The Sacramento Kings ‘Latest Formula’ for Success: Defense and Possessions

Mar 26, 2024, 2:50 PM

Kyle Lowry #7 of the Philadelphia 76ers is guarded by Keon Ellis #23 of the Sacramento Kings in the...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 25: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Philadelphia 76ers is guarded by Keon Ellis #23 of the Sacramento Kings in the second half at Golden 1 Center on March 25, 2024 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Sacramento King’s ideal brand of basketball all season has been playing fast, physical, and together. Monday night’s 108-96 win over the Philadelphia 76ers was another example of the success that can follow proper execution in those areas.

Following the game, head coach Mike Brown shared what’s propelled the Kings to win six of their last eight. “Our latest formula of defending while winning the possession game,” he said. “That’s why we ended up getting it done.”

Neither point of emphasis is new to Brown and the Kings, but it is being re-highlighted in various aspects and methods to optimize the group’s output. With layers to each, let’s start with the defense.

Physicality and defending the three

Before the All-Star break, the Sacramento Kings ranked 18th in defensive rating (116.1), which was underwhelming considering their hopes for notable improvement coming into the year.

Yet something seems to have clicked recently. In their 17 games played after the All-Star break, the Kings rank 10th (111.4) in defensive rating. They’ve held four of their last eight opponents to double-digit point totals, after just five such instances in the previous 63 games.

Typically, when Sacramento struggles to score from three, the odds are unlikely to be in their favor due to defensive shortcomings. Before Monday night, they were 5-10 when converting less than 30 percent from range.

Thanks to defensive growth (and their opposition being significantly shorthanded), the aforementioned win against the 76ers broke that mold.

“We’re going to be able to find a way to score points,” Brown said. “But, at the end of the day, the more that we embrace defending, the better chance that we’re going to have because now we don’t put as much pressure on us to make the wide-open shot.”

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Monday’s game was the lowest opposing three-point percentage (26.3 percent) that ended with a tally added to the Kings’ win column. Throughout his 23 years on an NBA coaching staff, tenth as a head coach, Brown has never spent more time drilling the specifics of a defensive aspect as he has with this Sacramento group regarding closing out.

It seems to be paying off. Before the All-Star break, the Sacramento Kings allowed the highest opponent three-point percentage (39.7 percent), but they’ve been middle of the pack (36.0 percent) since then.

In the last eight games, the Kings have held opponents to the third-lowest three-point percentage, at 31.5 percent, including six instances of under 35 percent, improving their record to 22-4 in those instances.

Whether it’s knowing your personnel and who warrants what type of closeout, their high-five technique at the top, X-ing out, being on a string with rotations, covering for each other’s missteps, or where to land to maintain physicality post-closeout, the progress is apparent.

Physicality has been the longest-tenured buzzword and point of emphasis for the 2023-24 Sacramento Kings. When they entered their postseason series against the Golden State Warriors last season, the game’s physicality seemed to have caught them off guard.

With eleven games remaining in the regular season, they’re trying to get ahead of the curve.

“Last year, when you see the playoffs, it was a physical game,” Davion Mitchell said. “We’re thriving in it now. I think last year we got caught up late. We did it at the end of the season, and I think we were kind of tired — missed shots and things like that — because we weren’t used to being physical, but I think now, carrying onto the playoffs, I think we’ll be ready for it.”

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Mitchell has always been a physical, disruptive defender, but excelling as a team requires a concerted effort from every member on the floor. Keon Ellis has made a tremendous impact while filling in for the injured Kevin Huerter.

Due to his offensive production, Malik Monk is the favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, but his defensive buy-in has been evident. When asked what an increase in physicality looks like for him, he pointed toward the details.

“Boxing out, hitting cutters, and just picking up my defensive pressure,” Monk said after Monday’s win. “Being a little more physical, being in the right position on the defensive end, low man, going vertical, things like that.”

As Mitchell (and many others have) mentioned, there is a clear difference in how the games are being officiated. Free-throw attempts are down across the league as teams seem to be given more leeway regarding their defensive physicality but the Kings have capitalized on that change.

While the Sacramento Kings have continued to send opponents to the charity stripe more often than preferred, their overall defensive progress has been a plus, and they have found other ways to win the possession battle.

Winning the possession battle

The NBA possession battle is basic math. If Team A takes significantly more attempts than Team B, the former will likely outscore the latter. While shot and player quality are notable factors, that’s the simplified logic.

The primary factors used to determine the possession battle are field goal attempts, offensive rebounds, turnovers, and free throws.

Sacramento has excelled at limiting opposing offensive rebounds all season, allowing 9.1 per game, second least behind the Orlando Magic. They’ve stressed the importance of getting second-chance opportunities for themselves — ranking seventh in offensive rebounds (11.6 per game) post All-Star break.

League-leading rebounder Domantas Sabonis reliably impacts that aspect and sees his teammates continuing to embrace the possession battle.

“We’re doing better,” he said. “Everyone is doing a collective job. Everyone is hitting their guys, and they’re not getting easy ones. Free throws, fewer turnovers, all that kind of matters. I feel like as these last couple weeks have been going on, we’ve been doing a better job.”

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“We’ve been watching film on how to slow the game down when we’re up or just going to the free-throw line in general,” he continued. “Instead of someone jumping in the air and getting out the way trying to finish, no, just go into his body and go knock down those free-throws.”

Evaluating current free-throw trends can be complicated due to the change in officiating, but the Kings’ physical defense will likely lead to fouls. In those instances, they must find ways to get to the line themselves and even the score.

Maintaining their defensive improvements in the final stretch of the regular season could pay dividends for their odds in the postseason.

Despite their rollercoaster season, the Sacramento Kings have reason for late optimism. Their emphasis on their defense and winning the possession battle had led to six wins in their last eight, aiding in their attempt to continue climbing the Western Conference standings.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will enter a pivotal two-game stretch – both against the Dallas Mavericks at Golden 1 Center – that will begin on Tuesday night in front of a national audience on TNT.

The Kings hold a 2-0 record against Dallas this season, with both wins coming on the road. Tuesday’s game will have postseason implications as Sacramento will enter play in a tie with the Mavs for the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings.

Playoff implications. A national broadcast. Plenty of talent on the floor. Get ready for an action-packed two-game set between these two postseason hopefuls.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Mavericks coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Tuesday, March 26th – Sacramento vs. Dallas Mavericks – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, March 29th – Sacramento vs. Dallas Mavericks – 7:00 PM PST
  • Sunday, March 31st – Sacramento vs. Utah Jazz – 6:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, April 2nd – Sacramento vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Thursday, April 4th – Sacramento @ New York Knicks – 4:30 PM PST

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