Going into the season, the promise surrounding the offense was hard to deny. In fact, it’s the Kings’ offense that has kept them in these games, despite starting 0-3.
The defense, however, was a question. Promise exists, sure, but turning this team into a defense that ranks in the top half of the league would be tough. No amount of talk could dissuade from the justified skepticism, and through three games, the fact is that Sacramento still suffers from some considerable defensive woes.
Perhaps the promise lies in Mike Brown more than anyone. But more than just guys like Davion Mitchell, there is the potential for this team to lock in as a unit on the defensive end.
“We are more than capable of being an average, if not above average defensive team,” Brown said following the loss to Golden State.
There have been a few glaring issues with the defense getting in the way of that.
For one, they keep fouling, which is a failure to maintain discipline when being physical.
They also sometimes get away from defending in transition, losing touch with the physicality. They were good at getting back against the Clippers on Saturday, holding LA to 9 fast break points, but Golden State did what they did and put up 24 fast break points.
“The thing that disappointed me the most in that first half defensively was the amount of times that we scored and then they scored in transition,” Brown told reporters on Sunday night, alluding to the 89 points allowed in that half. “I don’t want to give up our physicality right now and allow them to do what they want to do.”
But watching the loss in San Francisco, it was clear the ability for seamless and versatile defensive switching is vital.
That’s part of what’s made Keegan Murray so impressive. Yes, he has a three-point shot smoother than Jamaican rum, and has a head as level as a soccer pitch, but his defensive abilities have been exceptional. His potential to be a versatile player was always deemed a strength.
He guarded a number of players at the Chase Center. Murray stuck with guards like Steph Curry, Jordan Poole, and Donte DiVincenzo. He hung with wings like Andre Wiggins. There was no issue with Draymond Green. And he held his own when having to switch to a guy like James Wiseman.
Keegan Murray is postionless in the best way possible.
“When we first drafted him I thought he was gonna be a power forward,” Brown said of Murray. “By the end of summer league, I thought he might be a 2, 3, 4. Now, I don’t know what he is. He’s a baller.”
Not only does he have the type of versatility—the perfect combo of size, athleticism, and skill—he’s played just two games and is undeniably getting better.
“I think as the game went on I got a lot better at it,” said the rookie in regards to defensive switching.
By the end of the game, the Kings were playing better defense, holding Golden State to a single field goal on their last 13 attempts, albeit with some odd misses for the Warriors. The ability to be a more resilient defense that can bend and switch goes beyond Murray, and the last six or seven minutes of play showed that Sacramento has different combinations to consider when making an adjustment with that in mind.
“We went 1 through 5 switch and we did really good things in that department, especially with Mezie on the floor,” Murray added in regards to the fourth quarter.
Yup, Chimezie Metu had some good moments in his first real minutes of the season—he played 30 seconds against the Clippers—and he was commended for it.
“I thought he was a big part in our comeback,” said coach Brown in reference to Metu. “He gave us the ability to switch one through five and he brought a lot of energy to the table. His presence was definitely felt tonight.”
As noted, Domantas Sabonis was on the floor for much of the 50-point second quarter for the Warriors, and he was not on the floor at all for the Kings late game 18-5 run that turned an ugly loss into a less ugly one in the box score.
Sabonis seemed slow and indecisive switching against the Warriors. It’s not that Sabonis is a complete liability, but given certain matchups, his lackluster switching nulls the offensive production (he had 19 points and 14 rebounds in just 22 minutes played).
Metu was a bit of a better fit down the stretch.
Brown mentioned the energy, which maybe Metu didn’t bring on by himself, but he definitely fed into it and contributed to it as was the case on a rim run dunk.
Primarily, it was the switching ability of Metu. Not only was he a better fit to guard a center like Wiseman, he also switched onto smaller players. He took on Jordan Poole, who did get by him in one specific moment after the switch, but even in that instance Metu offered a good effort that could have been capped off with better help defense. Metu even switched onto Curry, who chose—probably settled on the idea, really—to take a jumper and missed.
He wasn’t perfect on these switches nor was he clamping down on anyone, but it was obvious why Brown saw promise in what he saw.
Adding to the favor Metu gained, he performed adequately when defending down low as the unit’s center. At one point he stayed straight up against a driving Poole, who definitely appeared to travel with no whistle before passing it to an open Jonathan Kuminga.
And of course—probably best of all—he had provided the one instance of rim protection in the game, blocking Poole’s driving layup attempt that came off a screen.
Adding to Metu’s chances to see the floor more is also his ability to partake in good pace and space. He’s not super athletic, but he runs the floor well. While he isn’t a sharpshooter and while he probably has too much faith in his outside shot, it appears he spaces the floor just enough—more so than Sabonis and Holmes for sure—to clear up the lane a little as he did when Looney had to keep him in mind, leaving a nice enough opportunity for Fox to hit a 10-foot turnaround jumper.
This isn’t necessarily to say Metu should be in the nightly rotation. He still isn’t a viable enough of a shooter, nor is he super sharp in terms of where he should be all the time, and there’s the fact that he did also allow two offensive rebounds in his ten-plus minutes of play.
Yes, Metu can, in fact, hurt your team’s chances, but in certain situations, against certain opponents he can be helpful, especially if there needs to be an added emphasis on switching 1 through 5.
As mentioned, it remains a team-wide duty to try and maintain some defensive versatility when they need to switch 1 through 5 as was the case against the Warriors.
And as noted, Murray helps on that front tremendously. Additionally, Huerter has some versatility, Fox is playing relentlessly, Monk looks engaged, Terence Davis is playing with a dog mentality, Okpala still has ridiculous upside, and Davion Mitchell is not afraid of any opponent.
Three games in, Mike Brown is still configuring what works and what doesn’t in terms of lineups and specific matchups, but he might have had a lightbulb moment regarding his team’s ability to switch 1 through 5.