Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What Can Kings Fans Expect from Tyrone Corbin This Year?

Can Tyrone Corbin right the ship for this Sacramento Kings team? Management seems to hope so, as they have signed him for the remainder of the year.

So it's official. Tyrone Corbin is going to be the head coach for the remainder of the season. While that is not ruling out the possibility of George Karl or Chris Mullin taking over the team at the end of the year, management has made it clear that they are going to be sticking with the former Kings assistant and Utah Jazz head man for the near future. Considering how much outrage the firing of Mike Malone generated in the Kings community, this isn't the most inspiring hire, especially with the Kings struggling to a 2-5 record, and seemingly falling apart at the seams on the court and in the locker roomer (allegedly).

So what can Kings fans expect from Corbin? Now that we know he is going to be the solution for this year at least, can Kings fans have any hope, or is this pretty much Kenny Natt and Keith Smart 2.0? Let's take a whole look at Corbin's profile and what he brings to the Kings organization as the head coach.

Coaching Experience

A 16-year veteran as a player in the NBA, Corbin first broke into the coaching ranks in the early NBA D-League working as a player mentor with the Charleston Lowgators after he retired. In 2003-2004, Corbin was hired by former New York Knicks GM Scott Layden as Knicks manager of player development for the 2003-2004 season, working under Layden as well as head coach Don Chaney (who was fired later that year). In 2004, the Jazz, a team he experienced his most success with as a player, hired him as an assistant under Jerry Sloan, and he worked as an assistant from 2004-2011 before taking over as the head man following Sloan's retirement. Considering his status as a player with the Jazz and experience under Sloan, many Jazz fans at the time felt it was a good, though unspectacular hire.

After struggling in the 28 games to finish the 2011 season for Sloan (they finished 8-20), Corbin surprised in his first full year as head man in a lockout shortened season. Corbin built his team around his two solid offensive post players (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who was acquired that off-season) and complemented them with young talent (Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and CJ Miles) as well as a cast of hungry role players who had been cast off from other teams (Demare Carroll, Devin Harris, Raja Bell and Josh Howard). The Jazz finished the year 36-30, with a SRS of 0.92 and captured the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Even though they were swept in the first round by San Antonio, the solid first year, especially in the wake of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer leaving less than gracefully the previous year (Williams was widely credited as driving Sloan to retirement) seemed to be a good sign of the franchise under Corbin going forward.

With the same Jefferson and Millsap combo, the Jazz competed for a playoff the whole season in 2012-2013, actually holding the 8th spot in the west for a while until eventually conceding it to Houston in the final month of play. The Jazz finished 43-39 with a SRS of 0.30 and seemed to overachieve with Corbin, as they're Pythagorean W-L actually was 41-41 (so they two games better than they should have been). Jefferson and Millsap continued to be solid (20.9 and 19.8 PER, respectively) and the young trio of Favors, Kanter and Hayward seemed to be progressing and showing hope for the future.

But, in the 2013-2014 season, the Jazz decided to go with an identity change, letting Jefferson and Millsap go in favor of building around their young core of Favors, Kanter and Hayward. By losing their two mainstays, the Jazz went into rebuilding mode, which Corbin seemed to struggle with. After being above .500 in his first two years as head coach, the much younger Jazz plummeted to a 25-57 record with a SRS of minus-6.26, third-worst in the league. Corbin failed to generate much on either end of the ball (25th in offensive rating and 29th in defensive rating that year), and it was obvious that he wasn't reaching the young talent on the roster. Feeling that a new direction was needed, Corbin was let go at the end of the 2013-2014 season.

What Corbin Does Well

Corbin has a solid record of utilizing his post men in the offense as his starting big men have usually led the team in usage rate in his tenure as coach (meaning the offense runs through his post players). While this paid off for him with Jefferson and Millsap, it paid less dividends with Favors and Kanter (though they were younger and it was their first season with major minutes, while Jefferson and Millsap already had lots of experience with major minutes when Corbin took over as head coach). This is comforting for those fearing that the Kings are going to get away from feeding their best player (Cousins) in the post. If history shows anything, Corbin's gameplan will continue to utilize Cousins' talent and strengths in the low block.

Also, one of the reasons Pete and Vivek hired Corbin as an assistant before this season is that he showed some aptitude coaching the offensive side of the ball early in his career with Utah. Though his last year was a blood bath offensively, they were actually pretty good his first two seasons. In the 2011-2012 season, the Jazz scored 106.8 points per 100 possessions, 6th best in the league and in 2012-2013, they scored 106.7 points per 100 possessions, 10th best in the league. On paper, there is a lot to like about Corbin fitting in with this roster: he has success utilizing the talents of his big men and he has had a history of finding offensive success with his teams, something management was unsatisfied with incumbent Mike Malone.

