Most reasonable Sydney Kings fans and observers entered this season with low expectations of success. The team had a rushed off-season, limiting the amount of players that could be recruited to a team starting from absolute scratch. They also had the spectre of past financial mismanagement hanging over their heads — meaning that excessive amounts could not be spent on building their roster. Add to these factors the rookie coach on the sidelines and the massive expectations that accompany Sydney sports teams, and you realise that it was never going to be an easy proposition running the Sydney Kings in season 2010-11.
Fast forward to now. Whilst the Kings were fortunate enough to match an unsettled Melbourne Tigers in their very first game, allowing them to snare their one and only victory of the season, unfortunately, they’ve endured 12 straight losses since then, culminating with Wednesday night’s home loss to the Perth Wildcats.
So, what are the Kings’ main problems? These are the big ones that I see, having watched the team very closely this season.
1. Lack of rebounding: apart from league-leading board-grabber Julian Khazzouh (10.3rpg), the team lacks size and rebounding ability. Captain Ben Knight tries his darndest, but on his shonky knees, he can do no better than 3.9rpg. The familiar refrain from fans in the Kingdome of “Get The Rebound!!” is often met by second chance points for the opposition and increasing deficits for the Kings.
2. “Bring On Madgen!”: Rookie shooting guard out of Augusta State, Ben Madgen has been a revelation for the Kings. All season long, since seeing short spurts of his brilliance off the bench, I’ve been begging to see more of Madgen on the court. Finally, on 5 December against New Zealand, we saw Madgen’s true coming out party, as he knocked down 19 points in 21 minutes. He drained 7/10 from the field, including three treys in that match. Since then he has failed to disappoint in the minutes that he has been given, scoring 11, 7, 9 and 17 points off the bench before inexplicably being given a scrappy 8 minutes against Wildcats — leading to a nought on the score sheet.
Outside of Khazzouh and the occasional erruption from import Patrick “The Colonel” Sanders, Madgen is the only true scorer the Kings have been able to rely on this season. The guy is shooting 49.2% from the field and 36.4% from three-point range. Meanwhile, the guy who gets the lion’s share of the minutes at the shooting guard position (and who has started a number of games at that position) in Damien Ryan, is shooting a paltry 35.4% from the field and 31.4% from deep. Why, oh why coach Ian “Moose” Robilliard continues to persist with Ryan perplexes me. Sure, Ryan has a great deal of experience, including 145 NBL games and and experience in Italy, but his current season form has been disappointing to say the least. His season-high of 17 points is one of only three games in which he has cracked double figures. His shot is clearly off and he is a step slow on defence. Meanwhile, we have a young guard itching for minutes in Madgen, a guy who plays hard at both ends and contributes greatly.
Moose, Madgen needs minutes. Why he was given mere shreds of minutes against the Wildcats on Wednesday, in what was clearly a winnable game, is beyond me. Each time he was brought on, he was quickly replaced by Ryan a couple of minutes later. Ryan’s 21 minutes per game compared to Madgen’s 14.8mpg is perplexing.
3. The import production: Plain and simple, the output that the Kings are getting from their array of imports is not up to scratch. We started the season with Rod Grizzard (hampered by injury) and Taj McCullough (hampered by lack of ability/ability to fit the system) and now we see ourselves with fellow former D-Leaguers, Patrick Sanders and Trey Gilder. Sanders (7 games, 16.0ppg, 4.9rpg, 1.1bpg, 4.0TOpg) has provided enough to show that he belongs and can give the team a punch on both ends of the court — sometimes incredibly spectacularly. Gilder, in 5 games so far, has yet to cement his spot as an integral part of the team — but it is still early days. Gilder, whilst lanky, has done his bit on the boards, averaging 5.8rpg. He is scoring 10.6ppg, which is clearly not enough on this squad, especially at only 40.0% FG%. However the nature of import players in Sydney dictates that he get his act together quickly, unfortunately for him. The lack of talent on this team means that we need huge production from our imports — or at least that they fill a particular role (rebounds/leadership/assists) and Gilder has neither of those attributes so far.
4. Coaching/strategy: Really, outside of injury problems and import issues, a lot of questioning has to be aimed at the man on the sidelines. I’m definitely not one to point fingers at a coach unnecessarily — in fact, I’ve cautioned others not to many times already this season. However, there are numerous question marks over Robilliard’s decision-making which still perplex me.
Let’s take a look at just a few:
·- In the early season a trend became very apparent on the offensive end. The Kings would start the game out with a certain amount of rhythm, receiving massive offensive contributions from Khazzouh. Then the second half would arrive and the ball would rarely, if at all, get pushed into the post to Khazzouh. Consequently, we’d see games where the big fella would score say 20 points in the first half and 3 points in the second. It was totally unacceptable, as the other team was suddenly given a huge break from the thing that had been so hard for them to stop early on. Thankfully, that issue seems to have been addressed in the past 5-6 games, but it certainly was a problem for the rookie coach.
– Madgen-Ryan rotations. See point (2) above.
– Rotations that see hot players sitting inexplicably. Far too often we will see a player that is doing a great job of carrying the team sitting through key stretches of the second half, coinciding with a huge deficit unfolding. Take for example this week’s game against the Wildcats. Graeme Dann had a superb game. He really set the tone for the Kings early on by going hard to the basket, snaring rebounds and playing tough defence. Then he sat… and he sat… and he came back on briefly, before being sat once again. He was the Kings’ leading scorer at one point in the first half, with 11 points, and that is what he ended the game with. 11 points, 7 rebounds, a steal and a block, all in only 19 minutes. He shot 5/9 and did a great job of helping out Khazzouh inside on D in what is typically a lonely place for the big fella. Why, oh why, did Dann sit most of the second half after getting just his third personal foul?
Are there other reasons for the Kings’ poor season so far? Undoubtedly. Lack of overall talent. A “new” club starting from scratch. A league with some very well established teams making for tight competition. All of those things could be factors in the team’s 12 game losing streak. No one was expecting a title this season, but there are certainly are some things that could be done better to at least improve the experience for the fans this season. Please see above.·