Kings coach Luke Walton is trying to make up for lost time this week as his team prepares to play its preseason home opener against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday at Golden 1 Center.
Sacramento's trip to India was a groundbreaking moment for the NBA and a valuable bonding experience for the Kings, but the extensive travel has given the team little practice time since training camp began 12 days ago. Walton isn't worried about implementing his offense, but he knows the Kings have a long way to go defensively after allowing 130 points in back-to-back losses to the Indiana Pacers.
Walton offered a candid response to a question about his team's defense against the Pacers when the Kings finally returned to practice Tuesday.
"Well, it didn't look very good, did it?" Walton said. "That's why we're addressing it. It's something that we, as a group, need to get much better at. No need to panic. We had 2 1/2 days of prep work before we flew out there (to India) and Indiana's a very good team. It's just about continuing to put in work and getting reps at our coverages and then the want-to by the guys, and the guys want to become a good defensive team. It'll happen. It just takes time."
The Kings brought in reinforcements after finishing among the worst defensive teams in the league last season. They allowed 115.3 points a game and 51.2 points in the paint per game, ranking 26th in the NBA in both categories. Opponents attacked the paint at will, knowing the Kings offered little in the way of rim protection.
Sacramento addressed its needs by signing point guard Cory Joseph, forward Trevor Ariza, forward/center Richaun Holmes and center Dewayne Dedmon. Joseph, Ariza and Holmes are defensive-minded backups who bolster Sacramento's depth.
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Dedmon was brought in to unlock a new dimension in the team's run-and-gun offense, but he represents an upgrade over former Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein at the defensive end as well. Dedmon ranked 51st among NBA centers in defensive field-goal percentage inside of 6 feet at 56.7% last season. Cauley-Stein was 89th at 66 percent. Holmes, who ranked 34th at 55 percent, will also improve the team's rim protection after averaging 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes last season.
In time Walton believes his team will be better defensively, but it didn't show against Indiana. The Pacers shot 51.6% and went to the free-throw line 33 times in a 132-131 overtime victory over the Kings on Friday. They shot 52.1% from the field and made 15 of 29 from 3-point range in a 130-106 victory on Saturday.
"We know we have to work on our defense," Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox said. "Both of those games, we let them score way too many points, too many fouls, too many straight-line drives, layups, open 3s. It's something we know we have to work on."
Forward Marvin Bagley said the Kings are "doing a lot of good things" on defense, but they remain focused on "fixing the things we're doing bad to make sure we have more good than bad."
Fox and Bagley agreed that improved defense – not the team's explosive offense – will be the key to the Kings' success this season.
"We have the foundation of it and now it's just getting better at everything, getting all the terminologies down, communicating," Fox said. "I think that's one of our main aspects. We need to be able to communicate. And then (it's) just taking it personal on defense, being able to keep guys in front of you. I mean, that's the name of the game. Obviously you can have all these concepts and all the team defense, but at the end of the day you have to have guys who can stand their ground."
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