For more than seven minutes on Wednesday, DeMarcus Cousins was enjoying the view from the bench against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I was hoping I wasn’t going back in,” Cousins said.
While coach Dave Joerger ended up needing his All-Star center to close the game, it wasn’t a dire situation. That’s because the reserves took care of business for the most part, a trend the Kings hope continues.
With the shuffling of the starting lineup, the Kings may have settled on a second unit that can allow Cousins more nights where he can sit for longer stretches.
The Kings have struggled to find offense outside of Cousins and forward Rudy Gay, who account for 47.7 points per game of the team’s 102.4 average. If the second unit improves, they can get more extended breaks.
“I think Garrett Temple is playing well,” Joerger said. “I think Kosta (Koufos) is playing better – I thought (the Toronto game) was one of his better nights. When you have a group of eight guys that all know they are in the rotation, they know whatever combination is out there at the time that they’re part of the rotation. Guys are starting to fit in to what we are asking them to do.”
Guard Ben McLemore was the only other reserve to play against the Thunder as Joerger has tightened his rotation. But his playing time has been sporadic. If Koufos remains steady, it will be hard for Willie Cauley-Stein to find minutes as the third center.
Koufos has come off the bench the last two games since Joerger decided to start a smaller lineup, while Temple has been a reserve guard all season. But perhaps the biggest move he could make to give the second unit an identity is having point guard Ty Lawson come off the bench.
Joerger has said the offense wasn’t a good fit, especially when the team started a big lineup. With Lawson coming off the bench, he’s playing with a group more suited to his high-tempo style.
“It’s a different dynamic,” Koufos said. “Get the ball, push, screen, roll. The first unit is a little bit different than the second unit, but that’s why we complement each other very well, different speeds.”
Lawson has struggled to find his flow, not surprising as the Kings are his third team since the start of last season. He had eight points, four rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes against the Thunder and said he’s getting over the mental block that had prevented him from playing as he did in Denver, when he was an energetic scorer and facilitator.
“I think for the last year I’ve been playing to pass, get in the paint and still pass when the shot’s there,” Lawson said. “Now I feel like it’s clicking the last two games, the last two practices – I’m playing like Denver Ty.”
That’s something all the Kings want to see. Lawson plays his best when he’s able to get into the lane and there is space. And lately he’s found it.
“It’s just good to see him go out there and be himself,” Gay said. “I think it’s been awhile since he’s found his niche, and I think he’s starting to get there.”