Good teams have identities. In order to go from a bottom-feeding, cellar dweller to NBA championship contender, teams must figure out who they are first.
The Sacramento Kings have decided what they want to be under head coach Keith Smart.
“We’ve been going to the drawing board when it comes to defense,” Kings power forward Jason Thompson told media following practice yesterday. “Doing some drills that you used to see in little league and stuff like that. But sometimes, when you want to get stuff right and be a top team defensively, you gotta go back to the drawing board.”
Defense. In the locker room and on the practice court, it’s been a recurring theme among Kings’ players when you engage any one of them conversation. It’s what coach Smart has emphasized from day one of this new NBA season and has reinforced through a simple-grading system.
For a team with a run-and-gun reputation, preaching defense over offense seems counterintuitive. But you can’t run if you don’t force turnovers or grab defensive rebounds.
Smart knows they can score. Defending was their problem last year as they were ranked second-to-last in defensive rating among the NBA’s 30 teams. They also surrendered the most points per contest last season, giving up 104.4 a game.
“We want to keep hanging our hat on what we’ve done so far with our defense,” Smart said. “Because that has the ability to travel with us no matter where we go.”
He likes what they accomplished in preseason and training camp. Smart praised his team’s consistency on the defensive end in the last month. During preseason, the Kings managed to average a +3.1 point differential over their opponents. That’s progress from their -5.6 point differential they averaged last season.
With real games on the way, he’s hoping that same effort rolls over into the regular season.
“Guys know they can score,” said Thompson. “But we’re trying to make the extra pass, trying to make defense the focal point.”