First and foremost, let me say this about Sacramento Kings head coach, Keith Smart – I like him – a considerable amount, actually. I think he’s done a very solid job not only on-court with the Kings, but off-court as well. He’s connected with players in ways that former King coaches haven’t been able to do. He’s created (more like creating) a family type atmosphere where players hang-out off the court and maybe most importantly, he’s become almost a mentor (if you will) to DeMarcus Cousins, who many King fans deem as a franchise building block. There are few players or coaches in the NBA, past or present, that I’d rather hear speak about basketball over Keith Smart. So yes, I like Smart and really enjoy what he’s done for the franchise since taking over for Paul Westphal in early January.
That all said, one thing (well, one and a half, maybe) continually grinds my gears with Smart and that’s the perceived importance on match-ups and the odd-ball rotations.
As it pertains to the rotations, I understand he’s trying to find combinations that work in his mind – and when you’re all but eliminated from playoff contention, it’s understandable – all be it frustrating, but understandable. Mixing in more time for young players like Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Honeycutt and Hassan Whiteside would certainly be appeasing as well, given there is less than a 1/4 of the season remaining but I have a feeling Smart will play them more as the season draws to an end. I’d prefer them to play a bit more now, but, politics as usual as it comes to NBA rotations. Don’t want to upset Francisco Garcia or John Salmons… :\
More than the rotations though, running with oddball lineups because of matchups is something that I just can’t take. Yes, there are times and places for particular matchups and for that, I have no qualms. You need a defensive stopper on a player? Sure. You need more beef in the paint? Okay. Need to add an extra speed guy on the perimeter? Understood. But the wholesale changes? The continued excuses of said player (*cough*Isaiah Thomas*cough*) not being “strong” enough to deal with bigger point guards? Really?
For every “mis-match”, if you will, there’s always another “mis-match” on the other end. If said player is “too strong” for one player, guess what? The other said player is more than likely too fast for that strong player. In the rare case that’s not the situation (most likely because the opposing player is a freak of nature like LeBron James or Dwight Howard), you just have to take that situation on the chin but removing a player from the court because a back-up player like Charles Jenkins has more muscle on him than Isaiah Thomas? Really? More than that – the potential mis-match is ASSUMED in almost all cases, as if it’s just going to happen. If said player is getting absolutely blistered, fine, make the move. But the moves are being made in an assumed state, before it ever happens, which is just inexplicable to me. Don’t coach to what may happen – coach to what is happening.
You put your best players on the court whenever you can. You keep a flow on the court. I’m not opposed to wholesale changes from time to time, but you need to mix and match the strengths of the talent on the floor. You don’t need three ball pounding players like Terrence Williams, Tyreke Evans and John Salmons (just an example) all on the court at the same time just because the opposing team is going “big”. Opposing staffs, aware you’ll do this like clockwork are going to let that play into their hands, knowing that particular lineup wont mesh well, resulting in better opportunities for them.
Like I said, Smart’s done a very respectable job with the Kings so far – it’s not like he’s been given a gold mine to work with. He came into a team full of youthful problems and there’s no doubt he’s improved them in a variety of areas, but the obsessive love with all things match-up (more or less probably passed down from all his years under Don Nelson, the holy grail of matchup play) is hurting the Kings on-floor product.
Your best players need to play and more importantly, they need to play when it counts. Sitting Thomas on the bench for 15 minutes in the second half, not cool. Having a player like Terrence Williams, two days off a 10-day contract playing in crucial moments without earning that spot (in which he blew a game ending layup and botched two high school level screens) isn’t acceptable.
Let your players, your best players, win the game for you. If they don’t, they don’t. It’s a learning experience that comes in due time and there’s no better time than the present to hit those books.