PHOENIX Keith Smart believes that in a 66-game schedule, he will need all of his players at some point of this compressed season.
That is why Smart emphasizes consistent bench play.
Recently, the Kings' bench has begun showing signs it can be counted on the rest of the season. The bench was shaken up when Isaiah Thomas became the starting point guard and John Salmons became a reserve.
The Kings have averaged 24.6 points off the bench since Thomas was put into the starting lineup seven games ago. That average was boosted by 51 points Friday night in a road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Smart has kept backups in games at key moments. Chuck Hayes and Francisco Garcia stayed in for DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans at the suggestion of Cousins and Evans in a Feb. 22 win at Washington.
Smart also played five backups almost all of the fourth quarter as the Kings' comeback from 20 points down fell short against the Lakers.
Smart said he has put in plays just for the reserves, which he thinks will help them improve.
"It's pretty simple to play it's just pass and cut, make reads," said guard Jimmer Fredette, who is averaging 11.5 points off the bench in his last two games.
"And I think the second unit has guys that really know how to cut and play without the ball. That's something that's extremely good the second unit can bring."
Figuring out a system the reserves could run was important, especially without Thomas.
"That group that's playing off the bench right now, they're not creators," Smart said. "They can't take it on their own and make plays by themselves. If they try to do that, they get a little bit beside themselves. But they function very well."
Using Hayes to pass out of the high post is one way Smart wants his second unit to facilitate offense.
Smart noted Garcia is good at shooting off screens, and Fredette could grow to play well in that role, too.
Fredette's role with the second unit is vital to its success.
He must be aggressive on offense, initiating it and looking for his shot.
Fredette said he still wants to set up his teammates, but he also has been encouraged to catch defenses off guard in transition with his pull-up three-point shot.
Fredette was known for the shot while starring at BYU, and he has shown in the last two games that he can hurt teams with it.
"Coaches give you confidence, and teammates say, 'If you've got that shot, take it. Play your game,' " Fredette said.
Smart's plan after taking over as coach in January was to be able to play five reserves at once. He'd like to keep his starters' minutes below 40 a game.
Only Tyreke Evans (35.9 minutes per game) and Marcus Thornton (35.3 minutes) average more than 30 minutes for the Kings.
If all goes well, their minutes will decrease, too.
Garcia said the key for the bench is to bring energy on offense and defense.
And it has helped the reserves' confidence to know if they play well, Smart will give them a chance to win games.
"I think it's great," Garcia said. "He talked to us about that. He said, 'If you're playing defense the right way, you'll stay on the floor.' "