Since the moment Vivek Ranadivé purchased the Sacramento Kings, he’s begged, if not openly demanded that the team push the tempo. Under Michael Malone, the word “pace” became the beginning and end of every sentence. It carried through the George Karl era, but there was very little talk about the speed of the game under Dave Joerger last season.
To force the action only took away from the franchise’s primary strength, All-Star big man, DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings weren’t built to run. Cousins wasn’t built to run. Pushing the tempo only put more stress on the 6-foot-11, 280-pound center.
Cousins is now out of the picture and Sacramento has the assets to crank up the speed of the game. If the early views of training camp are any indication, that is exactly what they plan to do.
With the point guard position featuring veteran George Hill and rookie De’Aaron Fox, the Kings have plenty of quickness to run and gun. They also have fresh legs up and down the roster, including young bigs that can get out and move.
“They always tell me to stay in attack mode,” Fox told NBC Sports California. “Anytime a ball comes off the glass or even a made basket, they want me to initiate the offense and just try to push and attack first.”
With Fox’s ability to get up and down the floor, he needs options that can run the court with him. Sacramento is blessed with bigs that can really move, including Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles and Kosta Koufos. Even 7-foot-1 Georgios Papagiannis can fly up and down the court for a man his size.
“It takes pressure off of me,” Fox said about the speed of his bigs. “I don’t have to use as much energy to try and beat everybody down the court when I know my big will beat his opponent big down the floor.”
The Kings hope to be a hard-nosed defensive team that plays the passing lanes and hustles. While the defensive numbers weren’t great last season, they have added more length and quickness this summer. Despite the 33-win season, they developed into a team that fought from beginning to end of each game, which is something they hope to carry over into this campaign.
“We’re going to be a team that works hard, that gets after you,” veteran Garrett Temple said on Tuesday. “And we’re going to be a team that respects the game. We’re going to be a pretty fast team, we’re going to get out and run. And it’s going to be a fun way to play basketball.”
The grit and grind that Joerger brought with him from Memphis will show up here and there when the team features veteran Zach Randolph. At 36, Randolph isn’t out shopping for track shoes, but there is definitely a niche for him with the current team make up.
“Zach is fired up about running,” Joerger said with a smile. “We just tell Z-Bo, you get the rebound, you huck it and we’ll go like heck and if we don’t have anything, we’ll bring it over to the big fella.”
Randolph played solid minutes for Memphis last season and brings something that the Kings’ other bigs lack. To use a basketball term, players like Cauley-Stein and Labissiere are “light in the rear-end,” which is not the case for Z-Bo. Randolph can show them the ropes of establishing position early and holding the spot, but they both need to continue to fill out and get stronger.
Until the bigs get more comfortable holding their position, it’s likely that Joerger will turn to Randolph down the stretch of games. He is one of the more established low post threats in the game and his 18-20 foot jumper is pure.
“I think we all know that games are won in halfcourt in the last six minutes, so you want to be able to execute and lay that down too,” Joerger said. “Guys are learning. It’s a little bit different for some guys.”
Joerger and his staff are putting in more and more sets as camp goes on, but they are limiting the younger players' options to help simplify the offense. The first line of attack is to push the tempo. If that fails to yield a hoop, then the Kings will turn to simplified play sets and add more wrinkles as time permits.
Expect plenty of wild, end-to-end hoops. Also expect plenty of mistakes as the Kings try to mask their inexperience by running their opponents into the ground.