Isaiah DeMarcus

Kings players want Isaiah Thomas to start; don’t know what they’re running on offense


If you’ve caught yourself watching a Sacramento Kings game lately and thought to yourself, ‘this can’t get any worse’ only to see it get much, much worse – you’re not the only one.

As it turns out, the Kings players themselves are having a real hard time understanding the train wreck they’re a part of on the court every night.

“They know that they’re playing terrible basketball right now,” said one source close to the players. “But they’ve thrown their hands up trying to figure out Keith Smart.”

Smart is in his fourth year as a head coach in the NBA. He had an interim stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002-03, and then took a job as an assistant for Don Nelson in Golden State until he was elevated to head coach after Nellie’s retirement prior to the 2010-11 season. He took a roster primed for improvement to a 36-46 record, but the Warriors’ new ownership opted not to keep him.

The reason team insiders overwhelmingly pointed to for his departure was his handling of franchise player Stephen Curry, who Smart benched nightly for out-of-the-NBA guard Acie Law.

Smart could never clearly articulate to the press what Curry wasn’t doing to please him, and while Curry could have played more defense or taken better shots he was twice the player that Law was. Curry’s benching cost the team games and it cost Smart respect in the locker room and within the organization.

The same thing is happening in Sacramento all over again, but this time Smart has the backing of general manager Geoff Petrie – who appears to be more interested in promoting his free agent acquisitions and draft picks than he is in playing the right guys.

Namely, sources close to key Kings players have told ProBasketballTalk that they are frustrated with the fact that point guard Isaiah Thomas isn’t starting and acting as the team’s floor general. Thomas finished seventh in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting, but arguably could have finished as high as second place when one compares his numbers to that of Ricky Rubio, who held that spot.

Thomas boasted shooting lines of 47.7/40.6/84.1 while averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.0 turnovers in 31.6 minutes per game in 37 starts, which compare favorably to Rubio’s shooting lines of 35.7/34.0/80.3 with averages of 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 3.2 turnovers in 34.2 minutes per game in 41 starts.

Independent of that comparison, Thomas played well against the league’s best guards, holding Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, and Rajon Rondo to 26-of-76 (34.2%) combined shooting for a stretch while being considered by scouts to be an above average defender at his position. Despite standing 5’ 9” tall without shoes, his strength and leaping ability made him a surprising plus-defender in the post.

Being the team’s best player at times down the stretch of last season, Thomas was able to win the starting point guard position, but the Stephen Curry treatment continued. On a team that has lacked ball movement in recent years, one would think that a playmaking point guard with charisma on and off the court would be a high priority. But the window to develop Thomas last season was lost, and separate from the Kings’ off the court struggles, the window to create a cohesive team approach is rapidly closing this season and Kings players are frustrated with it.

Perhaps the team didn’t have faith that Jimmer Fredette could turn into a competent NBA player, or maybe it was Petrie’s well-documented quest to obtain Aaron Brooks, but the Kings took a big step toward destroying their continuity at the position when they signed Brooks over the summer. He was a cheap acquisition after playing and talking his way out of Houston and Phoenix, and with Fredette looking like he couldn’t dribble the ball up the court most Kings analysts were okay with adding depth at the position.

Unfortunately, nobody in Sacramento fully understood Smart’s history with point guards, nor did they fully appreciate the impact Thomas could have to rally the team and rally the city toward a product they could be proud of. Immediately Thomas’ role was questioned by team-friendly media sources, despite the fact that Brooks had lost backup duties to Zabian Dowdell in Phoenix before spending a season in China.

Meanwhile, Thomas spent an offseason organizing team workouts, building camaraderie, and eventually he and his teammates would be tasked with learning a tough new Triangle offense.

The Kings started off slow and the resulting confusion and losses gave Smart and Petrie the window they needed to get Brooks in a starting role, which was aided in part by Thomas pressing just like Curry did in Golden State, albeit in a much more dysfunctional situation.

That offense has since been scrapped according to player sources, and right now “they don’t know what they’re running.” The Kings turned to the old failed strategy of Tyreke Evans left and Tyreke right, with random excursions to the hoop by DeMarcus Cousins, high-post offense initiated by Chuck Hayes, and the occasional Jason Thompson post-up.

When on the court, Thomas has been sent to the corner to watch the carnage unfold, because like last season the team refuses to run a pick-and-roll based offense featuring him as the primary or even secondary decision-maker with the ball.

With Kings players in an utter state of confusion nightly, they have reverted to one-on-one ball and rank dead last in assists per game (18.2) and that number has dipped in the last three games to 15.3. This is a far cry from the days of when Thomas was piling up between 5-10 assists per game in 17-of-23 outings to finish last season despite being a second, third or fourth option handling the ball.

