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30Q: How can the coaching staff improve Sacramento’s defense?

A few simple adjustments could make a huge difference in Sacramento.

For the last 15 years, the Sacramento Kings have had one goal in mind: make the playoffs, and for the last 15 years, they've failed. A myriad of factors can shoulder some of the blame for the last decade-and-a-half, from a lack of on-court talent to bad coaches to blown draft picks, but only one common thread has wound its way through each of the last 15 seasons. The Kings don't play defense. No matter who has coached or who has worn the jersey or who has owned the franchise, any team walking into any Sacramento arena has known they're going to get theirs on offense that night. It should come as no surprise that the last time the Kings posted an above-average defensive rating, the 2005-2006 season, was also the last time they celebrated a postseason appearance.

Last season was no exception for Sacramento. The Kings posted the worst defensive rating, not only over the last 15 years, and not only in franchise history but in the 75 years in which the NBA has existed. They were somehow less effective than a 17-win squad which saw Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes combine for almost 60 minutes per game. They were that bad.

Sacramento's lack of defensive effort last year was even more discouraging than usual because the Kings were actually pretty good everywhere else on the court - almost good enough to sort of compete. They ranked 12th in offensive rating, and if they had tied the Washington Wizards for 20th in defensive rating, they would have finished the year with a slightly positive net rating. That would have put them ahead of the 10th-seeded San Antonio Spurs and right in line with the 9th-seeded Golden State Warriors and the play-in tournament, exactly where the Kings wished to be at the close of the season.

If the Kings want to make that wish come true in 2021, they're going to need to make wholesale changes on the defensive end of the hardwood. Luke Walton and his staff must start game-planning for the roster they have, rather than forcing their rotation into an ill-fitting plan, while the players must take responsibility for their effort on defense. This team can be average or better defensively if they allow themselves that chance.

The first and most obvious adjustment is a complete change to the coaching staff's defensive philosophy. Last season, the Kings switched just about every pick-and-roll and dribble hand-off, and they were murdered, raised from the dead, and murdered again every time a weak perimeter-minded big man, also known as every player outside of Richaun Holmes, was switched onto a guard. That sort of plan may work with highly adaptable forwards and centers with a passion for stopping opposing guard and wings, but those players don't really exist within this group. Hopefully, that strategy is dead before training camp begins.

Outside of the general mayhem of switching everything and hoping for the best, the coaching staff also needs to reconsider their deployment of weaker defensive players, namely Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley. In 2020, Hield defended the most field goal attempts of any guard in the league, and while that's partially a compliment to his otherworldly game-to-game availability, it also serves as evidence as to how often teams targeted him in one-on-one situations. Last year, Hield recorded the fourth-worst overall defensive field goal percentage differential in the league, allowing his opponents to increase their accuracy by 4.3%. And when things moved closer to the hoop, his effectiveness grew worse. Buddy also ranked first among guards in field goals defended at the rim, and he placed last in the NBA in field goal percentage differential in the paint, as his opponents knocked down 69.3% of their shots, an increase of 8.5% on average.

Similar to Hield, Marvin Bagley was also ineffective across the board defensively, but his rim protection numbers were the most concerning of all. Despite his 6'11" frame, Bagley's opponents were almost as successful in the paint as when they were guarded by the 6'4" Hield, sinking 67.2% of their attempts at the rim, the second-worst mark among any forward or center in the NBA.

That sort of weak rim protection isn't exactly ideal when Marvin is operating at the four-spot, but it becomes devastating when he's the only big on the floor. Sacramento's most-used lineup with Bagley at center, Fox-Haliburton-Hield-Barnes-Bagley, posted the second-highest defensive rating of any of the 216 lineups played between the 30 NBA teams last season, allowing a staggering 138 points per 48 minutes. Overall, the eight most commonly utilized Bagley-at-center lineups were outscored by a combined 67 points in 187 minutes of play.

Of course, every team features multiple players who are more prone to scoring than defending, but Luke Walton and his staff have consistently failed to hide Bagley's and Hield's defensive warts over the last two years. Instead, most of their strategies have actually highlighted their struggles and made it far easier for opposing teams to feast when they enter the game. Switching everything hurts both players, as Marvin struggles to cover perimeter-oriented players and Buddy can't stop a rim attack to save his life. Playing Bagley at center has also proved to be ineffective defensively, especially when he's paired with a three-guard lineup. Switching everything, while playing Bagley at center, with a three-guard lineup, with Buddy as one of those guards, is just asking for disaster. And that's exactly what happened last season. Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley should not be counted as immune from criticism for their poor defensive performances, but simple, logical adjustments by the coaches can also work to de-emphasize those struggles.