Lastly, Corbin is a cool-headed personality that should be good amid this period of chaos with fans and even some players dissatisfied with the firing of Malone. Corbin is not a big media guy, he's not going to be outspoken in his interviews, and he's the kind of coach that keeps things in house. It was one of the reasons Jazz management hired him, simply due to the fact they were looking for a much calmer personality after experiencing so many years with the much fierier Sloan. Considering Malone was deemed a "player's coach", Corbin should fit in nicely considering he's not the kind of volatile personality that has rubbed Kings players wrong in the past (like Smart, Westphal, Theus and Musselman...basically every Kings coach after Adelman unfortunately).

What is worrisome about Corbin

The Kings biggest issues seem to be on defense as of late, and unfortunately things don't seem to look to get better under Corbin. The defensive ratings for Corbin's Jazz teams went from 12th to 21st to 29th in his three seasons. While Corbin has proved to flash some success with his scheme offensively in his time in Utah, he really hasn't been able to do that in Utah. His teams give up a lot of points, and have struggled in terms of communication and being able to switch and defend shots properly (the Jazz were 30th in the league in FG% allowed and 28th in 3FG% allowed his last season). And unfortunately for Kings fans, the Kings are showing a lot of the same unfortunate signs that plagued Corbin's squads last seasons (lack of communication, getting back in transition defense, contesting shots).

While Corbin has gotten the most out of his post players, perimeter players haven't really developed as much under his tutelage. Despite his high draft pick status, Hayward seemed to underwhelm in Corbin's system (and after the big contract they gave him, this was probably a reason why Corbin was let go: he was unable to reach their franchise player). While Jefferson and Millsap stood out for Corbin's teams (and to a lesser degree, Favors and Kanter), it's hard to categorize any perimeter players that had a major impact outside of Hayward (whose impact still was underwhelming). This is a concern for Rudy Gay, who is obviously the vice president to Cousins when it comes to Franchise players. Gay has looked better in his time in Sacramento from his previous destinations (Toronto and Memphis), and he really seemed to gel well with Malone and his system, especially to start this season. How Corbin is able to reach and utilize Gay will be a big thing to pay attention to. If Corbin can keep utilizing Gay as an important part of his offense, then that will bode well for this team as well as Corbin if he has any hopes of keeping this job (though to be honest, I doubt it considering his history...but like I said, I feel more confident that he's going to keep Cousins as the centerpiece due to his work with Jefferson and Millsap before).

Another reasons Malone was let go was due to the desire of management to play a more up-tempo pace. Though the Kings played a decent tempo last season (94.4 possessions per game last year and 93.6 possessions per game this year; rated 14th and 15th respectively), Vivek seemed to want even more up-tempo, more akin to what the Warriors are doing south in the Bay (not surprising considering Vivek used to be a board member for the Warriors ownership group). The head scratching thing is that Corbin has never showed a propensity to ever be an up-tempo kind of coach. His Utah Jazz teams put up a pace of 91.4, 90.9 and 91.4, good for 12th, 21st and 26th in the league those seasons, respectively. And if you look at what Corbin has done offensively, and the blueprint of his teams (building around his post players), it doesn't scream to anyone as characteristic of a George Karl, Mike D'Antoni or other "up-tempo" coaches. Thus, I think not only are the Kings going through a learning curve playing more up-tempo, but I think Corbin is as well, which can explain their ups and downs on the offensive end during this seven game stretch. Though there is still a long way to go this season, it isn't a good sign when your coach is about as green with up-tempo basketball as his players, especially considering that seems to be the style pushed for by management.

Outlook for Corbin

I think Corbin will have a better effect on Cousins than people think. Corbin has a good reputation utilizing the talents of his bigs, and no one can say that he didn't utilize his talented posts in Utah in his three full seasons there. His work on the perimeter and how he will grow as a teacher of up-tempo basketball is a little bit more up in the air. He certainly has potential since he's been on staff since training camp and coached a lot of them in Summer League, but I think Corbin trying to teach up-tempo basketball is like putting white stripes on a donkey and calling it a Zebra.

However, the biggest pitfall I think for Corbin going forward will be defense. Corbin is certainly not as seasoned and creative a defensive mind as Malone, and it has showed not only in his history in Utah, but early in his tenure in Sacramento. This Kings team struggles to communicate, struggles in transition and struggles to consistently contest shots, and I don't think Corbin is equipped or masterful enough as a coach to change those deficiencies in a major way for the remainder of the season. While the offense may get better, I don't think Kings will develop enough defensively to make Corbin's tenure last anything longer than this season.

