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30Q: Can the Kings protect the rim?

Mike Brown has some difficult lineup decisions to make.
By | 36 Comments | Sep 16, 2022

Feb 9, 2022; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes (40) and center Domantas Sabonis (10) smiles in the final seconds of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Monte McNair has made some pretty significant moves dating back to the trade deadline last season to try and get the Sacramento Kings back into the playoffs. He landed De’Aaron Fox the most talented teammate he’s ever played with in Domantas Sabonis. He surrounded his interior scorers with volume shooting in the form of Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, and Keegan Murray.

He even made some defensive improvements on the perimeter through the draft in recent years, landing Davion Mitchell largely because of his proficiency on that end.

One major area of concern that McNair has yet to seriously address is rim protection, and with the Domantas Sabonis acquisition, this feels like a deficiency the 2022-23 Sacramento Kings are just going to have to overcome rather than fix.

Sabonis is one of the worst shot blockers and rim protectors at his position (center) in the entire NBA. With the expectation that Domas is going to be playing 30+ minutes in that spot every single night, there is only so much the Kings can do around him to make it work.

Domas averaged just 0.3 blocks per game with the Kings last season. That’s 5 blocks – total – in his 15 games with the Kings. This isn’t a new development for Sabonis. He has never blocked more than 0.5 shots per game throughout his 6-year NBA career.

In Indiana, Sabonis had the defensive luxury of playing with one of the most prolific shot blockers in the NBA today – Myles Turner. The Pacers had some really good defensive seasons during their run together.

In Sacramento, Sabonis is going to be tasked with defending the rim surrounded by players like Harrison Barnes, a traditionally undersized 4 who is a zero with regards to defending the rim, and Keegan Murray, a rookie who has promising potential defensively (1.9 BPG last season) but not the kind of rim protector you can realistically expect to cover up Sabonis’ deficiencies in year one, if ever.

And that just covers Sabonis’ defensive teammates in the paint. Out on the perimeter you’ve got De’Aaron Fox, a point guard with loads of defensive potential that hasn’t shown the ability to consistently keep his matchup out of the paint. Sacramento’s historically poor perimeter defense puts a lot of pressure on interior defenders, and those interior defenders do not possess the skills required to cover up their mistakes.

Behind Sabonis, the Kings have some options to explore. Alex Len has historically been a decent rim-protecting big. Richaun Holmes is a solid-but-undersized defender. Neemias Queta has loads of potential here, but he’s unproven and buried in the depth chart. They are options, but you can’t feel particularly good about any of them making a tangible difference here.

The good news, I guess, is that this team doesn’t need to be good at everything. Realistic expectations have the Kings as a play-in contender. Play-in contenders have serious on-court problems or they wouldn’t be play-in contenders.

The question is, can the Kings defend the rim well enough? Can they defend well enough, period? Can Mike Brown figure out a scheme, or find the right personnel, so that this is just a weakness and not a season killer?

This is what I’m most worried about heading into the season. I’m confident this team can score. I’m confident they can shoot. I’m even confident they can defend well enough on the perimeter if Davion Mitchell is starting.

I have no confidence in their interior defense, but will it be so bad that they can’t overcome it? Time will tell.

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catterj
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September 16, 2022 9:17 am

At NBA Stats, under Tracking stats, Defensive Impact, they provide defensive field goal percentage at the rim.

Queta led the way of Kings retained with 50% DFG at the rim, Holmes was a solid 55.8%, Len was 61.4%, and Sabonis was 68.9%.

One of my main unrealistic hopes for an offseason move was to acquire a rim-protecting stretch four role player to start next to Sabonis. We didn’t do that, but with Tony mentioning Keegan’s college block numbers maybe he can intentionally develop into a weakside rim protector.

Jack
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September 16, 2022 9:20 am

For me the three biggest problems for the Kings are defense, rim protection and rebounding. If possible a trade or two(Barnes and Holmes) could help fix some of the problems. With a starting lineup, let’s say, of Fox, Huerter, Barnes, Murray and Sabonis you have the scorers but lack any and all of the above problems. Some like defense can be solved internally but not all. As mentioned above starting Mitchell would help. At this time Ellis and Okpala can defend but are not even on the backups. They would be good with a 5 man defensive unit to put on the floor for 4 or 5 minutes at a time to disrupt the other teams offense but that’s a small part.
Neither Len Queta or Sabonis are good rim protectors so we are hurting here. If Murray can somewhat rebound that would help Sabonis but the other three starters are not good rebounders,
We need help. Brown can help with defense but won’t fix the whole problem. Other than trades I don’t see solutions to the other two problems.

andy_sims
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September 16, 2022 9:25 am

It was unfortunate to lose Damian Jones, who is already sound at both ends, and who I think has the intangibles to be a very good modern center. Retaining him was going to be tricky with the current roster and contracts situation.

