Between snowstorms, a slam-dunk contest that includes Ben McLemore, an All-Star Game that may or may not include DeMarcus Cousins and four games in East Coast cities, some of the questions pertaining to the 2013-14 Kings should be answered.
Starting with the lack of an identity – and remaining alert with the Feb. 20 trade deadline only two weeks away – here’s a look at the top five issues:
The Kings? They compete, but their collective soul remains very much a mystery. Offensive team? Defensive team? Wannabe uptempo team?
For all of Michael Malone’s fixation on defense, the Kings rank near the bottom in most relevant categories. The offensive numbers are better but more than a little misleading; while the Kings are among 16 teams averaging 100 or more points, the offense too often deteriorates into a clock-killing, isolation-oriented dribble-fest.
The fourth-quarter collapse Wednesday against the visiting Toronto Raptors was only the latest example of the poor decision-making and selfishness that crippled the Kings more than occasionally.
“Sometimes, the ball sticks,” said veteran Rudy Gay. “We have to make it harder on defenses. Most of our problems … it’s the offense. When our offense gets stagnant, it actually triggers their (opponents’) offense and makes our defense look bad. Part of this is trust.”
A large part of this is also dictated by personnel. As currently constructed, the Kings’ most talented players are offensive players. There isn’t a rim-protector in the house. Additionally, the guards are particularly poor at containment on the perimeter and consumed by dominating the ball and/or getting up shots.
But this is the NBA. You eat what you’re served. If it’s chicken soup, maybe you throw in a matzo ball. You don’t add marinara sauce. Offense, it is.
But the system only works if the parts fit (see chicken soup). While the fans became grumpy during the recent losing streak, a rookie coach who is coaxing a career-best season out of Cousins, effectively incorporating Gay and coping with repeated roster changes deserves time to establish his identity and perhaps even cook up an offense. And not to be overlooked is this: Malone commands the locker room.
“We don’t have guys who know how to move without the ball, including me,” Cousins said bluntly the other night. “I get caught sometimes. Rudy (Gay) might have a post-up, and I’ll be in his way. But we need time together as a unit. We’re growing, getting better. This is all new to me, too.”