Saturday, July 2, 2011

Casspi out. Hickson in. Kings improve but still have questions.

"Crispy Crusty", as one caller called him,
brings energy and transition finishing skills. 
The Sacramento Kings were busy up to the NBA lockout deadline with a last day trade of Omri Casspi and a conditional first round pick to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson. I like the deal. I'm sorry to see Casspi go but I too would have pulled the trigger on this trade. Hickson is younger (22), more efficient, and higher ranked at his position than Casspi (23). But this is not to say that I think Casspi won't be a legit player in the NBA.

I believe with extended minutes - which he should get in Cavs-land, Casspi will become a more efficient player. To achieve that however - Casspi must become better at sharing the ball. He is passionate and energetic, and very self-confident. He moves well without the ball, and he reacts quickly, playing at NBA speed. On the other hand, Casspi needs to have more confidence in his teammates (and coaches).

In my opinion Casspi WAS justified in thinking he should be playing more while with the Kings. The inefficient Donte Greene ate into Casspi's minutes, particularly late in the season. Casspi only appeared in three April games - averaging not even five minutes per contest.

Hickson shows promise as a young BIG that, had he stayed in college, would have just completed his Senior season. Instead - he will have three years in the NBA under his belt whenever there is NBA action again. Hickson has excellent hands, a strong base, and enough athleticism to get rebounds outside his area. He can also score on the low-block; absorbing hits and powering though. Hickson has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio in each of three NBA seasons but, in my opinion, decision making is still his biggest weakness. His 67% free throw percentage could obviously improve as well.

Hickson is a Power Forward.
I've heard that Sacramento may play Hickson some at Center which I am not sold on. In my book - Hickson is strictly a classic Power Forward. He can block some shots but he is not an NBA caliber rim defender. He would be giving up too much size on a consistent basis playing the FIVE.  Honestly - Sac still needs to sign a defensive presence down low if Samuel Dalembert is not returning (and most guesses are that he is not). I don't think you can expect Hassan Whiteside to go from being a non-factor to suddenly being a rotation player.

In case you were wondering - by efficiency rating the Kings BIG's break down in this order based on their play in the 2010-11 regular season: DeMarcus Cousins .534, Hickson .529, Jason Thompson .478, Darnell Jackson .385 (yuck).

The John Salmons deal probably helps the Kings in one way. Defensively. Salmons actually is not even as efficient as Casspi or Francisco Garcia. But Salmons certainly moves his feet one-on-one more quickly than Garcia. I've often thought Garcia has been unfairly described as a poor defender. True - his initial foot movement is not top-tier. But Garcia recovers as well as any wing player. He has uncanny timing and an ability to 'dig back' and get his fingertips on many balls. Garcia has averaged 45 blocked shots per season (including 09-10 when he played just 25 games). Tyler Honeycutt, a Kings second round draft pick from UCLA, is as good or better than Garcia in the shot blocking area.

Greene is ONE with Kings fans. 
Back to Salmons, the unspoken benefit of his return could be if he takes whatever minutes Greene was getting. That is, if Greene continues to ignore his own obvious gifts of size versus the rest of the NBA Small Forward talent pool. Greene has to learn to take his game inside-out rather than outside-in. He had mismatches and size advantages throughout last season but rarely, if ever, hurt shorter defenders in the mid-post.

Despite Greene's ability to accept a defensive challenge - the truth is he wounded the Kings on many nights with poor shots. To be specific - Greene needs to turn down some of the three-point shots he jacks in favor of getting a closer look at the hoop. To do that - he will need to improve his ball-handling ability and come up with a few basic low post moves. This past season he had more turnovers than assists which is a now a career theme. We are three years into Donte Greene the NBA player and he is at 32% from three-point range. He seems to shoot it well enough from the corners but from straightaway he struggles.

While I am critical of Greene - he is also one of my favorite players in the NBA. He genuinely connects to the fans. His borderline O.C.D. pre-game routines are pure entertainment. He cheers for his teammates as much as any guy since M.L. Carr.  And I still believe when I look at Greene's mobility on a 6'11" frame - that he can raise his efficiency and become the player that so many envisioned he would be. He has the tools.

Sacramento's Small Forward efficiency looks like this: (based on the 2010-11 regular season): Garcia .390 (41st at SF in the NBA), Salmons .366 (41st at Shooting Guard), Greene .301 (67th at SF). ...Honeycutt is another possibility.

Evans is proof that playing Point Guard doesn't mean you
ARE a Point Guard. 
Some may say - why not run Tyreke Evans as a Small Forward? The answer is simple to me. He doesn't shoot the three-ball well enough to honestly stretch defenses. Evans is at 27% for his NBA career from beyond the arc. Even though Evans is listed at 6'6" - which is small for a SF, he has a standing reach of 8'8" which would put him solidly in the SF pool. (Garcia's standing reach is an inch shorter than Evans').

So Tyreke would be best served as a Shooting Guard. He can play Point Guard. He may not be the pass-first, all-sharing Point Guard that everyone wants but his 1.83 to 1 career assist-to-turnover ratio is not horrible either. It just isn't in the range of guys you would call "pure Point Guards". For example - if you don't know this stuff off the top of your head - here are the assist-to-turnover ratios for ten really good Point Guards on teams that win:
The assist-to-turnover king is CP3

  • Chris Paul 4.42 to 1
  • Rajon Rondo 3.25 to 1
  • Kyle Lowry 3.16 to 1
  • Andre Miller 2.87 to 1
  • Raymond Felton 2.77 to 1
  • Ty Lawson 2.75 to 1
  • Tony Parker 2.57 to 1
  • Chauncey Billups 2.42 to 1
  • Derrick Rose 2.24 to 1
  • Russell Westbrook 2.12 to 1
(Again Evans is at 1.83 to 1.)

The point of all this is that the Kings are headed into a season (whenever that is) with Evans, Marcus Thornton (also a TWO), and draft pick Jimmer Fredette as the guards that figure to play the most. Fredette's highest assist-to-turnover ratio ever at BYU was 1.71 to 1. Last season it was a very non Point Guard like 1.22 to 1. It is undeniable that Fredette has a great chance to raise his assist-to-turnover ratio playing with NBA caliber finishers. But it is also a bit of a gamble to think you can win in the NBA with a three-guard rotation of all TWO guards. 

A couple of players that don't figure to get major minutes are Pooh Jeter and Isaiah Thomas. Jeter boasts "real Point Guard" numbers at 3.18 to 1. Isaiah Thomas had his best season in three years at Washington in 2010-11 with a 2.05 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. 

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