Michael Malone was not very happy with the Sacramento Kings’ performance against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday. The first-year head coach had some strong words about his team following a 113-100 loss at home three days ago.
“It’s the same problem every night,” Malone said after the game. “I guess we gotta get some better players who can contain the basketball because right now we can’t.”
By the numbers, the Kings are currently in contention for the title of worst defense in the NBA. They are dead-last in 3-point percentage, allowing their opposition to shoot better than 40.2 percent from beyond the arc. They are second-to-last in opponent field-goal percentage (47.4 percent) and opponent points per game (103.6 oPPG). The Kings also have posted a defensive rating of 109.2 through their first 27 games, which ranks them 27th in that advanced statistical category.
The Kings have been historically bad on defense in recent years, but what is to blame this season? Let’s look at a couple options.
Poor Basketball IQ
Achieving peak success in the NBA goes beyond just talent alone. Understanding the nuances of the game, particularly the tendencies of opponents, takes attention to detail. It’s not rocket science to know that you should probably not help off Kyle Korver and leave him wide open to make eight 3′s in a game. Nor is it brain surgery to know that you should probably force Tyreke Evans, who is shooting 8 percent from 3-point distance this season, to shoot rather than give him lanes to the basket. But for whatever reason, a majority of this roster continues to have mental lapses when it comes to the overall understanding of the game.
Malone hasn’t been able to have the same success turning around the Kings’ defense as he had in his previous few stops. With Golden State, Malone helped the Warriors jump into the top 10 in both opponent field goal percentage (20th in 2011-12 to 3rd in 2012-13) and opponent 3-point percentage (28th to 7th). In New Orleans, he helped the Hornets allow a league-best 8.7 fewer points per contest than in the previous year (94.0 PPG after surrendering 102.7 PPG in 2009-10). However, he accomplished those feats as an assistant and not as a head coach. Remember, this is Malone’s first go-around at the helm of any NBA team and the transition isn’t always easy, no matter how prepared you are for the opportunity.
In the last month, Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro has managed to overhaul half his roster. But in doing so, he had to give up arguably the Kings’ best defenders in the process. Gone are John Salmons and Luc Mbah a Moute, once the Kings’ top defenders on the perimeter, as well as Chuck Hayes, previously their strongest low-post defender. DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas both have the physical gifts (Cousins with his length and Thomas with his speed) to be good defenders in the NBA. However, they’re still far from being respectable on that side of the floor. The same can be said about rookie Ben McLemore, who seems to struggle most in team defense versus one-on-one situations.
Little practice time
Since making trades for Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy, Aaron Gray and Derrick Williams, the the new-look Kings will have had just two full practices at their disposal after today. Coach Malone has had to resort to integrating his new players on the fly, teaching them concepts at shoot-arounds, during travel situations or even in games themselves. This is a brand new roster that Malone is dealing with, one that hasn’t had the luxury of a training camp or preseason schedule to address its issues.
So what do you think is to blame for the Kings’ woes on defense so far this season? Weigh in on the four options we presented above in the poll below. Leave your comments as well.