Again, it's a long season and while some things look bleak, you never know. If Corbin can adjust and learn from his pitfalls defensively in Utah and in the past seven games, then Corbin may have a chance to turn this team around. But, in all frankness, the odds really are against him, especially considering where the team is attitude-wise following Malone's firing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Good, Bad and Ugly: Game 31 at Brooklyn

Nik Stauskas is getting more playing time and starting to show why the Kings drafted him No. 8 in last year's draft.

One of the things I will have on this blog after every game is a "Good, Bad and Ugly" Recap. Instead of doing a traditional recap, I will highlights some good, bad and ugly things about the most recent Kings game. Some may be a little late if I don't have League Access to that night's game and have to watch it the next day (due to Blackout rules).

So, without further adieu, here is the first "GBU" of the 2014-2015 season from Kansas City Kingdom.

The Good

-Darren Collison

Collison battled foul trouble all game, and his absence in the 2nd quarter really hurt the Kings and probably cost them (they were outscored 30-16 in the second quarter; it proved to be the only quarter the Kings really lost, but it was so bad that they couldn't make it up). With all the trade talk going on about the Kings trading for Deron Williams, Collison made damn sure that the Kings management tonight that he was just as good an option for this team going forward than an aging and constantly injured Williams. As Williams underwhelmed off the bench (6 points on 2 of 6 shooting, 3 rebounds, 3 assists), Collison posted a line of 16 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 8 assists. He did commit 4 turnovers, but Collison helped keep this Kings team in the game in the second half, even when things looked bleak at halftime. It's amazing how confident Collison looks out there and how crucial he is in pushing the ball in transition. He has a tendency to catch defenses asleep by driving quick to the basket on the secondary break, and he did it a couple of times tonight against Brooklyn.

-Nik Stauskas

Stauskas posted a modest line, scoring 8 points on 3 of 5 shooting, including 2 for 2 beyond 3-point line, but it's nice to see coach Tyrone Corbin give him some time, as he played in nearly 17 minutes tonight (16:53 to be exact). Stauskas struggled to find minutes early this year, but Corbin has been giving him some floor time and he's been looking more and more confident with more minutes. His shot is looking better and he is looking more comfortable finding his spots and converting on catch and shoot opportunities. I am not sure Stauskas will ever be more than a catch and shoot player. However, if the Kings want to play more up-tempo, shooters like Stauskas are going to be depended on for playing time and production, and it's good to see Stauskas growing more confident as the season progresses.

The Bad

-Foul Shooting Differential

Some might blame the refs, but it was obvious from the opening whistle that the refs were going to call a tight game. The Kings failed to adjust on both ends. They were sloppy with defensive positioning on too many possessions that resulted in the Nets being bailed out by calls, and they weren't aggressive in taking it to the hoop or trying to draw fouls on the offensive end. The Nets' poor free throw shooting kept the Kings in it longer than they needed to be (they shot 69 percent), but one cannot ignore the 39-20 Free Throw differential in favor of the Nets. Home cooking, lack of aggressiveness, whatever. The Kings had the athleticism and size to get to the rack and consequently get to the line more, but they seemed to settle too much for mid-range jumpers instead.

-Offensive Rebounding

Demarcus Cousins posted a solid line with 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting and 13 rebounds, but if there was one critique of his game, (and I'll get to the other in the Ugly) as well as the other post players, it was allowing the Nets too many second chance opportunities. The Nets are 24th in the league in offensive rebounds per game, and yet they outrebounded the Kings on the offensive glass 14-11. The Kings have too much size and athleticism to be outrebounded on the offensive glass, and too many times, they were out of position, which ended up killing them in crucial points of the game (one being a missed Karasev 3 pointer; an offensive rebound and kick back to Karasev and a made 3 pointer on the second try in the 4th quarter).

The Ugly

-Not taking care of the ball

Whether you play up-tempo or slow it down, you got to take care of the ball. The Kings failed to do that in a myriad of ways, as they turned the ball over 21 times in comparison to the Nets' 9. When a team has a turnover differential of minus-12, they are going to have a hard time to win...period. (The Kings did lose 3 of the 4 factors, as they lost turnover differential, offensive rebounding differential and free throw attempt differential). Cousins especially was heinous in this area as he had 5 turnovers, mostly stemming from forced passes and trying to force penetration into double teams. To make matters worse, Cousins showcased his old self at time in these turnovers, not getting back on defense or moving slowly while pouting or complaining to the ref after those turnovers. The Kings have enough issues defensively, and they need Cousins' presence defensively (something he has been better at this year) on every possession. Collison also committed four turnovers, and Ray McCallum committed 3 as well. Seven turnovers from the point guards is way too much, especially in tight, winnable games like tonight. While you have to give credit to the Nets' defense (who really pressured the Kings with a lot of traps and showcased a lot of zone looks tonight), the Kings have to take better care of the ball and get back on defense. The 25 points allowed off turnovers tonight (in comparison to their 9) proved to be backbreaking.

