Michael Malone breaks down Stauskas pick, free agent needs and summer league
With the addition of Nik Stauskas on draft night, the Sacramento Kings filled one major hole on their roster. But there is a lot more work to do if the team hopes to improve on last season’s 28-win total.
Following the introductory press conference for Stauskas, we were able to catch up with Kings head coach Michael Malone. In our one-on-one interview with the second year coach, he breaks down the pick, talks team needs coming into free agency and looks forward to Las Vegas Summer League, which starts in less than two weeks.
CK: You get an offensive weapon, a guy who can space the floor, a guy who can pass the ball really well in Nik Stauskas, but you need more pieces. What other needs are you hoping to have filled in free agency and trades before the season starts?
Malone: As you mentioned, Nik is great because he gives us shooting, facilitating, playmaking ability, but now, as we head into free agency, there are still some needs that we have. More facilitators, and it’s not just our starting five. We need guys that are able to make plays for their teammates. Whether it’s with a pass or a screen, whatever it might be. We need potentially some shot blocking, some guys that can protect the rim. And then guys on the perimeter that can contain the basketball and be kind of defensive stoppers if you will.
I think as Pete (D’Alessandro) mentioned, draft night was great because we all felt very strongly about Nik, from top to bottom. But now our work is just beginning. We still have other avenues to get better. Free agency is one and obviously, trades are another, but Nik is a hell of a step in the right direction.
CK: When you look at Nik, do you think that maybe his defensive issues have to do with his role as a scorer at the college level? Is it maybe because he has questionable lateral quickness? What is it you see that he needs to work on to get better on defense?
Malone: I think one thing that will help him immediately is getting in the weight room and getting a little bit stronger and being able to stand his ground and hold guys and make them feel him a little bit. But I kind of go back to when we drafted Klay Thompson when I was at Golden State. We drafted Klay as a shooter. No one talked about Klay Thompson coming out of Washington State as a defender and look what he’s turned into. And that’s a great credit to Klay Thompson and all the work he’s put in. And he bought into our defensive system and he did a tremendous job.
I would not go as far as to say that Nik Stauskas is a bad defender. I think that’s doing him a disservice. I think he can get better as a defender and he will get better, especially one-on-one. A team defender? And understanding the team defense, I have no doubt he’ll be able to pick up our system, our terminology and our philosophy very quickly. I think he has a high basketball IQ. He’ll learn the NBA. Experience will be a big teacher for him this year and as he goes through it, he’ll pick things up and that’s only going to help him in the future.
CK: Your first season as a head coach is over. Is there an emphasis on improving as a team defensively.
Malone: No doubt. The one thing I’m very proud about is that we traded four players in the middle of December for Rudy (Gay), Quincy (Acy) and Aaron (Gray) and we didn’t have a lot of practice time, but if you look at our numbers from Jan. 1 through the end of the season, we were 12th in the NBA in field goal percentage defense. That is a great improvement from where this team has been the last few years.
Now, we can still get better. Our transition defense and our 3-point field goal percentage defense were poor. And those are areas of concern that we have to spend a lot of time with this summer going into next season. But we improved. We still have a long way to go and we’ll continue to work on that from the first day of training camp all the way through to the end of the season.
CK: What do you expect from summer league this season, because it sure does seem like you guys are bringing an actual team this time. The Kings usually bring one or two NBA players and the rest is a mixed bag.
Malone: It’s exciting for me because everything that Ray McCallum, Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy, all the things that they learned and worked on this summer, now they can put into a game situation in Las Vegas. You throw Nik into the mix, a couple of other guys that we feel strongly about, potential training camp invitees, and we’re going there to develop our players, but also to be a very competitive team – to be a tough out. We want these guys to have success.
Last year, we had no NBA experience. Not a single guy on our summer league roster last year had played an NBA game. Now Ray, Ben, Quincy, Derrick, Jared Cunningham, all those guys have played in the NBA. And Nik is coming in and we’re expecting and hoping for a very exciting turnout for our summer league team.
CK: It seems like you are going to have some solid position battles in summer league.
Malone: I think those kinds of battles are always healthy. Competition brings out the best in each guy. I thought Pete said it best draft night: we are about bringing in talent. We need to bring up our talent level and whether it’s Ray McCallum and Jared Cunningham, whether it’s Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas, whether it’s Quincy Acy and Derrick Williams, I look forward to that, just like last year at training camp when Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas went at it every day.
Those guys brought out the best in each other. If Ben can make Nik a better player and Nik can make Ben a better player, then I think they’ll both be better off for it. Those summer league practices are going to be great. They’re going to be pretty intense and I’m looking forward to getting in the gym and working with those guys to see all of that. I want to see from last summer league to this summer league how much Ben and Ray, especially, have improved. I feel they’ve improved a ton, but now they get to put it into a real live-game situation.