Sabonis will never be confused with a shot-blocker, but he doesn’t get pushed around much, and alters shots with some effectiveness. As things stand, I’m not sure who he might be able to depend on for weak-side help, but depending how things shake out with the wings who will be in camp, some relief might come from that group, most having good length and athleticism.

And Keon Ellis is going to make a huge difference on defense, once he starts seeing minutes.

Jack
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September 16, 2022 10:01 am
Reply to  andy_sims

I believe a trade for Holmes could be possible. He is too good to be a backup center. He has a good contract. We need a rim protector and rebounder to help Sabonis. I like P J Washington. He can play both PF and center and is a great rim protector. The Hornets are still looking for a good center who can work the pick and roll with Melo and Rosier. He is much better than any center the Hornets have now. The money would have to work so maybe another player like James Bocknight would work. He is just sitting there and at 6′ 5″ could be our third guard. He would be a really good project.

andy_sims
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September 16, 2022 10:46 am
Reply to  Jack

I dunno, I think Mark Williams is going to have an immediate impact, his game is more modern than Holmes’, and he’s a hell of a lot bigger and likely to be more versatile. PJ would be a great fit, but the Hornets’ interest in Holmes is likely smaller than it may have previously been.

As to Bougknight, Davion may have ruined him in summer league, and if he can’t play at the three, another guard isn’t what the roster is crying out for.

Jack
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September 16, 2022 11:57 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Since Williams is a rookie I thought he could play behind Holmes for a least a year. Holmes could also be a good trade. Bocknight I know is a project but I think he could be at least our third guard. He could be at least as good as the other three that are trying out this summer. Much younger.

andy_sims
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September 16, 2022 3:42 pm
Reply to  Jack

It’s tough to say definitively with a guy whose played so few games, but there’s nothing suggesting Bouknight is/is going to be better than Huerter or Monk already are. JB played the same rookie season as Davion Mitchell, and a stat comparison greatly favors DM. Bouknight is too skinny to play minutes at small forward, and if I get to have one or the other, I keep Terence Davis.

Mitchell is just 24, as are Huerter & Monk, and Davis 25. Bouknight turning twenty-two in a couple of days isn’t a strong selling point when the rest of the group hasn’t begun hitting its prime.

Charlotte could have some interest in Holmes as a backup, but I wouldn’t expect them to offer much of value in return. The only way I’d expect Washington to be available is if the Hornets are concerned about extending or RFA-matching him and don’t want to pay him. PJ isn’t going to get maxed, but he’ll definitely get a bigger contract offer than the one Holmes is currently on.

In their position, the idea of having to give up Washington and additional assets to take on Holmes doesn’t seem that appealing. I’ll happily eat all that delicious crow if it happens somehow.

Jack
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September 16, 2022 4:41 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

I was considering that Bocknight take the places of Cook, Delly and Merill. That would open up a couple of spots in training camp.If Williams doesn’t workout or takes longer to mature then Holmes is there. He also could be a good backup to Williams or for that matter just about any other center. If that doesn’t work ut then keep him.

Jack
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September 16, 2022 4:44 pm
Reply to  Jack

I really do appreciate your comments and find you are probably more in tune than I am.

andy_sims
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September 16, 2022 5:16 pm
Reply to  Jack

So I’ve got you fooled! I don’t do deep dives on stuff, and my opinions can be superficial, but I try to have some logic to them, even if only extremely superficially.

For your three guys, I’m not sure who Cook is, but assuming he isn’t Ellis, then I’d guess only one or none of them are still with the organization when camp breaks. Merrill shoots the ass off the ball, but I’ve not seen enough of him to know if he’s an NBA player. If Delly is meant as a locker room guy, unless he shows out, I’d guess there’s less need for that going forward, just by way of eliminating wallflower head coaches, particularly the kind who couldn’t find his own ass with both hands and a road map.

I’d rather have Bouknight than either of them, especially if it meant getting PJW. Charlotte might want a first-rounder for him along with Holmes, and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t take that deal.

