Keith Smart has taken his fair share of criticism with how he manages his rotation. Much of it is aimed toward his handling of second-year guard Jimmer Fredette, which was addressed in a piece on Saturday.
But Fredette isn’t the only player whose minutes have yo-yoed under Smart. One could argue that every man on this team has had their playing time tinkered with by the Kings head coach – including Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.
In Friday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Smart decided to reinsert the Kings’ two best players halfway through the fourth when the game was seemingly all but over. Trailing by a margin of 20 points or so, Cousins played another three minutes before he was relieved of duty, while Evans finished off the game.
The following night in Denver, the duo played the first eight minutes of the contest, but then sat out the entire second period. Losing by 10-14 points before their exit, Evans and Cousins’ presence didn’t help matters much, but that deficit would balloon to as big as 22 in their absence.
Then yesterday evening in Washington, Cousins seemed on his way to a big night as he scored 10 points in the first quarter. However, the Kings starting center scored only two more points while playing sparingly in the second period and none in the fourth of last night’s 96-94 win.
Conventional wisdom would lead one to assume that leaving at least half of the Evans/Cousins duo on the floor at all times would be favorable. It was a question I posed to Smart at a practice last week. We played an excerpt of that conversation on last Friday’s Cowbell Kingdom Podcast. And today, we bring another part of that dialogue with Smart’s initial response to my question.
On if it’s possible to have either Evans or Cousins on the floor throughout all 48 minutes of a game.
Only problem – if I were to have great separation in the first quarter, to where I got this first quarter under control and I’m not losing too much, then I can do that. You know, it’s so hard – you want to try and keep your best players on the floor as much as you can. But trying to have one guy off the floor and then trying to somehow get it spread around, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to do because obviously Tyreke’s got to make plays off the dribble from on the floor. So now you move him off because now you have Cousins, who’s playing pretty well, so you’re trying to utilize what he does to keep you in a scoring count. By that, meaning when Marcus (Thornton) comes in, he has to pick up that slack.
Okay, now once you get into the second quarter, Cuz gets his blow, Tyreke is now getting ready to come back depending on where Marcus is at – now hopefully you can move it to where you can close off the second quarter, which last night (Jan. 23 vs. the Suns) we did. Now you kind of try to duplicate the same thing in the third quarter, but it’s hard to take when you don’t have anyone that’s close to those two guys in what they do because they’ll command the attention. Tyreke has the ball – teams (are) coming over, the defense is loading up. Cuz has the ball – they’re coming down to trap or double. When you don’t have that kind of attention, teams won’t guard the other players.
Smart knows he can’t make everyone happy – players, media and fans alike. This may not be what people want to hear, but it is part of his philosophy. And while he’s coach of the Kings, he’ll continue to have the final say.