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30Q: Will De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton be a better defensive backcourt?

Let's talk about three reasons why they should be.

Defense and playoffs. Playoffs and defense.

This isn’t really a chicken or the egg question; defense (for the most part) comes first, and then the playoffs. The Kings have been letting the offense dictate the defense and trying to outscore opponents ever since Ron Artest last wore a Sacramento jersey, which was the last time the team made the playoffs.

A good defense is about having players who have talent on that side of the ball, but a large part of it is sheer will. That is why the question of whether the Kings can become a good defensive team and make the playoffs depends on its star players to set the tone. The coaching staff needs to put an emphasis on it, yes, and we saw what can happen as a result in the NBA Summer League, but the guys on the floor also need to take some pride in it.

The star of this team is De’Aaron Fox. Fox has been a part of the poor Kings defense for four seasons now. He, along with the rest of the team, has spoken a lot about the need to get better on defense, yet we haven’t really seen it translate. In reality, the bigs are largely left to clean up the mess when the guards, including Buddy Hield, let opponents skate right to the basket. Richaun Holmes is a good defender, but can only do so much whack-a-mole every game. The question of Hield’s future with the Kings and his role in the rotation continues to linger, but all signs point to Fox and Tyrese Haliburton being the backcourt of the future. And it is going to take a big shift in how they approach defense for this team to take the next step.

Fox admitted as much in his final interview at the end of last season.

“One thing I was taking about with Monte [McNair] is we should be a much better defensive backcourt. So, with that, 1 comes experience and 2, we just have to be able to continue to understand the game and be able to uplift our team on that end of the court,” he said.

It has been well documented that the Kings ranked last in defensive rating and last in opponent field goal percentage at 48.8% last season. While Fox and Haliburton didn’t play a ton of minutes together, when they did, things were not good defensively.

In the top three most-played lineups featuring Fox and Haliburton, according to Cleaning The Glass, their opponents’ effective field goal percentages were:

  • (853 possessions) De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes: 55%
  • (124 possessions) De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley: 63.7%
  • (76 possessions) De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Hassan Whiteside: 51.5%

These two just have to get better at stopping the ball, and there are three reasons why I think that can happen.

The first is what seems different about Haliburton. Not only is he extremely talented on the basketball court, but he is very self-aware and seems to understand and acknowledge the constant narratives surrounding the Kings. He knows players often talk about what needs to change, but it never seems to actually happen, a trend we have become all too aware of.

“For 72 games we’ve got in front you guys in the media and talked about our defensive effort, and on the days it was good how we can continue that and on days when it was bad how we can get better. So that’s going to be important for us to be better defensively,” he said at the end of the season.

An historian of the game, Haliburton appears to be very dedicated to the success of the team and is a hard worker. He seems like the kind of guy that simply isn’t going to be OK with the status quo repeating itself anymore. This, mixed with the fact that he is 6'5'' should translate to better defense (along with some added muscle).

The second reason is the defensive potential of Fox. He possesses the speed, size and strength to be a good defender in the NBA. (He has the nickname Swipa for a reason.) He’s crafty reading passing lanes in order to get steals and can pull off some impressive blocks on occasion, but if he can get a little more consistent on the ball it would do wonders for this team. Granted he has had to shoulder much of the offensive load in years past, including scoring and playmaking. With the emergence of Haliburton, however, maybe Fox can put the pieces together on defense a little more. We have seen when he wants to lock someone down, he has the tools to do it.

Lastly, and I know you were waiting for this one: The Kings now have Davion Mitchell. Haliburton has said defense has to be an emphasis right when training camp starts. So, imagine for a minute when these three guards compete against each other for the first time in camp. Think about the speed and offensive skillset of Fox matching up with the speed and defensive skillset of Mitchell. Mitchell is not a 19-year-old rookie. He is 23 (his birthday was Sept. 5) – the same age as Fox and two years older than Haliburton. He also is coming off a national championship and an NBA Summer League championship in which he led a team with the mentality of not letting opponents score rather than outscoring them.