-McCallum and Evans

The Kings accidentally tried the much anticipated "4 on 5" strategy Vivek has been advocating since the start of training camp. But despite their best efforts, McCallum didn't see Evans quickly enough and Evans missed the dunk (taking an unnecessary dribble before going up). This play proved to be a microcosm of the performances from McCallum and Evans (i.e. UGLY). After a solid performance against the Knicks, McCallum looked like an end of the bench player, going 0-for-5 from the field with 3 turnovers. McCallum had a couple of open 3 point looks that could have closed the gap, but Ray Mac failed to convert. Furthermore, while playing major minutes with Collison in foul trouble in the second quarter, Ray Mac struggled to hold the fort, as he was on the floor during the Nets' 11-1 run to finish the second quarter. I still think McCallum has a lot of potential, but he needs to have less games like this if he wants to prove that he can be a capable NBA backup point guard going forward.

As for Evans, while his physicality and team-focus is appreciated, he simply struggled in terms of play. He went 0-for-2 from the field and had a couple of bad turnovers where the Nets' trapping defense just got the best of him. While Evans did well on the glass with 5 rebounds, he looks so uncomfortable with the ball in his hands at times, especially against better defensive teams. I think Evans' physicality is needed on this team, but he can't kill the team offensively when he's in. He had a good offensive game against Phoenix, and his ability on the offensive glass is a real asset to this Kings team, so I'm not throwing in the towel on him. That being said, with the solid game Carl Landy had tonight (6 points on 3-of-3 shooting in 12 minutes), I wonder if Evans is going to be the odd man out after performances like this.

Comparing Darren Collison and Isaiah Thomas 30 Games In

Last year, Thomas (right) seemed to fit the Kings roster better than Collison (red, left). That hasn't been the case with Collison a King and Thomas a Sun.

One of the biggest debates this off-season among Kings fans was the decision to not only let Isaiah Thomas sign in free agency with the Phoenix Suns (through a sign and trade), but to replace him with Darren Collison, previously of the Pacers, Mavs and Clippers. Thomas was coming of a 20 ppg season where he looked to be the clear third option and a bargain for a second round pick, while Collison was coming off an underwhelming Clippers campaign where he looked unable to match up on the better point guards in the league. To many, signing Collison rather than anteing up for Thomas looked to be a head scratching move by management, especially considering many felt the Kings could have drafted Elfrid Payton and gotten something similar to Collison's skill set for a whole lot less money.

Despite the pessimistic predictions from fans, Collison has been a pleasant surprise. Not only is he averaging a career high 16.3 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.2 rpg and 1.8 spg, but he has been an instrumental factor in the Kings' 13-17 start as well as a key building block for their up-tempo plan going forward. As for Thomas, he primarily comes off the bench, unable to get starting minutes with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe ahead of him. Despite his reserve status though, he has still been a potent force off the bench, scoring 15.3 ppg and averaging 4.0 apg in only 24.3 mpg (a downgrade from the 34.7 minutes he averaged last season in Sacramento), and his 36 minute numbers (22.3 ppg per 36 minutes) actually compare very favorably to his last season in Sacramento.

So did the Kings make the right call on this? Is Darren Collison a better fit for Sacramento or is Thomas simply being overshadowed by a crowded back court in Phoenix? Let's take a look at the two this season.

Where Collison has Been Better

One of the main reasons Pete D'Alessandro parted ways with Thomas is due to the fact he underwhelms defensively and is unable to match up with the better and bigger point guards of the league. Last year, Thomas posted a minus-2.0 Defensive Box Plus/Minus and posted a defensive rating of 111 (points per 100 possessions). Now, point guards are always vulnerable to lackluster defensive advanced numbers (simply due to the fact that defending NBA point guards is pretty damn hard to do). But at 5'7, Thomas simply didn't match up well physically, and he always seemed more inclined on the offensive end as evidenced by his advanced numbers as well as his defensive play on the court.

Collison came from Los Angeles with a better defensive reputation though he struggled to find consistency with the Clippers. He posted a minus-0.3 DPBM and a defensive rating of 107, both considerable upgrades over Thomas' numbers. Furthermore, at 6-feet, 160 pounds and with excellent speed, Collison physically showcased all the tools to help the Kings on the defensive end, which had been mediocre in 2013-2014.

