Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kings vs. Raptors

After a disastrous start to the season that saw them in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Kings appear to have righted the ship a bit this week, going 3-0 with DeMarcus Cousins back in the line-up. It really isn't much more complicated than that. The way the Cousins is playing right now, he gives the Kings a chance against almost anyone, especially at home.
  • The stat-line from Cousins says it all: 36 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks on 22 shots including 3-6 from 3 (!) and 9-12 from the free-throw line. They were +15 in his 41 minutes in a game they won by 6 points. They couldn't afford to not have him out there for any amount of time - he's just that good and he affects the game in so many ways.
    • Jonas Valanciunas is a good young C who provides a lot of value on both sides of the ball and he got demolished. Cousins repeatedly stoned him in the post, pushed him off his spots and held him to 2-9 shooting. On the other end of the floor, the Raptors didn't even bother putting Jonas on him and started the game with Luis Scola guarding him, a completely hopeless match-up. Cousins can guard the other team's C and they can't guard him, which can force the other coach into a lot of line-up contortions. That's why Jonas only played 20 minutes tonight - they had to leave Bismack Biyombo in the game the entire 4Q to give someone who even had a chance of matching up with him.
    • Cousins has apparently decided to turn himself into a face-up 4 this season and the amazing part is how well it's working. He's knocking down transition 3's and he's forcing other teams to guard him out on the three-point line. From there, he can take guys off the dribble and use his length to Eurostep to the basket and finish from funky angles around the rim. Guys who are 6'11 270 should not be able to move like DMC and they shouldn't be that smooth with the ball in his hands. 
    • I don't blame him for not playing much in the post because he's just going to get double teamed and the Kings don't have a lot of shooters to spread the floor for him. It's much easier for him to see the double teams when he's facing up and taking guys off the dribble and he can make all the passes in the book, although he does tend to force the issue sometimes and turn the ball over.
    • What can't Cousins do? He can shoot 3's, create his own shot off the bounce, score with his back to the basket, create shots for his teammates, dominate the glass and protect the rim. His presence on the floor almost single-handedly makes the Kings a legitimate team. He's playing like the best C in the league so the real question is just how good he is in relation to everyone in the league. He's a Top 10 player for sure and the way he is playing right now you could make the argument that he's a Top 5 player. 
  • The question for the Kings is can they space the floor around Cousins and what frontcourt player does the best job of complementing him? They played Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Quincy Acy, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay at the 4 on Sunday. There's room for a lot of different combinations when you play Cousins almost the entire game.
    • They closed the game with Gay, Marco Bellinelli, Ben McLemore and Rajon Rondo next to DMC because you almost have to have a max spacing configuration from the other 2 spots with Rondo and Gay out there. I liked Bellinelli and McLemore together because that gives them two guards who have to be guarded out to the 3-point line and who can put the ball on the floor and make plays off the bounce. If the Kings are going to be a good team this season, that's a combo that is going to have to work for them.
  • You got the full Rajon Rondo experience in this one. Toronto basically wasn't guarding him. There were two times in transition when he was bringing the ball up the floor and no one picked him up. He literally took the ball to the front of the rim without encountering any defensive resistance. (He went 1-2) The amazing thing about him scoring 7 points on 3-10 shooting is they were mostly wide-open shots. It was like he was playing in an empty gym on offense.
  • Eventually Rondo started standing by the front of the rim which is crazy because it's almost impossible to force the ball into a 6'1 guy in that spot. He had 14 assists but he also had 7 turnovers because he was constantly forcing the ball into really tight spots - he had no other choice since he wasn't trying to shoot the ball. He's still really good at finding guys in transition but he just destroys your spacing in the half-court. The amazing thing about the Kings win streak is they've been playing Rondo almost the entire game during it. 
    • George Karl clearly doesn't trust Seth Curry. The problem is defense - he had no chance of guarding Cory Joseph. He's not very big and he can't press up on guys without giving up lanes to the basket. It's all about match-ups for Curry and the Raptors 2 PG line-ups put Karl in a tough bind when it comes to finding minutes for his backup PG. They could get going when they get Darren Collison back.
