Kings’ halfcourt execution remains offensive priority


There’s no question the Sacramento Kings can and will run.

The team ranked seventh or higher in the NBA in fast break points for three straight years until Michael Malone’s 2013 hiring, and placed eighth last season. George Karl achieved two first-place and two second-place finishes as the Denver Nuggets head coach, so his up-tempo intentions are clear. Even Kings center, or 6-foot-11, 270-pound point guard DeMarcus Cousins has repeatedly displayed a willingness to push the break.

If the Kings are lining themselves up for a lucrative track shoe sponsorship, everything is going according to plan. But supposedly Sacramento wants to win more games and compete for the playoffs, which means their halfcourt offense, particularly in crunch time needs to substantially improve.

Last season, the Kings participated in 31 contests that had a five-point differential or less heading into the last two minutes of the fourth. While their record in those games was 14-17, Sacramento’s offensive execution was abysmal.  The Kings shot 32.5 percent from the floor (24th in the league), 8.7 percent from downtown (30th) and managed less than a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the crucial span of close matches. Strong free throw shooting (leading all NBA teams) helped hide the impotency of Sacramento units in clutch situations.

To be fair the Kings were forced to play three different offensive styles in one season, but the root of their late-game scoring struggles came down to tired isolations and inconsistent production at the point.

In the season’s first half, Rudy Gay was the poster child for pull-up mid-range shots to end quarters. Then with Darren Collison sidelined after the All-Star break, shoot-first sophomore guard Ray McCallum and the elderly Andre Miller were tasked with initiating plays.

Giving the ball to Cousins on the elbow was another regular option, yet in opponents’ eyes this was more predictable than the sunrise. Cousins did counter double and triple-teams by kicking out, only to see his unselfishness go unrewarded.

Needless to say a new approach is in the works. Who can be Karl’s figurative Carmelo Anthony, or Shawn Kemp? Gay and Cousins fit the bill, and with a bit of clipboard creativity, their rounded skills should be maximized.

Gay or Cousins can continue to isolate, but with improved spacing and better knockdown shooters on the perimeter, the Kings offense will be harder to contain. The addition of Rajon Rondo, an experienced ball handler should help. A healthy Collison can act the role of penetrator and find Cousins, Gay or another scorer for an easier look.

The Kings are at a crossroads. Will the club go the way of the Phoenix Suns for the last decade, running and gunning to fans’ delight only to fizzle in the playoffs when defenses hunker down? Or will Sacramento start to resemble something like the Golden State Warriors, balancing speed with X’s and O’s? With the Kings roster restocked with veterans and their first training camp under Karl this fall, an uptick in the efficiency of the dribble drive motion offense and other sets is a reasonable expectation.

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