One of the monumental decisions of what felt like a massive offseason for the Sacramento Kings was the hiring of new head coach Mike Brown.
With a career winning percentage above .500, a defensive approach, some Finals experience as a head coach, and plenty of rings as an assistant under and a confidant of Steve Kerr, fans are rightfully expecting a boost in performance after a season that saw the firing of Luke Walton 17 games in and the promotion of a 67 year-old Alvin Gentry, who, as steady a stopgap as he was, quite frankly seemed ready at any moment to say the famous Danny Glover mantra from the Lethal Weapon franchise.
After more than a week of camp, the jury is out on whether Brown and his staff can work some magic for this franchise, but even so, there are some indications of their early imprint.
A Detailed, Deductive Teacher
Turning this or any franchise around is difficult. At his introductory presser in June, one of the things Brown made clear was his three pronged blueprint for the Herculean task of constructing a winning culture.
First, he said, there needs “to be a vertical and horizontal alignment of trust within all the units of an organization.” Second, he highlighted the importance of a “set of values” which “are led and upheld by the leadership of this organization.” And finally, everybody around the organization should embrace their respective role.
As is clear, it’s no wonder everyone from Steve Kerr to Matthew Dellavedova have marveled at Brown’s attention to detail. This is part of what seems to makes him so good as a teacher, as one who provides structure for a team: dense with detail, but organized.
A three-point framework for building a winning organization may sound rehearsed and may prompt calls to actually “show me,” but it does say something about how Brown may be able to create digestible lessons in a deductive manner.
One of his big points of emphasis so far—and it’s evident in how his players refer to it as well—is the importance of having a “competitive spirit.” This is especially the case for the defensive side, and as simple as it sounds, there’s far more to it.
When discussing Davion Mitchell’s defense, Brown mentioned many of the kid’s characteristics and physical attributes before breaking down all the little things of what he and all players need to keep in mind on defense:
“Where he has to keep working, like any youngster on this level, is, ok, when your man doesn’t have the ball, are you playing big? Are you in the right position? Is your man beating you back door? Is your man inching into you and getting into position to rebound? Are you in help position? … There are a lot of little things that you have to be able to understand.”
Moreover, he has set up specific areas of focus on that end: five guys guarding the basketball “on a string,” communication, avoiding giving up “the middle of the floor,” playing “physical without fouling,” ball pressure, and using multiple efforts.
His deductive style is almost described perfectly in how De’Aaron Fox characterized the coach’s practice procedure.
“For me, it’s kind of how slow we start,” Fox explained when considering Brown’s practices. “Because they want to give us everything — because, like I said, they’re attentive to every little thing — so most practices start off kind of slow so they can teach, and then it’ll start to ramp up so you don’t have to slow down for the rest of the day.”
Three-Position Offensive Basketball
For Brown, knowing one’s role is one of the principle characteristics for a successful organization. Each player met with a player development coach prior to camp so that there could be a mutual understanding of specific expectations.
This broadens from a more individual level to a positional one.
For instance, Brown has been clear about the expectations out of his point guards, saying they are, as “the head of the snake,” responsible for keeping the group engaged and knowing everyone’s role.
Similarly, as seen in the first preseason game, the center position is essentially meant to serve a consistent function. Obviously Richaun Holmes and Alex Len are not the skilled, savvy facilitators Sabonis is, but they are more than able to play in the pick-and-roll and take on some distribution duty from the elbow or high post so that the style of play retains a level of continuity.
Then comes what falls between the 1 and the 5.
“Really, our 2, 3, and 4 are all the same,” Mike Brown said on Wednesday when asked about Keegan Murray’s positional versatility.
Considering the fact that the pick-and-roll/the two-man game is such a central focus, even in that scenario three positions kind of pop out immediately: your ball handler, your screener, and your floor spacers/cutters.
It’s a simplified yet effective structure that facilitates the ability for guys to know their role.
Trust in His Players
It appears the players are approving of Brown. For instance, many of the guys at camp are familiar with him in some capacity, and more specifically, Davion Mitchell believes the new head coach will make this Kings squad the “hardest-playing team out there.”
Likewise, Brown trusts his players in accordance with his first principle of generating a winning culture. This can be a difference-maker.
After a day off from practice on Friday, the Kings returned to the facility Saturday. Mike Brown was happy to announce that after the rest period, “the guys were sharp.” In addition, he observed that “they’re trying to do the right thing on both sides of the ball.”
Having a talented team is great, but as Brown said himself, “those guys (his players) matter way more than I do.” Therefore, trust is imperative.
And the formation of that appears to be off to a nice start.
“What excites me as a coach is when you feel like your group understands where the mistake happened and so they can coach themselves and realize that themselves,” Brown noted in reference to this group.
This kind of piggybacks off his deductive approach because at a certain point, the lesson can’t be applied on the fly. In tough in-game moments when plays have to be made, players have to apply the lessons and make them. Coaches are still considerably responsible, but the bulk of the execution must be done on the hardwood.
Brown has seen this, saying that trust, as well as a common “language out on the floor,” allows you “to sit back like Phil Jackson or Steve Kerr with your legs crossed, watching your team play.”
Time will tell if it plays out that way.