  • Rudy Gay had 27 points on 16 shots in 37 minutes. Demarre Carroll is supposed to be a defensive stopper and he couldn't bother Gay at all. Gay shot over the top of him and created easy looks at the basket whenever he wanted and then got free a few times when Carroll lost him going through screens. You can see the outline of plan in Sacramento - let Cousins and Gay dominate the ball and score in isolations and hope you can put enough defense around them to survive. 
  • Willie Cauley-Stein left the game in the 1Q because of a concussion but he showed some promise in the limited time he was out there. The Kings were switching every P/R he was involved in, which was a good way to maximize his skill-set. He's a 7'0 who moves like a guard who can block shots around the rim and defend on the perimeter. Using him in that role is a great way to stifle an offense and he'd be amazing in an all-switching line-up like they use in Golden State or Milwaukee. Sacramento still needs to figure out how they are going to use him on offense but Cousins becoming a 3-point shooter does make that easier.
The Raptors probably should have won this game. They were in control for most of it but this was a classic example of a good team without a superstar losing because they had no one who could match his impact on both sides of the ball. They couldn't guard Cousins and he made them a one-dimensional team on offense by shutting down the paint and preventing them from getting any points on Jonas V post-ups.
  • I was going to say this was a better DeMar DeRozan game than I'm usually accustomed to seeing in terms of him not holding the ball and not settling for too many mid-range jumpers and looking to set everyone else up. Then I look at the boxscore and he had 24 points on 22 shots and 5 assists on 4 turnovers. They do a good job of spacing the floor around him but I can't say I'm a terribly big fan of a SG who can't shoot 3's who needs the ball in his hands and takes a ton of contested long 2's. He's a pretty good playmaker who draws a lot of fouls and he can play a little defense but I'm just not sure if the pluses out weight the minuses in terms of building a team around him.
  • Demarre Carroll and Kyle Lowry did pretty much all their damage around the three-point line. Lowry can dribble into 3's, which makes him really tough to guard, and Carroll does a great job of moving without the ball, especially in transition. Neither one of them is a physically dominant player at their position and they can't finish over the top of some of the better rim protectors in the league, which puts a ceiling on how good they can be. Nevertheless, you do have to like two-way players who can stroke 3's and they give the Raptors a pretty solid foundation on both sides of the ball. 
  • I guess Luis Scola is playing well this season but I'm still not a believer. He can't guard anyone on the perimeter or protect the rim and he doesn't shoot a lot of 3's. He doesn't do a lot for you off the ball and he's no longer good enough to have a lot of offense run through him. He was -4 in 20 minutes and James Johnson was +8 in 12 minutes and I don't think that was a coincidence.
  • Here's what I've been wondering for awhile with Toronto:
    • I feel like Johnson is an ideal defensive 4 in the modern NBA with his ability to move his feet in space at his size. Playing JJ + Jonas V together would be a great defensive combo upfront. The problem is the domino effect because he doesn't provide a lot of spacing and the floor would get kind of clogged with JJ, Jonas and DeMar. What would happen if they took DeMar off the floor and they put another plus shooter like Terrence Ross in his spot? You would have more than enough floor spacing with Lowry, Ross and Carroll, you would have four plus defenders on the floor, you could score a lot of points going defense to offense and I'm not sure that redistributing DeRozan's possessions to everyone else would really hurt the team's efficiency all that much, especially considering how much space everyone would be playing in.
  • Cory Joseph played pretty well and the 2 PG line-up of Lowry and Joseph presented a lot of problems for the Kings. He doesn't shoot a lot of 3's but he's got a pretty good jumper off the dribble game. The Raptors have a lot of two-way players on the perimeter who can get their own shot, which is a pretty good start at being a pretty good team. 
Toronto has a good team but it does seem like they have hit their ceiling unless they can get more out of Valanciunas. Pairing him with a slow, non-stretch 4 like Scola isn't going to do the trick, that's for sure. Patterson is a great shooter but Johnson is the best two-way PF on this roster and the only way to make that work is to play him with three plus shooters on the perimeter. That's where committing to DeRozan really boxes you in in terms of line-up construction. If they lose again in the first round, I think the move to make is to let him walk this off-season and try something else.


