Michael Malone is preaching defense first. Under the guidance of their new head coach, the Sacramento Kings hope to become one of the better defensive teams in the league this year. If Malone has it his way, an intense focus on getting stops will become their new identity.
But what about on offense? For a group of players known more for their scoring rather than shutdown abilities, what can be expected from the Kings on that end of the court?
“It’s similar in ways (to last season),” Kings guard Marcus Thornton said of the offense following day three of training camp in Santa Barbara last week. ”They just have different terminologies for it.”
Last year, the Kings ranked as one of the more uptempo teams in league. They finished fourth in the NBA in transition, averaging 16.8 fastbreak points per game. The Kings also ranked seventh best in pace last season, averaging 96.34 points per 48 minutes according to NBA.com.
When former head coach Keith Smart took over the job in early 2012, he talked of establishing the Kings into a successful rebounding and running team. As the new man in charge, Malone seems to be aspiring to do the same, but obviously with different results.
“My hope is if they buy in to being a team that defends at a high end level and if we rebound at a high level, then I want to run,” Malone said following a practice last week before training camp concluded yesterday.
Their first option will be to get out in transition according to the Kings coach, so long as they do their job on defense. That means putting pressure on the opposition and securing rebounds. Malone noted four principles to creating a fast pace offense – defending, rebounding, running with discipline and sharing the basketball.
If the break isn’t available, the Kings will look to play inside-out in their half court sets. With a multifaceted skill-set for a big man, DeMarcus Cousins is expected to lead the charge on that end.
“DeMarcus is a guy that can score in the post,” Malone said of the 23-year-old center. “And more importantly, you can play through him in the post because he’s such a capable passer.”
Possessing nimble footwork and excellent handles, Cousins is certainly capable of dominating his competition on the block. But through his first three seasons in the NBA, he has shown more interest in settling from the perimeter. Last season alone, 25 percent of Cousins’ 1036 field goal attempts were shot from 10 to 16 feet according to Basketball Reference. By comparison, 38 percent of his field goal attempts were shot at the rim.
Cousins doesn’t expect to change much about his offensive game under Malone. He does note however that where he gets his shots will depend on the situation.
“I’m still the same type of player,” the fourth-year big man said on Thursday. ”I’m in the post, I’m still shooting the jumper – elbow jumper. But I mean, it really depends on the set we’re in at the time.”
Cousins’ touches in the half court will also rely heavily on how well the Kings move the ball. Last year, the Kings were among the NBA’s worst at sharing the basketball. They averaged just 20.8 assists per game, ranking them 25th in the league during the 2012-13 campaign.
But Cousins says they’ve made strides this year, pointing out that their ball movement has been better through the first week of training camp.
“It’s not as much iso,” Cousins said of the offense, which he also noted as much smoother. ”We’re getting into sets. We have automatic sets that we get into now. But the biggest thing is just us sharing the ball.”
The offense will also depend on the players’ abilities to read the defense. For example, how opposing teams play the Kings’ side pick and roll may determine what the set they run.
“If we don’t have anything in transition, that’s where the discipline comes into play,” Malone said. ”Shot selection, recognizing that, pull it out, get us into an offense. And then in the half court, we’re always going to try and feature our best player, put them in positions where they have a chance to succeed, play to their strength and also attack the match-up we feel they have an advantage in on any given night.”
Defense will be the Kings’ calling card under their new head coach. But on the opposite end of the floor, the plan appears to be letting scoring opportunities flow naturally out of the stops they hope to create.