Thomas Robinson and James Johnson add defensive diversity to Sacramento Kings’ rotation

James Johnson and Thomas Robinson stand together during the Kings' first preseason game vs. the Phoenix Suns (Photo: Steven Chea)

Keith Smart has talked plenty about the versatility of this year’s Sacramento Kings.  At his disposal are a variety of combinations and lineups thanks to the multidimensional nature of his roster.

Thomas Robinson and James Johnson are two players that embody the Kings’ idea of versatility.  Robinson and Johnson are a duo that Smart used heavily during the preseason and saw some action together during last night’s 93-87 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

“I think both bring a different level of energy to the game,” Smart said of the tandem after a practice last week.  “Because they both play all out for the most part from a defensive standpoint.”

The two are big, athletic and capable of defending multiple positions.  Johnson and Robinson also know their roles on this Kings team.  They’re not featured go-to-guys, but the skills they offer are crucial to the Kings’ success this year.

“Thomas is still growing as a pick-and-roll, NBA type guy,” Smart said.  “But the effort and energy that he plays with (is huge).  And then you look at what James does guarding twos, guarding threes.  Plus, he’s a ball-handler (who can get) people involved.”

In a sense, they’re a perfect complement to one another.  As a power forward, Robinson is a bit undersized, but his lack of height is compensated by Johnson, who stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs 248 lbs., a pretty large frame for a small forward.  At the wing, Johnson isn’t the most reliable shooter from the perimeter, but Robinson can provide spacing on the floor with a decent mid-range game.

Defensively ,the two bring energy as Smart noted.  Last year, the Kings lacked players who prided themselves on frustrating and annoying the opposition on the defensive end.  In Robinson and Johnson, the Kings have two men, that by the presence alone, elevate the team’s level of play on defense.

“I feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do,” said Johnson of he and Robinson’s role as defensive sparkplugs.  “We’re supposed to play hard and we’re supposed to make everybody play defense. ”

And that effort hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates.  Center DeMarcus Cousins has seen the Kings’ defensive intensity raised when the two are on the floor together.

“James is a defensive-minded player anyway,” said Cousins.  “And then Thomas, with just his motor and his energy, that’s going to change the whole thing, the whole aspect of the game.”

Though both are newcomers to Sacramento, the two seem to have already clicked in their new surroundings.  Robinson says their chemistry grew through practice and hard work in training camp.  But overall, the connection on the court between them has just come naturally.

For Johnson, the game gets easier when he’s playing alongside his rookie teammate.  The 25-year-old forward credits Robinson for playing with tremendous vigor and says, “If he’s gonna mess up, he’s gonna mess up going 100 percent.”

Their flexibility on defense is probably their biggest asset as a combination on the floor.  Opposing offenses can try to create mismatches, but Johnson and Robinson are practically interchangeable parts in the Kings’ scheme.

“He’s able to cover more space on the floor because he can check more than one position,” Robinson said of Johnson.  “Whenever there’s a scramble, there’ll never be a mismatch because you have James who can cover a big, a guard and the same for me.”

The starting small forward agrees, pointing out a sense of ease on defense when the two are together on the court.

“When me and him switch, it’s just more comfortable,” Johnson added.  “You feel comfortable about it; you don’t second guess it.”

A respectable defense will certainly help the Kings go a long way this year.  The added presence of Robinson and Johnson will be critical in determining if the Kings become the defensive-minded team coach Smart envisions they can be.


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.

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