Jack
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September 16, 2022 6:40 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

I agree. I really like PJW. He fits the timeline as well as a lot of criteria we are looking for as a rim protector and rebounder. He is young. I do believe, and quote me if I’m wrong but, but if we were to offer a first round it would be in 2018. That’s 5 years from now. Might work. Enough said.

RikSmits
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September 16, 2022 10:58 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Sabonis (…) alters shots with some effectiveness.

I guess that’s based on an eye test? Since it doesn’t vibe with the defensive FG% stats catterj just showed.

Queta led the way of Kings retained with 50% DFG at the rim, Holmes was a solid 55.8%, Len was 61.4%, and Sabonis was 68.9%.

Brown will have his work cut out for him.

murraytant
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September 16, 2022 9:54 am

D. Jones was the only rim protector. Q may develop into that role but not this year.
This is a problem. I guess can’t solve all problems simultaneously.

Ellis can be a good defender, but he is a 2-way. I see his role in the games he plays is to cover the last 30 seconds of the quarter when the opponent has the ball, like the LAC used T. Mann early in his career. and he does not protect the rim.

UpgradedToQuestionable
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September 16, 2022 10:21 am

Can the Kings protect the rim?
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RikSmits
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September 16, 2022 10:54 am

Out on the perimeter you’ve got De’Aaron Fox, a point guard with loads of defensive potential

Is this the same as saying that Ben Simmons has loads of long range shooting potential?

PretendGhost
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September 16, 2022 11:41 am
Reply to  RikSmits

No because Fox showed himself to be a good defender in College and also during his sophomore season in the NBA. He has the tools, it’s a matter of whether or not he has the dog too

RikSmits
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September 16, 2022 12:47 pm
Reply to  PretendGhost

Oh, really? It’s just a matter of dog?

Has nothing to do with an inconsistent motor, footwork, defensive awareness, boxing out fundamentals and understanding team D in general?

The fact that he gets steals because he gambles a lot and has some chasedown blocks doesn’t make him have “loads of defensive potential”.

BestHyperboleEver
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September 16, 2022 4:10 pm
Reply to  PretendGhost

Ehhhh, he didn’t really show himself to be a good defender in college. His defensive upside has always been theoretical based on his athleticism. But his size and mediocre awareness make him struggle to defend team actions in the half court. At the moment, he’s still a pretty easy mark for the opposing offense. Despite what some people say, it takes more than effort to defend in the NBA.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 16, 2022 5:01 pm

This. 100%.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 17, 2022 1:20 am
Reply to  PretendGhost

Not sure about what he did in college defensively?

I know he wasn’t selected in the draft because of his defensive abilities,

The truth is that Fox is one of the worst defensive guards in the game of basketball at this point, Living in the now matters in the NBA. He has the athletic abilities and quickness to play defense but he simply has not done it.

Even understanding the direction to force a player would be a major improvement for Fox. Don’t give up the path to the basket every time someone nods their head to fake the other way, Simply playing third grade basketball and trying o force a player to the sideline is a vast improvement for Fox.

Kings-Rebuild
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September 17, 2022 9:51 pm

That is such a great post. Jeff Van Gundy said this and I agree. It amazes me how many NBA players lack basic concepts about playing defense. Forcing to the baseline and not letting players escape from the baseline and rotate the ball is a basic defensive concept that constantly gets abused. Buddy Hield was the worst I’ve seen at understanding team defense and basic defensive concepts. He was great letting players drive to the middle and hugging his man when more than one pass away. As you said, Fox is a guy with all the tools to be a good defender and it just hasn’t happened.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 18, 2022 10:57 am
Reply to  Kings-Rebuild

It is choice that they made long ago. They decided not to play defense.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 16, 2022 11:49 am

IMO, blocks are the most overrated stat in basketball, unless you are playing fantasy basketball. I’m just not sure “rim protection” is as important as team defense.

The 4 teams to make the conference finals last season (Warriors, Mavs, Heat, and Celtics) all lacked legit rim protectors, apart from maybe Robert Williams. What all those teams did have, however, was balanced team defenses. A rim protector can be negated if the team can stop offenses at the point of attack and limit shots at the rim.

To my point, Rudy Gobert blocked a ton of shot for the Jazz, but that was in part because the perimeter defense was shit and gave Rudy plenty of opportunity to get those blocks. If the Jazz had limited the opportunities of their opponents to get shots at the rim, Rudy’s stats would look different.

