The Sacramento Kings are eight games into their 2012-13 schedule and already, they are dealing with a myriad of issues both on and off the court. In some ways, the chaos is masking losses, sagging attendance and the struggles of individual players. What started out so promising has already turned into a giant stack of questions with very few answers.
Coming into the season, we heard a lot of talk about playoffs and team building, but to date, nothing has materialized. The whole is still not better than the sum of its parts. This is a group of individuals fighting over one, round, orange ball and the results have been a disappointment.
For the last few seasons, there have been gaping holes in leadership, which is the last thing a young team needs. The Kings have tried different approaches to rectify this particular situation, but to no avail. Through training camp and preseason, DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans staked their claim as individuals ready to fill the leadership void, but so far, that has been nothing more than lip service.
We have already beat the Cousins situation like a dead horse, but the truth remains that it is difficult to lead when you spend a large portion of a game sitting due to foul trouble and miss contests due to suspension.
And where is Evans in this mess?
This is supposed to be his year. As a fourth-year player, he is supposed to excel and chase big free agent money at season’s end. Instead, we are seeing much of the same and even worse, regression.
“I’m taking it day by day,” Evans told reporters following Wednesday practice. “Coach has put in some new things in today that I think will better the offense. It’s much more basic, so hopefully we can just keep drilling it and try to work on it.”
No one expected this. No one expected the Kings high-powered offense of a year ago to need an overhaul this early in the season, let alone a dumbing down.
Evans, like many of his teammates looked great in preseason, but that seems so far away now. The Kings shifted him back to the backcourt during training camp, displacing leading scorer Marcus Thornton and sending him to the bench. To say the transition has been rocky for both players would be an understatement.
Evans and newcomer James Johnson are both struggling mightily from the perimeter as starters and the outcome of those struggles are killing the Kings’ spacing and offensive flow. While Evans has improved on the defensive end, his offensive numbers are way down and there is major cause for concern.
“There are a lot of positive things that he’s doing right now,” Smart said of his starting shooting guard yesterday. “But I think there is so much pressure that he’s putting on himself and (he’s trying) to show the world that he’s improved his shooting. And it has improved, we’re just not getting the pay off in the game right now.”
At the rim, Evans is still the bull he’s been in his three-plus years in the league. He is averaging 58.5 percent (24-41) on shots at the basket, which is acceptable, but not extraordinary. Where he is truly struggling is everywhere else.
In the Kings’ first eight games, Evans is only 1-for 11 (9.1 percent) from behind the 3-point line and just 4-for-22 (18.2 percent) when shooting from 16-feet to the arc. So outside of 15-feet, Evans is shooting a combined 15.1 percent.
There doesn’t need to be any analysis there. It’s a small sample size, but the numbers speak for themselves.
The question has to be why is Evans struggling? Last season the Evans family brought in renowned shooting coach Keith Veney to work with Tyreke in the middle of the season. With so much at stake this year, it was expected that Evans would work with Veney throughout the summer, but that never happened.
Fixing a jump shot is one of the hardest things to do on a basketball court, but to blame mechanics alone is a mistake. Evans looks out of sorts. He looks uncomfortable, regardless of what position he is playing and Smart needs to figure out how to snap him out of his funk.
“I don’t even bother him with his shooting anymore,” Smart said. “Because the more you emphasize certain things, the more pressure a player may put on himself.”
It appears that Evans has done just fine stressing himself out, even without his coach jumping in. With so much riding on him, both personally and for his team, it sounds like Evans is thinking way too much.
“I don’t want to make too many mistakes,” Evans said of what might be causing his hesitation from the perimeter. “I know I’ve got to just play. So from now on, I just have to go out there and play and just forget about the mistakes.”
In the high stakes, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of the NBA, Evans is not performing to expectations. After a stellar rookie season, he has stagnated as a player, regardless of who has coached him. It is time for Evans to take accountability for his lack of progression. It is time for the improvement that he is showing on the practice court to translate to the floor on game nights and it appears that Evans has a plan to get back on track.
“I’ve just got to go when I see an opening,” Evans said. “I just can’t wait and I think I just have to be in attack mode at all times.”
The Kings need Evans to get right on the court. They need him to be the dominant player he has been in the past. At 2-6, it is not too late for Evans or his team to turn this season around, but that means they need to start being accountable for their actions on and off the floor. They need to stop talking about who is a leader or how good they can be and start showing us through their play.
Jonathan Santiago also contributed to this story.