Kings look to ‘Smarten’ up offense, create more room

Keith Smart is preaching two keys for the Sacramento Kings as they move forward with this season.

Freedom and spacing.

“A lot of the shots that we have are coming out of duress where we’re too close to each other,” the Kings new head coach said following practice Saturday at their Natomas training facility.

“I’m basically trying to create the proper spacing for this group so that they can have a better open look to shoot the ball, as opposed to having someone right on top of them,” he added.

Kings guard Marcus Thornton agrees with his new head coach’s philosophy.

“That’s a big deal in the NBA,” Thornton told reporters.  “Teams that have the best space usually win the most games.”

Smart is keeping things simple for the Kings.  He doesn’t want to overload them with too much information, considering the lockout compressed-calendar and recent firing of former head coach Paul Westphal.

“These are normally things you would do through the course of a training camp,” Smart said.  “But I gotta do it on the fly right now, while still trying to keep them free enough to play as athletes.”

The Kings new head coach is also focused on improving off-the-ball movement.  Sacramento has shared very little in their first eight contests, ranking dead last in the league in team assists per game.

“You make hard cuts after you get rid of the basketball,” Smart said. “It’s going to open something up, either for you or your teammates.”

According to Smart, the Kings are not yet in condition to be the running team he envisions.  As a pupil of former NBA coach and run-and-gun guru Don Nelson, Smart says he knows exactly how to get them into fastbreak shape.

“Everyone wants to run,” Smart said.  “But I’ve been given the opportunity to know how to train a team to be a running team.  And you do it within your practice concepts and within the basketball where it’s not line drills and suicide drills…but (rather) trying to get them into a habit.”

With big men like DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson, the Kings boast skill from the low post position – something Smart didn’t have in Golden State.  He already has an idea of how he’ll utilize their unique combination of size and dexterity.

“I want to bring a fast-paced game,” the former Warriors coach said.  “But the added luxury is we have some big guys we can develop into really good either post players or elbow players that can rebound.”

A good transition team also needs solid outlet passing, which Smart will look for from his big men.

“They have to be able to at least put the ball on the floor a couple times and advance it to the guards,” Smart said of his bigs. “So that we can get into the open court, and I think they’ll learn that.

“We’ll keep teaching that in either team settings or when we have a skill setting when they’re just with a coach and working on those things,” he added.

Thompson, considered one of Kings better passers from power forward and center, says being a successful outlet passer starts with establishing good positioning on the defensive block.

“You gotta get the rebound first,” he said. “So, obviously box your man out and make sure that you put enough on the ball where it can get to your guys safely and it doesn’t cause a turnover.”

Patience is also imperative.

“If you start rushing the ball and want to get transition baskets so fast,” he began. “Then it hurts you on the other end.”

But defense is where it all begins, which Thompson says was another major point of emphasis from Smart in his first practice as head coach.

“If we really focus on defense, rebounding and outrebounding the other team,” Thompson began. “Then fastbreak points (will come) and are going to make the offense be so much easier and smoother.”

Additional Practice Notes

  • Smart was vague about who would start at power forward in place of the injured Chuck Hayes, saying that he’ll make a decision based on the match-up.  Right now, the Kings have listed J.J. Hickson as tomorrow’s probable starter against the Orlando Magic.
  • After missing last Thursday’s game, Donte Greene was not present in Saturday’s practice.  However, he is expected to be back in time for tomorrow’s game.  The Sacramento Bee reports he took the leave of absence to be with family following the death of his grandmother.
  • Hassan Whiteside, who was sent down to the D-League last Sunday, was present, but did not practice Saturday.  Smart says Whiteside was not recalled from the Reno Bighorns.  However, with the Hayes injury, I presume Whiteside will dress for Sunday’s game to get the active roster to 12.  Or maybe, they’ll recall Tyler Honeycutt.  We’ll find out more tomorrow.
  • More from Smart on the plan to develop Whiteside through the D-League: ” We’ll take off on the road then he’ll go back and keep getting some work there because how many minutes he can get with us right now is probably not a high number or if (there’s minutes) at all, so it’s best that he plays.  And the coach (in Reno), I know pretty well and we can kind of keep sharing with him what I want him doing there…”
  • For Thompson, coaching changes have been nothing new in his four-year career.  ” It’s not the easiest process, but that’s why you come here every day.  You put your (hard hat) on your head and you go to work.  For us, we just want to be successful man and we know (what are) the little things that we gotta do and Coach Smart is teaching us every day.”
  • Fun fact:  Thornton’s mother and Smart’s brother both attend the same church in Louisiana.  The Kings guard and head coach both hail from Baton Rouge.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.