SACRAMENTO -- Defense, Defense, Defense. 3-pointers, 3-pointers, 3-pointers.
Luke Walton is getting the hang of this whole coaching press conference idea. Through his first two official briefings to kick off the 2019-20 season, he’s made it very clear that the focus of the team’s abbreviated training camp will be to install a defensive identity, as well as promote an offense that focuses on speed and the almighty 3-pointer.
The defense is understandable. As the saying goes, championships are won and lost at the defensive end. So are regular season games, which is all the Kings are accustomed to over the last 13 seasons.
Walton is concentrating on installing a base defensive system early in camp. The morning session is a lot of walk through and conversation. They save the evening session for contact drills, including scrimmages, which should be spirited.
If they grasp the basic package early, Walton and his staff will start expanding the plan to include switches. In the end, the defensive mindset has to come from the players.
“We need them to want to be a good defensive team, it can’t be us just trying to push it down, they have to want to be a good defensive team,” Walton said. “From everything I’ve seen about them and the talks I’ve had with them, they are up for that challenge.”
As for the 3-point shot, Walton has been clear that he wants an increase in long range attempts, and Saturday afternoon he set 35 as the target number of attempts per game that he’s pushing for this season.
Thirty-five is a big number when compared to the 29.9 triples the team attempted last season. Walton’s Lakers posted 31 attempts during the 2018-19 campaign, but they didn’t have the sheer volume of shooters the Kings have or a player like Buddy Hield on their roster.
Sacramento’s starting shooting guard knocked down 278 3-pointers last season and a stellar 42.7 percent shooting. He is an elite shooter, but he wasn’t the only one on the roster to light it up from downtown.
The Kings finished fourth in the league in 3-point field goal percentage at 37.8 percent last year and they added multiple shooters at different positions over the summer. The team isn’t looking to chuck ill-advised long range shots. There is a system for what is a good look and what isn’t.
“You want to shoot a lot of threes, but you have to make a decision as a basketball player - is it a good shot or a bad shot, is it hurting your team or is it not hurting your team,” Buddy Hield told NBC Sports California.
“I think the offense they have planned is going to be legit,” Hield added.
In the halfcourt, it’s a read and react system, but it will all be predicated on the team’s ability to get up and down the court. If they continue to push the tempo and they can get good shots in the flow of the offense, Walton’s number is obtainable, but it still all comes back to the defensive end.
“We should be looking to fly, not just run, we should be looking to fly down the court.” Walton said. “The best way to do that is to get stops.”
Taking the ball out of the basket isn’t the ideal way to initiate the transition offense, although the Kings were very good at it last season. Sacramento ranked 20th in defensive rating last season and there is plenty of room for growth.
They’ve added players like Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes, who are all strong defenders, but the real improvement will have to come from the young core of players that are expected to play big minutes.
Walton has just three days of camp to work with the club before they head to India. They’ll have plenty of time for film study and conversations on the 20 hours of flights, but they’ll have very little opportunity to actually run through plays on the court.
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While they’ve only been together for a few hours, the players are already making a strong impression on Walton and his coaching staff.
“They like each other, they like competing and they’re pretty good at basketball too,” Walton said. “We’re very excited about coaching this group.”
It’s a deep team with a lot of talent, but putting it all together on the fly is going to be difficult for everyone involved. Once this team gets time together, they could be a lot of fun to watch.