Later tonight, the Sixers will face a team so bad they're literally being run out of Sacramento. OK, well, maybe it's their owners who are doing the running, but the point is, they're terrible. That doesn't mean they don't have some talented players, simply that the talented players they have are quite flawed, don't fit together, and in some cases are downright lunatics. Still, you can't take them lightly, so let's take a closer look.
I suppose we should start with DeMarcus Cousins. We've followed his rookie season in great detail here in the comments, and now that it's almost over I feel pretty confident in saying that no rookie big in the history of the league has been allowed to inflict more damage on his team on the offensive end of the floor than DeMarcus Cousins. Tom Ziller, a Kings' blogger, among other things, wrote a post in defense of Cousins earlier today. In it, he uses basketball-reference.com to come up with a comp that shows other "big men" who have struggled in their rookie seasons but gone on to become All Stars. The problem is that Ziller was extremely liberal in creating his comp. He called them "high-usage" players with a TS% of less than .500. Then he created the comp to show players with a usage rate of 20% or more. 20% is not a high usage rate, it's average. Cousins' usage rate is 27.9%. So here's Ziller's comp, now here's the same comp, only this team we'll narrow it down to guys who actually have a high usage rate (25%+), and finally, let's throw in Cousins' turnover rate into the conversation (17.5%).
When you up the usage rate, only Zach Randolph remains from Ziller's list of future All Stars. When you add in the monumental turnover rate, they all disappear. That's not even the amazing thing about these comps, take a closer look at the last two. Prior to this season, no big man in the history of the league has ever scored this inefficiently and been allowed to play more than 674 minutes in his rookie season. Cousins has played 1,834 destructive minutes so far this season, and he isn't nearly done.
I've seen Cousins play and I get why some people hold out hope. For every 12 terrible shots he takes, he makes a dominant move. For every 30 times he loafs down the floor, once or twice he uses his size to overpower someone. But if you're talking about how he's produced this season, there's a baseball adage that comes to mind. "You have to be a pretty darned good pitcher to lose 20 games." Of course, it's dumb logic. If there's anything to take away from Cousins' rookie season it's that he's been (a) terrible and (b) the team has to shoulder some of the blame for letting him play this poorly, this frequently.
So how does this relate to tonight's game? Well, Cousins has the potential to score 30 points every time he steps on the floor, and that potential is probably pretty high if he's working against Spencer Hawes for an extended period of time. The good news is that with a focus on Cousins, you can not only limit his production, but you can turn him against his own team. Let him catch it in the post, crowd him and double him. He'll either turn it over or force a shot. When he's got an open dunk, foul him. He won't like it, he'll complain and he'll pout and he'll hit somewhere around 65% of his foul shots. The best news is that if you frustrate him and foul him, he won't stop shooting, that's not an option with him. Instead, he'll just move further and further away from the hoop, where's even less efficient. The icing on the cake, the guy is still completely out of shape. Against bigs who run the floor, he's going to be sucking wind after about a five minute run. By the second half, he'll barely cross half court by the time you're driving the lane for an uncontested dunk.
If you want a tangible thing to watch regarding Cousins, keep him off the offensive glass. He grabs a ton and it doesn't take a lot of work or concentration to put an o-board back in the hoop.
Outside of Cousins, the Kings have basically become the Marcus Thornton show. In Tyreke Evans' absence, they apparently need someone else to heave up jumpers every time he touches the ball. In their last loss, Thornton attempted 12 threes. Unfortunately, Thornton is a much more efficient scorer than Evans, so his production tonight does bare watching.
And we can't have a meeting with Sacto without mentioning the man in the middle. This will be the first time Sam Dalembert plays against the Philadelphia 76ers. If his memory spans back that far, I'm sure he's got a thing or two he'd like to show Ed Stefanski. If that manifests itself in a dozen or more 17-foot jumpers, great. It if manifests itself in 25 boards and 5 blocks, well, that can swing a game.
Good news on the matchup front. Without Casspi in the starting lineup, the Sixers will have the option of putting Iguodala on Marcus Thornton (with Meeks guarding Francisco Garcia). That's not something they could do against Casspi's height, most likely.
Prediction: PHI 110, SAC 105
The tip is at 10pm, Eastern, tonight. Game thread will be up around 8.