This year, both guys have regressed a bit defensively, but Collison remains the better player on the defensive end by far.  Collison is better than Thomas in points per possession (1.04 to 1.06), DPBM (minus-0.6 to minus-2.6) and effective field goal percentage allowed (46.8 to 49.1 percent). So in that regard, Collison has satisfied what management wanted when they made the decision to go with Collison over Thomas.

One of the most surprising aspects though of Collison has been his offensive efficiency this season as well as his ability to fit into the more up-tempo style that the Kings want. Not expected to have much of an impact offensively, the point guard out of UCLA has been a pleasant surprise, with an 18.9 PER, 56.2 TS percentage and a 2.9 OBPM (Offensive Box Plus/Minus). Thomas has posted better numbers than Collison this season in those categories (20.6 PER, 57.6 TS percentage, 3.9 OBPM), but it isn't significantly better and any offensive upgrades Thomas could have presented to the Kings have been negated by his defensive inefficiencies. Thus, Collison has been a much better overall value than Thomas this year for the Kings (further evidenced by Collison's 2.8 VORP, value over replacement player, to Thomas' 1.2).

Furthermore, while Thomas' is fitting in Jeff Hornacek's up-tempo style in Phoenix, he also plays in an offensive system that is very liberal when it comes to distributing the ball and without true "go-to" guys. And because of Thomas' "alpha dog" nature, he is able to fit into their system nicely, willing and able to be assertive and take control when necessary. In Sacramento, that is not needed, as the Kings have two clear alpha dogs in Demarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. What the Kings need from their point, especially in an up-tempo style which they want to go to, is a clear sense of role and responsibility (all the positions need this in the up-tempo style, but point especially), and it's obvious that Collison understands his role: to distribute and create offense for his teammates. This season, Collison is besting Thomas in assist percentage (28.6 to 25.8), assists per 48 minutes (8.6 to 7.9) and passing rating (11.3 to 9.4). Thomas fits on a roster where there is equal opportunity, but on a team that is trying to play faster while still keeping their top two scorers a priority, Collison fits in much better as a distributor and third-scoring option.

Where Thomas Has Been Better

While you could argue the validity of "clutch" stats, the numbers point that Thomas has been the better crunch-time scorer this season and beyond. In "clutch" situations (4th quarter or OT, less than 5 minutes, neither team up by more than 5), Thomas gives the Suns an offensive rating of 135.2, a defensive rating of 88.2, and a net48 of 47. Per 48 clutch-time minutes, Thomas is averaging 35.3 points and posting an eFG percentage of 55 percent. And lastly,when Thomas has been on the floor in the clutch (he has earned 35 percent of total clutch time minutes), the Suns have been plus-27 in net points and are 5-1.

The numbers don't favor Collison as much in "clutch" situations. When he is on the floor in clutch-time situations, the offensive rating and defensive rating are both lackluster at 84.8 and 107.3 and the net48 hasn't been good at minus-22.6. Hence, it makes sense why the Kings have a point differential of minus-29 and are 5-9 in clutch situations when Collison is on the floor. This isn't to say Collison isn't clutch or he is the sole reason they struggle in clutch situations, but it is obvious that he doesn't have the kind of impact that Thomas has had this season in Phoenix.

Why is this important? Well, with Cousins and Gay both battling ailments at various times this season, the Kings have had to rely on Collison in these important situations with neither go-to guys at a 100 percent or even in the lineup at times. It is in these scenarios (with Cousins and Gay hurt or ailing) that having Thomas would be an upgrade over Collison, as Thomas has that alpha dog mentality in these crunch time situations that Collison doesn't have or seem to have developed yet on this Kings squad.

The Final Verdict?

Thomas is missed and he deserved the standing ovation he got in Sacramento last Friday. But, the Kings are better without Thomas this year. As good and proficient a scorer as he is, Thomas simply was one Alpha Dog too many on roster that already has two. Collison plays a better complimentary role offensively, plays a more natural point guard, pushes the tempo a lot better thanks to his better passing than Thomas, and is a significant defensive upgrade over Thomas.

As sad as it was to see Thomas go, this is one situation where you can say D'Alessandro made the right call in choosing Collison over Thomas...or at least thus far this year (we still got 52 games to go after all).

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Clearing up Tempo: Trying to Figure out Vivek and Pete D's Plan

Mike Malone (left) and his rotation and defensive style didn't mesh into the up-tempo style that Vivek Ranadive (right) and GM Pete D'Alessandro want to install. Can they replicate the model of the successful up-tempo NBA team?

