Darren Abate / Associated Press

The Kings' Toney Douglas shoots against the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard on Friday, when Douglas, Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton teamed in a small lineup.

Kings' small lineup offers some promise

Published: Sunday, Apr. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5C
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 - 2:21 pm

HOUSTON – The Kings have had a logjam in the backcourt all season.

Coach Keith Smart tried using three point guards and shuffling time among three shooting guards, and he juggled minutes at small forward.

That didn't yield the desired results, but lately, Smart has been going with a small lineup – a very small lineup at times.

That could mean as many as four guards on the floor at the same time and no fewer than three players shorter than 6-foot-5.

In Friday's loss at San Antonio, Toney Douglas, Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton played at the same time off the bench in the second quarter.

The trio helped Sacramento score 37 points in that quarter. The Kings also gave up 37 points, but the flow on offense helped them stay in the game.

"When we're playing so bad, I have to go to a unit that I think can give us some energy to get back in the basketball game, and so far, that group has done that," Smart said.

Pairing the trio with Patrick Patterson at power forward and Jason Thompson at center – as Smart did for part of the second quarter Friday – allows the Kings to play at a fast pace and force the defense to scramble to find perimeter shooters.

Patterson provides a fourth player with three-point range, and Thompson's steady shooting means every player on the court is a legitimate scoring threat and can run the floor.

"When we get the rebound, everyone else is out (on the fast break)," Thornton said. "We've got three or four ballhandlers, so it's not you coming back to get the ball. You just fill the lanes and run."

Smart's concern about overusing this group is how it matches up on defense. If the opponent positions its perimeter players in the post, he worries about exposing his smaller guards defensively.

"It's all about the matchup in the game to where you don't have to extend yourself because you're going to be involved in rotations already," Smart said. "And if you have to give a team another opportunity to try and post you and force you into rotations, it becomes a disadvantage for you."

Smart likes how the offense operates when the Kings play small.

"One thing our guys have been able to do is have three ballhandlers, three guys that can make plays off the dribble and three guys that can make plays up the court," he said.

When the Kings struggle on offense, they often end up driving the ball into the lane when it's congested and forcing up tough shots.

When there are at least three shooters on the floor, that's not easy to do, and Thompson or DeMarcus Cousins can operate near the basket with more freedom.

Smart said as long as Isaiah Thomas or Douglas is pushing the pace on offense and pressuring the opposing point guard, the Kings' version of small ball can be effective.

Fredette liked how the group functioned in San Antonio.

"We were spreading the floor," he said. "Guys were sharing the ball well and hitting shots and getting some stops. I think we were doing a good job of spreading the floor and spacing them out and make them not be in the paint and pack it in so much, and we were hitting our jump shots."

Thornton said little time is spent with the small group together in practice. But when the Kings use it in games, it manages to come together quickly.

"It's easy to play like that when you have guys that are unselfish like Toney and Isaiah, Tyreke (Evans) and those guys," Thornton said. "It makes my job easier – just go out and run."

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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