The Sacramento Kings may have been the worst statistical team in NBA history last season, but they were by no means the worst defensive roster in NBA history, nor will they be in 2021. In order to escape that hellhole of defensive incompetence, and in order to break the 15-year playoff drought, the Kings must make major adjustments heading into next season. Luke Walton needs to ensure that he's not exacerbating his worst defensive players' issues by playing them together and with undersized groups, the coaching staff must stop insisting on switching everything on defense, and the team as a whole must begin to take responsibility for their performance on the court. If all of those things come together, the Kings may very well find themselves not only in the top-10 or 15 of defenses next season, but in the playoff picture as well.

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Sacto_J
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September 9, 2021 11:02 am

They could fire themselves…

deepshot22
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September 9, 2021 11:16 am

They could stop talking. That might help.

markdog333
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September 9, 2021 8:03 pm
Reply to  deepshot22

Except on the court. The need to talk more on defense.

andy_sims
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September 9, 2021 11:51 am

Isn’t playing Marvin at the five basically a problem in and of itself? Bagley has the kind of build to which muscle can be added, but he’s never going to have the kind of bulk that you find on most NBA centers. I’m thinking of guys like Steven Adams, Joel Embiid, or that piece of shit Jonas Valanciunas.

(It could be my addled brain, but didn’t Bagley have a pretty good game defending Embiid last season? I acknowledge that this undermines my point, but better it should be me than everyone else.)

Marvin is going to play this season, as he should if the goal is to see what he can do when healthy, whether as someone who will be in Sacramento this time next year, or as a trade asset. My hope is that he’ll bring some new skills to bear on the defensive end, but either way, Lame Duckton is going to have to configure lineups in a way that play to Bagley’s strengths, or best minimize his weaknesses.

“Lame Duckton” is a registered trademark of simSurround Audio Labs.

KingOfTheMonsters
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September 9, 2021 11:58 am
Reply to  andy_sims

thumbs up for “that piece of shit Jonas Valanciunas.”

NorCalKingsFan
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September 9, 2021 7:35 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

Marvin is going to play this season, as he should if the goal is to see what he can do when healthy, whether as someone who will be in Sacramento this time next year, or as a trade asset.

Not arguing against anything you’ve said, I picked out the quote above because I’m wondering if anyone honestly believes that Marvin Bagley would ever re-sign with Sacramento under any scenario? I just don’t see the point in playing him at all unless he truly earns his minutes as the best option available.

(It could be my addled brain, but didn’t Bagley have a pretty good game defending Embiid last season?)

I don’t recall Bagley having a good game…ever. J/K. He had a game early in the year against Phi where he put up 17pts/6rebs, we still lost by 8 and Embiid went for 25pts/17rebs/6asts. Bagley missed the other game against Phi later in the year where we got blown out without Embiid.

eddie41
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September 10, 2021 6:23 am
Reply to  andy_sims

They don’t have to play Bagley.

Maximus
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September 9, 2021 11:57 am

This article overly focuses on the defensive field goals within 6ft like it is the only stat that measures defensive performance. There has rarely been a team that is so bad at so many things like this 2020-2021 Kings team and the article mostly talks about defensive field goal within 6ft.

Usually teams have some kinds of defensive strengths that they focus on. The 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 Kings have quick guards/wings that they focus on ball pressure. They are pretty good at forcing turnovers and bad at everything else. The 2020-2021 Kings is just plainly bad.

There are myriad of issues with this team. Walton seems to employ a free flowing defense. There is no consistency in defensive system. Guards are constantly caught out of positions. Wings don’t have enough athleticism and/or length to force turnovers. Bagley is bad in defending isolations or pick and rolls. Holmes is a weak defensive rebounder.

One big glaring weakness that (not sure why) nobody talks about is that Haliburton is very bad in almost every advanced statistical measure. The differential defensive field goal %, Hield is bad 8.5% but Hali is much worse at 13.3%.
ESPN DRPM has Hali at -3.03 which ranks 90th out of 91 point guards.
D-LEBRON has Hali at -1.69, by far worst on the Kings
D-RAPTOR has Hali at -2.5, 2nd worst on the Kings (only better than Fox)
Shouldn’t we try to come up with some explanation for this? His offense is far more advanced than expected. He is likable. But he should not be excluded when we discuss defensive failures.

