When the Kings go to their bench players, the style of play resembles what coach Dave Joerger wants from his team this season.
The pace picks up, the ball moves more, and they usually spark a team that can appear disinterested to start games.
“They always do,” Joerger said of the reserves. “That’s a good group. They play with good energy, and it’s fun.”
The problem is the Kings aren’t seeing that effort from their starters. Regardless of who starts, the first unit seems to be in slow motion to start games, while the backups appear to be having a good time sharing the ball and the good vibes.
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A quarter of a way into the season, the Kings are still trying to make those good vibes infectious regardless of who is on the court. They are trying to avoid being a one- or two-man show with their starters for prolonged stretches.
“I just think in the first unit we’ve got two go-to guys (DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay),” said forward Matt Barnes. “In the second unit, everybody’s capable of doing whatever, so it’s more freelance – pick-and-roll, pick-and-pops, me handling at the elbow, finding people cutting. So, (you) don’t have to worry about feeding nobody the ball; it’s kind of equal-opportunity offense.”
That’s what Joerger wants, even when Cousins and Gay are on the floor together.
Too often, that’s not what the Kings do.
Too often, the Kings are content to dump the ball into Cousins in the post and watch him take on all defenders. Same goes for tossing the ball to Gay or Arron Afflalo on the wing, or Darren Collison trying to attack off the dribble.
It’s the my-turn offense that Joerger doesn’t like and often leads to bad shots.
The frustration is obvious. The Kings have experience, so passing and cutting should not be an issue.
When the Kings pass well, they tend to win. Six of their seven wins have come when the team has had at least 24 assists. So, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out what to do, right?
“How many games are we into it now?” Gay said. “We have to figure out what’s working for us and continue to do it.”
Too often, Joerger must turn to the bench to shake the Kings out of their early-game struggles. Omri Casspi, Garrett Temple, Ty Lawson and Barnes generally make up the second team that Joerger calls on to restore order, ideally with Cousins and/or Gay.
The second team serves as a reminder that playing with energy is considered a talent by some coaches.
“It’s funny; it’s our personality,” Casspi said. “It’s what most of us do, and that’s play with energy. I think it’s just in my DNA and Matt and Garrett and obviously Ty or Willie (Cauley-Stein). It’s interchangeable. When the coach goes to us, we’re all energy guys.”
So what are the Kings to do?
Cousins said everyone is aware of the energy issue and the players must fix the problem.
Barnes said he’s not sure if it’s as simple as changing the starting lineup again.
“It’s on us,” Cousins said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to start the game with the right energy and the right attitude.”
Barnes said for things to work on the court, the Kings know what to do. It’s been a constant theme.
“Move the ball,” Barnes said. “If you’ve got something, go with it, and if you don’t, move it, get in a pick-and-roll, change sides of the floor and look to attack. I think at times we’re doing a lot of one-on-one, which is not beneficial for our team. I think changing sides of the floor and trying to attack a mismatch or trying to attack in general is what we need to stick to.”
And playing with energy.