Coach Smart and Kings players dish on key takeaways from a successful exhibition campaign. Plus, Johnson reveals how the Kings leader has helped his game progress.
After concluding preseason action with a 5-2 record – Sacramento’s highest exhibition winning percentage since 2002-03 – Kings Head Coach Keith Smart praised his team for its dedication to offseason workouts and conditioning, which began toward the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
“Overall, I was really pleased,” said Smart following Thursday’s finale. “It really started in New Orleans on the road last year, and I talked to them about the process we have to go through to get ready for summer workouts … The commitment they made coming in, and then being in really good shape (allowed us) to get to a fast training camp start from a defensive standpoint.”
Center DeMarcus Cousins – who averaged 15.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in only 23.9 minutes per preseason contest – came away impressed with the Kings development.
“I’m very pleased,” says No. 15. “(There’s) definitely a big improvement with this team this year so far. We learned a lot. We improved a lot and accomplished a lot this preseason, so hopefully it can carry over to the regular season and we can turn things around here.”
“I’m very pleased with it, but at the same time, it’s only preseason – stats don’t matter, wins don’t matter, losses don’t matter,” adds rookie Thomas Robinson, putting the team’s exhibition record into perspective.
”It was good … I’d say what we (gained) out of it is the (importance of our) defense.”
Cousins reveals even though the wins came during exhibition play, he nonetheless enjoyed defeating the long-time rival L.A. Lakers three times.
“They’re going to make the excuse it’s preseason or whatever,” says the big man. “But a win is a win.”
Rather than looking at Sacramento’s position in the October standings, Tyreke Evans’ biggest takeaway was the team’s marked improvement in getting consistent stops.
“I can tell the way that we moved (up) a step with our defense,” says No. 13. “I think we all (learned) as a team, and we just were a lot more (focused on) defense than offense this year.”
James Johnson believes tuning-up against one of the NBA’s top contenders also served as a confidence builder for the up-and-coming Kings.
“They’re not a team to mess around with or say that you can always beat them,” says the Wake Forest Product. “We’re going to just take our confidence that we have, knowing that we had a good record this preseason and we played hard.”
The fourth-year forward, who, along with Robinson, has oftentimes provided a spark when checking into a game, takes pride in helping elevate the entire team’s intensity level on the defensive end.
“I feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do – we’re supposed to play hard and we’re supposed to make everybody play defense,” says Johnson. “I feel like Tyreke’s defense has stepped up tremendously – he’s playing hard defense (and) on both sides of the floor. Isaiah (Thomas) is definitely playing both sides of the floor. I think it’s just a team aspect … I think (Robinson and I) bring the energy level to everybody to play defense.
“We have a long ways to go if we want to make these playoffs – I’ve been on a Playoff team before,” continues No 52. “We’re not far away, but as long as we keep buying in and sticking to our principles, we’re going to be fine.”
– While the coaching staff and his teammates have commended his defensive principles, Johnson credits Smart with allowing his all-around skill set to develop in Sacramento.
“He’s breaking old habit about moving too fast or trying to make a quick decision,” discloses the forward. “He knows the game, he played the game and he knows what I can do, so he wants me to slow down, penetrate, shoot the open shot, drive and kick – and it just feels good. Right now, my confidence level is at an all-time high and it can only grow.”
– Evans, who notched 14 points, five rebounds and five assists in Thursday’s win, explains he’s shooting without hesitation.
“Coach wants me to shoot it with confidence,” says No. 13. “I have confidence in it, and if I make it or not, I’m just going to continue to shoot the ball.”
– With the NBA’s deadline for Opening Day rosters set for Monday afternoon, the Kings on Friday waived Tony Mitchell, Willie Reed and Hamady Ndiaye. The team’s roster now stands at 14 players.
Will Sacramento’s strong preseason play carry over into regular action?