Since the departure of the Artest currently known as Metta World Peace, small forward has been a position of enigma for the Sacramento Kings. From James Johnson to Donté Greene, they’ve looked far and wide for all sorts of solutions to no avail. Their latest experiment comes in the form of a former UCLA Bruin.
At full strength, Luc Mbah a Moute is one of the league’s best individual defenders. But injuries have plagued Mbah a Moute’s career in recent years as he’s missed 48 games over the past two seasons. His shaky health has left many to wonder what the 27-year-old forward has left to give.
1. The biggest question Mbah a Moute needs to address as a new member of the Sacramento Kings is…
The health of his knee. He’s had trouble with his right knee going all the way back to college, and off-season surgery for tendinitis in 2012 kept him out of the start of last season. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a great defender for the Kings even though his maximum utility lies in stopping players like LeBron and Carmelo — muscle-y superstar forwards from the East.
2. An underrated aspect of Mbah a Moute’s game is…
His defensive flexibility. Take your pick: Luc can guard 1′s, 2′s, 3′s, and 4′s with equal proficiency. In addition to having the perfect physical tools to defend in the NBA — quick feet, long arms, and upper-body strength — Mbah a Moute is a student of the game who knows exactly what he needs to do to defend a player at any non-center position. He just needs to be healthy.
3. An overrated aspect of Mbah a Moute’s game is…
His offense. Saying that it’s not good is being rather kind.
There are minor positives. He has decent post footwork and a long enough reach to get decent looks in the low post provided that the paint isn’t too clogged by other defenders. Ideally, you could play him as a small-ball power forward and pair him with a jump-shooting center and other floor spacers.
The biggest knock on Luc’s time in Milwaukee is that he never developed a jump shot. There would always be glimpses of a budding corner 3 game in the preseason and the first month of the regular season, but it would always go away later on. When he was used as a small forward for the Bucks, he was relegated to the right corner of the floor on offense and the results over the past two seasons (1, 2) were disheartening.
To make matters worse, Mbah a Moute posted those mid-range shooting performances while being ignored by the defense. While Luc was missing 17-footers, his defender was clogging the lane and preventing the penetration of his teammates. For instance, Monta Ellis shot 38.8% from the field with Luc on the floor and 43.0% with him off.
The best plan for Mbah a Moute as a perimeter player would be to have him shoot virtually nothing but corner threes. Even if he only makes 30% of them, that would provide far more productivity than the medium and long-range twos he takes when his confidence escapes him.
4. One word that characterizes his final season in a Mbah a Moute’s uniform is…
Frustrating. The knee issues never really resolved themselves. In his own words,
“I’m just figuring it out man,” he said. “I haven’t played basketball in eight months. I haven’t practiced, anything. I’ve just been playing games. I’ve played basketball four times in eight months. I got a long way to go.”
“It’s not where I’d like it to be yet,” he said as he shook his head. “I can play. The hardest thing is the conditioning and my knee. I’m just happy to be out there contributing, however I can.”
Despite the injury, Mbah a Moute gutted out four hard-fought performances against LeBron in the playoffs. After averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game in both March and April, he played 34 minutes per game of intense defense against James in the playoffs.
And even though Luc made it tough for him, LeBron wrecked the Bucks as both a scorer and a distributor in a Heat sweep.
5. Is Mbah a Moute a short-term or long-term fix for the Kings’ needs at forward?
Given his age (27), contract status (two years remaining) and the chronic nature of his knee issues, Mbah a Moute likely falls somewhere in-between.