Competition is the Norm for Kings Guard Isaiah Thomas

Sacbee.com

Sacbee.com

 

This is nothing new for Isaiah Thomas.

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CBS

These new guards, with their height advantages and impressive pedigrees might intimidate or hurt the ego of Isaiah Thomas… if only he hadn’t faced this before. A look into the hustlin’ husky’s past reveals why this is just another conquerable challenge for IT.

During his freshman year at the University of Washington, Thomas battled for time in the backcourt with sophomore Venoy Overton and senior Justin Dentmon. He started at the point and rode averages of 15.4 points and 2.6 assists to a Pac-10 Championship and Freshman of the Year honors.

The following season, Thomas continued to compete with Overton for playing time and also beat out top-ranked freshman guard Abdul Gaddy for the starting nod. He raised his averages to 16.9 points and 3.2 assists, drew comparisons to Damon Stoudamire and former Husky great Nate Robinson, and was named “All-Pac 10.”

As a junior, the Huskies star started over Overton and (now Toronto Raptors guard) Terrence Ross and crushed the Pac-10 as the Huskies leading scorer.

In cooooooolllld blooood (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEGP6nBiub8).

As if that wasn’t enough competition, Mr. Irrelevant has butted heads with Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, and Jimmer Fredette for NBA minutes in his first two years. His hard-nosed and fearless play has made him a fan favorite, along with the dignity and respect he handles his off the court life. In multiple situations with varying degrees of difficulty and maturity, Thomas has shown that competition raises his game. He takes on all comers, and that’s what makes him uniquely qualified for his next challenge in the NBA: Backing up Greivis Vasquez and becoming the Kings 6th man.

As I’m sure you all know, the Kings acquired the 6-foot-6 Venezuelan in a sign and trade for Tyreke Evans (See: http://kingsscoop.com/2013/07/the-intangibles-vasquez-will-bring-to-sacramento/). Vazquez, who posted averages of over 13.9 points and nine assists last season, figures to be the starting point guard for Sacramento.

I expect Vasquez to play well this season and take his game to new heights. This is because of Isaiah Thomas. Vasquez will have to play at a high level, because Thomas (and rookie Ray McCallum) will be nipping at his heels for playing time.

The ideal scenario for the Kings would mirror the rotation Rick Adelman used in the early 2000’s. Mike Bibby would start, and Bobby Jackson would come off the bench and play big minutes as well. Though Bibby started, he only played about 5 minutes per game more than Jackson. This balance in minutes would bode well for both the play and development (both players have less than three full years in the league) of Vasquez and Thomas.

sbnation.com

sbnation.com

On a more macro level, how would any of us react to our organization bringing in a new person to specifically replace us? Because they believe that this new person can do our job better. While that is certainly the harsh reality of professional sports, Thomas’ maturity and attitude are certainly admirable, especially when we consider that he is 24-years-old.

(From the Sacramento Bee) “It’s just another battle. And may the best man win the position. If they want to have it like that then we’re going to go to battle each and every day. Those are my teammates but I’m fighting for a position just like they are. Every time you’re losing, when you’re not making the playoffs everybody’s position is up for grabs. They’re going to try to bring in new guys at each position. I’m 5-9 – I know what they’re doing – 5-9 guys aren’t supposed to be in this league. I’m just going to keep working, keep battling. Like I told Coach Malone, you can bring whoever you want in here it’s going to be a battle each and every day. I’m ready for it. Vaquez, McCallum are some great guards, we’re going to have fun and make each other better.”

So what do you think Kings fans? Bobby Jackson 2.0?

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Saying Goodbye to Tyreke Evans

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If you visit the Sacramento Kings “Youtube” channel, as most Kings fans of my age frequently do, you will notice the different playlists. These playlists (collections of videos) are categorized into themes or titles including “Top Plays”, “Sacramento Kings Dancer Profiles”, “Features”, and “Game Highlights”.

One playlist is called “Popular Uploads”. This section is a collection of what Kings fans have viewed the most on Youtube.

And Tyreke Evans, the newest New Orleans Pelican, dominates this playlist. Reke is prominently featured in 7 of the top 12 videos.

This is why I believe that many Kings fans had such a visceral and harsh reaction to yesterday’s news. Since the Kings drafted him 4th overall in 2009 (an unpopular pick at the time), Tyreke has been the face of this franchise. It is definitely not something the soft spoken 23 year old chose, but a spotlight warranted by a high draft position, a lack of talent around him, and the remarkable “20-5-5” rookie season. While watching Tyreke acrobatically layup to these legendary averages was undoubtably one of the better experience I’ve had watching recent Kings basketball, the season hurt Reke’s career by raising everyone’s expectations. As we heard our prematurely appointed franchise savior’s name mentioned with some of the greatest to every play the game, I think we all forgot that this was a 20 year old kid. That he didn’t have an outside shot yet. That he shot only 75% from the free throw line that year. Being named MVP of the Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend didn’t exactly dim the bright lights. Nor did winning Rookie of the Year, while no doubt a great accomplishment. The multiple coaching changes, poor leadership in the front office, and crumbling ownership created an environment far less than ideal for breeding a superstar. The fact is, we put too much on Tyreke too early.

Personally, I feel like I’ve watched Tyreke for a very long time. I feel like I know his tendencies. I am prepared for the spin move in the paint that leads to a fancy flip off the glass. I don’t even groan anymore when his midrange jumper barely finds room. I feel like I’ve seen him drive bullheaded into the paint a million times, like I’ve seen it all.

The fact is, he’s been a King for 4 years. He’s played in only 257 games. There is still a lot of basketball out there for Tyreke Evans. He’s just getting started.

