The Anticipation Continues: Predicting Keith Smart’s Starting Lineup for Sacramento Kings’ Season Opener


Sacramento Kings guard


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(15) : Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

As all of us await the unveiling of this season’s starting lineup for the Sacramento Kings, Scott Levin and I give our predictions, beginning with Scott’s.

With the regular season now less than a week away, everyone has been speculating as to what lineup head coach Keith Smart plans on trotting on the court for the Sacramento Kings opener in Chicago. Smart originally planned to unveil the lineup for Thursday’s preseason game, but he has since backtracked, and Kings fans may have to wait until Oct. 31 to know the starters.

Based on Smart’s preseason rotations, here is my educated guess on the starting five:

Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, James Johnson, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins.

Smart has shown an affinity for Thomas, and the second-year point guard looks to build on an impressive rookie campaign. He’s a team leader and brings instant energy to the game. He needs to be on the court as much as possible. Aaron Brooks is certainly a possibility, but the veteran would be a great presence on the bench, bringing veteran leadership to a group that is typically disorganized.

It seems Tyreke Evans’ starting spot has never been in question. While he’s moved between three positions in his career, he’s not the floor general you want in charge of an offense and he never showed any comfort level at the small forward. That makes him a shooting guard who needs to prove he can shoot.

James Johnson has been arguably the Kings most impressive player this preseason. If Smart is against starting Thomas, Evans and Marcus Thornton together, then Johnson makes the most sense at small forward. He brings the defensive intensity that Smart is stressing this year, and his versatility makes him a strong glue-guy next to three scorers.

Smart has no problem playing rookies, but they have to earn their spot. It’s hard to say Thomas Robinson has done that yet. He will almost assuredly get there at some point this season, but I think Smart sticks with Jason Thompson to open the season. The veteran forms a front line with DeMarcus Cousins, the only starting lineup lock at this point.

My own preference for starters differs just slightly from my projection for Smart’s lineup. If it was up to me, I’d start Thornton at the shooting guard and bring Evans off the bench. Because of Evans stature, it has seemingly no chance of happening, but I prefer Thornton’s shooting ability in the lineup. With Thomas on the ball, Thornton can stretch the floor and score inside and out. Meanwhile, Evans brings a potent offensive weapon to the bench, where his free-wheeling style is better suited.

Scott Levin

With Keith Smart almost ready to unveil his starting lineup, fans are trying to predict who will be in his starting five. As Scott indicated above, it was anticipated Smart would unveil the starting lineup tonight. Perhaps, Smart wants to do additional last minute tinkering. So, while tonight may not be the night, here is what I believe his starting lineup will be:

 Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, James Johnson, Thomas Robinson, and DeMarcus Cousins.

I know myself and others have tossed these potential starters around since the beginning of the preseason; here is my analysis of how I reached this conclusion.

The backcourt has been the main bone of contention, but in the final analysis, I think Smart is going to select Tyreke Evans over Marcus Thornton for the starting role. Really, it comes down to just one of these guys. He isn’t going to have both of them, because that would leave both point guards, Isaiah Thomas and Aaron Brooks, coming off the bench.

Smart is likely to select Tyreke over Thornton, because Tyreke offers more defensively, even though Thornton has arguably played better than Evans in the preseason. Things seem to be shaping up for Thornton to play the sixth man role off the bench. If this does become the case, Thornton may be more accepting of the 6th man role.

As for the point guard, Smart will stay with Thomas over Brooks for the start. I think.The only potential problem I see is that Thornton is a pure shooting guard, somewhat dependent upon being fed the ball. Brooks is often looking for his own shot over dishing out the ball. But, no matter how Smart decides to divvy up the minutes, there are going to be pluses and minuses he has to figure into the equation.

I expect James Johnson to start at small forward. Smart experimented with Travis Outlaw and Francisco Garcia, to fill-in at that spot, while John Salmons has been out for personal reasons. Johnson offers a lot defensively, which is something the team needs to hold down the scoring of the opposition.

A week ago, I would have predicted Jason Thompson starting at the power forward position. But Thomas Robinson coming out with a monster put back over the head of Dwight Howard, in a preseason game against the Lakers was huge. It made it to NBA highlight reels getting league attention. I suspect it was just the kind of dominant move to capture the nod of Smart and the starting spot.

This is my best guess. I wish I could read Keith Smart’s mind. Tonight, we may gain additional insight into what Smart continues to ponder before he is ready to show us his starting five. The anticipation continues.

Marilyn Kenyon