So, if the Kings can play a solid perimeter defense, like the Warriors and Heat do, Sabonis’ weakness to “protect the rim” will be minimized. This is what the Kings are paying Coach Brown to address.

BestHyperboleEver
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September 16, 2022 8:30 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Blocks absolutely can be hugely overrated. Opponent eFG% or TS% at the rim is far more useful. That said, a few points. First, Robert Williams and JaVale are absolutely a high level rim protectors, and Adebayo and Draymond are both exceptional interior defenders. In the case of Gobert, well, when you have a Gobert the entire defensive system is generally built around running the opponent of the 3pt line and funneling them into Gobert. The opponent then gets the choice of shooting a low-efficiency contested mid-range or taking on the champ. In short, Gobert didn’t block a ton of shots because their perimeter defense sucked. He blocked a ton of shots because that was their system and he’s awesome. A big part of the benefit of a known shot blocker is that a whole lot of other player choose long floaters or mid-range pull-ups in cases where they’d otherwise take it to the rim.

But you’re absolutely right that you can’t just look at an individual’s blocked shots to judge their defensive impact or the team’s defense. The same way you can’t just look at someone’s PPG to judge their scoring impact or team offense.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 16, 2022 10:44 pm

Excellent points BHE, as always.

Maximus
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September 17, 2022 2:27 pm

Opponent eFG% or TS% at the rim is far more useful.

The number of shots that opponents take in the restricted area is more useful.

In general, a good rim protector will keep the Opponent eFG% in the restricted area low, while a good defensive system will keep the the number of shots in the restricted area low.

https://go.nba.com/wq2y5

catterj
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September 17, 2022 3:35 pm

Just trying to add some context with the rim deterrence stat over at BBall Index. While you and Adam may be right that the Jazz defense was meant to funnel opposing ball handlers toward Gobert in the paint, he still rates pretty high on their rim deterrence stat, meaning he deters shots at the rim from even happening. Here is a headshot plot of all the centers in the NBA in the 21-22 season with Rim Deterrence percentile on the Y-axis and Blocks/75 possessions on the X-axis.
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Here is a scatterplot to see the names. A bigger triangle means more games played.
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It’s a very interesting scatter. At least it’s good to see that Sabonis rates high on rim deterrence at least. Weird that Gobert and Whiteside would play on the same team, both get a lot of blocks, and rate so differently on rim deterrence.

Maximus
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September 17, 2022 3:57 pm
Reply to  catterj

Weird that Gobert and Whiteside would play on the same team, both get a lot of blocks, and rate so differently on rim deterrence.

Likely because Whiteside fouls a lot. You go straight into Whiteside and the foul whistle would be blown a lot more than going straight into Gobert.

Kingsguru21
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September 18, 2022 3:33 am
Reply to  catterj

I’d also argue this improves the defense because with Sabonis around, and his ability to grab boards or ensure teammates do, that means the Kings will not give up 2nd chance points like they have in previous years.

I don’t wish to dump on Holmes, but he’s not much of a deterrent and isn’t an elite rim protector either. I think that helps the Kings alot more than you might think initially.

I think the real improvement comes on the perimeter and, in general, not trotting out guys like Bagley that just gad little motivation on that end and it hurt teammates (like Barnes).

RobHessing
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September 16, 2022 12:36 pm

Rim protection? Dude –
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TerzoM
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September 16, 2022 2:35 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

It’s a dirty job dude
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Klam
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September 16, 2022 3:23 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

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Kangz_Landing
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September 17, 2022 11:02 am

Just throwing the other way to protect the rim out there if you don’t have the personnel: taking charges.

Kings’ only willing charge taker is Davion and haven’t had another since DeMarcus. Mike Brown’s job will be not only to get the guys to rotate but also prove who has the nads to do whatever it takes defensively to get the stop.

Adamsite
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September 17, 2022 11:38 am
Reply to  Kangz_Landing

Great point, taking charges is far better than blocking a shot. It guarantees you the next possession, which a block does not, and it adds a foul to your opponent.

I’d imagine an offensive player is just as aware of a defender who is willing to sacrifice his body on defense as he is of one who will protect the rim.

Which is better having a player who gets you 2.5 blocks per game, or a player that draws 2.5 charges per game?

NowLoveThemOnceAgain
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September 17, 2022 8:31 pm

Queta to become the next Hassan Whitehead? We will only find out after the Kings let him go.

Klam
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September 17, 2022 10:16 pm

Looks like this month is going to become “29Q.” 😉

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