(From a FanPost I originally wrote on Sactown Royalty; you can check out the original post here)

I am new to this blog, but it is obvious that this is a great community and I just want to be able to add in any way possible. This is my first fanpost here, and I'm just trying to bring some perspective in terms of what I think Vivek and Pete D are trying to do. I will make a couple of primers first before I write this post:

  1. I didn't agree with the Malone firing. I think they should have just rode it out for this year and if they really wanted to make a style change, just do it after the year, whether Malone was successful or not. A coaching change is always messy, and to do it during the season is asinine. Imagine if theWarriors fired Jackson mid-year last season? In the end, it looked like the right decision for the Warriors, but there is always going to be initial kick-back from fans. At least in the off-season, it doesn't affect play since there are no games. Doing it mid-year is always lose-lose because their is an adjustment, people are going to be upset with the change (both players and fans) in some way (less so when they fired Reggie Theus). It was going to be lose-lose regardless and I'm surprised Vivek and Pete didn't really think about that more in their decision.
  2. I think it's WAYYYYY too early to say Vivek is a poor owner by any stretch of the imagination. All new owners make boner moves. That has especially been the case with so many new owner coming into the fold, especially owners who were known for being entrepreneurs. Mark Cuban famously let Steve Nash walk. Robert Pera let Lionel Hollins go after he led them to the Western Conference Finals for a coach had never been an NBA coach before. Joe Lacob fired Mark Jackson even after Stephen Curry publicly vouched for him and the media was doing everything in their power to keep him employed. New owners get carried away. They do dumb signings, make rash decisions and so on, but eventually they get a handle of it and figure out what works and what doesn't. I haven't agreed with the Malone firing, but to say Vivek has failed or let us down as Kings fans as an owner or to compare him to the Maloofs is ridiculous and simply looking in the temporary.
Okay, now that those two things are out of the way, I am going to try to look more into what Vivek and Pete D are doing, and I think one of the main issues of contention is the misinterpretation of tempo. It is obvious that Vivek wants to be an up-tempo team (I just say Vivek because I think Pete may be fine either/or. It was obvious that his one want in the draft was Embiid. After watching nearly every Kansas game last year due to living in Kansas City, I don't think Embiid would have fit in that style because he is a true post player, much like Cousins, and have those two towers in there would have definitely killed that Vivek dream. I think Pete just wants to make the best team possible with the resources they have and worry about style after they assemble the roster; this is just my own opinion). The common theme though is that most people think "up-tempo" means all offense, which is not necessarily the case. Again, a lot of this stems from the backlash from the "7 seconds or less" Suns and the failed "Run and Gun" Westhead Nuggets teams of the 90's. But just because you are up-tempo doesn't mean you're automatically lousy defensively. All it means is that by playing a higher tempo you're adding more possessions to the game with the hope that by extending the game you're giving yourself more shot opportunities while also wrecking on the depth of the other team who is not used to playing that style. That is really the goal of being "up-tempo", and how teams approach being up-tempo varies from team to team. For example, people know Nolan Richardson's Arkansas teams and Shaka Smart's team for their defense (40 minutes of hell and HAVOC, respectively). But they also played the fastest tempos in college basketball in their time. They were "run and gun" but people didn't think of their offense, but their defense. So, it just goes to show you that being a "fast-paced" basketball team doesn't marry you to one side of the ball; it just means you want to extend the game with more possessions.

At the NBA level, whether people realize it or not, up-tempo has been successful as of late. The Spurs had the 10th highest tempo last year, and yet they rated as the 3rd best team according to defensive rating. The Warriors this season are playing the fastest pace this year and they not only have the best defensive rating in the league, but also one of the best records as well. You can win while being up-tempo in the NBA. Heck, even the D'Antoni Suns, despite ranking in the bottom of the league in points per game, were always around league average when it came to defensive rating, and that is a big reason why they won between 50-60 games a year and made a habit of going deep in the playoffs, even if didn't result in a title. 
So what makes up-tempo teams good? A complementing defensive system and depth. The defensive system of a fastbreak team can't be similar to what a slower-paced team does. You can't combine D'Antoni's offensive system with Tom Thibodeau's system defensively for example. It doesn't work and what happens is one suffers greatly or both offense and defense becomes mediocre because they don't mesh with each other. That is one of the big problems with the Kings now. Their faster paced offensive system right now being pushed is not meshing with the old defensive system of Malone, which requires a lot of effort on hedges, switches and help. It's just demanding too much of our guys, and that is a big reason why teams are getting so many open looks. Guys get freaking tired and understandably so, and when a player is tired, the effect is more evident on defense. 
In addition to complementing system, up-tempo teams need that depth because of the demands of that style of play. Because our offense and defense are not meshed together yet, that has meant depth is even more important because of the effort required on both sides. But there is such a drop-off in talent from the first to the second and that is a big reason this team has struggled as of late, especially with the faster paced games. The depth just isn't there yet and either needs to be developed or replaced in order to make this team more effective.

