Sunday Musings: Has Keith Smart done enough to prepare the Sacramento Kings?

At the Ham household, we go through the same agonizing ritual every morning. The process of getting two young boys off to school is a stressful, anxiety-riddled nightmare that plays itself out again and again like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day.

They don’t want to get out of bed. They don’t want to dress, comb their hair or brush their teeth. It is a grueling hour-long affair that raises blood pressure and turns your hair white.

When they are finally out of the car and sprinting for their classrooms, you realize they haven’t eaten breakfast, one kid is wearing shorts in a rainstorm and one of the lunches you threw together in a panic is still sitting in the back seat.

It’s 8 am and you are already winded from the festivities and just when it all seems to calm down, the biggest question hits you smack in the face – did I do enough to prepare for them for what lies ahead?

Sacramento Kings Head Coach Keith Smart has kids. He understands what I am trying to explain. He also has 14 young men that he is responsible for and like his job as a father, if his guys aren’t ready, there are going to be big problems.

We have talked about how Smart is building a new team culture. How he is using a new defensive-grading system to improve accountability. How he went to Colorado to visit Jimmer Fredette this summer and I’m sure he ventured down to Baton Rouge to make sure that Marcus Thornton was on task as well.

It appears that Smart has done his best to turn this group of misfit toys into a cohesive unit, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he still has to have that small seed of doubt. He has to be asking himself – did I do enough to prepare them for what they are about to face?

When asked if he thought he and his staff had done everything in their power to prepare the players for the 2012-13 season, Smart confidently responded: “Oh yeah, without question.

“We took all of the possibilities of what all the teams in the NBA run the majority of the time and (asked ourselves) how do we defend those things?” Smart said of he and his coaches’ preparation.

According to the Kings coach, he and his staff spent their first two weeks this summer devising a defensive game plan, which included the much-talked about defensive-grading system. After the schematic was in place, they turned to the offensive end.

“Coach Smart is really detailed,” starting power forward Jason Thompson said earlier in the preseason.  “He’ll tell you certain things on the floor (like) percentage-wise where you’re not as good as you are (in) certain places.  He’ll ask you what you ate today…So it’s really just details of trying to get every individual better and overall making the team better.”

The early showings are good. The Kings finished the preseason with a 5-2 record, which included three victories over the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers. Although the sample size is small, the defensive preparation has translated to game action.

Through seven games, the Kings allowed just 95.6 points per contest, a marked improvement from the NBA-worst 104.4 points they yielded a season ago.

The addition of defensive-minded wing James Johnson has helped solidify a major position of need, as has the resurgence of Chuck Hayes, the Kings’ best post defender.  But Smart needs an effort from every single one of his players each night out.

“I think that now everyone’s taking accountability,” Thompson said.  “Everything’s in detail from statistics and like I said before, in the beginning of training camp and the beginning of preseason, we’re all trying to (pay) attention to detail on defense and letting the offense come.”

Smart and his staff have been working tirelessly to grade the team in an effort to improve accountability, especially on the defensive end. When the grades come in, they are used as teaching tools to show players where to improve, not as punishment.

“I feel as (if) every single coach on this staff is hands on,” big man Hamady Ndiaye told Cowbell Kingdom before he was waived yesterday. “Whenever I walk up to somebody and I’m like, ‘What did I just do wrong?’, they’ll exactly tell me what I did and how to fix it.”

This is the first time in his NBA coaching career that Smart has had the luxury of finishing a season as the head coach and then return the next. For the first time, it is all on him and be it a grading system or building team chemistry in Colorado Springs, he thinks his team is ready to compete.

“We’re ready for the regular season and now it’s time for the guys to make that push to try and win a game now,” Smart said.

That sentiment is shared by shooting guard Marcus Thornton.

“Coach watches film for hours and hours and hours,” Thornton said of Smart.  “So they give us the game plan.  It’s on us to execute.  So we believe in them and they believe in us.”

Smart believes he’s done his best to prepare his young team to walk out onto the floor and compete on both ends. It appears his players feel the same. A lot is riding on this season for Smart, his players and the Kings franchise.

You hope he is right, but you also hope he double-checked the back seat to make sure nobody forgot their lunch.


James Ham

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