Two seasons ago, there was a training camp battle brewing in Sacramento between Omri Casspi and Donté Greene for the Kings’ starting small forward position. Boy, does that seem like a long time ago. But, fast forward two years later and Keith Smart is in the midst of a similar dilemma at point guard.
“That’s the hardest thing,” Smart said before Friday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers. “I think Brooks has moved to the forefront for now and I think his situation is pretty clear with how he’s playing and how the unit’s been playing.”
That clears up some of the confusion about who will get the start. Aaron Brooks brings a veteran leadership quality that neither two have quite mastered. But what does that mean for Smart’s two second-year point guards that are chomping at the bit to play?
Smart knows decision time is upon him. Does he give the minutes to Jimmer Fredette, the tenth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft? Or does he go with Isaiah Thomas, who emerged from oblivion to steal the starting job last season?
“Those two young men deserve and need to play,” a clearly perplexed Smart said following yesterday’s loss to Indiana. “But obviously, you can’t play all three point guards. I know it’s tough on those guys and all they have to do is be pros about it and try to keep their minds focused and ready for the basketball game.”
And that is what they have done. Both Thomas and Fredette have played extremely effective minutes over the last week, which makes matters even worse.
After scoring 10 points in 17 minutes a week ago in Utah, Jimmer played just five minutes the next night against the same Jazz team. When the Kings took on the Timberwolves on Tuesday, Jimmer sat on the bench for all 48 minutes, while Brooks and Thomas played.
Thomas is in a similar situation. In the first Utah match-up, Thomas sat for all 48 minutes. The next night, he split the reserve time with Jimmer, before coming off the bench to score 12 points in 21 minutes against the Timberwolves.
“I have to give those guys consistent minutes to find out for sure,” Smart added. “And that probably means eliminating one guy for a period of time and that’s always going to be difficult because both guys can play. Both guys bring something completely different from the other.”
And he’s right, both players can play at the NBA level and they bring completely different skill sets. Jimmer is a free wielding scorer, who creates well off the dribble. He has a variety of floaters and jumpers and his range is limitless. Thomas, on the other hand, is a quality pick-and-roll point guard with a solid catch-and-shoot, long-range shot.
At this point in their careers, Jimmer is the more polished offensive weapon, but he is still a ways away on the defensive end. Thomas is a better defender and even a better system scorer, but the Kings don’t really have what you would call a set offensive system.
So it’s time for Smart to make a decision and stick with it, and he knows it. It’s a tough one, but in the long term, it is what is right for the team.
“All you can do is have both of them ready,” Smart said pregame. “Keep trying to communicate to them. Keep encouraging them that it has nothing to do with you. Somehow, that will keep them into the games.”
It’s the situation they are in. And unfortunately, it is the situation Smart is in. At 4-11, the Kings need to cut down their rotation. Smart could use Tyreke Evans at small forward more often in attempt to steal minutes from other positions on the floor. But for continuity sake, one of these guys needs to sit and watch while the other one gets his shot.
The real question is which one?