The easiest player to blame for the Kings finishing last in assists in the 2013-14 NBA season is Isaiah Thomas.
He’s the shoot-first point guard, right?
Blaming Thomas solely is also the easiest way to deflect attention from the real issue – the Kings were a collection of non-passing, isolation-favoring parts.
Thomas was a part of the problem, yes. He is the point guard, tasked with making sure the offense flows and works. But simply benching or replacing Thomas won’t fix the Kings’ team-wide fascination with holding the ball and driving into traffic or taking contested shots.
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The Kings still plan to address their lack of ball-movement issues this offseason.
Attempts to bring in another point guard through the draft failed, so the focus must now be to find players willing to pass the ball from all positions, including point guard – and continue to press to the players that the team has to pass the ball if the shot isn’t there.
Only one player in the NBA averaged 10 or more assists last season, Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul. So instead of waiting on the next great facilitating savior, the Kings need to work on finding more players willing to move the ball.
“Yes, we all want a point guard, but in today’s NBA, like everybody wants to say, you need basketball players at every position,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “So it’s not just about getting a point guard who can pass, it’s getting a two guard who can pass and make plays off the dribble and find the open man, getting a small forward or a power forward – guys who are willing to make a play.”
The Kings weren’t going to fix the problem in the draft. Even as they were mentioned in numerous trade rumors, the reality is there was only a one-player fix in Thursday’s NBA draft to a team-wide issue.
The front office believes it began that process with its selection of guard Nik Stauskas, the eighth overall pick out of Michigan.
The Kings are looking to play more like the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, whose starting lineup includes players with the ability to score and pass.
That requires players who understand the game, who know when to move and where to be on the floor and when to pass.
Stauskas fit that role as a big-time shooter at Michigan, where he also handled the ball and improved his assists average by two from his freshman to his sophomore year.
The Kings were touting Stauskas’ basketball IQ, an area that’s been lacking with the Kings, too.
More made perimeter shots will create better spacing and likely boost the assist totals.
But it will take more than a rookie to change a culture of “hero ball.”
Malone said the Spurs are the model for how to play the game.
Their starting point guard, Tony Parker, averaged 5.7 assists last season, but the Spurs led the NBA at 25.2 assists per game.
“It’s Tony Parker, it’s Manu Ginobili, it’s Boris Diaw, it’s Marco Belinelli, it’s Patty Mills,” Malone said. “They have basketball players. They have guys that can make a shot when they’re open. If they’re not open, they can make a play for a teammate and drive, they can pass.”
Thomas averaged 6.3 assists, which tied him for 12th in the NBA. But the Kings averaged just 18.9 assists. He is a restricted free agent. Even if he returns, the Kings are looking for more smart players who are willing to find the open teammate and make the game easier for their teammates.
“I don’t care who we have on the court next year, our whole mindset has to be make a play for your teammate,” Malone said. “Instead of holding it, holding it and holding it, it’s got to be make a play for your teammate. The Spurs did that the best this year and they won (the championship), and that’s something we need to do a much better job of next year.”