A POLL: Sacramento Kings’ Coach Playing Starting Lineup Sudoku


January 5, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings head coach Keith Smart – Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

The Sacramento Kings are off to a great preseason, handily winning their first two games over the Phoenix Suns and the Portland Trailblazers. Behind the scenes, Head Coach Keith Smart compared the selection of his starting lineup to Sudoku with 14 potential starting lineup combinations, according to Jason Jones at the Sacramento Bee.

Playing the permutation game, Smart appears to be trying different starting line-up combinations, to deduce which combination works the best.  If a + b > c + d, then a + b is the winning combination. Smart admitted he will be experimenting with various starting lineups throughout the preseason. Sounds like we are going to need a score card to keep track!

Let’s see if we can play along with him. First we need to see if we can figure out what his score card looks like. With a pinch of deductive reasoning, a few hunches, and generous amount of guessing let’s begin.

The first two preseason games are a good start.

In the first preseason game against the Phoenix Suns, the backcourt consisted of Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton with a frontcourt of Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson and De Marcus Cousins. Look familiar? This was his starting lineup from last season. Just a guess, but perhaps Smart started with this as his baseline from which to make future comparisons.

Although newcomer, James Johnson, was not in the starting lineup, he made a splash in the preseason opener with the Sacramento Kings. He could be making his case for a starting position.

In the second preseason game, Smart mixed it up, having Aaron Brooks and Travis Outlaw start. You read that right – Travis Outlaw. Again, Smart may be looking at the stats at the forward position. He moved Thornton and Isaiah Thomas to come off the bench.

As a sidenote:

Marcus led all scorers with 23 points, off the bench. This was a strong showing by Thornton and could be a precursor of Thornton playing a 6th man role.  We will just have to wait to see how the hand plays itself out over the next few weeks. Keep in mind, Thornton was paired with Isaiah Thomas. Would that mean Thomas would be coming off the bench with Thornton? More questions than answers, right now.

There are seven games in the preseason, so we know we won’t be seeing all of Smart’s 14 combinations. He is going to have to cut his list in half, if he hopes to get his rotational musical chair experiment out of the way before the real season begins.

Looking at the current roster: Who are the contenders for a starting slot?

  • In the small forward position: James Johnson and John Salmons seem to be the two most likely contenders. Tyreke will most likely be used as a guard, despite the fact that he was a forward in the first preseason game. Smart used Outlaw in the second game, but it is doubtful he would select him as a starter, in my opinion.
  • In the power forward position: Most likely contenders include Jason Thompson and Thomas Robinson.

The real drama continues to be the backcourt situation, with the frontcourt seeming to be much more straightforward. I am leaving out a number of players on the roster, most notably, Jimmer Fredette, Francisco Garcia, and Chuck Hayes. I don’t think any of these guys will be filling a starting position when the regular season begins.

As some of you may recall, I conducted a poll a couple of weeks ago on the the starting backcourt issue.

Results of that fan poll showed that the overwhelming majority of you (54 percent) wanted Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans to start. This was followed by:

  • Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton (14 percent)
  • Aaron Brooks and Tyreke Evans (14 percent)
  • Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton (12 percent)

From those results and using what is known to date I have created a poll consisting of twelve possible starting line-ups for you to vote. You may vote for two of them. If you think you have a better lineup than any of those listed, please feel free to share it in the comments.

Thank you.