It’s important to attempt to discern what we’re seeing.
It’s not just that the Kings have won two of their past three games.
Or that they’ve won their past two home games over Memphis and Phoenix, respectively.
Or that their 7-24 record results in the NBA’s worst winning percentage at .226. Or that the Kings currently are grouped with the L.A. Clippers (10-24); Minnesota (9-25); New Jersey (9-25); Washington (8-24); Detroit (11-22); Toronto (11-22) and Charlotte (11-20).
Basically, these are the worst of the worst. And Sacramento’s .226 winning percentage comes on the heels of two victories, while uplifting in nature, that surely rank as remarkable, if not downright miraculous.
Actually, the Kings could have lost those games more easily than they were won.
Teams usually do not win with 55-foot shots, buzzer-beaters as the Kings did with Tyreke Evans bomb against Memphis.
Nor do they normally outscore their opponents, 19-2, during the game’s final six minutes by limiting a team to one basket in its final 10 possessions as they did against Phoenix.
There can be no sugar-coating where the Kings and the rest of these teams reside in the NBA’s hierarchy. We’re talking way on the outside hoping to get into a position in which they can look.
While assessing the Kings, the surroundings cannot be ignored. The teams whom share Sacramento’s early-season struggles have youthful bases.
New Jersey (Avery Johnson) and Washington (Flip Saunders) are considered first-class coaches. Larry Brown almost is universally acknowledged to be one of the world’s best coaches, yet he’s already been replaced in Charlotte by Paul Silas.
Others such as the Clippers, Minnesota, Detroit and Toronto have relatively young, new and/or inexperienced coaches.
The league’s most successful coach – the L.A. Lakers’ Phil Jackson – has his own problems at this time. Granted, the two-time NBA champion Lakers’ problems are relative and totally unlike those of the bottom-barrel group.
Yet, problems are problems and as Kings coach Paul Westphal alluded to following the victory over Memphis, the season can be described as attempting to plug leaks in a dike. Just when a hole is filled, another arises.
Many of the teams struggling to win also struggle to score. The Kings rank sixth from the bottom in scoring at 94.1 points per game. The inability to score usually indicates a lack of prime-time talent.
Yet, New Orleans averages 93.9 points with all-star point guard Chris Paul running the show. There are no givens when teams struggle other than all teams will. Some just will do it more and longer than others.
Clearly, the recent performances of rookie center DeMarcus Cousins have given the Kings reason for optimism. While Cousins figures his way, the Kings should be realizing their course of patience with the 20-year-old must be followed.
Cousins’ youth and inexperience will be a factor, but his growth cannot be denied. Cousins understands his growth also requires patience. As much as he’d like to be an immediate dominant presence, he has to learn the league, his teammates and himself.
Said Westphal of Cousins, “He’s cutting down some of his impatient mistakes and doing a better job of getting a wider base. He’s reading the defenses better, before he makes his move and he’s staying out of foul trouble.”
Cousins has a unique and distinctive game. He’s listed at 6-foot-11, yet at times he plays the game as if he’s a 6-footer. He’ll attempt to push the ball upcourt via the dribble or lay in the backcourt to try to poke the ball away from a guard.
These aren’t particularly smart moves, but they are part of what makes him who he is. Cousins isn’t scared and that heart in a big man has been needed around here a little longer than virtually forever.
He plays as if he‘s a big guy who grew tall relatively late instead of always being a big guy. He says that’s not the case.
“For me, I was never afraid to try stuff,” he said Sunday night after scoring a career-high 28 points, grabbing eight rebounds and handing out season-high and team-leading six assists. “When I first started playing ball, I used to take off dribbling the ball and coaches would flip their (lids). I’d just keep going and I guess I’ve benefited from it.
“My shot has been messed up, but I’m comfortable shooting (15-footers).”
The extra bonus Sacramento gets with Cousins is he is naturally silly and funny. It’s difficult ever imaging an uptight locker room with him roaming with walk-bys.
When told most of the Phoenix players believed he’d walked on a key fourth-quarter, three-point play, he said, “I took eight steps because I had a guy (Robin Lopez) on my back and I couldn’t control that.”
What Westphal and the rest of the Kings coaching staff and front office have not been capable of controlling is the players’ inability to make shots. It’s the coaching staff’s job to help their players get good shots. The coaches can’t make the shots for them.
Perhaps the players need to put in more work and control what they can control.
Witness 23.1 percent field-goal shooting (6-for-26) in the first quarter against Phoenix and 35 percent shooting in the second quarter. Then the Kings shoot 61.1 percent (11-for-18) in the third quarter and 10 of 20 in the fourth.
Explain that! Moreover, the Kings made eight of their last 12 shots in the fourth, so that means they missed six of their first eight. Explain that, too!
We’re still waiting to see what the Kings look like if they play a solid 48 minutes. It was nice Sunday, however, to see Sacramento receive workmanlike performances from Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson as well as Cousins. For once it didn’t matter that Evans and Beno Udrih stunk up the joint.
And it didn’t hurt that Pooh Jeter contributed four points, four assists and no turnovers during the fourth quarter, his only 12 minutes of action.