Sacramento’s Defense is Rolling, and It Has Nothing to Do With Shot-Blocking

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 23: Onyeka Okongwu #17 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots around Trey Lyles #41 of the Sacramento Kings during the second half at State Farm Arena on November 23, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

As highlighted before, Mike Brown isn’t looking for a shot-blocker. He wasn’t seeking one with the Warriors last season and it seems to be the same deal here with the Kings.

Realistically, what would a shot-blocker provide that the current group of guys can’t?

Blocks, one would probably conclude, and sure, that isn’t wrong, but it does raise another question: Would a higher blocks per game number help this defense rise in the rankings?

No, and the proof is in the pudding. 

Here in the first week of December, Sacramento’s defense is coming together and continues to surge. The Kings three-game winning streak ahead of their road trip was achieved primarily through their defensive play. In their first fifteen games this season, the rating on that end was 114.9. Now, it’s 112.0, in the middle of the pack and rising.

Better yet, it’s 106.1 in their last seven games.

Remarkably, after weeks of calls for a rim-protector of some sort, likely to back up Domantas Sabonis, the urgency for that desire is beginning to wane. The shortcomings of the defense are being mended not with shot-blocking, but with the growing cohesion of the team.

A couple of weeks ago, Harrison Barnes indicated that the “communication” was the defensive area most in need of improvement, noting that such a thing develops with time. That was after the Pistons game, which, as of writing this, was eight games ago. As just noted, in the seven that followed, the Kings defense got it rolling.

It’s evident, as Mike Brown has alluded to before, that defensive success relies on ceaseless competitiveness and an all-in attitude. The defense functions as a single entity of five working parts.

That’s why Sabonis and the backup center, Chimezie Metu, don’t have to be physically daunting rim protectors. So far this season, and particularly over the last couple of weeks, the two of them have shown how to defend the paint with positioning, fundamentals, and timing

Blocked shots have nothing to do with it. Sac is allowing under 50 paint points per game through these last seven games.

It’s not just the 5’s either; it’s everyone. As Brown noted as the “unofficial defensive coordinator” in Golden State, a 6’6″ player can be just as effective defending at the rim as any shot-blocker by hanging their hat on positioning, timing, and commitment. 

Whether it’s getting a charge or getting in the air vertically, a lot of the smaller players on this team, guys that would never be considered rim protectors—from Davion Mitchell to KZ Okpala, from De’Aaron Fox to Terence Davis—are successfully playing a part in defending inside. And when all guys are in on doing things like that, it becomes a large factor in generating the level of play the defense has been showing.

Following the passionate victory at home against the Pacers last Wednesday night, Brenden Nunes of The Kings Herald asked coach Brown a great question about this aspect of his defense.

Having noticed the frequency with which smaller players on this team have to take on the responsibilities as the low man to protect the rim, Nunes asked what it’s like to get them to buy into that and succeed.

“It takes some time, but it can be done,” the head coach began.

He continued to reference Mo Williams from his time as Cleveland’s head coach. The 6’1″ guard, according to Brown, “had the same responsibilities” as anyone else would when assuming the role of the low man.

“Mo understood that if he does his work early and sometimes sacrifices his body by getting there at the tag early and high enough to create opportunities to take a charge, then good things will happen for us,” Brown said in recollection. “And the next time he’s the low man, whoever’s rolling to him, they’re gonna be a little more cautious where they’re gonna roll a little bit more carefully because they know that paint is crowded.” 

It’s a philosophy that’s worked—particularly in Golden State—but something Brown made the point of highlighting was that it only works if the guys buy into it.

“Once he understood, realized, bought into the fact that ‘Mike’s gonna stay on me until I get there — I need to do my work early because if I’m late, it ain’t gonna happen,'” Brown continued. “Once he understood that, we took off defensively.”

From the last seven games alone, that is true of this Kings team. Even before the defense emerged as it has of late, it was evident guys were bought in. The results are just beginning to show, and the all hands on deck approach to defending the rim is producing success.

It was illustrated perfectly when Terence Davis negelcted to step up as the low man and clog up the lane against the Suns, which resulted in a timeout and a personal lesson from his head coach out on the floor. Just a few minutes later in the game clock, a similar situation emerged, and Davis came up, got himself set, and drew the charge to the boisterous acclaim of Mike Brown.

A guy like Mitchell has always seemed to amass drawn charges on the defensive end, but other guys are showing they’re able to provide a similar presence. Guys are rallying around the same causes.

Similarly, Fox, Okpala, and others have played the role of the low man and used verticality without fouling to defend the rim, similar to how Sabonis stays straight up.

Across the rotation, every player knows that they are a working part of the defense when on the floor, which sometimes calls for them to be the low man, as well as other things. Their commitment has only strengthened and their execution is rapidly exceeding all expectations.

The Kings defense is making tremendous strides. It’s all backed up by the statistics, and it has nothing to do with shot-blocking.

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[…] Brown often notes the importance of getting your work done and doing it early on defense. It’s vital for […]


[…] Since they began their six-game road trip, Sacramento’s defense has not looked all that great outside the win in Cleveland. In these previous nine games, the Kings have a defensive rating of 116.1. Overall on the year, it is 113.2 and there were stretches where it looked spectacular. […]

Dan Smith
Dan Smith
3 months ago

Awesome article, keep this great content coming!


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