returning, Salmons has eased back into the Kings’ practice flow with some light work in four-on-four and five-on-five scrimmages.
Video: Keith Smart on offensive adjustments and Chuck Hayes on second-unit’s cohesion