We heard last season how Fox would give Haliburton the business in practice.

Mitchell is a different dude though, and I fully expect him to get into Fox and Haliburton in practice. And he should challenge these guys from day 1 regardless of his rookie status. This team needs it because Fox and Haliburton must put action behind their words and take defense more seriously.

"Leading by example. Just showing in training camp that I'm doing the little things, being that guy up there pressuring the ball, making it hard for the guards, and I think if my teammates see that they're going to want to play hard because I'm the head of the snake," Mitchell said at the conclusion of Summer League. "I'm going to be up there playing pressure defense, so my teammates are going to follow behind me. I think if I just lead by example and be myself in training camp, I can change the identity here."

Let’s hope that is the case. Chances are he can be the guy who uplifts the team on that side of the ball.

Fox and Haliburton are great offensive talents and because of that scoring will likely never be a problem. It really hasn’t been a problem even before Fox’s time. It’s always been the defense with this team, and it’s good that they both acknowledged it at the close of the season.

“Offensively we’re fine. What we did this year was enough so defensively we just have to be better as a backcourt and as a team,” Fox said.

Here is Haliburton: “We can score, that’s not a surprise to anybody or anything like that. We know how to put the ball in the basket, but we just have to be better defensively for us to take that next step and obviously like I’ve talked about, and we’ve talked about the whole year, we want to get the Sacramento Kings back to the playoffs, but that’s not going to happen if we’re not better defensively.”

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Daydreamer
September 8, 2021 10:23 am

This article has the right emphasis on the importance of camp and practice. It rightly sees Mitchell’s potential to change the defensive dynamic in the backcourt. While I have no knowledge of his leadership on Baylor’s team, I suspect he influenced other players’ defensive mentality, just as he seems to have done in the summer league. The result was beating a Gonzaga team that most expected to win. So I think Fox’s and Haliburton’s openness to getting better combined with fierce competition in camp and practices have great potential to lead to a much stronger defensive showing by the backcourt. Good article!

Daydreamer
September 9, 2021 10:51 am
Reply to  Daydreamer

One more point: since, it seems, Fox can be a lockdown defender, using Mitchell to sub for Fox and give him a blow when his defense falters might maximize the defense we get at the point. Similarly if TD can be efficient and consistent at both ends, we might get better defense at the 2. For Fox and Halliburton, the most effective minutes at both ends, even if that means fewer minutes.

andy_sims
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September 8, 2021 10:25 am

A better team defense with the guards as the spearhead is definitely possible. Mitchell is a bulldog, Haliburton has amazing instincts, and as you pointed out, we’ve seen Fox lock down guys like Westbrook when he commits to staying in front of them. After all, no one is faster, and I’m not sure that anyone is quicker. You’ve probably seen the photos, but Fox looks strong as hell, and that could help when he gets switched onto a bigger player.

The bigs on the roster at the moment have been good defenders, so substantial improvements should be feasible if the guards commit to the work. None of these guys are lazy in the slightest, so it’s all about willingness to focus, and do it consistently.

Kosta
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September 8, 2021 10:33 am
Reply to  andy_sims

comment image

Last edited 2 days ago by Kosta
andy_sims
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September 8, 2021 11:06 am
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“With my guidance, I believe that this year, we can become the worst defense in NBA history. Second place is not in my vocabulary!”

Along with so, so many other things.

Kosta
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September 8, 2021 10:27 am

I am excited 🐍comment image

Last edited 2 days ago by Kosta
andy_sims
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September 8, 2021 11:06 am
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Cade already ducking Mitchell by forcing his way onto an Eastern Conference team.

Tunel_21
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September 8, 2021 10:32 am

I would absolutely love to see Fox and Mitchell go at it in practice for the first time.

Better yet, I would love to see Mitchell and Hield go at it for the first time. I would guess on a Kawhi/McLemore type situation.

