Game 5: Rudy Rudy Rudy

I like Rudy Gay. I think he’s more versatile than a lot of people give him credit for and he’s still a gifted scorer. I think you can put together a championship-worthy roster with Rudy Gay in your starting lineup. However, these are all just things I think, and it’s pretty clear that even well into his career, people still don’t really know what to make of Rudy Gay.

Rudy initially looked like he might be a casualty of an increasingly efficiency focused league. After serving as Memphis’ go-to scorer for much of his early rise, Rudy was shipped off to Toronto only to watch Memphis find a new gear in a more ball movement based scheme. The era of the black hole scorer was over it seemed. The Rudy Gays and Monte Ellis-es of the world were on their way out. The ball movement trend hasn’t gone anywhere and it has to be hard for fans of opposing teams to watch the Spurs or the Warriors whip the ball around the court and not feel jealous.

However, the decline of the ball dominant scorer hasn’t been quite as drastic as people were claiming only a few years ago. Monte Ellis continues to find takers despite also sporting an attitude problem and Rudy Gay continues to be a critical offensive piece in this league and it hasn’t been due to any huge change. Gay’s shots-per-game have dropped but only slightly, and while Gay did sport a better three-point shot last year, he’s had hot seasons from deep before. It’s not quite time to call it a trend.

What is Rudy Gay though? A ballhog? A third option trying to be a first or second one ? Just another swingman with a decent-mediocre three-point shot. It’s not clear and that really came through in last night’s game when the CSN broadcast team was continuing telling us that Rudy could get “30 or 40, no problem” yet later was deriding him for taking bad shots saying he needed to catch it in places where he could shoot. There’s nothing wrong with needing some help creating your shot and for the record, I think Rudy can get his own shot, I just don’t think he’s in the top tier of shot creators the way we were being told last night. But, if you need as much help getting into scoring position as was being suggested, 30 or 40 isn’t any cakewalk.

At this point in his career Rudy functions best as a second or third option, because fairly often, he needs a little help to free himself up to score. He can’t carry an offense anymore. When he tries to, you get games like last night. A lot of forced shots, a lot of frustration fouls and a beat down at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. Yes, Boogie being out has forced the Kings into a tough spot, but I don’t think forcing Rudy to try to carry the team is the answer.

The Weekend Wrap Up (+1)

I wasn’t able to watch the games this weekend or last night, but this was always going to be a “best effort endeavor”. I’m summing them up now as best I can via stats and recaps and maybe a little imagination too. (George Karl’s marker breaks as he’s drawing up a play and ink squirts into his face. Boogie and Rondo simultaneously smirk.)

Games 2 and 3

I’m lumping these two together and keeping the third one separate because games two and three tell a similar story: Throw out game one. The numbers from these games reflect a team far closer to the one people were expecting to see at the start of the season.

The three point percentages were back down to a mediocre rate (6-22 Friday, 6-18 Saturday) and new sharpshooter, Boogie Cousins missed all five three pointers he took between the two games.

On the subject of Boogie, his achilles injury against the Clippers Saturday turned what would have been a mundane 1-1 weekend into a real story. Estimates now are that Cousins will miss a few games, and, of course the sooner he’s back the better but, hopefully there’s some caution used getting the franchise center-piece back on the floor. The time he misses, regardless of how long that is, will be a real test. This is a wildly different team without the post presence of Cousins on the floor, even treading water while he’s out would be a big victory.

On the positive side, Rondo, who looked pretty terrible in the opener, really showed up this weekend (21pts, 8asts in each game). This is how Rondo needs to play for us to see the best version of the Kings this season. When he’s a confident ball scorer like he was for stretches in Boston it really opens up the chance for his distributing abilities to shine.

Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings first-round pick this summer, also got his first look at the starting lineup and extended playing time. He made the most of it. For a player with such a perceived weakness on the offensive end, putting up seventeen points on Friday was a great sign. A secondary bonus is that having Cauley-Stein taking on the lion’s share of minutes at the five keeps Koufos off the floor.

Koufos continues to be one of the worst +/- players on the roster. Between him and Belinelli, who has become a brick-launching monster, the early returns on the off season moves meant to bolster the Kings depth, have been poor.

It’s a hard to be mad at a 1-1 weekend for a team that’s still in the process of rebuilding and beating the Lakers so handily was a nice sign that this team is a step above high lottery tier. The Kings still can’t match the Clippers, though I don’t think anyone was expecting them to this year, still the fact that both Clipper wins against the Kings required huge Blake Griffin games is an encouraging sign.

Game Four

The fact that this was the first completely Cousins-less game is why I decided to keep this one separate. The Grizzlies are a tough match up even against a full strength Kings team so, going up against a physical team like this without your best big man wasn’t likely to turn out well. Guess what? It didn’t. Terrible Rondo resurfaced, Brickinelli continued his cold start and the team never recovered from a brutal second quarter where they scored only eleven points. There’s not much to say here besides that the team was clearly stifled by the Grizzlies defense and that the team misses Boogie. Come back soon, Big Guy.