And I think that is why Vivek and even Pete felt the need to make a change because of those two reasons. I'm guessing they felt Malone's defensive system just wasn't going to fit in what they wanted to do. Malone wants to be Thibs, and Vivek wants D'Antoni or Pop. And piggybacking on that, Malone relied more on his first unit (another Thibs quality) and didn't seem to trust his bench as heavily as a more up-tempo coach would (like Pop or D'Antoni). So they made the change, knowing those two factors were going to constantly clash and put the team in that "middle ground" which ultimately would lead them nowhere. 
I think the Kings can be an up-tempo team and still win games and be effective defensively. First off, we are only 6 games into this whole change, and there is naturally going to be growing pains. it sucks that the Kings didn't beat the Knicks by 40, but hey, some ups and downs are going to happen with change. It is obvious in the Kings' struggles in early defense and their fatigue showing when defending the pick and roll and drives to the basket. And the funny thing is, all these fans and players pining for Malone's old system don't realize it's there, it's just being played a lot less effectively because games are being played at a higher pace. And because it's being played at a higher pace, the flaws are showing more because there are more possessions (while more possessions can help some teams, it can also expose bad teams because the better team will usually prevail over the longer course of time; a reason why you see less upsets in the NBA playoffs than the NCAA Tournament). And, its also good to remember that even though we like to think differently, this defense wasn't lighting the world by any means even before Malone got fired (24th in defensive rating this year; 23rd last year). So while there was progress, the close wins early may have been a product of getting "lucky" rather than actually being effective, especially on defense and the true colors are just showing now. 
Though some may not want to admit it, there are a lot of teams doing up-tempo well now (Warriors, Mavs, Rockets and Blazers all rank in Top-10 in tempo) and have done it well before, including championship teams. Not everyone has to be the Larry Brown Detroit Pistons to be competitive. The great thing about basketball is that you can accomplish success in a myriad of different ways, and there isn't one style or method to winning. For every slug it out Pistons team there is a Spurs team using their depth and fast-paced style to win an NBA title. I think the Kings can fall in that latter category in due time, but not with this current defensive system, coach and a roster that relies heavily on the first unit.

But I am hopeful Vivek and Pete are figuring it out, and I think much like the Warriors a few years ago, the pieces are being put together to finally re-build the franchise to what it was back in the early 2000's and perhaps even greater. At the very least, this team is competitive, fun to watch (infuriating at times but still enjoyable) and still garners hope, and that's a hell of a lot better than what is going on in some franchises that are tanking for draft picks like Philly and Detroit.

If TL;DR: Up-tempo correlates to possessions not necessarily offense or defense; Malone's rotation and defensive system doesn't fit into the successful up-tempo team mold; Spurs are up-tempo and GOOD at defense; Vivek and Pete need to find that coach that can utilize depth and a complementing defensive system to the up-tempo offense.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What is a Kings fan doing in Kansas City?

It took a while and a move to a lot of different places, but it feels great to embrace Sacramento, the Kings and "Boogie" Cousins

Just to be clear, I am not in my 50's and 60's and remember watching Kansas City Kings game in Kemper Arena. I live near Kemper Arena, but I have never been there, mainly because I have no desire to see the circus or the National Stock Show (which in some people's opinions may be one in the same thing). I have lived in Kansas City for a couple of years now, but I am a Sacramentan at heart, having grown up in the metro area during my formative years (elementary through high school).

And as a Sacramentan, I'm sure most of you may say "You grew up a Kings fan, right?" Well, not exactly. Originally, I grew up a Warriors fan and more predisposed to College Basketball in my younger years. Much like most middle-aged men in their 40's and 50's, I bought into the belief that college basketball was better fundamentally, the players played defense, and all that kind of hoopla Gene Hackman instilled in us basketball fans subconsciously in the movie "Hoosiers" (I was a staunch believer in the four passes before a shot rule until I got to high school).

The one nice thing though about being so up close to the college game however (I went to Gonzaga for undergrad) is you realize how flawed it is, even at the Division 1 level. Players aren't really all that great fundamentally at times, and some really don't give a darn about defense. College games have become slow, plodding affairs, orchestrated by "control-freak" coaches who win over college administrations, fans, and the press with coaching styles that are categorized as"Old School" and "Strategic." The spirit of the Hickory Hoosiers pumps through the veins of nearly every college basketball team, especially at the Division 1 level, and the game has become a lot more boring and less creative because of it.

