You always here about statement wins that turn a player or team’s season around. Last night was that type of win for the Sacramento Kings.
By defeating the Toronto Raptors, who were 8-4 before last night’s loss and are one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, the Sacramento Kings didn’t just get their fifth win of the season. They got the win that they needed to reinvigorate the team’s confidence and energy. This was in no part due to a lineup change that saw Darren Collison starting in place of Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes sliding into the power forward spot and DeMarcus Cousins sliding down to center.
This starting lineup is the dawn of a new age in Sacramento.
Removing Afflalo and Kosta Koufos from the starting lineup was a shrewd move from head coach Dave Joerger.
Shrewd because Afflalo signed with the Kings after the New York Knicks removed him from the starting lineup. Shrewd because it’s time for Cousins to play his natural position at center. Shrewd because Collison and Barnes are two of the Kings most energetic players, as well as two of their best three-point shooters and facilitators. Shrewd because he kept the speedy Ty Lawson in the lineup which will have opposing teams on their toes as they try to contend with the Kings speed and Cousins’ power inside.
In theory, Affalo’s ability to score from the post or as a spot-up shooter should allow the rest of the Kings to score in isolation without an issue. Yet, Afflalo lacks the ability to penetrate the lane consistently himself for anything more than a post-up and isn’t a facilitator from the perimeter or the post. As a result, he isn’t much help when Rudy Gay or Cousins isolates except as a spot-up shooter. Defensively, the issue is much more simple. He has trouble staying in front of his man on pick-and-rolls and is allowing ball-handlers to shoot 48.5 percent as he gets stuck on screens.
Meanwhile, Collison is as a player who can penetrate the lane, facilitate and aid all members of the starting unit in getting easy shots. Collison leads the Kings in assists per game with 5.7. Defensively, the younger, slighter and more agile Collison finds it easier to maneuver around screens and is holding pick-and-roll ball-handlers to 40.0 percent shooting from the field.
The problem with Koufus starting was two-fold. On the one hand, Koufus’ slow feet and inactivity essentially had the Sacramento Kings playing 4-on-5 on both ends to start games. On the other hand, at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds, Cousins is the biggest player on the Kings roster and a natural center. When he and Koufus started beside each other, especially with Koufus’ lack of energy and athleticism, the Kings were instantly at a disadvantage when guarding just about any team in the NBA. Yet, what may be an undervalued move, Barnes starting at power forward is the key for this starting unit.
In terms of production, Barnes provide the spacing at the power forward position that will let Gay and Cousins thrive inside as he shoots 35.0 percent on three-point attempts while taking 4.3 per game. He’s also an effective facilitator who averages 2.3 assists per game and will be another player, along with Collison and Lawson, that moves the ball effectively and allows the Kings to post consistently high numbers in terms of team assists. Already ranked 10th in the league with 21.5 assists per game, the Sacramento Kings had 26 assists in their win over the Raptors last night.
Defensively, he helps the team contend with teams small-ball power forwards, is an intense man-to-man defender and consistently communicate to the defense as well as contests shots. In terms of intangibles, Barnes is the ultimate warrior and teammate and will keep his team engaged and confident throughout the contest. It’s one thing to do that from the bench but, then again, the team bench is only one side of the court. Barnes is a necessary component for the Kings energy and passion on-the-court. They were in a close battle with the Toronto Raptors all night, knowing Barnes he was an invigorating presence in a tough game.
This game also allows the team to insert Garrett Temple, Ben McLeMore, Anthony Tolliver, Willie Cauley-Stein and Koufus, all situational players, into the game when it makes the best sense. Before, the Kings were just working their best players in the game while adhering to a traditional offense. Now, the team is working within a concept.
It was only one game, yet it was the type of game that could turn the Sacramento Kings season around. Energy, defense and speed are what allowed the Kings to pull away from the Raptors in the final two minutes. Now, that’s what they’re built on.