Realistically, we shouldn’t feel the connection to Evans that we do. His assists per game and points per game have decreased every year he’s been in the NBA. His free throw shooting has not improved. He’s 28% from three point range for his career and his rebounds per game have descended as well. In terms of Win Shares, a metric that measures the average number of wins a player produces for his team, Tyreke’s totals stack up next to second rate players such as Jodie Meeks, Rudy Fernandez, Luke Ridnour, and Rodney Stuckey. From a statistical standpoint, Tyreke Evans is a basic starting guard in the NBA. He’s not a terrible player by any means but he cannot be counted on as the leader of a legitimate playoff team. If New Orleans wants to pull themselves from the depths and fly to the top of the Eastern Conference, Tyreke Evans cannot be their alpha Pelican.

So why then do we love Tyreke Evans so much? Why did the news of his departure carry so much weight? The Kings chose to not overpay him. They decided instead, correctly in my opinion, to acquire as much talent as possible for him (a starting point guard in Greivis Vasquez), and create more room for Ben McLemore to grow and prosper.

Because Tyreke Evans is a highlight man. He is responsible for arguably the best Kings moment of the last 8 years, destroyed Gary Neal on a fast break dunk, turns layups in graceful moments of artistry, and plays the game with passion and emotion (and not the same kind of emotion that Demarcus Cousins plays with… because then I wouldn’t be writing this). As I mentioned earlier, Tyreke suited up 257 times for the Kings over four years. You know who else played in over 250 games for the Kings in his first four seasons? Francisco Garcia. Do you remember anything from his “reign” as a King? Of course not. But Tyreke will live on. Because Tyreke brings the highlights. I have watched his 64 foot buzzer beater against Memphis countless times. His joyful jump onto the scorer’s table, Donte Greene’s early celebration, and Pooh Jeter excited scurrying and gleeful leaps onto teammates’ shoulders will forever be etched in my mind. I’ll never forget when Reke and former King Omri Casspi took over the 2010 Rookie Challenge with a Showtimesque fast break. Reke is, and will forever be, a talented player who produces “oohs” and “ahhs”.

So do yourselves a favor. Go watch Tyreke do his thing: http://www.youtube.com/user/kingsflix/videos?sort=p&tag_id=&shelf_index=4&view=0. Enjoy the high flying hoops and ankle breaking crossovers.

Then click this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ_uownv2Ng

And watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_T0c_lfJqg

And get excited for what this trade has officially brought us:

THE NEW ERA OF SACRAMENTO KINGS BASKETBALL

Ben Wong

benjaminwong3@gmail.com

Kingsscoop.com

@benwong3

Life of Kawhi: One Missed Free Throw and Kawhi Leonard’s Terrific Finals is Forever Out to Sea

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It will be lost forever in the swirling tsunami of terrific basketball that was the 2013 NBA Finals.

Gone.

Here we are, hours after the Miami Heat hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads, minutes after LeBron and Wade showered themselves with champagne and pizza on stage with Drake, and as with each passing second more clips of Shane Battier knocking down triples make their way across all 3 of the ESPN’s, and I haven’t heard his name mentioned once.

Kawhi Leonard.

We’ll remember the series LeBron James had. We’ll remember the series Dwyane Wade had. We’ll even remember how Tim Duncan and Tony Parker performed, and all the outlets are pouncing on Manu Ginobili’s inconsistencies. Years later, when some guy goes off for a bajillion threes, Danny Green’s historic 2013 Finals will come up.

Kawhi Leonard, all of 21 years old, in only his second season in the NBA, had himself one hell of an NBA finals.

But when we talk about Kawhi Leonard’s 2013 NBA Finals, we won’t talk about the positives.

Kawhi Leonard averaged a double double in his first finals, 14.6 PPG and 11.1 RPG to be exact. He managed to have a huge impact on the offensive end despite hounding LeBron James for seven games. Leonard’s season averages are around 11 and 6, and while 7 games is a small sample size, the numbers show that he elevated his game in the finals. He dunked all over Mike Miller. He had 4 steals in game 3 and 2 blocks in game 4. He was a rebounding machine, collecting 14 in game 2. He was the best Spur in game 7 (19 points and 16 rebounds) and scored 16+ in three games this series. May I remind you that Leonard is primarily a defensive specialist? He only averaged 14.1 PPG at SDSU, playing against legendary defensive stalwarts such as Point Loma Nazarene, Occidental, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Not exactly the Georgetown press or the ’96 Kentucky Wildcats

The point is, Kawhi Leonard turned in a complete performance for San Antonio. A performance that should not only be recognized, but celebrated by Spurs fans as the light at the end of the tunnel for this model of early aught greatness grows brighter.

But whenever his name is mentioned alongside the 2013 NBA Finals, he will be remembered for what he didn’t do. For the free throw he didn’t make. For the championship that he (along with some help from Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan) let slip from his grasp.

The scrolling Sportscenter topic graphic basically looks like this:

LEBRON IS GREAT

AARON HERNANDEZ MIGHT HAVE KILLED SOMEONE

DWYANE IS RESURRECTED, LONG LIVE DWYANE’S ATHLETICISM

DUNCAN MISSED A LAYUP, AND THEN THE TIP!

It seems we are obsessed with the “very good” and “very bad”. In the 2013 NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard was “good”. Not “bad”. Not merely “okay”. “Good”. “Good” isn’t easy. “Good” doesn’t just happen. “Good” is a result of talent, hard work, and dedication. “Good”, in this case, is greatness with blemish. And while greatness undoubtedly deserves it’s time in the spotlight, I think it’s time we give some ink and some screen time to “good”.

Because for San Antonio, good is only 21 years old. Good will have plenty of opportunities to find the port of greatness. Unfortunately for us, only time will tell if Kawhi Leonard can become something more than this…

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