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Do the Kings Have the Roster to Fulfill Mike Brown’s Defensive Vision?

HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 06: Fred VanVleet #5 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball around defender Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings during the first half at Toyota Center on November 06, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Early in training camp, Mike Brown vowed that he’s “going to keep harping” on his team about playing physical defense.

The defensive-minded head coach is driving up the emphasis on that end of the floor, challenging players and even chewing them out to try and establish a mindset to play both ends of the floor.

Being a team that is among the top half of the league defensively is a great route to title contention, especially when it can potentially be combined with an offense that finished atop the NBA a season ago.

But what happens if the added efforts on defense limits the efficacy of that offense?

It was coach Brown that admitted during the preseason that when the intensity and physicality on defense is cranked up all of a sudden, it requires an adjustment on the other end and “until you get used to it, you may struggle to make shots that you normally make.”

After these three straight losses, the added emphasis on defense did appear to affect the offense, and of course, it was amplified by the absence of De’Aaron Fox.

The Kings defended very well against the Warriors last week, but a fairly bad shooting night contributed to a one-point loss. It was one of those games that felt like a one-off, but what lay ahead in Houston proved otherwise.

In two games against the Rockets, not only did the offense look like it got less and less effective with its proliferating stagnancy, but the primary rotational players also appeared to let go of the rope on defense. They were deflated and without an answer. They appeared to have given up.

Mike Brown has said many times that the identity of this team is playing fast and playing with physicality. If someone watching those Rockets games didn’t know that, they’d have no clue what the Kings’ brand of basketball is. Sacramento seemed void of an identity.

It’s early in the season, and these players can still make the adjustment to maintain both an adequate level of physicality on defense with the pace of their offense, but the question has to be asked: is Brown expecting too much in his defensive vision?

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There’s no doubt the roster at hand can slowly develop into a solid two-way team that can compete, but Mike Brown’s vision of an immediate ascension in the defensive rankings without much drop in offense might not be attainable given this roster.

Brown obviously led Golden State’s defense two seasons ago as the de facto defensive coordinator, and they were one of the two best defenses in the league in their championship run. It’s reasonable for him to think he can replicate—or, at least, somewhat imitate—that standard in Sac.

However, from a different perspective, it’s also not all that reasonable.

Brown took over a team made up of a core that had already been defending. And when Steve Kerr took over that team, it was a group that had been forced to stand on top of a defensive foundation that was laid out by Mark Jackson.

Plus, the dynasty teams that were excellent defensive teams featured guys like Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson (pre-injuries), and even guys like Andrew Bogut. More recently, they had Andrew Wiggins, Gary Payton II, and Kevon Looney.

Who on the Kings is anyone like those guys? De’Aaron Fox is a two-way player. Keegan Murray certainly has a chance to be one, but that’ll take time. Chris Duarte is a two-way player and JaVale McGee is akin to a guy like Bogut, but neither of them are premier players on their roster; not like Green, Iguodala, and such were/are.

On the other hand, the roster is well-built for playing fast and spreading the floor.

Of course the defense has to be improved, but given the roster personnel, this might be a steeper hill than Mike Brown might realize, and right now, the head coach may be hitting the gas a little too hard.

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