Kings, Grizzlies both rely on big men in NBA’s small-ball era

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Memphis.
Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Memphis. AP

Today’s NBA game is up-tempo, big on guard play and shooting.

But as long as this game exists, there probably will be a need for quality big men — the more skilled, the better. The center might not be the focus as in decades past — Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal, to name a few — but good luck finding a coach who wouldn’t latch onto a versatile post player.

Saturday’s game between the Kings and Memphis at Golden 1 Center will include four prominent frontcourt players, including perhaps the two best bigs in the league in DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings and Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies. Memphis also employs Zach Randolph, who can bang inside and shoot a soft jumper.

The Kings also feature Kosta Koufos, who had his best outing of the season this month at Memphis when he had 16 points and 13 rebounds in a 96-92 victory to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Grizzlies in Tennessee.

Cousins has had a monster season, averaging 29.1 points,10.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists while producing some of his best work during a recent season-high four-game win streak.

“Without a doubt, you want one,” Kings guard Darren Collison said of having a quality big. “If he’s a skilled big man, he can adjust to today’s era. You’ve got to be able to pick and roll, run the floor and still shoot and score inside.

“DeMarcus is one of the unique bigs. He can do anything. Not everyone has a player like Cuz.”

And not many have a reliable cog like Koufos, either. The eight-year veteran is the epitome of a solid player, teammates and coaches say.

“He can play well with any team and system because he sets good screens, rolls to the basket, finishes inside the paint,” Collison said. “You can insert him into any team and rotation, and he’ll do well.”

Perhaps that’s a reason Koufos has been mentioned in trade speculation lately, including the Houston Rockets, who reportedly want to add a quality big man. Kings Coach Dave Joerger on Thursday dismissed trade talk as just that: talk. He added, “If you listen to all the stuff from the outside, you’ll drive yourself crazy. None of that stuff is credible. One percent of the time it’s true, so why would we worry about it?”

More pressing for the coach is dealing with the bulk and skill of Gasol and Randolph, both of whom Joerger coached the previous three seasons at Memphis. Gasol sought out Joerger before the teams played their last game to hug him, the mutual respect running deep.

Gasol told Memphis media this month that Joerger “is really good scheme-wise. He’s one of the best that I’ve seen at X’s and O’s. He knows how to prepare the games really well. He knows how to read it. He’s really good at reading games. He’s a very detailed coach, which is what I really appreciated.”

Joerger said Koufos was “terrific” against Memphis on Dec. 16 and “we need that again.”

He added that Koufos is “a consummate pro, a low-maintenance player, keeps his body in shape, is a great teammate that the guys like being around. He’s a really, really good dude, a very, very solid big in this league.”

Joerger and Collison said the Kings are still adjusting to the offensive and defensive philosophies with a new coaching staff this season. This includes a lot of skull sessions with players and coaches to discuss plays and pick-and-rolls.

“I look at DeMarcus as more of a four (power forward), who in this era, may never have played true center in a later generation,” Joerger said. “Now you put more skill guys around him. You have to learn how to play (and adjust in today’s game). If you just run up and and down and shoot jumpers, that’s not effective. You have to learn to play with those guys, need good passing and good spacing and the ability to make shots. You’re seeing how the spacing is changing in games. You have centers who are picking-and-popping, which opens up the court for driving. They can do a lot.”