Last evening as the Kings were getting drubbed by the Sixers, head coach Keith Smart re-inserted both DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans into the game, much to the oddity of King fans. After all, down 25-30 points, in the first half of a back-to-back schedule and the Kings two “premier” players were put back onto the court? For what reason?
Keith Smart answered that in his post game presser:
We have to get in great shape – we’re not in great shape. We’ve got to get in great shape to be able to change ends, both ways. Running out on the break but also getting back on defense. You know, guys, when they’re not making shots they know they can make – they tend to drop their head. You drop your head for a second and a team like this will run out on you.
In addition to those comments, Smart added the following:
…I can’t coach, running the floor hard. I can’t coach, getting back and protecting the paint…
Smart essentially planted the seed of what so many want to say to the Kings building blocks in Cousins and Evans (among others on this squad). For every stunning dribble drive Evans can create – for every jaw-dropping post spin Cousins can contort himself into, the simple things continue to be void in their games (and again, they’re not the only two). Running back on defense when you’re not directly involved in a play – keeping your head up, into the game – fully understanding the situation, essentially basketball 101. It’s lost with this collection of players. It’s been lost for quite some time.
With the lack of practice time, Smart has limited opportunities to get the King players into proper shape, so he’s using game time to replicate the needed practice time, a very smart move in my opinion. However, as Smart pointed out – there’s only so much he can do when it comes to playing the game the right way. He can tell the players where they need to be on the floor – he can put them in the best positions to succeed, but he can’t coach effort. He can’t coach desire. He can’t coach heart.
For Evans and Cousins, both have been coddled by the Kings, maybe to a fault. This isn’t to say they don’t give effort – they certainly do and they’re both clearly a bit winded and not in proper game shape which is hampering their abilities, but the Kings need forty-eight minutes of effort from them every night - a 125% effort – not just on plays where there is a statistical award at the end.
Make no mistake – this isn’t a blasting of either player nor is it harping on either of their efforts because they do put in work – I’m just saying it needs to be at a greater level. That’s no easy task, but to be a franchise building block that effort needs to be made. Despite their young age, lesser players look up to them despite what they might think. When you see your star player – the guy you know who will put you on his back giving an all out, blood, sweat and tears type effort you begin to do so as well. It’s contagious. More than a physical reaction, it’s mental. You begin to believe in yourself – your teammates. As I said, they are far from the only two guilty parties but alterations to their game alter those around them.
The Kings are the youngest team in the NBA – their franchise building blocks essentially two years out of high school, so, the immaturity in their games is expected. But this being Evans third year, DeMarcus in his second, the time has come for both players to take that next step and be the leader that so many believe they can be.