Saturday night’s loss to the visiting Los Angeles Lakers was a tough one.
Obviously, losing to the Lakers is always a bummer, and there’s also the fact they lost another game on their home floor.
Worst of all, however, was the inability to defend inside, something that this team seemed to be progressing at in November going into December. For the better part of a month, though, the Kings have looked horrible in that department.
In their first 9 games, they were allowing 54.7 paint points, which was ranked 27th in that stretch. Then came the 10-3 stretch that started with the November victory over Cleveland where Sacramento brought the number down to 51.2 paint points per game, good for 16th in that timeframe.
It’s standard has since declined precipitously.
Over the previous 16 games, which stretches back to the beginning of the six-game road trip that started in Milwaukee, the Kings have been allowing a league-worst 58.6 paint points per game. Further underlining how much they’ve fallen out, over the last 10, which began with the loss at home to the Hornets, Sacramento is allowing 61.4 paint points per game. The second worst in that segment of games is the Clippers at 56.0, more than 5 whole points less.
“Defensively, we are not good at all,” Mike Brown laid out after Saturday’s loss.
Going on, he tried to pinpoint the issue.
“I’m not sure if we collectively as a group understand how important it is to try and fight like heck from the beginning of the game to the end of the game defensively,” the head coach noted.
On the notion of the Lakers’ second half three-point shooting, where they went 0 of 8, ending the game allowing 70 paint points is to Mike Brown, and everyone, wholly unacceptable. Moreover, it’s unsustainable for a team trying to win.
The first question from the media that followed his opening remarks on the “terrible” defense came from James Ham, who asked whether this was a learning curve or a situation that requires outside help.
Predictably, coach Brown said he believes his current group of guys are capable of it because they’ve done “it in stretches,” but adds that he’s “waiting for the days where it can consistently happen.”
But he obviously was not precluding any concept of adding anyone. After all, Chima Moneke was waived just the day before. And better yet, the Kings signed former Nugget PJ Dozier to a 10-day contract on Sunday.
Based on his answer from Saturday night as well as the signing of Dozier, the solution in Brown’s eyes—as noted in this space before—is not and never has been traditional rim protection and shot-blocking.
He recently reiterated that point explicitly for maybe the first time since becoming Sacramento’s head coach.
“And some people may say, ‘Well, you’re not playing a 7-footer,'” coach Brown explained Friday after practice. “Hey, I’ve been in the league for 31 years — and I don’t say this much, and I know I may get killed for saying it, talking about my days in Golden State — but I don’t think we had a player over 6’9″ or 6’10”, and (Kevon) Looney was our biggest guy, and I can jump higher than Loon.”
Going on, the head coach went on to describe, once again, what it takes to be effective on the back line defensively.
“What they (Looney, Draymond Green, etc.) understood was they did their work early, they knew their assignments on the back side before the ball started getting dribbled to the rim, and they went vertical at the right time or took a charge at the right time.”
Of course, PJ Dozier is not nearly in the same positional class as Looney and Green at 6’6″ and 205 lbs. He’s a guard with a 6’11” wingspan, but his defensive-first abilities and length could lend a lot to the “five guys on a string” mentality of Mike Brown’s defense.
Besides, outside of the point guard and center, Mike Brown has said that the “2, 3, and 4 are all the same” positions essentially. In describing his defense—from rotations to weak side help to filling in as the low man and so on—it has little to do with physical size for the head coach as much as it has to do with cohesive timing and effort.
Right now, the latter is missing.
“It’s been multiple guys on the back side,” Brown said Saturday trying to relay some of the issues. “It’s why it’s tough when somebody does drive… and we see a guy drive, but we stand on the weak side and we watch them lay it up or we watch them dunk it.
“To me, that’s the most frustrating part of our defense because anytime I see somebody put the ball on the floor towards the rim, if I’m (a player) on the weak side, I’m coming to help … and we should have a triangle almost right outside that charge line on the weak side and we’re not quite getting there right now… I don’t think collectively as a group we’re consistently doing it together at the same time.”
Lately, he’s searched for the right combination to achieve that cohesion.
There’s been an influx of minutes for the defensive-minded KZ Okpala and less for Terence Davis, who has not looked great lately. And there have been a few times recently, including Saturday night, where Mike Brown went with Trey Lyles as the 5 over Richaun Holmes—or any of the other centers—since Lyles serves as a better component in the team defense and on the string.
PJ Dozier could be a useful piece in Brown’s search for that right combination. The 10-day contract will give the Kings an opportunity to evaluate whether or not that is true, but he certainly has the opportunity given his talent on that end, his length, and his familiarity with Jordi Fernandez, who is currently Mike Brown’s right-hand man for defense and was an assistant in Denver during Dozier’s time there.
As the Kings look to seal the gaping wound that is their paint defense, any further additions will be players like Dozier who can adapt and contribute to the team defense, not 7-foot shot-blockers.