In preparation for the two-game series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings this weekend we had the chance to sit down with Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty for a little Q&A about the Kings.
Blazer's Edge: Isaiah Thomas...holy crackers! He's always had tools and seemed to have confidence, but 21 ppg and a 28 PER? Where did this All-Star version of IT come from and do you expect him to stick around? How is he doing it?
SactownRoyalty: Isaiah Thomas is probably the most popular player among Kings fans right now; his only competition is Ben McLemore. The thing is that this isn't new: I.T. has been one of the Kings' best players since he was drafted No. 60 overall in 2011. He's thrived in a bench role behind Greivis Vasquez this season, even if Vasquez has not thrived as a starter. Isaiah's strength is as a scorer: he'll attack any defense and is a good shooter. The problem is that the team doesn't have many natural scorers, requiring some playmaking and passing that traditionally hasn't been Isaiah's strong point. He's like a not-annoying Nate Robinson: a great small scorer who isn't a true point guard. I imagine his scoring will decrease soon, but he's still going to be a valuable player as long as he's here.
BE: DeMarcus Cousins signs a max contract extension. Love it? Hate it? Production isn't an issue but somehow we're always expecting more from him. Have the Kings bought more or have they just cemented themselves to a tantalizing headache?
SR: I'm glad the Kings locked in Cousins, because he's a hugely talented big man, and those don't come available every day. It's not going to be a journey free of stress or trouble. We know that. But I remain confident that being surrounded with a smart, hard-working and honest management and ownership team will help him develop into a mature adult and good leader. It's not going to happen overnight, just as he won't become an All-Star overnight. It's a process, and the extension was Step No. 1
BE: Which players outside of Cousins and Thomas have surprised in the earliest games of the season?
SR: Ben McLemore has been better than I think anyone expected. The concern for him around draft time was his aggressiveness. He's had no problem with that so far. He's also been a surprisingly active defender; rookies typically founder on that end. The power forwards have been surprisingly bad.
BE: Whatever offensive fireworks Thomas is sparking, you can't be happy with 41% shooting from the field and 31% from the arc. What does the Kings offense revolve around? Are the low percentages a function of a good system getting off to a rocky start or is there a flaw in the foundation somewhere?
SR: The Kings offense is suffering from some awful shooting from most of the starting lineup. Johnny Salmons and Patrick Patterson have effective field goal percentages of .348 and .346, respectively. Marcus Thornton is basically a scorer only: he's not much of a defender or passer. He's averaging only 14 points per 36 minutes. In addition to that, Vasquez -- who was brought in to get easier shots for teammates -- is averaging only 5 assists per 36 minutes. The starting lineup can't get easy shots.
BE: The defense story isn't pretty for Sacramento. As a team they need to work on it, obviously, but do you have any good individual defenders who should worry Blazers fans?
SR: Chuck Hayes is the only plus defender getting minutes for the Kings -- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is strapped to the bench as he recovers from a preseason injury. Hayes is a fine defender but almost Kendrick Perkins bad on offense right now; he's pretty clearly out of shape. The one thing Hayes does well is annoy opposing big men. During the Kings' fruitless comeback against the Hawks on Tuesday, Hayes seemed to bother Paul Millsap and Al Horford more than any other King did. Maybe he'll get an early shot to do the same to LaMarcus Aldridge.
BE: I'd be remiss if I didn't inquire after Travis Outlaw on behalf of fellow Blazer fans. Trout was an interesting, an in his own way popular, guy during his tenure in Portland. How's he doing? Anything dazzling, interesting, or face-palm inducing to share?
SR: You know, Travis Outlaw isn't too bad. I think most Kings fans would prefer him as the starting small forward over Salmons, though Salmons' ballhandling ability is helpful. Outlaw has been a class act since arriving, he works hard and doesn't play outside his role too much. He's still an eighth-man on a horrid team, but that's better than his status the last couple of years. I could see him being a starter here at some point this season.
Thanks to Tom Ziller and the folks at SactownRoyalty. You can read the second half of this Q&A, our answers to their questions, right here.