Klam
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Nostradumbass 18
Nostradumbass 19
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Nostradumbass 18
Nostradumbass 19
September 8, 2021 10:53 am

So according to Twitter, today is Akis’ birthday, so……

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OVERLORD!!!!

Kosta
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September 8, 2021 2:24 pm
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Happy Birthday, Akis!

-from, anonymous
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Last edited 1 day ago by Kosta
ZillersCat
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September 8, 2021 3:49 pm
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Ummm, you look familiar .. Safety Cat without the mask?comment image

Last edited 1 day ago by ZillersCat
Sacto_J
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September 8, 2021 11:00 am

I think there’s a couple of factors at play, here.
1 – team defense in the NBA, much like in the NFL, can fall to shit for 1 player not buying in to their assignment or missing their assignment. We have at least 2 players guilty of this on a nightly basis.
2 – Luke Walton. He literally is my figurative “dead horse” at this point. His defensive scheme showed some merit last year, tho it largely left much to be desired due to poor execution. Until he holds players accountable on the defensive end, there’s not much going to change.

bearcatjack
September 8, 2021 11:00 am

What is more important talent or culture? Will one player change the culture of the Kings?Is Simmons more important than Fox or Haliburton? Will the current King’s roster make the playoffs?Will those same kings be a better defensive team this year? Can Luke Walton coach the Kings to the playoffs? Here is my take on the above questions? At this time talent is a little ahead of culture. Obviously we need to acquire more. I don’t think one player with talent is the answer. One player will not change the defensive status at this stage of the game. You can’t do these things overnight,but this might be a start.
Trade Buddy and Bagley to the Warriors for Andrew Wiggins.He is an offensive threat and has matured defensively since his days at Minnesota.A definite upgrade over Buddy.
Trade Barnes,Jones and a first and second round pick to the Magic for Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke. Isaac is an exceptional defensice player,a poor mans Ben Simmons. He,s got a great motor can defend multiple positions. can defend the weak side, shoots a higher percentage of free throws than Simmons and is younger and cheaper. Okeke is a very good on ball defender, a better scorer than Harkless and costs less. Here are my lineups.
Fox,Haliburton,Wiggins,Isaac,Holmes

Mitchell,Davis,Okeke/Harkless,Metu/Thompson,Len
Now you have scorers and defenders.It,s up to the coaches to get the teams culture, which brings me to Luke Walton.He needs to be replaced. He has too much tunnel vision and is not a good defensive coach.My personal favorite is Jay Wright. Look what he has done at Villinova and has worked with the top pros in this years Olympics. I believe with Wright and assistants such as Christie this roster will be better defensively, start a new culture and get the Kings to the playoffs.

Ccc
Ccc
September 8, 2021 12:11 pm

Maybe but doubt it.

4on5
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September 8, 2021 12:25 pm

If Fox makes a significant improvement, yes. If the player that’s going to play the lion share of the minutes and more often find himself picking up bigger and more physical shooting guards on occasional cross match situations in transition as he increasingly plays alongside Haliburton, Mitchell or both is still pretty bad at defense … then it’s still going to be pretty bad.

andy_sims
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September 8, 2021 2:56 pm
Reply to  4on5

No one ever solved anything with a run-on sentence. I myself have not solved any problems while doing the same thing.

murraytant
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September 8, 2021 3:39 pm

Yes. Fox + Hali will be better on D.
Defense is scheme ( coaching), talent, desire. The scheme should get better- new coach. The talent improves with Hali in and Buddy out. And the desire improves because of enhanced awareness + Mitchell.
Mitchell’s presence will encourage better D. And, While Mitchell gets up in people, the change in D will come not only from his individual talent and effort, but, as I noticed in SL, he puts guys in awkward positions where they pick up the dribble, get off balance and toss a lazy pass. That’s where Fox and Hali excel- swooping in for the wayward pass. That’s where the steals will come from.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
September 8, 2021 4:41 pm

OT: I like this. The dude looked good in summer league. Reminded me of a mini-Holmes.

TerzoM
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September 8, 2021 5:08 pm

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