Game 1

Wow okay, lot to through here:

Three’s a Crowd

Plenty of Kings were knocking down the long ball in this one. There’s been lots of grumbling about the potential spacing issues this roster may face but, making eleven out of twenty four threes will put those fears to rest, at least for one game. Boogie was leading the way in the three-point barrage which was a pleasant surprise and certainly validated Karl’s decision to give him the green light to fire away. That said, Cousins turned down several open looks late in the game as the score got closer. Signs of a lingering confidence issue from that range? Maybe. Regardless, Boogie’s shooting forced Deandre Jordan to follow him out to the perimeter which is going to be vital in terms of opening up the paint for guys with more limited range like Rondo and Koufos.

Bench Ballers

Cousins was great, but what really allowed the Kings to make a run at a win was the bench play. Belinelli, despite taking some of the ugliest looking shots this side of Mathew Dellavedova, dropped in three triples and ended up having a respectable night. Belinelli’s worth keeping an eye on. He’s always brought great energy and good shooting touch. But, the J.R. Smith-esque gunner mentality he brought to the opener may not be what the Kings need.

Darren Collison also made a solid contribution, he made a lot of contributions as a starter last year too, which made the Rondo signing all the more the headscratcher. Rondo looked bad in this game. It’s early, but he looked bad. Rondo’s shooting has always been suspect so, Rajon not lighting it up is hardly a reason for concern. The assists and the defense not being there should furrow some brows. Court vision and lockdown D were once Rondo staples, but it’s a poorly kept secret that Rondo’s D isn’t what it used to be and it was nowhere to be found last night.

The Kings other point guard, Collison while quick and a high effort player, is no Tony Allen. Still, the defensive contrast between Collison and Rondo was stark. Chris Paul was essentially running free every time Rondo was out on the court. Staying in front of CP3 isn’t an easy task for anyone, but for a guy supposedly out there for his defense, Rondo has to be better to justify a starting role.  Collison looked better and I don’t think anyone could fault George Karl for giving Collison more minutes than Rondo last night.

No Defense

I touched on it earlier with Rondo, but save for a brief run to get it close in the fourth quarter, the Kings had no chance of stopping the Clipper’s offense consistently. Blake Griffin was hot, that’s going to happen, but besides Josh Smith (five turnovers), no Clipper who got major minutes had trouble scoring the ball.

Some of this was by choice. An early lineup favorite of Karl’s seems to be a Collison-Rondo back court, which does have some offensive benefits, however it left one point guard or the other exposed to a size mismatch almost every time down the floor.

The other factor is that, besides a Boogie when he’s completely locked in, this team may not have an above average defender on it. Koufos really stood out as a weak link on that end of the floor. He’s a very fun player to watch on the offensive end, but there’s a reason he had the worst +/- on the team.


The Warriors and the Mavericks are rivals of the Clippers to be sure but, up to this point, the greatest Clipper foe appears to be seat cushions. Austin Rivers became the second Clipper this season/preseason to launch a seat cushion into the stands. Does he have an issue with comfortable seating? Did he take its presence as an insult to his battle-hardened butt? Only Austin knows. One thing we can sure of, fines are a coming.

The Beginning

My childhood was a golden age. Mike Bibby was a perfect blend of sweet dimes and scoring prowess. Peja was a master sharpshooter with deadly accuracy. Doug Christie was a defensive demon. Vlade Divac a savvy veteran lulling opponents into a false sense of security with his awkward flailing before tossing in a hook shot. Finally, Chris Webber, the center of it all, a star with brilliant court vision and a series of devastating post moves. These were my Kings.

These were the Kings I watched with my dad. We’d recently been transplanted from Sacramento to Madison, Wisconsin and these Kings were a connection back to our former home. We reveled in watching them push Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers and we sullenly flicked the TV off when the Kings didn’t have quite enough to dethrone them.

It was a golden age, but it was never destined to last. Sacramento is a lot of things, but it’s not a free agent destination. Keeping their own players was hard enough for the Kings let alone recruiting reinforcements. Worse than that, the draft well dried up. Kevin Martin aside, the impactful youngsters just never arose to take the previous generation’s place. Vlade and Doug got old. Bibby and Peja moved on. Chris couldn’t stay healthy.

The age of plenty was over. The Kings were lottery bound and as importantly to me, no longer national broadcast material. I lost track of my team. I saw plenty of Bucks and Bulls games, but the Kings were a mystery to me. Spencer Hawes, Tyreke Evans, Thomas Robinson all came and went and I had hardly seen them play. These new Kings had become strangers to me. I had to go digging for anything to read about them, save for the occasional Boogie article.

Fast forward to today. The Kings have been deemed by many to be a Sleep Trainwreck waiting to happen. George Karl AKA The Snake in the Grass; Rajon Rondo, fresh off a playoff meltdown and a disgruntled Boogie Cousins are all supposed to find common ground and form a viable basketball team? And that’s without all the spacing issues the roster seems destined to encounter. These are my Kings. Through the magic of NBA TV, I’m back and I’m going to write about it. Over the course of this season, I’ll watch as many games as I can, follow the roster moves and document what it’s like to return to the fold of what should be one of the most interesting teams in the league. It’s a new kind of golden age.