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Ball Don't Lie

Isaiah Thomas and his Sacramento Kings are struggling through another season

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Isaiah Thomas works through the growing pains (Getty Images)

It's all very possible that Isaiah Thomas was not referring to his own sophomore slump when he tossed this tweet out early Friday morning:

It scans well, though, if you make that stretch. Thomas has seen his minutes dwindle in three consecutive contests following what was thought to be a return to form in a win over Orlando last Friday, one that saw him hit for double-figure points for just the third time since he sat out the team's Nov. 13 loss to Portland because of "Personal Reasons." Since Thomas paired with fellow second-year guard Jimmer Fredette to rack up 17 points, five assists and four rebounds off the bench in a win over the Magic, he's made just six of 19 shots in three games since, with more turnovers (five) than assists (four).

All a frustrating continuation in a year gone sour. Thomas was the Kings' lone bright spot in 2011-12, in a year that saw the team rank last in its division while firing a coach along the way. Thomas, a rookie chosen with the final selection in the 2011 NBA draft, far outplayed lottery selection Fredette; and his beaming smile and ebullient nature were used by the team to sell everything from tickets to pizza to hope for a new arena for the franchise in the California capital. Even if the team's owners don't really want that new arena in Sacramento.

The Kings continue to struggle, and they're less fun to watch as they go about it. Coach Keith Smart entered the season talking up a defensive mindset, and the team has improved from 29th in defensive efficiency to 23rd this season, but they've fallen just as many spots to 27th in offense. And after leading the NBA in possessions with an ultra-quick pace in 2011-12, the Kings have dropped to around the middle of the pack. Meanwhile, Thomas hasn't started since Nov. 16, losing out minutes to veteran Aaron Brooks along the way.

Which, unfortunately for their fans, speaks to business as usual for the Kings.

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Jimmer Fredette checks his minutes (Getty Images)

Brooks was the lone offseason signing of GM Geoff Petrie, who is both hamstrung by budget concerns, a tiny front office staff, and our sneaking suspicion that he really only likes to acquire players he's heard of before. That's probably why he drafted Isaiah Thomas in the first place, for the name recognition alone.

We kid, Thomas had significant game at the University of Washington and it was surprising to see him fall so far in the draft. Playing Brooks to possibly appease Petrie, though, hasn't made much of a difference for the Kings. Excluding Thomas' star turn against Orlando, the team is 4-6 with Brooks starting; and that's the 28-year old in his prime Brooks starting. Not really helping a Kings team loaded with youngsters that need to develop chemistry and draw bumps along the way.

While also ignoring the fact that, even though Thomas is struggling, he's played about as well as Brooks has, this season.

Turns the ball over more, to be sure, but that's because Thomas is a pass-first point guard bent on creating for others, and Brooks is a low-usage spot-up guy that doesn't really spot up all that incredibly well (37.5 percent from long range, NBA-average, on the season). The Kings play slightly better offensively and defensively with Brooks on the court, but that's taking in the last lost month from Thomas — his shooting marks of 44 percent from the floor and 39 percent from long range were perfectly acceptable as a starter.

In all, Thomas appears the classic case of a young player doing well when afforded more minutes. Not just in terms of per-game numbers, but overall. And with the Kings going absolutely nowhere and Brooks not exactly pushing the team over the top, what's the point of dimming what was the lone bright spot for this team?

And what's the point of playing Jimmer Fredette just under 12 minutes a contest?

I didn't think much of Fredette's work at BYU translating into a long NBA career, and the Kings do give up quite a bit of points with Jimmer on the court; but he also needs more time on the floor in order to help the team's aching offense. Though Fredette is shooting exactly the same (average) mark as Brooks from long range, overall he's somehow firing off enough shots (always a concern, given his athleticism) to lead the Kings in scoring points per minute. Jimmer's at 21.6 points per 36 minutes, in fact, great stats for someone averaging less than a quarter of the minutes available in an NBA game.

These aren't clear and obvious answers. Thomas isn't outpacing Brooks by any significant stretch. Fredette can't stay in front of a discarded bathrobe. Still, given the Kings' rebuilding circumstances and the fanbase's familiarity with both, even after merely a truncated rookie season, why all the hope in the journeyman Brooks?

Especially when it means you could be losing a chance to develop two solid young NBA guards?

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