Keith Smart’s top secret, defensive report card exposed

 Sacramento Kings' head coach Keith Smart answers questions following their first preseason win. (Photo: Steven Chea)

Keith Smart likes to keep a tight lip on his basketball methodologies and strategies.  To suggest that he has a closet full of “Top Secret” briefcases or a bunker in his backyard probably isn’t a stretch.

Yes, I’m kidding, but the Sacramento Kings head coach likes to keep his information as close to the vest as possible, including his preseason starting lineups.

It was bound to happen. We here at Cowbell Kingdom work tirelessly to break the “Smart Code” and I think we have finally done it.

It appears that Smart has a new defensive grading system. While he wouldn’t give us the goods on where it comes from, it is something new to the Kings.

“He showed you the scoring system?” a surprised Chuck Hayes asked with a smirk.

Both Hayes and his head coach seemed shocked that the team’s secret weapon was out of the bag.

“Oh, the defensive grades,” Smart said with a smile on his face. “Things travel fast.”

Smart and his staff grade every single play in practice and in games  then hand players reports at the end of each day.

“When you get graded every single day and it has your name on, you don’t want to look bad,” said newcomer Aaron Brooks. “It’s just holding players more accountable knowing that while you’re in a game, you’re being graded, you’re being looked at.  (It) just keeps you (focused).”

Accountability is priority No. 1 for Kings players looking to improve on the defensive end.

“It shows exactly what you did wrong and it’s like ten different categories,” Hayes said.

Hayes elaborated on just what the coaches are looking for with this new defensive matrix.

“It’s a way that we are going to play, which is great for this team,” Hayes said as he dressed for the Kings second pre-season game yesterday evening. “It shows if you block out. It shows if you run back in transition. It shows if you do well in the pick-and-roll coverages. It really breaks down how we’re going to play defensively.”

Hayes is the last of the Kings worries on the defensive end. Despite having a lackluster, injury-plagued first season in Sacramento, the former Rocket still ranked amongst the NBA leaders in isolation post defense.

“I take pride in it,” Hayes said of his defensive effort. “To me, throwing the ball into the post is like a sign of disrespect because (they) feel like they’re already close to the basket and they have this short guy on (them), so throw me the ball. I look at like a personal attack on my capabilities.”

Hayes is one of the handful of defensive-minded players Smart has, so the Kings coach must develop a few more or once again finish ranked in the bottom half of the league in defense.

“Contrary to what popular belief is that we don’t play defense or work on defense – we do try,” Smart said with a laugh. “We just don’t have players who play it.”

Coach Smart is doing his best to get this young team ready for regular season success, even if it comes in the form of a report card. Whether it will translate to on-court achievement is anyone’s guess.

“We’ll see,” said Brooks when asked how Smart’s system will translate come Halloween. “We have to play defense, so we’ll see.”

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.