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.

Greg Oden on basketball career: ‘It’s over’

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6
Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images

Greg Oden’s multiple injuries dictated the former No. 1 pick wouldn’t have the career forecasted for him.

But he returned from three years off an NBA court to play for the Heat in 2014. He followed that breakthrough with a couple tryouts and a stint in China.

Could he once again return to the league?

Dana Hunsinger Benbow of IndyStar:

Asked whether he’d play basketball again, he said, “I wish. It’s over.” Instead, he is back with the Buckeyes as a student coach, helping out the players and Matta any way he can.

Oden, who was picked one spot before Kevin Durant, once declared: “I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things.” That statement is blunt, reality and sad all wrapped into one.

It’s a shame we never got to see Oden healthy for long. There was good reason for the Trail Blazers to pick him first, but injuries ruined what could’ve been an intriguing extend debate over him and Durant.

Hopefully, Oden finds fulfillment in the next chapter of his life.

Report: LeBron James didn’t want to play for Cavaliers before they drafted him

Vince Bucci/Getty Images

The Cavaliers landing the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft seemed like a fairytale.

The consensus top choice and one of the most-hyped prospects of all-time was a local kid from nearby Akron, LeBron James.

But this happy accident didn’t come through rainbows and butterflies. To get the top seed in the lottery, Cleveland had to get bad – really bad. The Cavs missed the playoffs five straight years, bottoming out at 17-65 in 2002-03.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When James was a teenager, he started attending games at the arena, and he couldn’t believe how bad the Cavs were, how empty the arena often was, with its bright blue seats seeming like a neon sign of disinterest. During his senior year of high school, he went to several games, was given courtside seats and visited the locker room. His thought was pretty clear after he watched that 17-win team with the lowest attendance in the league: They were awful, and he didn’t want to be a part of it.

Can we be surprised someone who grew up in Akron, Ohio, as a Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys fan didn’t want to join the Cavs? LeBron was a frontrunner.

What he didn’t realize at the time: He’d gain the power to singlehandedly transform a franchise, and he’d develop an emotional attachment to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland wasn’t going to remain unwatchable with him. He turned the Cavs into a credible championship contender. Then, after leaving for the Heat, he returned. He even delivered delivered its long-awaited title last season.

The tears of joy he cried afterward show just how much that area, including its NBA team, means to him.

That he was initially sour on the Cavaliers adds an interesting twist to the story. It doesn’t detract from it.

Kevin Durant shoots extra while echoing his critics: ‘They called me a coward!’ (video)


The Warriors’ Kevin Durant era started out with a thud – a 29-point home loss to the Spurs.

He responded by shooting extra jumpers after practice while repeating his critics.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN:

When asked after his session about shouting criticisms, Durant explained, “That’s what I say to myself when I’m working. I hear it all the time. You hear the noise. You hear what they say about you. Everybody hears it. So it’s a little extra motivation when you hear it.”

Of the scene, Durant said, “Nobody in this arena right now, and that’s when you get better. Nobody sees you when you’re doing this stuff right here, but luckily y’all was in here watching.”

Depending on your perspective, Durant is:

  • Maniacally driven to succeed
  • Feeling the pressure in Golden State
  • Showboating in front of a camera

I’ll take a little of all three.

Not one 2016 top-10 draft pick started his team’s first game. How does that compare historically?

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Commissioner Adam Silver poses for a photo with the top prospects before the start of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Ben Simmons is hurt. Brandon Ingram is being brought along slowly. Jaylen Brown is on a good team trying to win now. Dragan Bender is blocked by Marquese Chriss. Kris Dunn is stuck behind Ricky Rubio (for now). Buddy Hield lost a preseason battle to E'Twaun Moore. Jamal Murray is ready for only a minor role. Marquese Chriss is blocked by Jared Dudley. Jakob Poeltl got drafted by a good team with an established starting center. Thon Maker is far too raw.

The top 10 of 2016 NBA draft class isn’t off to a fast start.

In fact, no top-10 pick started his team’s first game after being drafted for just the second time on record. The only other time it happened since 1983, as far back as records go, was 2013.

The only 2016 draft picks to start so far are No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis (for the Thunder) and No. 27 pick Pascal Siakam (for the Raptors).

No. 11 pick Michael Carter-Williams was the only 2013 draft pick to start his team’s first game in 2013. So, at least the class of 2016 has a leg up on that class, which was led by No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.

Here’s each first-round pick since 1983 to start his team’s first game since being drafted. Top-10 picks are in blue, and all other first-rounders are in orange.


