Harrison Barnes is now entering his fifth season with the Sacramento Kings and has seen the inconsistent nature of the team’s offensive and defensive systems over that time. With a new coaching staff and new group of players Barnes isn’t focusing on previous seasons and the playoff drought right now though, he is viewing it from the perspective of this being another new team starting fresh.
With that comes a need to figure out who they are as a whole as priority one.
“We need to establish our identity as this group, in this year right now and that’s our focus. From day 1 being a team that competes, being a team that is going to get 50-50 basketballs, is going to rebound, is going to talk on defense, and then from there if we make shots great, but if not we have a base of who we are as opposed to in times past kind of relying on guys getting hot, hoping shots are falling, digging ourselves out of a hole and having some miraculous comeback to try to win games,” Barnes said.
The Kings have been trying to establish a positive identity ever since Dave Joerger’s high pace team in the 2018-19 season. Unfortunately, what Barnes described in terms of relying on shots falling has been the team’s identity ever since then, which isn’t a recipe for consistency. The players are well aware that an identity is something needed and that they are currently searching for.
“I think we’re still learning off each other. I think we’ve still got to get an identity,” said Davion Mitchell. “I think right now our identity [is] we’re kind of playing hard out there, but we’ve just got to clean some stuff up, stop turning the ball over and I think we’ll be a really good team.”
Cleaning stuff up comes with being fundamentally sound and mature in how they operate as a group on the floor. In correlation with this, new head coach Mike Brown explained what the ultimate goal is for him: “The pinnacle is when they’re able to basically coach themselves out on the floor. If something breaks down, right away they all know where the breakdown came from and because they are able to correct it amongst themselves and they’re talking our language, now you’re able to be Phil Jackson and sit with your legs crossed,” said Brown, whose coaching communication style was recently caught on camera during camp.
In November last year, Barnes said this after a loss to the Indiana Pacers: “Yes, we can call play calls and things like that, but against good teams, against playoff teams, you have to move the ball side to side, you have to just play out of random ball movement. It can't be scripted, and that's how we get our easy shots. So, I think for us, that's our next progression is when we're playing these teams like this who if we simply just call our plays and can do a good job of stopping those, what's the next step?"
So, Barnes has been calling for this level of maturity as a team for some time to be able to improvise and understand what to do on the floor as a unit. This naturally leads to the topic of discussion with everyone right now (and really for several seasons in a row): defense. Brown is known for defense and there has been a lot of talk about it in training camp. If the Kings have at least an average defense with the potential to get better, that will mean they have something to lean on when shots aren’t falling as Barnes described.
Mitchell admitted that the team wasn’t “big on being a defensive team last year.” He sees a difference this training camp though and also described the defensive rules Brown is implementing. This includes playing the gaps and “being big” in terms of having their hands out as much as possible. Domantas Sabonis also mentioned Brown’s rules and called them “pretty straightforward” and that he thinks they are going to help.
Adopting these rules, along with higher defensive effort, maybe the team can start to put a little more pressure on opposing offenses. Brown describes his plan a little here:
“I don’t care what system you put out there, if you compete, if you bring your hard hat and you’re passionate about it, if you do that, you’re going to at least have a chance to be an average defensive team,” Brown said. “So, now you buy into what the system is about and understand that it’s five guys guarding the basketball, not just one guy guarding the basketball, but five guys guarding the ball, now you buy into that, and you trust that all of your teammates have bought into it, now you have a pretty good defensive team.”
This will take buy-in from all of the players, including De’Aaron Fox, who has always had the tools to be a good defender. Fox has noticed the attention to defense in training camp so far.
“It’s been a lot of defense, a good amount of 5 on 0, obviously we’ve been competing and getting up and down the court a lot, but it’s been a lot of attention to detail, especially on the defensive end,” Fox said.
It is another season of new beginnings in Sacramento and with many of the players already in town for a month or more now, Fox said they have started to try to “find” themselves and “try to find that identity already.” Let’s hope that no matter how long it takes for this to happen, that it actually happens this season because this franchise has been lacking an identity for far too long now, and progress isn’t going to happen without it.
(Thanks to Brenden Nunes for all of the clips from training camp! Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, where we will be posting videos all season long.)