Since moving Brooks into the starting lineup, Smart and Petrie have also put a premium on playing their bad contracts, giving heavy minutes to Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, and Travis Outlaw while Thomas and an improving Fredette ride the pine. It’s crazy, because the only time the team looks coherent on the court is when the Mighty Mite lineup of Thomas and Fredette is on the court – even if Fredette can’t cover a rocking chair and shoots nearly every time he gets the rock.

The players already know, and Cousins even took to wearing an IT jersey for the press the other day, but even casual observers can see that the Kings need to get their high basketball IQ guys on the court. While Brooks’ scoring ability has never been in dispute, he knows only one way to impact a game, and too many times that’s with poorly conceived jump shots and flailing drives to the hoop. More importantly he can’t make it through screens and is responsible for more points on defense than he scores. Evans is the same type of player and is a physical freak, but his inconsistent jumper and bad shot selection in a standstill offense negate any gains he could possibly provide. Marcus Thornton has been dealing with very real off the court issues due to his mother’s health, but his deployment within the non-existent offensive structure has bordered on laughable for one of the league’s best big-time shot-makers. Cousins still takes bad shots, but it’s hard to fault any of these guys when there is no plan, their best playmaker has been sidelined, and the team is making playing time decisions from the Smart and Petrie handbook.

Then again, the Maloofs might just be making Major League 4: The Search for More Money, which makes any conversation about basketball a moot point.

Report: Hornets sign head coach Steve Clifford to three-year extension

Steve Clifford
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With the Hornets fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, head coach Steve Clifford’s future with the team has been a mystery hanging over their heads. Clifford, in his third year with the team, was set to become a free agent after this season. Not anymore. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that the Hornets have signed Clifford to a contract extension that will keep him in town through the 2018-19 season:

The Charlotte Hornets and coach Steve Clifford have come to an agreement on a multi-year extension, the Observer has learned.

The deal includes a three-year guarantee that would keep Clifford in his current role through the 2018-19 season.

In Clifford’s first year with the Hornets (then the Bobcats) in 2013-14, they made the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. This season, they’re off to an 8-6 start despite losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a season-ending shoulder injury during the preseason.
With several teams potentially having openings this summer, it was smart of the Hornets to keep Clifford off the market.

Griffin, Jordan each score 18, Clippers beat Nuggets 111-94

Blake Griffin
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DENVER (AP) Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan each scored 18 points and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 111-94 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

Jordan finished with 11 rebounds and four blocks, while Griffin had 10 rebounds. Chris Paul had 15 points and 10 assists to give the Clippers (7-7) three players with double-doubles.

The Clippers, who hadn’t been under .500 this far into a season under Doc Rivers, made eight 3-pointers after coming into the game at 31.3 percent.

The Clippers hit their first four shots from deep, missed their next seven but found the stroke again when Jamal Crawford hit a halfcourt shot to give them an 83-72 lead at the end of the third.

Danilo Gallinari led Denver with 20 points and had a career-high 18 rebounds.

Crawford scored the Clippers’ first seven points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 90-76. He finished with 15 points.

Denver started fouling Jordan, and the center was just 7 of 16 from the line in the fourth, but Denver couldn’t hit enough shots to close the gap.

His dunk on a lob from Paul gave the Clippers a 110-93 lead.

Griffin was struggling from the field until he hit a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock midway through the third. He hit two more shots and fed Jordan for a dunk to give the Clippers a 73-62 lead.

Rookie Nikola Jokic had 16 points and Gary Harris scored 14 for the Nuggets, who have lost four straight and fell to 3-5 at home.


Clippers: J.J. Redick had 16 points. … Griffin reached double digits in rebounds for the first time in seven games. He averaged 6.5 boards in his previous six games. … The Clippers were outrebounded for the 12th time in 14 games. They are 5-7 when that happens.

Nuggets: All of Gallinari’s rebounds came on the defensive end. … F Kenneth Faried missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. With C Joffrey Lauvergne (low back strain) also out, the Nuggets were down to 11 players. … Mike Miller made a rare first-half appearance and gave the Nuggets a jolt with two 3-pointers in seven minutes off the bench. He finished with nine points.


Clippers: Host Utah on Wednesday night.

Nuggets: Host San Antonio on Friday night.

George scores 40, Pacers make 19 3s to beat Wizards 123-106

Paul George
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WASHINGTON (AP) Paul George scored a season-high 40 points and made seven 3-pointers, part of a franchise-record 19 by the Indiana Pacers in a 123-106 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

C.J. Miles added 32 points, his most since joining the Pacers before the start of last season, as Indiana won for the ninth time in 11 games.

Miles was 8 of 9 from beyond the arc, and George also missed only once from deep.

The Pacers finished 73.1 percent (19 of 26) from 3-point range, crushing their previous season high of 44.4 percent (12 of 27).

Gary Neal scored 23 points off the bench for the Wizards, whose three-game winning streak was snapped.

Bradley Beal added 20 points and John Wall scored 18 for Washington, which has lost five of its six games when it allows more than 110 points.