  1. Cousins can't be any worse than the 4th or 5th best player in the league, it's insane that he did not get as much hype coming out of UK as the guys coming out of there now do.

  2. The Raptors stalled because Terrence Ross stalled. Unlike Washington which is seeing Brad Beal continue to develop, Toronto is stuck unless Ross breaks out.

    1. I've always liked T. Ross. Feels like he has been stuck behind DeRozan but it's hard to say he has done enough in his time on the floor to really justify making the switch. It's hard to play both of them together because neither can match up with bigger 3's - see their loss to Joe Johnson and the Nets in 2014. I do think he has a higher ceiling, although I admit there isn't a ton of statistical evidence to support that.

  3. Cousins, top 5? C'mon!! He's definitely a top 10 TALENT, and you can make solid arguments, with his size and skillset, that he's a top 5 talent, but he is without a doubt not one of the 5 best players in basketball.

    Basketball is such an awesome sport because being a good player is so much more than just size and skillset. As important as the ability to jump, run, shoot, block shots, etc., is the ability to appropriately find a role within a team, the ability to play within a rhythm that compliments your teammates, the ability to bring the required effort consistently that it takes to win, the humility to be coached, and the guts to play best when the lights are brightest at the end of games and in the playoffs.

    The NBA's top five players are some combination of Lebron, Steph, KD, Kawhi, and Blake Griffin. (That's the order I would rank them, but I'd be ok with some shuffling.) Westbrook, Harden and especially Cousins get confused as top players because of they each have ridiculous talent, but they each harm their teams as much as they help them to the point where their value towards winning is far below the NBA's top 5 players I've listed.

    Cousins is consistently lazy in close-outs and as a help defender, he often times never makes it into a defensive stance in the pnr, and after he turns the ball over he sometimes doesn't make it back on defense at all, much less hustle. These are little things, but when they're done by your best and most talented player, it is poisonous to a team. A team follows the lead of it's most talented player, and when that player has the attitude and effort that Cousins has, it permeates the entire roster. Cousins has had five full seasons in the league, and it's safe to say he was the Kings most talented player on all five of those teams, and look where they have finished in points allowed/game in each of those five yrs--24, last, last, 21, 27. Yikes!!

    To your question, Jonathan, of what can't Demarcus Cousins do--he can't lead. Leaders don't have to be great at defense (Dirk) but they can't give shitty effort on defense, because it trickles down to everyone else. Leaders do not sulk and take possessions off, and leaders do not dress-down coaches in front of the team.

    The best players in the league win games. They win them with their talent and a spirit that lifts those around them. That can include poor supporting casts, average coaches and disfunctional ownership groups. This is not football where a Calvin Johnson or JJ Watt can be the best player in the league and languish away on bad teams. Basketball is a superstar's game because having a truly top five player equates to wins.

    Demarcus Cousins is an extremely talented... loser.

    1. You sound dumb. Sure the best low post scorer in the league who also happens to be one of the best rebounders in the league who also shoots 44% from 3 with 2 makes a game and can also handle and pass and create his own shot of the dribble at 270 isn't a top five player or a superstar because he does not close out hard on defense. Nash won two mvp's not even trying on that end so I guess he was not a superstar either than huh. All five of those guys you named all have all-stars and all-nba players on their team. Don't blame Cousins for the Kings drafting Fredette over Thompson and Thomas Robinson over Lillard. Griffin is not even close to as good as Cousins teams literally let him shoot wide open jumpers because he was such a bad shooter for his first four years. Cousins is making contested threes while Griffin is taking wide open shots. Griffin don't rebound or score as well as Cousins either and his defense is not better. Kawhi plays with five other all stars if you put him on sacramento they would still lose too.

    2. Let's keep the discussion civil.

      Take a look at the rosters of Cousins teams in Sacramento - it isn't pretty and I'm not sure who is leading those guys anywhere. This is by far the most talented team he has ever had to work with, which is really saying something. I'm thinking they will be a halfway decent team this season because Cousins really is that good and he just has to have a modicum of talent around him to make it work. It will be interesting to see.

