Courtside with Rob McAllister: When ball movement is King

Winning helps fans fall in love with a team.

So does ball movement.

It was interesting to see that this young Kings team was doing just that for most of their recent nine-game home stand.  The team went 5-4, improving to 13-10 at Power Balance Pavilion – besting last season’s 11 home-win total.

During the stretch at home, the team reached at least 20 assists in seven of those nine games. The Kings didn’t get their first 20 assist game until January 16th and only had 14 games the whole season with an assist total that high entering that 16-day stay.

Through 48 games, Sacramento ranks 27th in the league in assists at 18.8 per contest. That must improve for this team to have playoff aspirations next year. They don’t have the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook scoring combo that Oklahoma City has.  Those two can get 80 points together, which means assists are not as critical for the Thunder, who rank 28th in the category.

Sacramento does not have those types of scorers, so sharing the rock will be the best plan moving forward.

Look back to the successful Kings teams of the early 2000s and the fancy passes by Doug Christie, Jason Williams, Vlade Divac and Chris Webber come to mind – so too do the Kings wins and Pacific Division titles.

AAU ball teaches kids to go one on one and look for their own shot.  But to win in the NBA, you have to get the defense “off balance” as coaches say.

One guy dribbling while everyone else watches is not only boring, but it also doesn’t produce many wins for teams built like the Kings.

Best coach for this team

Evaluating the switch from Paul Westphal to Keith Smart can’t only be measured by wins and losses.

While the team is 15-26 under the guidance of Smart, it is how they’re responding to their coach that makes this choice by President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie a winner.

While the NBA reeks of players that have little formal knowledge of the game or even basic fundamentals, Smart has been able to toe the line of treating these Kings like professionals while teaching them basketball basics like a college squad.

“Coach just relates to us better,” DeMarcus Cousins said when asked about the center’s relationship with Smart. “Whenever we are in tough situations, he helps us through it.”

That was on display when Cousins picked up a technical against the Boston Celtics on March 16th. Instead of chiding the young star, Smart gave Cousins a few encouraging remarks from the sideline and left no. 15 on the floor. As DeMarcus turned to get back on defense, the two even shared an enthusiastic high five slap.

This hands-on approach by Smart is something his predecessors along the Kings sidelines could never truly grasp. His relatable personal touch is a blend of coach, friend and father for a group that likely needs that more than any other team in the entire NBA.

Forward Donté Greene says Coach Smart is “holding guys more accountable” on both ends of the floor.

“He really is trying to get guys to make that extra pass and ultimately play together,” Greene said.

Even after a loss, the team’s spirits are up. You can still feel the sting of defeat when you walk into the locker room, but the sulking seen frequently after losses last year is gone.

“We are already ahead of the curve of where I thought we could be,” Coach Smart said recently. “With the way that they are now playing, anything is possible with this group.”

The Kings have 17 games remaining with the Spurs in town on Wednesday before heading to Salt Lake City on Friday.

Weekly contributor/columnist Rob McAllister is a reporter for KFBK Radio in Sacramento.


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