Frank Franklin II / AP

New York Knicks' Pablo Prigioni (9) defends Sacramento Kings' Isaiah Thomas (22) as Thomas attempts to get a pass from DeMarcus Cousins, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in New York.

Kings at the break – analysis: Team is making strides, even if the record doesn’t show it

Published: Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 - 1:58 pm

The NBA ultimately comes down to wins and losses, so the Kings have little reason to be pleased.

They’re 18-35 at the All-Star break, tied for the worst record in the Western Conference, and they’ve found that old habits are hard to break.

It’s nearly impossible to turn one of the worst defensive teams into one of the best, and players who look out for themselves first don’t suddenly become team players who try to make sure everyone touches the ball on each possession.

Though the Kings have taken steps toward moving out of the conference cellar, it’s unreasonable to expect them to turn around years of losing in 53 games.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, because we still have one of the worst records in the league,” Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro said. “Sometimes, you’re a lot closer than you realize, and I feel like with some of the young talent we have and talent we have acquired, we have taken steps that don’t necessarily reflect our record.”

D’Alessandro has made four trades since last summer to shake up a roster that needed an overhaul. He took a chance on Derrick Williams, a player talented enough to be the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft. Then, D’Alessandro orchestrated a seven-player deal that added three players to the team, including small forward Rudy Gay and his salary, which could be as high as $19.3 million next season if he exercises his option to stay.

“Sacramento has embraced (Gay), and we hope that continues,” D’Alessandro said.

The acquisition of Gay was the kind of deal that likely wouldn’t have happened in the final years under the previous ownership, when the bottom line too often took priority over basketball decisions.

The deal hasn’t led to better results on the court, but the Kings are young and short on experience with many players who haven’t been on winning NBA teams.

When he was hired, coach Michael Malone said his first season shouldn’t be judged solely on wins and losses, knowing it would be difficult to break the bad habits that have dogged the Kings. But Malone sees a positive sign in the team’s improvement on defense.

Over the last 20 games, the Kings are holding opponents to 101.2 points on 44.8 percent shooting (34.7 percent from three-point range), compared to season marks of 103.5 points and 46.4 percent shooting (37.5 percent from three-point range).

And in the Kings’ 18 victories, opponents have shot 42.1 percent, giving Malone reason to believe his message is starting to take hold.

“That’s exciting for me because that’s something I’ve been pounding all year long, and it’s taken us a while to get it,” Malone said. “But knock on wood, we’re starting to begin to defend at a much higher level. ... Even with all the losing ... for the most part we’ve stayed together, united and positive. We have not allowed distractions and drama with the losing, which is a credit to our guys and their willingness to understand that this is a process.”

The biggest piece in the process has been center DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging career highs of 22.5 points and 11.7 rebounds. Cousins also is shooting better, in part because Malone has played him more in the post.

Isaiah Thomas has put up better numbers than expected with career highs of 20.2 points and 6.3 assists.

But even with three players – Cousins, Gay and Thomas – averaging at least 20 points, the offense has not been good. The Kings are shooting just 44.6 percent, and their turnovers have increased while their assists have dropped. They are 29th in the league in assists at 19.5 per game.

It would be easy to blame Thomas, since he’s the point guard, but poor ball movement and too much one-on-one play involves the entire roster. Too often the first pass leads to a player dribbling and shooting. The Kings also can be slow initiating the offense. It’s one reason the Kings would consider adding another point guard who could play a pass-first role and allow the scorers to score.

“Trust each other, trust the offense, trust the system, trust each other,” Malone said. “Make a play for your teammates, because if you make a play for your teammate, the ball is going to come back to you. That’s just how it works in the NBA. So instead of taking that quick shot, let’s work to get the best shot.”

The Kings have shown progress, and closing the season strong would bring good vibes going into the offseason. The Kings need to win 11 of their last 29 games to surpass last season’s 28 victories.

“With an exciting young coaching staff that has really engaged our players, we’re starting to see buy-in,” D’Alessandro said. “And we’re starting to see a change culturally in the team, in the locker room and a separation from the way things were done and how they’re being done.”


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

Read more articles by Jason Jones



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