Basketball has changed a lot in the last 10 years. The modern game is all about pace and space, 3 pt shooting, and most importantly chemistry. It’s all about team over individual and the smart teams value chemistry more than anything else. This was probably started by Spurs, who built a team out of misfit toys: underrated (mostly international) players who came together and believed that they could achieve more together if they played unselfishly. The players embraced the concept of team first, passing up good shots for great shots. Why take a shot you make 50% of the time, when you can pass to your teammate who shoots 65%? Teams like the Warriors or the Hawks embody the same philosophy, and the results have spoken for themselves.
This is becoming the dominant strategy for NBA teams and everyone is trying to replicate it. But I disagree with this strategy. I have built my life around the epigraph at the start of Fahrenheit 451: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way”. I say zig when others zag. Turn left instead of right. Go on red and stop on green. If the entire league is beginning to value something, I say build your team around the opposite. And while Sacramento may be on fire now, that’s why the Kings are poised for greatness.
The Kings are anti-chemistry. They have built a team of malcontents that can’t decide if they hate each other, or their coach more. Putting Boogie, Rondo, and Rudy Gay on the same team is like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. The team ranks 24th in def/rating and dead last in Opp Pts/game, last in 3pts, and 3PA. It is an advanced analytics nightmare. Dallas bailed on Rondo last year like a stock broker who just realized they made a terrible mistake. Nobody else would touch him. So of course the Kings picked him up after they dumped a bunch of salary. You couldn’t give away Rudy Gay. Between almost punching people and getting suspended for fighting with his coach, Boogie has actually put together a good season, minus the fact that he doesn’t work on defense and could get ejected at any moment.
Now, I know what you’re thinking “Jay, if this anti-chemistry strategy is going to work, why are the Kings a mess and pro-chemistry teams succeeding?” Well, I’m glad you asked snarky, literary device. The reason is because the Kings simply haven’t gone far enough! You can’t half-ass a strategy like this. You’ve got to go all the way. Should the Kings resign Boogie? Absolutely. But they need to assemble their roster carefully, as they need to leave room to sign players like Lance Stephenson, Matt Barnes, Josh Smith, and every other malcontent they can find. Preferably, they should sign Matt Barnes and then announce Derek Fisher as their head coach. Why would anyone do that? Because, absolutely NO ONE would do that. You can’t go halfway with this, if you’re going to succeed you need every problematic personality you can find, only THEN will the transformation be complete. You need selfish players. You need players who take terrible shots and argue with their coaches. Then you need a coach they don’t respect. You have to go all in on this.
Now, snarky literary device, you might be saying to yourself “Jay, the only reason you are arguing for this is because you aren’t a Kings fan and you find crazy teams entertaining!” And, well, you might actually be right about that.
But here’s the thing: I may be on to something here. If the entire NBA is over-valuing chemistry, 3 point shooting and pace then that means there are still talented players out there who don’t fit that bill, and those players are under-valued. It’s like what the Oakland A’s did in the Moneyball era. They weren’t using statistics because their cool, they were using them to try and find valuable traits that other teams were missing. On base percentage is really important, but the rest of baseball didn’t see it, so they were able to load up on players with high OBP. The A’s also realized that college players had a higher success rate than high school players, so they found people like Tim Hudson. Boogie is the poster child for this. Skills wise, Boogie is one of the best big men in the NBA. But because the league puts such an emphasis on chemistry, he is looked down upon. This league is littered with talented players who are either bad chemistry guys, or who don’t fit into a a modern pace and space offense. Since the entire league is obsessed with these guys, the price on these players is going to go up and up. The Kings can succeed by doing the opposite. By building a team around the things the rest of the league doesn’t care about, the Kings might, despite themselves, succeed.