Last edited 2 months ago by Maximus
eddie41
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September 10, 2021 6:37 am
Reply to  BabyGiraffe

Hali was also good at contesting perimeter shots. But the game against Detroit with CoJo showed us something that Hali has to improve. We all know CoJo’s game, he’s good at getting into the paint, and creating a decent shot for himself in the paint, but a good defender will force him to use more of the shot clock, will not allow him to get all the way to the basket, and then he misses a lot of those bunnies between 5 and 10 feet from the basket. However against Hali, CoJo got to the rack with ease. I believe Haliburton will improve in that area. He was only a rookie and came from an Iowa State defense that played differently. If it takes longer for him to improve in that area, the team has options. They can have Harkless guard the best wing and have Haliburton guard the other, like we saw with Artest and KMart. Or they can utilize Mitchell to slow down the best guard. Or they could avoid playing Haliburton and Hield together (all of those lineups in the article have them playing together). Or they could not play Bagley, improving the team D.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 9, 2021 12:19 pm

What blows me away is that these stats that Time presents to us are not some kind of read between the lines analytical data that require a degree from MIT to decipher. These are raw stats that paint a very clear picture but no one within the Kings coaching staff seemed to acknowledge.

My only conclusion is that Walton either completely ignores data and coaches from the gut or no one on the coaching staff either knows what they or doing or felt compelled enough to step and and say something. I lean toward the later as evidenced by the revolving door or assistant coaches Walton has had over the past 2 seasons. Still, the blame lays at the feet of Walton.

If the Kings come out of the gate with a similar defensive scheme and play as last year, Walton should be fired by November.

Klam
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Nostradumbass 19
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September 9, 2021 12:42 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

If they fire him on November 13th, that would be a great birthday present for me!!

BabalooMagoo
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September 9, 2021 1:05 pm
Reply to  Klam

Nov. 10 for me. And he’s gone 3 days sooner. Sooner the better.

Last edited 2 months ago by BabalooMagoo
Comments_404
September 9, 2021 1:32 pm
Reply to  BabalooMagoo

Mine as well. Let this become a reality!!

deepshot22
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September 9, 2021 3:41 pm
Reply to  Comments_404

I will one up you all! Oct 22nd – the second game of the year!

9sac8
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September 9, 2021 8:31 pm
Reply to  deepshot22

Nope. I’ll one up you – he should have NEVER been hired.

RobHessing
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September 9, 2021 12:19 pm

comment image

bearcatjack
September 9, 2021 3:43 pm

If you are interested read my article on Sept. 8th

NorCalKingsFan
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September 9, 2021 7:38 pm
Reply to  bearcatjack

What was so special about Sept. 8th that you did a whole article on it?

bearcatjack
September 10, 2021 10:21 am
Reply to  NorCalKingsFan

The article was from 30Q on sept 8th. If you read it tell me what you think?

markdog333
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September 10, 2021 11:29 am
Reply to  bearcatjack

Now I am confused. Are you accusing Blake of plagiarizing you with his 30Q article on Sept. 8th?

bearcatjack
September 10, 2021 12:11 pm
Reply to  markdog333

Not at all.Just wanted to know wat he thought of my article.

murraytant
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September 9, 2021 4:14 pm

Defense is coaching/scheme, talent and desire.
Kings lacked all 3 last year.
While I like Coach Rex, he sure did not get much out of the group. Now he is gone. The new guy probably won’t/can’t be worse but I am not holding my breath. On the other hand, the talent has improved.
And I hate to put this on a rookie but I do believe that Mitchell’s work is so compelling that it will increase the desire.
Buddy and Bagley? yikes – how about zone and how about never together on the court unless we are playing against Ben Simmonds who can’t shoot. or trade them straight up for Ben who does play D.

KingsFanKrish
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September 10, 2021 7:48 am

Not sure how we can have a conversation about defense and not acknowledge that our best players had the 2nd worst defensive PER on the team and the 2nd worst defensive PER for ALL point guards in the ENTIRE league. We can come up with a lot of excuses for him, but as the leader, all defensive conversations have to start with Fox in my opinion.

murraytant
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September 10, 2021 10:27 am
Reply to  KingsFanKrish

yes. Too much “potential” and not enough actual. He does seem to have the skill.

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