Preview and Chat: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  January 4, 2007

Ask the Expert. You want to know about the Kings, you ask one of the very best team bloggers out there, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty. So, I did that and he was kind enough to answer (or was so drunk he didn’t realize it was me).

Q: We read about the friction between Ron Artest and Mike Bibby, does that exist and if so how does it show on the court? A: I’m sure the tension exists, though it seems to be off the front burner for now. (Winning: the magical elixir.) It’s not a locker room control issue – Corliss Williamson is probably the locker room leader, Bibby has never been that, and Artest is far more take-charge on the court than off it. The bad blood here stems from some comments Artest made about the team’s defense, specifically saying it looked like he had to guard the opposing PG, too. Bibby didn’t like that, or the unconscionable play at the end of a game in Utah in early December (one minute left, Kings down by 1, Artest with the ball and about 15 secs on shot clock, Bibby calls for it near midcourt, Artest ignores him, drives left into traffic, kicks it to Shareef in the left corner at the last minute, Shareef hits it). Both want to have the ball in their hands in crunchtime, and sadly, there’s only one ball. But if the Kings are winning, this is a nonissue. If they aren’t, it looks like Geoff Petrie will try to move one of them. (See: Iverson, Allen, and Maggette, Corey.)

Q: How do Kings fans feel about Artest now? A: If you saw Artest’s game against the Knicks Tuesday, you’d understand this is a trick question. (He scored 39 on 22 shots, and added 5 steals. If you asked me before the game how many shots Artest would need to score 39 pts, I would’ve answered 52. I’m pretty serious.) A couple weeks ago, when the team was going under, I think about half of the fans wanted to see him jettisoned ASAP, to prevent further trade value degradation. At this point, he might be the only chance the Kings have at getting to the playoffs. Once there, it’s doubtful the Kings go do any damage against the Big Three, so a lot of fans would rather rebuild by getting something for Artest and Bibby, and maybe Miller. But again, he is the motor of this team and the only chance they’ve got in 2007.

Q: I was one of those guys who thought Eric Mussleman was going to be a star his second time around as an NBA coach. As is often the case, I appear to be wrong. What is he doing or not doing that is hurting the team, as best you can tell? A: Give him time. I don’t think he’s hurting the team – you think Rick Adelman would be five games over .500 with Bibby shooting 37 percent? Actually, all things considered (Miller missed a month, Bibby was horrible for 25 games, Artest has missed seven games, nothing but new and young players in the backcourt/wing positions besides Bibby and Martin), he’s done pretty well to be sitting one game under .500. People forget this team started off 8-5 against a rather tough schedule and no one realizes this team has reeled off four of five. The Kings have had the second toughest schedule in the league thus far. Musselman is doing fine, and this time next year, your prediction will look a lot better.

Q: Just what does Kevin Martin bring to the table? Can he walk on water yet? A: I haven’t seen him walk on water yet, but he did walk all over Channing Frye on a Kobe-esque reverse baseline dunk Tuesday night. Martin is, first and foremost, an incredible shooter from any spot on the floor. He’s averaging 20+ ppg while shooting 50% from the floor, 43% from three, and 91% from the line. The only player in the 20 on 50/40/90 club is Larry Bird (who did it twice). He draws fouls on a level below Dwyane Wade but at a pace better than any King in memory. He’s incredibly quick in the open court, especially when you consider his size, and he’s turning into a nice passer and ballhandler. John Salmons is the superior defender at that position, so Martin is losing some minutes there. But he has good instincts for the ball and will definitely improve his on-ball capabilities. So yeah, we’re pretty excited about him.

Injured All-Star team. An interesting thought from Marc Stein of the other day on the team you could put together in the Western Conference from the injured list: Chris Paul (ankle) and Peja Stojakovic (back) at guard, Lamar Odom (knee) and Rashard Lewis (hand) at forward and Yao Ming (knee) at center … with Kenyon Martin (knee), David West (elbow) and Darius Miles (knee) also in the mix

Life without Kwame, part deux. As part of the “Kurt’s not doing any work today” preview, there are some great comments from James yesterday that I thought deserved notice:

Looking through the stats, individually Bynum seems better than Brown in many ways. His PER is higher, Opponent PER lower (by a lot), field goal percentages better on both sides, blocks are better, rebounding is a better ratio. These are the individual stats, center v center, and by these measures, replacing Brown with Bynum would be an upgrade.

Team-wise, however, that’s less true. As you noted, the Lakers are significantly better on offense with Brown, despite the fact that he is a weaker offensive player than Bynum, because:

1) they get 6.1% more offensive rebounds with Brown out there;
2) all 4 regulars get fewer free throw attempts with Bynum out there, by a large margin with Kobe especially (11.0 to 5.3) and by a lot with Odom as well (6.6 to 4.2). Overall, the Lakers are +6 in net fouls with Brown out there, and dead even with Bynum out there.

I suspect those two facts are related, and that because Bynum has more offensive skills, the Lakers go to him more than Brown, which means the rest of the team is driving to the basket less, resulting both in fewer fouls as well as fewer people near the basket to get an offensive rebound…. One other huge factor is turnovers. When Bynum’s on the floor, the Lakers get four fewer turnovers than when Brown’s on the floor.

Adding to the fun tonight. Steve Kerr is on vacation (what the heck is the summer for, Mr. Working-One-Day-A-Week?) so the TNT announcing tandem is Marv and Sir Charles. Seriously.

Things to look for: The Lakers are going to need a team effort to slow Artest. In the past he would have been Odom’s responsibility, but Cook can’t handle him on the block. Radmanovic may get a shot. But what the Lakers are going to have to do is make smart doubles and rotations, and not let Artest take over.

Can Andrew Bynum stay out of foul trouble? I expect he’ll be motivated but the man averages 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes. He’s got to stay on the court (tonight and for the next could of weeks). Also, he’ll be on Miller, who is happy away from the basket, he’ll need to balance that with rotations inside.

Bibby may not be Bibby this season, but against Smush…. We need some good D from the Laker PG. Also, defense against points has been the Kings weakness, so Smush should have a good offensive game.

Look for Mo Evans to get some key time on Kevin Martin. Kobe has been a step slow on defense (blame the knee) so look for Kobe and Mo to get some Martin time.