With Michael Malone gone, so is Kings defense

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Remember when team defense was cool? That was so 2004.

For a brief moment, the Sacramento Kings made it stylish again. Scrappy from top to bottom, the Kings were an elite defensive unit to open the 2014 season under head coach Michael Malone.

Malone’s philosophy was defense first, defense second and defense third. Defense led to offense.  Bad shots set up the defense for failure on the other end.

All of which is true (though some won’t like to admit it), and helped the Kings start the season with their best record since 2009 against the NBA’s second-toughest schedule. Not that this mattered to the Sacramento front office, which fired Malone on December 15 due to a “difference in philosophies.”

The son of the coach responsible for the Bad Boy Pistons defense joined his dad as a blip in time in the grand scheme of Sacramento Kings basketball. Malone was sent packing, and with him left an emphasis on airtight defense.

In his place is Tyrone Corbin, who as head coach of the Utah Jazz from 2011-14 instructed middling, to downright terrible defensive squads. Adding to his track record, the Kings upper management has made it a priority for him to speed up the pace of the team’s offense.

How much time in practice is left devoted to defensive drills is unknown, but safe to say less than in Malone’s tenure.

“Well, we emphasize defense,” Corbin told reporters on Friday. “How much? We’re trying to put in different things offensively. It’s a lot of stuff to give guys at one time. We’ve focused a lot on both ends of the floor to try to get better on both areas.”

Corbin has assumed the top dog position for four games. So far, the 51-year-old is successfully speeding up the Kings attack, but the defense is beginning to collapse.

In the last four contests, the Kings are allowing opponents to shoot 48.4 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from behind the arc, which compared to season averages ranks the team 26th and 30th in the NBA respectively. Opponents are scoring 110.3 points per match in the four-game span, worst in the league. And they’re continuing to put rivals on the free throw line at a discouraging rate, while surrendering more points in the paint.

The Kings have gone 1-3 under Corbin, their lone win being their lone strong defensive showing against a hapless Los Angeles Lakers squad and an exhausted Kobe Bryant. Removing this contest from the small sample size spikes Sacramento’s defensive projections to dead last in nearly every category.

One positive trend in the post-Malone era is that the Kings are stealing the ball at a higher clip, 6.3 per game, after swiping 5.9 in the 24 matches prior. Corbin’s Jazz teams consistently ranked in the NBA’s top 10 in steals, and turnovers leading to points in transition are a front office priority to make the product on the Sleep Train Arena floor more exciting.

But it’s a far cry from the less chic, Malone-coached defense, which stifled clubs like the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs this season, and gave the Kings a legitimate chance to win every night. Perhaps it’s the coaching, or a lack of effort on the players’ part, but more lousy performances on the defensive end could have fans soon longing for the not-so-distant past.

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Rui Thomas
Rui Thomas is a writer and reporter for Cowbell Kingdom. He previously covered the Sacramento Kings and the NBA for Sports Out West. He is published by Sports Illustrated’s Truth and Rumors and Yahoo Sports NFL among others.

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