Sunday Musings: Can Mike Brown fix Kings defensive woes?
Brown might be the x-factor this season in Sacramento
This is the third article in a series breaking down the potential strengths of the 2022-23 Sacramento Kings roster.
The Kings are on a mission. They are focused on one particular goal and that is to snap the franchise’s brutal 16-year playoff drought. How they obtain that goal is still to be determined.
They can hope for others, like the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, to take a step backward and open up a clearer path to one of the top 10 spots that make the play-in tournament, but a lot of the work will have to come from the team finding a way to improve on their own.
These two components should help the Kings’ offensive and defensive ratings, but someone has to tie all of this together. New head coach Mike Brown is the guy who accepted the tall task.
The revolving coaching wheel has been difficult to watch, especially in the post Rick Adelman era. Since the Hall of Fame coach walked away following the 2005-06 season, 11 head coaches have come and gone, with Dave Joerger’s 39 wins setting the high water mark.
Last season, Luke Walton lasted just 17 games before giving way to Alvin Gentry. Neither was able to capture the imagination of a flawed roster as the Kings posted a 16th sub-.500 season.
General manager Monte McNair brought in Brown over the summer as his first official head coaching hire. The veteran coach brings something new to the equation.
This isn’t a slight on Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Michael Malone, Tyrone Corbin, George Karl, Joerger, Walton or Gentry, but Brown is the best defensive head coach the Kings have brought in over the last 16 years and he might be the best defensive coach in the team’s 37 seasons in Sacramento.
Last season with Golden State, Brown ran a Warriors defense that finished second in the league in defensive rating at 106.6. The Kings aren’t the Warriors, but Brown’s impact on this end of the court is almost expected.
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The task in front of him is tall. Sacramento finished 27th in the league in defensive rating last season at 114.8 and 30th the season before at 116.5. This is a historically bad defensive team and McNair didn’t exactly load the roster with defensive upgrades over the summer.
Rookie Keegan Murray should help at the power forward position, but how much can you expect out of a first year player. The addition of Kevin Huerter at the shooting guard spot is an improvement over last season’s tandem of Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, but he certainly isn’t considered a stopper.
Outside of these two, the remainder of the improvement has to come from existing individuals on the roster giving more effort, and of course, the coaching of Brown and his staff.
There is potential for a few players to show growth. De’Aaron Fox has shown an ability to defend in bursts and rookie Davion Mitchell is known for his effort on the defensive end. Richaun Holmes will hopefully have a healthier season and veteran Harrison Barnes could bounce back from a rough defensive year.
All of these players could contribute more on the defensive end and the Kings could still be in the bottom 10 in the league.
While McNair didn’t fully address the need during the draft, free agent period or through trade, the key acquisition on this front is Brown. He has to set a tone on the opening day of camp and demand that players give effort and energy on the defensive end.
Throughout his career, Brown has shown an ability to do just that. As the Cavs coach from 2005-2010, Brown’s teams finished in the top 14 in defensive rating every season and in the top seven, four out of six years.
In his one full season as head coach of the Lakers, Brown’s squad finished 13th in the league in defensive rating. When Brown went back to Cleveland for one season, he managed to finish 19th in defensive rating for a team that finished 27th the season before.
The Kings could take 19th. If they can move from 27th to 19th, they might finish over .500 for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
Eight spots in the ratings is a tremendous leap and Brown can’t do it alone. He brought in a quality coaching staff filled with familiar faces who already understand his philosophy and should be able to hit the ground running.
If the team is open minded and truly focused on defying the odds makers and snapping the streak, they will fall in line behind Brown and his defensive ways. He doesn’t have one defensive stalwart to build around, but what he does have is credibility as a coach and a career win percentage of .616 to back him up.
Outside of Adelman’s eight seasons, no coach in the 37 seasons of Sacramento Kings basketball has a winning record. There isn’t even another coach besides Adelman to post a 40-win season.
Let that sink in. The Kings have posted 29 sub .500 seasons in 37 chances in the Sacramento era.
History is stacked against Brown, but he has a positive demeanor and a proven track record. He could have used a shot blocker and a few more long defensive-minded wings, but he needs to search for answers and not excuses.
This might be the first defensive-minded head coach in Sacramento Kings history. Whether that’s enough to turn the tide is a huge question mark, but there is no clearer path to improvement.
Don’t expect miracles. Be realistic. But also know that a top 20 finish in defensive rating would likely put this team in the playoff conversation.
Kings news and notes
- According to a league source, Murray has been cleared to resume basketball activities for the Kings after undergoing a minor wrist procedure in late July. The rookie has been on the court working with his teammates leading up to training camp that starts on Sept. 27 in Sacramento.
- The Kings Beat confirmed that DJ Steward has signed a contract with the Kings that comes with $50,000 in guaranteed money. The Kings have yet to formally announce all of their signings from the offseason, which gives McNair the opportunity to make some savvy moves before the start of camp. The team would like to keep Steward in the system and by signing him to a contract now, whether he makes it to training camp or onto the regular roster, allows them to designate him as an affiliate player in the future if he clears the NBA’s waiver process and decides to stick around for a second season in the G League. The 20-year-old guard averaged 14.6 points, four assists and four rebounds in 30 games last season for the Stockton Kings. The Sacramento Bee was first with the news of Steward’s signing.
- Domantas Sabonis and his Lithuanian teammates were eliminated from FIBA EuroBasket 2022 on Saturday. The Kings’ star center played well during the tournament, but a 102-94 overtime loss to Spain has him packing his bags for Sacramento where many of his Kings teammates are anxiously awaiting his arrival. Alex Len is playing with the Ukrainian National team and is the Kings’ lone representative remaining in the EuroBasket tournament. Ukraine faces off against Poland on Sunday in the round of 16.