In the second quarter of Wednesday night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Kings guard Ty Lawson caught a pass on the wing, took two hard dribbles and turned to find teammate Buddy Hield standing about 2 feet from him.
Lawson passed the ball to Hield and walked toward the corner throwing up his hands. Even as he watched Hield step back and drain a 3-pointer, Lawson shrugged again, his frustration evident.
“I just get frustrated because of the spacing,” Lawson said after the Kings’ 109-100 loss. “It’s more like people are running to the ball and there’s no spacing out there. It’s tough. But it’s a new team.”
Lawson had nine assists Wednesday night. The rest of the Kings combined for three, as they matched their season-low in losing to the team with the NBA’s worst record.
“It’s like the wild, wild West out there, man,” Lawson said. “Dudes just trying to get up shots. You can’t win like that, man. It’s a lot of one-on-one. We’ve got some players that can do that, but once somebody gets looked off one time then it’s contagious. We’ve just got to make the right pass, make the right play.”
The Kings’ ball movement had been improving. Since Jan. 1, they rank 10th in the league with 23.6 assists per game. Their mark of 62.5 percent of made field goals coming off of assists in that time ranks sixth.
For most of that time, though, the offense was running through DeMarcus Cousins. Since trading Cousins – who was leading the team in points and assists – to New Orleans, the Kings’ offense has been without an established focal point.
“There’s a lot of players now that have a lot of freedom,” Lawson said. “Nothing against DeMarcus, but he took most of the shots when he was here. And on the Pelicans, (Anthony Davis) took most of the shots. They had the ball in their hands. So now it’s just a new experience. People have the ball in their hands and have that freedom. And we just have to have a balance between trying to score and trying to get someone else a shot.”
Lawson said he thinks players are willing to do that – as does coach Dave Joerger.
“Sometimes it looks like somebody’s just dribbling too much,” Joerger said after practice Thursday. “But it’s not, like, out of selfishness or something else. We’ve got to help each other. We’ve got to get to spots on the floor where guys can get catches and then cuts can begin and we can put more pressure on the defense.
“If we’re not screening hard or cutting hard, we’re not opening up guys to get the ball where we want to get it. And I’m not talking about at 2 feet (from the rim), I’m just talking about as you move the ball around. Guys get hung up with the ball and then you have to go make a play.”
With Cousins often attracting multiple defenders, that usually meant a teammate was open somewhere on the floor. Now, Joerger said, those looks may not be so open.
“You look at the number of shots that are wide open for Anthony Tolliver, for example, right now,” Joerger said. “(Opponents) are trying to run him off the line because they don’t have to help as much on other actions. They’re closer to him, so they take him off his shot, and then he has to put the ball on the floor.”
Wednesday, at least, the Kings felt they failed to capitalize on some desirable looks. They made just 12 of 34 shots in the paint, where the Nets outscored them 38-24.
“We’re getting in the right spots, we’re just not finishing plays,” forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “We should be shooting 70 percent in the paint. Those type of things will help, when we start finishing in the paint and getting to the paint and stuff.”
The Kings met Thursday to watch video and run some of their newer players through offensive sets. It was the first of three days off before they host Utah on Sunday.
“All of this is new, we’re trying to learn each other, so we’ll figure it out,” Lawson said. “It’s early. It’s only four games in.”