The layup line seemed like it would never end in the Sacramento Kings’ embarrassing blowout defeat to the Denver Nuggets yesterday. Five minutes into the first quarter, with the game tied 8-all, the Kings proceeded to go scoreless over the next four minutes.
Fourteen unanswered Denver points later, Sacramento finally broke double digits to score their 10th points of the game. But by then, their fate was already decided.
Too often this season and last, the Kings have found themselves unable to score for long stretches in games. For a team with an assortment of offensive weapons, what gives?
Part of the answer lies in their unwillingness to share.
A quarter of the way through the season, the Kings are ranked dead last in the NBA in passing. Through 23 games, they’re averaging a league-low 18.3 assists per contest. And to boot, close to half of their made field-goals come unassisted – 48.7 percent to be specific. That’s earned them the dubious distinction of placing first in the league in unassisted baskets.
“I think sometimes when we get in the game, we have some trust issues,” said guard Isaiah Thomas of the root of his team’s reluctance to share with one another. “Especially when things start to go wrong, we think we can all do it ourselves and that kind of gets us in an even bigger hole.”
That this team has trust issues is puzzling to say the least. With the addition of a few minor pieces here and there, the core of the Kings remains relatively unchanged from last year. And remember this offseason, Thomas rounded up fellow teammates for a week of players’ only workouts. That extra time together was supposed to build up team chemistry.
Instead, it’s been just the opposite. When games take a turn for the worst, they lose faith in the process and each other. In losses this season, they’ve posted an unacceptable true-shooting percentage of 48.9 percent, while in wins that number skyrockets to 55.5 percent. Their offense is nowhere near as good as it should be considering the number of scorers they have.
“Sometimes if the game might be double-digits (and) they might have a lead, we’ll take (the quick) shot,” said Kings power forward Jason Thompson. “When really you’ve got to get the motion going and make the extra pass and get an easy basket.”
In the heat of a game, it’s not easy to see that open passing lane for players who think score-first-pass-later, but that’s what film study is for. Keith Smart has even gone as far as taking sessions outside the confines of their darkened video room to their well-lit practice court following workouts.
But the reinforcement just isn’t sinking in and the basketball IQ hasn’t gotten any higher. The same problems persist.
“A lot of times, the ball has stopped,” said the Kings head coach of his team’s tendency to go one-on-one more often than not. “The guy gets it and now the defense loads up to him (yet) he still tries to make a move.”
The players have absolved Smart of any blame. Veterans like John Salmons and Aaron Brooks have come out multiple occasions to place the Kings’ failure to execute squarely on the players. However, the inconsistency in the rotation hasn’t helped matters either.
In a game like yesterday’s where the Kings’ energy lacked from the tip, it wasn’t until the third quarter that high-motor rookie Thomas Robinson sniffed action on the court. And playing without volume scorer Marcus Thornton and losing Tyreke Evans to injury early, you’d think Jimmer Fredette would move up the depth chart. But just like Robinson, his playing time came after intermission when the game was already out of reach.
“They got in the game when they got in the game,” Smart said in his postgame press conference yesterday.
Smart’s rotation and lineup decisions are what they are and they’re something Kings players just have to deal with until further notice.
In the end, their success ultimately rests in their hands.
“We just gotta trust each other more and dial in more when the times aren’t good,” said Thomas. “We can’t just be that team when we’re winning – we’re all happy and we’re unselfish. We gotta be that even when we’re losing or when things aren’t going too well.”
A refrain we’ve heard far too often in the last year that’s easier said than done.