The Golden State Warriors executed an effective defensive scheme against the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the playoffs, neutralizing the effectiveness of Domantas Sabonis and Sacramento’s Dribble Handoff offense. The Warriors played Kevon Looney and Draymond Green deep off Sabonis, protecting the paint and daring Domas to shoot 15+ footers. Given how effective the scheme was in the playoffs, it’s worth wondering if more teams will attempt the same strategy against the Kings this season, and how Sacramento will respond if opponents do.
I do believe a few teams will attempt a similar strategy, especially early in the season with memories of the playoffs fresh in everyone’s minds. But over the course of the season most teams aren’t going to make dramatic game-to-game adjustments to their defense based on upcoming opponents. There simply isn’t enough time between games to prepare and practice the rotations required for changing your whole defense on a game to game basis.
The bigger concern will be opponents deploying the Golden State strategy in playoff matchups. This isn’t to put the cart before the horse and assume another playoff appearance. I think the Kings are likely to make the playoffs again but the West is going to be brutal and you never know how the season will shake out. But if the Kings do make the playoffs again, I won’t be surprised to see a similar scheme in the first round.
But there are a number of reasons why I don’t think Kings fans should worry about it too much. First off, that scheme worked because of Kevon Looney and Draymond Green. Those two provide very different looks, but both gave Sabonis trouble in different ways. Looney in particular still feels underrated by fans in general. He’s one of the few bigs in the league who can truly go toe-to-toe with Sabonis in the rebounding department. It’s also worth remembering that despite how effective that defense was, the Kings were a Harrison Barnes miss away from being up 3-1 in that series.
And Barnes’ miss wasn’t the only one. The Kings as a whole hit a bad shooting slump in that series. Now, some of that can be attributed to the defense disrupting the normal offensive flow of the Kings and altering the types of shots guys were getting, but Sacramento just didn’t shoot well overall in that series even when guys were getting open looks.
While there are all these reasons I believe the Kings can overcome the Warriors defensive blueprint, there’s also one major change that could be a difference-maker, and that would be if Sabonis can get comfortable hitting that 15-footer. Sabonis discussed that being a priority for offseason:
“Obviously, my shooting, (to) have confidence in shooting that shot,” Sabonis said. “If they respected my shot more, we probably would have been going through what we did all season. Instead of the big playing back off me, we’re playing like I was during the regular season, so that would have helped us a lot.”
One rough series does not define Sabonis or the Kings, but the question will remain until a team tries the strategy again and the Kings prove they can overcome it.