Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kings dodge big collapse to beat Knicks on buzzer-beater

I don't watch every Sacramento Kings game. And when I do tune in, I will often surf other channels and miss good portions of their games.

The problem for me--a bandwagon fan, if you will--is that the Kings lose most of the time. It's just not that much fun to see my local outfit stink.

But last night, aided by the New York Knicks not having their best player, Carmelo Anthony, available, and not having their starting point guard, Felton Spencer, healthy enough to play, the Kings held on for a 1 point victory at home on a last-second shot. Earlier in the game Sacramento was up by 27 points.

When it mattered most, (assistant coach Bobby) Jackson's advice paid off when (James) Johnson made a three-pointer at the buzzer to save the Kings from an epic collapse and give them a 106-105 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.
Johnson had missed all 11 of his three-point attempts this season, but there was no better time for Jackson's tutoring to pay off.

A reasonable question to ask is why the Kings are as bad as they are? They are in last place in their division and have the second worst record in the Western Conference.

I don't think the problem is their head coach, Keith Smart. I don't think the fault lies with their owners or their dated arena. I think most of the blame is due to the fact that the Kings have had a mostly bad record in drafting players over the last 6 years.

In 2006, the Kings had the 19th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Quincy Douby of Rutgers University. Douby turned out to be a complete bust. There were good players still available--Paul Millsap and Rajon Rondo, for example--who the Kings passed on in order to take the dubious Mr. Douby.

In 2007, the Kings had the 10th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Spencer Hawes of the University of Washington. Hawes was not a total bust. But they took him in favor of Marc Gasol and Carl Landry, and both of those players have been much better pros than Hawes has been. (For one season the Kings had Landry, who they acquired by trading away Kevin Martin, then their best player, and then they let Landry go.) After three unimpressive years in Sacramento, the Kings traded Hawes to Philadelphia for Samuel Dalembert, who then left Sacramento as a free agent. In effect, the Kings got nothing out of the 2007 draft.

In 2008, the Kings had the 12th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Jason Thompson of Rutgers University. Thompson is a good rebounder, and still plays for Sacramento, but he is no star. There were much better players still available--Ryan Anderson, George Hill and Serge Ibaka, for example--when Sacramento grabbed Thompson.

By the end of the 2008-09 season, the Kings were one of the worst teams in the NBA. They did not, however, do well in the draft lottery and ended up with the 4th pick of the first round. But Tyreke Evans of the University of Memphis fell to them, and at first he looked like an excellent pick. Evans won the Rookie of the Year award, though that was in part due to the fact that the first player selected in that draft, Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, missed the entire season due to injury.

After his strong rookie season, unfortunately, Evans has regressed. Based on total Win Shares, Evans is now only the 12th best player from his draft class. He has even been passed by Marcus Thornton, who (following a trade with the Hornets) is his teammate. Thornton was the 43rd selection of the 2009 draft.

When the Kings took Evans, they could have had Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, DeJuan Blair and some others, all of whom have been better pros.

In 2009, the Kings had a second 1st round pick, and they selected Omri Casspi from Israel 23rd in that draft. He was a pleasant surprise, coming that late, a hustle player, but not a great athlete. After two years, the Kings traded Casspi to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson, got nothing out of Hickson, and waived him following the 20011-12 season.

In 2010, for the second year  in a row, the Kings did poorly in the draft lottery, and wound up with the No. 5 pick. They drafted DeMarcus Cousins of the University of Kentucky. Cousins was widely viewed as one of the two most talented players in his draft class. The problem was that he was said to be "immature," and no one picking before Sacramento wanted to deal with his personality issues.

Like Evans, Cousins was good as a rookie. But his personality has been a disaster--it seems to me he has a serious psychological defect--and Cousins has simply not been as good as many chosen after him in 2010. Two that the Kings bypassed for Cousins were Greg Monroe, who was taken No. 7 by Detroit, and Paul George, selected No. 10 by Indiana. Monroe is now one of the NBA's best big men. George is better at all aspects of the game than Cousins.

The 2011 first round of the draft for the Kings looks like another bust. They had the No. 7 pick. They used it for a Congolese forward named Bismack Biyombo, whom they traded away along with Beno Udrih, a mediocre guard, for Jimmer Fredette (the No. 10 pick from BYU) and John Salmons, an older guard who was earlier a King and is now on his last NBA legs.

Fredette has done next to nothing for the Kings. He rarely plays. When the Kings picked Biyombo, they could have had Kenneth Faried of Morehead State (who was taken No. 22 by Denver) or Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State (taken No. 15 by Indiana).

The irony of the 2011 draft is that the Kings did get one good player from it. With the 60th pick (the last of that draft) they selected Isaiah Thomas of the University of Washington. Mr. Thomas has been a much better pro than Mr. Fredette.

It's early to judge the 2012 draft. But so far, it does not look good, again, for the Kings. They had the No. 5 pick, and they used it on Thomas Robinson of the University of Kansas. Robinson, so far, has been horrible. He is easily the worst player taken early in 2012 and among the worst taken over the entire 2-round process.

When the Kings defeated the Knicks last night at Sleep Train Arena, Coach Keith Smart chose to sit Robinson out the entire game. It was not due to poor health. It was due to poor play by the rookie.

The two most productive first year players this season have been Damian Lillard (No. 6 to Portland) and Andre Drummond (No. 9 to Detroit). Both were available when the Kings decided to go with Mr. Robinson. Had Sacramento simply blindly selected a name off of the draft board at No. 5, they would have very likely gotten a better ballplayer.

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