Even with George and Miles combining to shoot a perfect 9 of 9 beyond the arc before halftime, the Wizards remained close for much of the first half and even led for stretches of the second quarter.

But the Pacers failed to cool down and eventually pulled away.

Miles finally missed his first 3-point attempt midway through the third. He answered with his seventh and longest of the game to beat the shot clock and make it 81-74.

George’s turnaround jumper later in the quarter pushed it to 86-77, and then his pull-up 3 from the left wing made it 91-81, the first double-digit lead for either team.

Chase Budinger‘s running jumper pushed it to 99-86 early in the fourth, and the Wizards never got closer than 10 after that.


The Pacers nearly matched last season’s New Orleans Pelicans, who made 15 of 20 3-point attempts in a game in November, 2014. That’s the highest 3-point team percentage in the last five seasons with at least 20 attempts, according to STATS.


Pacers: G George Hill scored 14 points in 32 minutes in his return after missing three games with an upper respiratory infection. . Indiana’s stretch of six consecutive 3s made to start the game ended when Hill’s 28-footer at the first-quarter buzzer rimmed out . With Hill’s return, Indiana’s most-used starting five improved to 5-2.

Wizards: None of Washington’s starters began the second quarter. The Wizards’ second group outscored the Pacers 16-10 to take a 47-43 lead before Beal returned with 6:15 left in the half. . C Nene (sore calf) scored 11 points in 23 minutes after missing practice on Monday. . Wall sat even longer during the second before re-entering with 3:41 left in the half.


Pacers: Host Chicago on Friday.

Wizards: Visit Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Warriors are a tremendous machine

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes
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Watching Golden State Tuesday night, I was reminded of the call when Secretariat easily won the Belmont Stakes to take the triple crown, almost lapping the field: “He is moving like a tremendous machine! Secretariat by twelve, Secretariat by fourteen lengths on the turn! Sham is dropping back… But Secretariat is all alone! He’s out there almost a sixteenth of a mile away from the rest of the horses! Secretariat is in a position that seems impossible to catch. He’s into the stretch. Secretariat leads this field by 18 lengths… They’re in the stretch. Secretariat has opened a 22 length lead! He is going to be the Triple Crown winner! Here comes Secretariat to the wire. An unbelievable, an amazing performance!”

1) The Warriors are not unbeatable, just nobody has figured out how to do it yet. The Golden State Warriors will eventually lose this season. If I had to bet, it will come on their upcoming seven-game road trip (which includes some back-to-backs), but it will happen. Eventually.

That doesn’t diminish what they did Tuesday night, destroying the Lakers to become the first team in NBA history to go 16-0 to start the season. Which is insane. They are playing at a level a notch higher than anyone else in the league right now and their cruising speed can crush teams like the Lakers. LeBron James talked Tuesday about trying to savor the greats of the game — that is good advice. We need to step back sometimes and soak in the moment when we witness greatness. And make no mistake, right now the Warriors are great. Nobody has an answer for their small-ball lineup, nobody can slow the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll. Whatever happens this season — start like this and don’t win a ring and people will only talk about the latter —  right now the Warriors are simply a joy to watch. They play such a smart game. Seeing high IQ players working in unison is a joy for any true fan of the game.

And if you want to bring up them pushing the 72-win Bulls go right ahead — they likely will not get there, but nothing is out of play now. (The 1994 Rockets that started 15-0 lost a game then won seven more, they were 22-1, and yet didn’t even win 60 games. Things happen.). Forget Tuesday’s Laker game, L.A. is a dumpster fire. The Warriors are on an unprecedented streak, playing ridiculous offense behind Curry and their small-ball lineup, plus still having a top-5 defense. Savor this while you can.

2) Paul George drops 40 on Wizards. The Wizards say they want to play small and fast, but mostly they just play small. The Pacers showed them how to do it right on Tuesday night. Indiana hit 19 threes (a franchise record) and shot 73 percent from beyond the arc. It was a good night to be a Pacers’ fan. And it was a good night to be Paul George, who dropped 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting, and 7-of-8 from three. He could always shoot, but I don’t recall him having this kind of confidence in his shot before. He has a Curry-like belief in his shot right now. The Wizards had no answer. We’ve said before George is back, but here is a video reminder.

3) Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 retired in Atlanta. One of the game’s great defensive players and one of Atlanta’s fan favorites — the finger wag will do that — had his number retired in Atlanta on Tuesday night. It was well deserved.

4) Blake Griffin hits three pointer alley-oop. Sure, he knew this was going in all the way. Let’s see him recreate that in a practice. (The Clippers beat the Nuggets, by the way.)

5) Griffin and Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone had some not-so-kind words for each other. If you can read lips, well, then this is NSFW. Griffin and Nuggets coach Mike Malone exchanged a few unpleasantries during the Clippers win Tuesday night.