It's always dangerous to place too much significance on preseason games, but the 2013-14 Kings already are more entertaining than the teams of recent seasons. Basketball, alas, remains a simple game, and when players give effort, attempt to defend, and understand that consequences exist when they don't pass the ball ....
About that ball movement: It's already much improved. The assist total (18) in Thursday's victory over the Phoenix isn't overwhelming, but, clearly, the combination of pass-first point guard Greivis Vasquez and Michael Malone's offensive emphasis is having an effect.
Vasquez, whose minutes are being limited to make ensure he's healthy (ankle) for the season, is infectious. He is all about setting up his teammates - passing ahead on the break, hitting a shooter in the corner, or, as he demonstrated earlier tonight, facilitating fastbreak baskets with precise alley-oops. His one-handed lead pass to Ben McLemore for a throwndown in the second quarter was the play of the game, and his similar pass to the rookie moments later for a contested (and unsuccessful) breakout was almost as impressive. In the Kings locker room afterward, when asked about the sequence, McLemore and second-round draft pick Ray McCallum actually stood up and imitated Vasque, motioning with their right hands to stress that both tosses were one-handed.
"I told Greivis I owed him one because I didn't finish the second (breakout)," McLemore said with a grin.
A few other postgame thoughts, observations:
McLemore's speed and quickness along the baseline will really complement his outside shooting. I don't think he's a pure shooter - not in the Ray Allen, Larry Bird, Chris Mullen, mode, etc. - but his outside stroke will improve as he gains confidence and develops other elements of his game. He is freaky athletic. This was a terrific first-round draft pick for the Kings.
Jimmer Fredette's offseason work on his ballhandling is paying off. During his 23-point, five-assist effort against the Suns, he used escape-dribbles to free himself for jumpers and passes, exploited screens and angles for pick and rolls, and in general, played within himself. His improved ballhandling remains key. He can shoot - which means he will always have a job in this league - but his willingness to defend and ability to utilize his dribble spacing and open shots will dictate the essence of his career.
If DeMarcus Cousins continues to play like this, totally dominating a very competent Marcin Gortat, the Kings' rebuilding process accelerates exponentially.
Malone talked about going small to get his best players on the floor, which means McLemore will see minutes at small forward.
The visitors locker room in Sleep Train Arena has been remodeled and reconfigured for the three-year, pre-arena setting, but on an unseasonably warm Sacramento night, it was a sauna post-game. Dreadful. I felt badly for the Suns, and more notably, the trainers and equipment managers who were sweating and visibly challenged as they collected the worn tape, sweaty jerseys, etc., and worked the room.
Finally, I am writing about the return of Kings assistant Corliss Williamson for Saturday's Bee, and later Friday, serving as a guest speaker at the Sacramento Auto Show at Cal Expo Friday at 4:30. The topic: The changing landscape of sports in Sacramento. That means the subject is Kingscentric, of course.