A quarter of the way into the 2012-13 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings point guard position is still as uncertain as ever. Aaron Brooks is the starter (for now) but both Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas are knocking on the door.
“Aaron has the experience right now, but those two guys keep pressure,” Keith Smart said Saturday following practice. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. A developing team, your personnel is supposed to keep putting pressure on the guys in front of you.”
I guess you could call it pressure. Friday night in Oklahoma City, Thomas entered the game in the fourth quarter and single-handedly brought his team within striking distance. The Thunder had no answer for the Kings second -year guard, as he finished with 26 points on 10-for-13 shooting in a little less than 16 minutes of action. Brooks’ season-high in scoring is just 17 points.
“My mindset every time I come in is just to make a difference,” Thomas told reporters Saturday afternoon. “Whether I’m playing two minutes or 30 minutes, I just want to make that the most exciting minutes of the game.”
Those 16 minutes Thomas played Friday weren’t just the most exciting minutes of the game; they were the most exciting minutes from any of the Kings’ three point guard options this season.
The Kings are 5-8 with Brooks as the starter, compared to the 2-7 mark they posted with Thomas leading the way to begin the season. But Brooks has been aided greatly by the resurgence of veteran small forward John Salmons. A 5-8 record is nothing to write home about and you have to wonder if playing Brooks instead of either Fredette or Thomas is slowing their growth.
“You’ve got two young guards that still need a lot of work to be efficient NBA players,” Smart said of his two sophomore guards.
In the dog-eat-dog world of the NBA, Smart has to post wins if he wants to retain his job. While he has gotten moments of brilliance out of Fredette and Thomas, they have yet to find the consistency on the court that comes with experience. Unfortunately, the Kings have a three-headed monster at point and though the group is talented, none of them have the size to play other positions for long stretches of a game.
The players understand their coach’s predicament, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it.
“I’m not at ease,” Thomas said of his Smart’s distribution of minutes. “I don’t like it. But it is, what it is. I wish I could play 48 minutes. I wish I could play the whole game, but that’s his decision and he’s doing the best he can to put the best players out there to win the ball game.”
While Smart wasn’t willing to discuss the possibility of another change to the starting lineup, he was forthcoming about the position being a weak spot for his team. So, Brooks will continue to start and Fredette and Thomas will continue to fight for the scraps.
“I think I have two young guards that are mentally tough enough to deal with the situation they’re in right now,” Smart said.
With the glut at the position, the minutes-per-game breakdown leaves all three grasping at straws. Brooks leads the pack at 23.9 minutes per contest, with Thomas logging 18.5 and Fredette bringing up the rear at 11.4.
Smart is looking for consistency, but so are the players. For now, he will continue to hand out minutes based on match-ups. Each game will be different, sometimes each quarter. What Smart is looking for is make the most of their time on the court and to come prepared to play every night.
“I put on the end of the board that one of the goals was to win your minutes,” Smart added.
On Friday night, Thomas clearly won his minutes. Today against Denver, he may not even see the floor. Such is life for a Kings point guard.
With the NBA’s trade restriction deadline coming and going yesterday, Brooks is now eligible to be moved. With both Thomas and Fredette elevating their games, it might be time to hand the team back over to the kids. If that doesn’t happen, then plan on there being more of the same erratic minutes and play out of the Kings’ point guards.
AUDIO: CK’s Jonathan Santiago asks Coach Smart if his handling of his rotation has to do with his point guards’ up-and-down play.