The New York Knicks welcome the Sacramento Kings for a 7:30 EST tip this evening. The Kings come in losers of their last three games on their current Eastern Conference road trip. To get a better idea of what to expect out of the Kings tonight I brought in Greg Wissinger from Sactown Royalty and James Ham from Cowbell Kingdom.
The Kings have lost 10 of their last 12 games coming into tonight. What’s been the biggest reason for the slide?
Greg: Oh god, I didn’t realize it had been that bad. Pardon me as I drink an entire bottle of scotch. There are a couple reasons for this slide, the biggest being injuries. During that stretch the Kings have been without DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay at various points, including several games were both out. The Kings don’t have much depth to speak of, so missing one of their best players is a huge setback.
The other reason is defense. The Kings are pretty bad at it. They don’t put forth a consistent effort, and nobody on the roster is really a standout defender.
James: Injuries to key players have completely thrown Sacramento out of rhythm. Cousins missed six game with an ankle sprain and Gay has missed time with both an injured hip and the flu. Before the current slide, the Kings had gone 8-7 over their previous 15 game stretch, including wins against the Heat, Rockets and Trail Blazers.
The Kings made two pretty significant deals this season in acquiring Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams. Do you expect the front office to continue to be aggressive as the trade deadline nears?
Greg: I think the Kings would like to make more moves, but they aren’t going to be making moves just to get a few extra wins this season. They’ll make a move if the right opportunity comes along, but it will need to be something that makes sense for the team long term. Although I suspect coach Michael Malone would sacrifice a limb if it meant the Kings would trade for a plus defender.
James: Yes is the short answer. New general manager Pete D’Alessandro is anxious to make this team his own. He has already replaced five rotational players with in-season moves and I would be shocked if the Kings stand pat at the deadline. They still have a pressing need for a shot blocker and a true point guard and they have a few assets to move.
Kings head coach Mike Malone gained notoriety for his defensive mindset as an assistant, but the Kings are currently 28th in DRtg and 12th in ORtg. Why has this team been so much better offensively than they have defensively?
Greg: I touched on this briefly before, but I’ll expand on it. The Kings are awful on defense due to a lack of talent and effort. But the disparity you see between offense and defense is based mostly on talent. That’s not to say that the Kings don’t put forth effort on offense, but rather that the players on the current roster are generally known as offensive players.
Isaiah Thomas is a slightly better defender than his reputation, but he’s not great by any means. Cousins, too, is a better defender than he gets credit for, and he’s put forth more effort on defense this year, but he still has a ways to go. Rudy Gay has the physical attributes to be a good defender, but doesn’t apply himself to it. Marcus Thornton is aware of defense as a concept, but he’s just awful at it. Ben McLemore is still very raw, and tends to play on instinct. You see him collapse into the paint to help, not recognizing that he’s just left Steve Novak open for a three.
I have been impressed with Malone as a coach thus far, and I have faith that he’ll eventually get the players to give a consistent effort on defense. The Kings have been rebuilding for a long time, but it’s difficult to count the time under the Maloofs as rebuilding. It will take time for the Kings to turn things around.
James: Sacramento’s roster has been in flux since the season began. Gaining any type of continuity has been next to impossible with all of the roster turnover. Adding to Malone’s issue is that the Kings current roster is chalked full of offensive weapons. His one defensive specialist was Luc Mbah a Moute and he was shipped out for Derrick Williams before we even made it to December. The core of Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins can really score. Now they need the right pieces around this trio.
Both Isiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins have all-star level PER’s with Thomas at 21 and Cousins at 26. How and why have they turned the corner this season?
Greg: Isaiah Thomas is the easier answer of the two. Isaiah’s been playing at nearly this level for two years, but couldn’t get consistent minutes as the team kept trying to replace him. The team tried again this year with Greivis Vasquez, but to Malone’s credit he recognized the problem and made Isaiah a starter. With Vasquez being traded away, Isaiah has finally secured his starting role and has made the most of it.
As for Cousins, it’s tough to say exactly why he turned the corner. It could be because he simply started to mature, finally. Or it could be that he felt support from the organization, thanks to the max extension he signed this offseason. It might be his relationship with Coach Malone. Cousins has said that before this year being on the Kings felt like being on an AAU team, so I like to think it’s the renewal of the organization that brought this out in him. I don’t know the exact reason, but it’s been a ton of fun to watch.
James: Malone has really handed this team over to Thomas and Cousins and allowed them to grow into their roles. Thomas’ numbers are elite when compared to other point guards and Cousins is probably the best offensive center in the game today. Unfortunately, the numbers haven’t translated into wins, so there are a lot of questions that need to be answered in the next 30 games.
Who ultimately wins tonight and why?
Greg: The way this season has gone, will either team really walk away from this contest as a winner? I think the Knicks will win, because the Kings have been awful on this road trip and might be checked out before the break. I think the Kings will win because there’s no way they go 0-4 on an East Coast road trip that also included Cleveland, Washington and Boston, right? Right?
James: My money would be on the Knicks because the Kings are really playing poorly right now. But the one thing about this Sacramento team is that they can beat anyone on any given night, just like they can lose to anyone on any given night. Chandler will be a good test for Cousins and I like the Gay/Anthony matchup.