The Sacramento Kings offense was stellar last season, finishing first in the league in points per game (120). De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and supporting cast often dazzled their way to high-scoring games before the beam shot into the air, signifying their prowess on the offensive end and reminding the rest of the league the Beam Team has arrived.
There are hints of new wrinkles being added to that already explosive offensive strategy this season. Specifically, head coach Mike Brown told reporters he wants his players to read what he wants to do offensively quicker and better and with more space. He intends the offense to be more free flowing with better space, combined with the ability to cut harder. If somebody bumps them or takes them away from the play, they need to be able to counter it with a cut in another direction because of the spacing.
What Brown intends to be largely different this season, however, is the defense.
“We had the number one offense in the history of the game last year, and obviously we have talented offensive guys. It is what it is, and that’s a lot of their strengths. But in the same breath, in my opinion, and I’ve been a part of six NBA Finals or something like that with three different teams, and in my opinion, you have to be able to defend,” Brown said.
The consensus within the organization is clear: For the Kings to move beyond being a good team to compete for championships, a defensive overhaul is paramount.
The Kings were 24th in defensive rating last season, up a few spots from 27th in 2021-22.
General Manager Monte McNair, during Media Day, emphasized the necessity of transforming the Kings from merely an offensive spectacle to a well-rounded, consistent and formidable contender. His head coach Mike Brown has mentioned specific defensive principles throughout preseason and training camp he is emphasizing:
- Pick and roll defense
- Physicality without fouling
- Using the baseline/sideline for help
- Defending dribble hand offs
- Transition defense
Let’s start with the pick and roll defense.
“One of the things that we emphasize here, when we’re defending the pick and roll, which we weren’t good in last year, we were 30th in the League. … But when you’re on the ball and you hear the command, whatever the command may be, you have to send the ball toward the screen,” Brown told reporters. He emphasized how his players have to get into the ball on the pick and roll, stepping into it to use physicality on defense.
So in on-ball and pick-and-roll scenarios, he wants his players to engage the ball handler aggressively and navigate around the screen simultaneously. It’s essential for the team to be prepared to absorb contact. Physicality is a cornerstone of Brown’s defensive philosophy and he said there are guys on the team who need to get better with the physicality of the game for the team to take steps. He noted after the first preseason game how he liked how his team was taking charges.
“I think we took five charges or something like that. And that’s part of the physicality that I said that we have to have. We have to give up our body for the betterment of the team because we’re not necessarily big, especially that starting group,” he said.
They have to be physical without fouling though. Excessive fouls may lead to dissatisfaction from Brown, but his preference is for the team to err on the side of being overly physical and then receive guidance to dial it back if necessary. He favors this approach over playing passively, which would result in opponents not feeling the defensive presence due to a lack of fouls.
Outside of physicality, the use of the floor’s layout is key. Brown was considered the defensive coordinator of the Golden State Warriors during his time as an assistant coach under Steve Kerr. And one of his main principles on defense has long been keeping defenses from slashing to the middle of the paint to try to keep the ball on the baseline or sideline, which provides built-in help. This element of sideline pressure defense was emphasized recently to reporters as he pointed out a lapse by Sasha Vezenkov.
“He gave up middle a couple of times, and we’re a no middle team. He’s got to keep the ball on the sideline,” Brown said.
Dribble Hand Offs (DHOs) also gets significant attention in Brown’s defensive playbook. His approach is to be proactive, not reactive. Brown stated after a preseason game, “They tried to run a couple of DHOs with hot players, and in that situation during dribble handoffs you’ve got to get into the body.” This reflects his principle of disrupting offensive flow and not letting players get comfortable in their sets.
Brown’s perimeter defense principle is clear-cut: limit the best shooters. He explains his approach by differentiating players: “We have guys that are labeled hot and not hot. And the guys that are hot, that means we have to get them off the line. We can’t allow them to shoot a catch and shoot three. They have to at least dribble, sidestep three. And if they do, we contest, but we stay in the play and we try to rear view contest the best we can. So, they have to either do that or they have to drive the basketball and then we have to trail behind and have our defense come across and trap the box.”
Here, Brown’s principle emphasizes forcing primary shooters into less comfortable situations, whether that’s a side-step three or driving into a well-fortified paint.
In term of measuring adherence to these principles Brown has an analytical approach: “We give them grades defensively. There’s six actions that we have that we track analytically to give them a grade.” By grading players based on their position, Brown underscores the principle of accountability and consistent defensive effort.
Lastly, transition defense, has emerged as an area needing more alignment with Brown’s principles. Brown recently stated, “we went through stretches where we just didn’t communicate in transition.” His principle of communication and quick defensive setup in transition is vital, with an emphasis on “taking care of the transition game and being physical without fouling.”
In dissecting these comments, the takeaway is evident: while the Kings may remain an offensive force, Brown is laser-focused on instilling his defensive principles to elevate the team’s championship aspirations. Hopefully, this helps ensure that the beam becomes synonymous not just with offensive flair, but with comprehensive team victories.