That is not to say I have grown to hate college basketball. I still enjoy the game. I still have college basketball blogs listed on the blogroll. But as I have grown into my mid-20's, I have slowly endeared myself more and more to the NBA game. And rightfully so. The NBA game is better than ever before. Yes, the late 90's and early 2000's was a rough a period. I am not going to say anything that Bill Simmons hasn't said before, so I won't even bother to mention it. But as I have gotten older, the NBA has taken a step up in capturing my interest and fandom in comparison to college basketball simply due to the fact that it's just a better game. College basketball has its moments, and the NCAA Tournament remains priority viewing (as does Gonzaga, my alma mater), but when it comes to my favorite sport to watch, cover and analyze, the NBA holds the top podium spot by far.

So the progression from college basketball to NBA fan has been explained. But what about the transition to being a Kings fan, especially considering I reside in Kansas City? Well, I originally grew up a Golden State Warriors fan. Most of my family resides in the Bay Area, and being the kind of kid who looked up to his older cousins fanatically so, being a Warriors fan seemed to be a natural fit. And being a Warriors fan in Sacramento also gave me a cool little niche growing up. As much as I liked the Kings on the court, (I loved Vlade and C-Webb), it was tougher for me to jump on the whole "Cowbell" bandwagon of the early 2000's. Maybe I was rebelling against my hometown. Maybe I didn't like the Maloofs (even when they were shelling out cash to the franchise). Maybe I was just being that typical adolescent who just didn't know who the heck he was yet, and not liking his hometown team and cheering for the closer rival instead just seemed like the thing do. There were multiple factors in my decision not to attach myself to the Kings.

But, you grow up. You mature, and when you spend years apart from your hometown you come to realize and appreciate it when you come back, especially when you have been away from so long (this recent trip to Sacramento was my first visit in over 2 years). You realize that you enjoy other places because they remind you of home. Kansas City is like that for me. It's the Sacramento of the Midwest: big enough, not pretentious and severely under-looked and appreciated in comparison to the other major cities of its area (San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles for Sacramento; St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee for Kansas City). It's only fitting I will cover the Kings franchise on this blog from not only it's former home (the Kings had some good runs in Kansas City), but in such a doppelganger of Sacramento (Sacramento has nicer weather; Kansas City has the barbecue; really the only differences).

So do I hate the Warriors now? No, not at all. I love Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. I think Steve Kerr is on the cusp of being one of the next great coaches. But sometimes, especially as you get older and are trying to figure yourself out, you need to attach yourself to what you grew up with. Whether I liked it or gravitated to it or not, I grew up with the Kings. As a kid who moved there when I was 9, I always wanted to be in a market with a NBA team, and now, almost 20 years later, I finally realized I had that, and didn't appreciate it. Now I am appreciating it. I realize that Sacramento is a part of me, part of my history, and a part of where I want to be in the future, whether it is moving back to Sacramento and getting season tickets, or staying in Kansas City and following the Kings on NBA League pass.

The Kings are doing so many cool things. Vivek's "meddling" nature (both good and bad), Pete D, DMC to NYC, Rudy and Cousins starring on the USA team in the FIBA World Cup, #SacramentoProud, the new Arena, Sleep Train Arena (hey it's still great to watch a game there, even if the seats are still red and blue), NBA Draft 3.0, STAUSKAS!!! There's about as much if not more to be excited about as a Kings fan as there was in the 2000's with Adelman, C-Webb, Kobe Food Poisoning, Lakers Game 6, Doug Christie, Doug Christie's Insane Wife, Peja and Valde, Mike Bibby going insane and then fading ever so slowly, etc. I can't believe I have jumped on this Kings bandwagon. I can't believe I bought NBA League pass to not follow the Warriors (though I will be watching a lot of their games still), but the Kings. And I cannot believe that amid all the Jayhawk and bandwagon NBA fans (Cavs, Thunder mostly), I will be rocking the Kings badge of honor in fandom and gear.

"Home is where the heart is" is the popular saying. In the past 10 years, I have lived in 5 different places, and experienced all different kinds of sport experiences and fans and team coverage. And now, despite all those experiences and kinds of exposure, I didn't turn into some contrived "Thunder-Nuggets-Warriors-Jayhawks-Lakers" fan like that sickening family in that NFL commercial where they all change fan allegiances due to college and romantic interests.("Oh hey, I eat this cheeseburger at my college in Pittsburgh! Screw the Vikings! Go Steelers man! My hometown can't beat the Roethlis-Burger!"). It took a long way to get there, but I am happy to reconnect, happy to have grown up where I did and am definitely #Sacramentoproud.

Go Kings! (From both my home in Sacramento and 1,717 miles away in Kansas City).