Year Pick Player
2016 11 Domantas Sabonis
2016 27 Pascal Siakam
2015 1 Karl-Anthony Towns
2015 2 D'Angelo Russell
2015 3 Jahlil Okafor
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis
2015 7 Emmanuel Mudiay
2014 1 Andrew Wiggins
2014 2 Jabari Parker
2014 10 Elfrid Payton
2013 11 Michael Carter-Williams
2012 1 Anthony Davis
2012 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
2012 3 Bradley Beal
2012 4 Dion Waiters
2012 6 Damian Lillard
2012 7 Harrison Barnes
2012 10 Austin Rivers
2011 1 Kyrie Irving
2010 1 John Wall
2010 5 DeMarcus Cousins
2009 4 Tyreke Evans
2009 6 Jonny Flynn
2009 7 Stephen Curry
2009 9 DeMar DeRozan
2009 10 Brandon Jennings
2008 1 Derrick Rose
2008 2 Michael Beasley
2008 3 O.J. Mayo
2007 2 Kevin Durant
2007 3 Al Horford
2007 6 Yi Jianlian
2007 27 Arron Afflalo
2006 5 Shelden Williams
2006 6 Brandon Roy
2006 10 Mouhamed Sene
2005 1 Andrew Bogut
2005 4 Chris Paul
2005 16 Joey Graham
2005 25 Johan Petro
2004 1 Dwight Howard
2004 2 Emeka Okafor
2004 3 Ben Gordon
2004 5 Devin Harris
2004 9 Andre Iguodala
2003 1 LeBron James
2003 3 Carmelo Anthony
2003 5 Dwyane Wade
2003 10 Jarvis Hayes
2002 2 Jay Williams
2002 4 Drew Gooden
2002 10 Caron Butler
2001 6 Shane Battier
2001 27 Jamaal Tinsley
2000 1 Kenyon Martin
2000 3 Darius Miles
2000 17 Desmond Mason
1999 1 Elton Brand
1999 2 Steve Francis
1999 4 Lamar Odom
1999 6 Wally Szczerbiak
1999 9 Shawn Marion
1999 18 James Posey
1999 26 Vonteego Cummings
1998 2 Mike Bibby
1998 3 Raef LaFrentz
1998 5 Vince Carter
1998 7 Jason Williams
1998 9 Dirk Nowitzki
1998 10 Paul Pierce
1998 14 Michael Dickerson
1997 1 Tim Duncan
1997 4 Antonio Daniels
1997 5 Tony Battie
1997 6 Ron Mercer
1997 13 Derek Anderson
1997 23 Bobby Jackson
1996 1 Allen Iverson
1996 3 Shareef Abdur-Rahim
1996 4 Stephon Marbury
1996 5 Ray Allen
1996 6 Antoine Walker
1996 11 Todd Fuller
1995 1 Joe Smith
1995 2 Antonio McDyess
1995 3 Jerry Stackhouse
1995 4 Rasheed Wallace
1995 7 Damon Stoudamire
1995 22 George Zidek
1994 2 Jason Kidd
1994 3 Grant Hill
1994 6 Sharone Wright
1994 10 Eddie Jones
1994 18 Eric Mobley
1993 2 Shawn Bradley
1993 3 Anfernee Hardaway
1993 4 Jamal Mashburn
1993 6 Calbert Cheaney
1993 7 Bobby Hurley
1993 18 Luther Wright
1992 1 Shaquille O’Neal
1992 3 Christian Laettner
1992 5 LaPhonso Ellis
1992 6 Tom Gugliotta
1992 9 Clarence Weatherspoon
1992 11 Robert Horry
1992 24 Latrell Sprewell
1991 1 Larry Johnson
1991 4 Dikembe Mutombo
1991 5 Steve Smith
1991 9 Stacey Augmon
1991 11 Terrell Brandon
1991 24 Rick Fox
1990 2 Gary Payton
1990 7 Lionel Simmons
1990 8 Bo Kimble
1990 10 Rumeal Robinson
1989 3 Sean Elliott
1989 5 J.R. Reid
1989 14 Tim Hardaway
1989 19 Kenny Payne
1989 21 Blue Edwards
1988 3 Charles Smith
1988 5 Mitch Richmond
1988 6 Hersey Hawkins
1988 9 Rony Seikaly
1988 10 Willie Anderson
1988 14 Dan Majerle
1988 20 Kevin Edwards
1988 21 Mark Bryant
1987 2 Armen Gilliam
1987 3 Dennis Hopson
1987 6 Kenny Smith
1987 12 Muggsy Bogues
1987 13 Joe Wolf
1986 1 Brad Daugherty
1986 3 Chris Washburn
1986 5 Kenny Walker
1986 8 Ron Harper
1986 11 John Salley
1986 12 John Williams
1986 13 Pearl Washington
1986 21 Anthony Jones
1985 1 Patrick Ewing
1984 1 Hakeem Olajuwon
1984 3 Michael Jordan
1984 4 Sam Perkins
1984 6 Melvin Turpin
1984 18 Vern Fleming
1983 1 Ralph Sampson
1983 2 Steve Stipanovich
1983 13 Ennis Whatley
1983 20 Roy Hinson

To some degree, this year’s state of affairs is understandable. Simmons was a lock to start before he got injured. Two playoffs teams – Celtics (who took Jaylen Brown No. 3) and Raptors (who took Jacob Poeltl No. 9) – drafted in the top 10 due to trades.

But the effect is clear. This draft class seems underwhelming.

It’s why the Rookie of the Year race feels so wide open and a 2014 draft pick, Joel Embiid, is the frontrunner.