    3. It will be very interesting to see, indeed.

      Rattling off Cousin's stats misses my point about him entirely. He is not a superstar because he fails to make his teammates better, and because he doesn't win.

      A similar case study is Westbrook. Now, his issues are different from Cousins because no one can question his effort and heart, but there is something very wrong with a guy that talented who can't lead his team into the playoffs. Last night is a pretty good example--40 points and double figure assists, eye-popping numbers, but they lost. Two years ago when he went down with a knee injury it hurt the Thunder without question, but Durant still had the will to lead them into the playoffs and to have some success when there.

      I'll refrain from personal attacks on your intelligence, Mike, because that is silly, but your claim that Nash didn't try is even sillier. Sure, he was a bad defender--it was a huge hole in his game--but his effort was there night in and night out, and when your best player tries, it infects those around him. If Nash's effort was substandard so too would have been the effort of a guy like Marion. As it was, despite slow lateral quickness, he gave it his all, and when THE GUY is giving it his all the troops fall in line.

      I think we're all too quick to give passes to guys with poor supporting casts like Cousins and Anthony Davis. Look at some of Lebron's early Cleveland teams, they were awful, but he got them into the playoff, and with Mike Brown and Paul Silas coaching for heaven's sake. Truly great players succeed in spite of their surroundings--not saying they can win a championship, but they should make the playoffs and win a series.

      I love the Spurs, but Saying that Kawhi has been playing with five all-stars the past few seasons is very kind to San Antonio.

      I think the best comparison we have to the Boogie Cousins situation is when Barkley was on the Sixers--an incredible talent playing in a dysfunctional situation (mainly brought on by his own difficult personality). He needed to be traded into a team that had an established culture of winning to be successful, and he was, and he did. The difference between Sir Charles and Boogie is that no one could question the Round Mound's commitment between the lines, and that is exactly the knock on Cousins. Is full-time effort a switch that can be turned on? If it is, isn't that almost as damning to his character?

      I personally am not a fan of George Karl, but he knows infinitely more about basketball than me or anyone else reading or writing this blog, and after spending half of a season with Cousins, he said that if winning is the goal Boogie should be jettisoned. No coach ever would lobby to trade a true superstar.

      Thanks so much for the blog, Jonathan!!! A great place for hoop-heads to share ideas.

    4. Karl wanted to trade Cousins for Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried because he coached them in Denver. I wonder how those two have been doing this year. That is a terrible trade and Karl should have been fired for even suggesting that. His team without Cousins this year is 0-5 and they are 4-2 with him. so getting rid of him is not the best way to reach Karl's goal of winning. But I guess Karl thinks the best way to win is without him. I didn't rattle of any stats I just said that the best low-post scorer in basketball also happens to be shooting 44% from 3 with two makes a game and also happens to be one of the best rebounders in the league too. Not to mention his ball skills. Leadership has nothing to do with individual talent and Cousins is easily a top 5 player, saying he does not give effort on defense is why he isn't can't be right when down the stretch in the Toronto game he had a hand in two blocks and multiple effort plays in the pick n roll so saying that he just simply does not try also is not true. Lebron plays in the east if Cousins played in the east he would be leading teams to the playoffs too.

  4. Kite is a wonderful example of a casual fan buying into narratives.

    Let me guess, MJ was the best ever because he 'imposed his will on the game' right? Give me a break. Cousins is a top 5 player he can do it all his teammates have been atrocious his whole career and a carousel of coaches on the bench. Basketball is still a team sport, cousins cannot carry a team of misfits to the playoffs in the west, I doubt even Lebron could.

    Check the on/off numbers for the kings. Boogie on they are +2.8, boogie off they are -8.8. A herculean effort if you ask me

    1. Thank you couldn't have said it better. I don't understand what is so hard to see about this. It's not his fault the organization picked Robinson and Fredette over Thompson and Lillard. If he were in the east it would be much different