What should the Sacramento Kings do about Luke Walton?
That question has been asked ad nasueum since last season’s lackluster results and horrific bubble performance. The financial restraints of the COVID-19 pandemic have kept Walton around due to the three remaining years on his contract, at least in the short-term. It’s assumed that his future dismissal is all but set in stone, as existing head coaches rarely last long with a new General Manager, but with Luke sticking around for a bit, perhaps it’s time to reverse the question. What should Luke Walton do about the Sacramento Kings?
In order to try and prove his place as the man at the helm for Sacramento, Walton will need to accomplish several things, and accomplish them very quickly. The clock is ticking. First, he must adjust his approach to the team’s offensive game plan. While Luke’s plan to slow things down to actually install a half-court offense, rather than just roll the ball down the floor like Dave Joerger in 2018-2019, was probably well intentioned, his refusal to push the ball at all ultimately cost the Kings numerous wins. Sacramento placed just 19th in pace during the regular season and 23rd in fast break points, a clear failure to take advantage of the roster’s incredible speed. One bit of good news was the transition that took place in the bubble, as the Kings jumped to 5th in pace and 1st in fast break points per game. Similarly, in the team’s first preseason game Friday night, the Kings played at an insane pace of 108.5. Walton must strike a proper balance of teaching fundamentals and enabling his team to get some easy buckets.
In addition to changing the general game plan, Luke must also improve his utilization of his best players, namely De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. It’s obvious that both players are at their most effective when sprinting down the floor and taking advantage of teams in the half-court, but that’s not the only troubling area for Walton. Buddy Hield’s misuse as a primary initiator and one-on-one defender has been highly criticized and highly classified, and Luke needs to find a way to compromise between what he wants players to be and who they actually are in reality.
Looking at the other side of the floor, although the Kings aren’t exactly built to compete for a deep playoff run, or a playoff run at all, there is a pressing need to establish some sort of defensive identity. Sacramento was 19th in team defensive rating in 2019, making essentially no progress from Dave Joerger’s tenure, in which they placed 21st in the league. Walton sacrificed offensive production partly in the name of defense, but the defense never took hold. Even if the Kings win only a third of their games due to a lack of top-end talent, installing a defensive game plan is a must for Walton’s future.
Thus far in his time in Sacramento, Luke Walton has yet to impress, and frankly, the chances of him impressing this season are very slim. Last year, multiple players regressed under his tutelage, and the history of young players exploding after he leaves or they leave him has become a highly concerning trend. If Walton has any hope of coaching out the rest of his contract in Sacramento, he’ll need to make some major philosophical changes in a very short period of time. If not, the Sacramento Kings will certainly need to do something about Luke Walton.