Sunday Musings: Can Domantas Sabonis lead Kings up rebounding ranks?
Will Kings put emphasis on rebounding this season?
This is the second article in a series breaking down the potential strengths of the 2022-23 Sacramento Kings roster.
Improving the Kings’ woeful defense won’t be easy and it’s not as simple as a new scheme or demanding that players stay in front of their man.
General manager Monte McNair hired a defensive-minded head coach in Mike Brown to help shore up a group that finished 27th in the league last season in defensive rating. He didn’t address the issue with a game changing defender, although there are a few new faces that project as solid upgrades over last season’s squad.
The key to moving up the rankings in overall defense might come from two aspects of the game that directly tie to a team’s ability to slow an opponent. First up, the Kings’ offense has to improve. Sacramento ranked 24th in offensive rating last season at 109.6, but having Domantas Sabonis for a full season and the addition of shooters all over the court should help.
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An efficient offense leads to less transition opportunities heading the other way. It forces opponents to pull the ball out of the basket, make an inbound pass with a higher frequency and allows the defense time to set up.
The second way in which the Kings can take a major step forward is by showing improvement on the glass.
Last season the Kings ranked 26th in the league in overall rebounding at 42.9 rebounds per game, but the advanced stats are even worse. In overall rebounding percentage, Sacramento ranked 29th at 48.4 percent. They finished 22nd in defensive rebounding percentage, which is an area where they can show massive improvement this season.
Adding Sabonis at the deadline gives the Kings one of the better rebounders in the NBA. The 26-year-old center finished third in the league in boards at 12.1 per game and his 8.9 defensive rebounds per game ranked sixth.
It should be noted that Sabonis isn’t just a strong individual rebounder. He has a knack for clearing out space and allowing his teammates to get in on the action. In theory, a healthy Sabonis playing major minutes for 70-80 games should catapult the Kings from a bottom five rebounding team and push them closer to the top 15.
Outside of Sabonis, the Kings’ next best three rebounders last season were Marvin Bagley, Chimezie Metu and Richaun Holmes. Bagley now plays for the Pistons and Metu is in a serious battle for minutes with rookie Keegan Murray and veteran Trey Lyles at the four. There is no guarantee that Metu will step on the court for meaningful minutes, especially early in the season.
Murray averaged 8.7 rebounds per game last season at Iowa, but nearly three of those boards came on the offensive end. He can be a solid rebounder at the pro level, but expecting him to approach nine per game, especially in year one is a stretch.
Holmes is in a strange spot with the Kings. There is a chance that Brown uses a two big man lineup for stretches, but if not, the minutes behind Sabonis will be insufficient to make a huge mark in the rebounding battle.
Harrison Barnes held his own at the three, posting 5.6 boards per game last season. Kent Bazemore is solid on the glass playing reserve minutes behind Barnes. Chima Moneke was an above average rebounder in college and overseas, and KZ Okpala has shown promise in this area as well, but minutes for both players could be limited, if they make the team coming out of camp.
McNair added Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk at the two, but both are rebounding downgrades over the departed trio of Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton and Donte DiVincenzo. There is room for growth in this area from both players, but expectations should be realistic.
De’Aaron Fox (3.9 per game) is a solid rebounder at the point with some potential for improvement, although his backup Davion Mitchell averaged just 2.2 boards in 27.7 minutes per game last season.
Sabonis will carry the bulk of the load, but a look at Brown’s Warrior squad from last season may also give a road map to how the Kings can improve on the glass.
Golden State finished second in the league in defensive rebounds per game last season at 35.7 and sixth in defensive rebounding percentage at 73.6 percent last season. They accomplished this with Draymond Green and Kevon Looney leading the team at just 7.3 rebounds per game and Steph Curry finishing third on the team in defensive rebounds at just 4.7 a night.
Brown will demand that his players put in effort on the defensive end, but he also puts an emphasis on finishing off the possession with a rebound.
The Kings aren’t the Warriors by any stretch of the imagination, but position by position, Sacramento has more potential as a rebounding team if an emphasis is placed on this aspect of the game.
Preaching team rebounding, along with a centerpiece like Sabonis, could push the Kings into the top third of the league on the glass. This will have a direct impact on their ability to improve as a defensive team.
It’s hard to imagine rebounding becoming a strength of the Kings’ roster, especially after three straight seasons in the bottom five, but it’s almost mandatory if the team is going to snap their 16-year playoff drought.
Like the team’s 3-point shooting, this is an area where Sacramento has an opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength. Brown can use his Warriors experience to help build a road map, but this will likely come down to effort and emphasis.