Through nine games, Keith Smart’s record now sits at 4-5 – recently capped off by back to back victories over the 10-4 Indiana Pacers and the 10-6 Spurs in San Antonio, who were 9-0 at home this season before the Kings marched in.
Granted, nine games isn’t a huge sample size to work with, but we’re going to do it because Smart does deserve recognition for what he’s done with this squad in such a short amount of time. Keep in mind, practice time is very limited – as Smart has said himself, he’s being forced to use game situations to “practice” in this condensed schedule. With only seven days off in Smart’s three weeks on the job, not to mention the needed days off physically, Smart’s only been able to have a handful of practices, yet, the results (while not mind altering) have been a solid improvement in just the short time he’s been heading this ship.
In the seven games prior to Paul Westphal’s firing, the Kings struggled mightily on both ends of the floor, their opponents averaging a 48.7% field goal percentage while the Kings could only muster 39.3% for themselves. With Smart’s fingerprints on the gameplan, the Kings have improved their defense significantly, dropping their opponents FG% nearly three points to 45.6% in their past nine games under Smart – even more impressive given the fact that the teams Smart has faced so far hold a combined record of 70-61. The offense hasn’t seen a huge change in FG%, going from 39.3% under Westphal to 39.6% under Smart, but if you take away the abnormality of a game in Dallas where the Kings mustered a historic 25% shooting for the game, the Kings FG% moves up to 41.3% – nothing to brag about, but again – given the circumstances, any improvement should be viewed impressive given the current situation.
Outside of statistics, it’s clear that the Kings play more as a unit under Smart (it’s certainly sporadic, but better then never as was the case before) as he’s continually preaching “family” as noted by Scott in last night’s game recap. You continually see Smart coaching on the floor, doing his best to put his players in the most successful position even if they struggle to capitalize. The effort and hustle? Night and day.
Expectations obviously have to be tempered and expecting the Kings to go from a bottom dweller under Westphal to a playoff team under Smart simply isn’t realistic, but to see the significant changes Smart has made to this franchise in such a small amount of time – it’s impressive to me. It’s going to take time – there are going to be bumps in the road (this is still the youngest team in basketball), but Smart’s ability to connect – to energize this roster, it’s clear To do what he’s done in such a limited amount of time against a very tough schedule, with such a broken puzzle pieced roster in a shortened season with more time spent on airport tarmacs than on the teams practice floor? A well deserved round of applause for you, sir.