I know, I know.
That headline is about as linguistically jarring as the short-lived nickname for Beno Udrih - "The Tasmanian Slovenian" - was geographically-challenged. Nonetheless, it's true.
After taking a measured approach to his return from a lower back strain, the Kings point guard is out again after playing just 10 minutes at Houston on Monday night.
And that's not good for Beno.
He's questionable for tomorrow night's game against Memphis, but I'd guess that he doesn't go. All of which, of course, doesn't help matters in his universe on three fronts...
A) It doesn't help the Kings win games, and they remain interested in at least getting to No. 34 so as to improve on last season's 33-49 mark...
B) It doesn't help Udrih with his upcoming free agency, as he may have already convinced the Kings about his talents but there's still time left to impress other possible suitors from around the league...
C) It doesn't help his case for the league's Most Improved Player award.
I broke the race down recently as I saw it in this story, and have to concede that - upon further review - Toronto point guard Jose Calderon should've been on the list. What's more, watching Houston point guard Rafer Alston drop 28 points on the Kings in Rick Adelman's 800th win got me thinking that he should at least be mentioned as well since Rockets fans were ready to cut him last year. No excuse for the omissions other than I thought the list was getting a little long.
As for Udrih, he's not the MIP. He's had a breakout year, indeed, but his lack of a significant role last season means it's hard to quantify whether he improved or if he just made the most of a long-awaited chance. Udrih could've been playing at or near this level for some time now if there wasn't some guy named Tony Parker in front of him.
As we have all seen on a nightly basis, Beno can have a dazzling offensive game that carries shades of Parker and even Manu Ginobili...
As for improving even more, the makeup of this particular team means Beno needs to find his teammates more often. He can score on his own, in transition, and in the offense, but so can most of this roster. I remember when he first came to town and the Kings had just had that atrocious seven-assist performance in a loss to Cleveland at Arco. I asked Beno about it, and he said he fully expected to be getting that number on his own when he joined in.
"One guy should be averaging at least seven assists," Udrih made clear.
Yet in his 60 games this season, he has had seven or more assists just 12 times and he ranks 32nd in the league in assists per game (4.4). The Kings, meanwhile, are 29th in the league in assists per game (19), a mark that is on pace to be lowest in team history as the media guide sees it. The year-by-year stats go back to 1970-71, and last season's 20.3 mark was the worst to that point. I'll try to track down the numbers before then.
To be fair, this is not only Beno's problem to solve. The system is largely responsible because it allows for so much one-on-one play, with Kings coach Reggie Theus conflicted all season about this problem. Some of his players can be so good at creating on their own, but the ball movement and flow obviously suffers and the style has everything to do with the Kings ranking 29th in turnovers (15.2 per game). They don't get the easy baskets on backcuts very often or the transition points or focus for any length of time on finding the open man. Instead, they stay in the sort of attack mode that makes them vulnerable to donating extra possessions, all of which has a profound effect on the defense that's ranked 24th in points allowed per game (104.3). But as for the original point, Beno is the MIP if that stands for 'Much Improved Player.' He's just not the 'Most Improved Player.'
FANTASY FANATICS UNITE
The volume of e-mails from Fantasy League types has picked up of late, so I'll do my best to help y'all out. Like I said, Udrih could be out tomorrow but I should know more in the late morning (the Kings did not practice today). Ron Artest and Brad Miller appear ready to play, although Artest is obviously capable of changing his mind. - Sam Amick