The Sacramento Kings are emphasizing defensive details, specifically their closeouts

Dec 8, 2023, 11:09 AM

Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots over De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings ...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 04: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots over De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter of an NBA In-Season Tournament Knockout Round game at Golden 1 Center on December 04, 2023 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Since the New Orleans Pelicans eliminated them from the In-Season Tournament Monday night, the Sacramento Kings have heavily emphasized a need to improve defensively. Not qualifying for the semi-finals in Las Vegas granted the Kings a lighter schedule this week, with a three-day break before they face off against the Phoenix Suns on Friday.

They held two practices throughout that stretch, and their defense over the three games prior has been a common topic. Despite going 1-2 in those showings against the Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, and Los Angeles Clippers, the Sacramento Kings have been far from satisfied with their recent performance.

During that stretch, the Kings conceded an average of 125 points per game on 52.3 percent from the field. The 3-17 Washington Wizards currently own the NBA’s worst defense, allowing 125.4 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting.

Washington’s defensive rating on the year is a league-worst 120.9. Throughout the last three games, Sacramento’s defensive rating has been 123.0.

“Obviously, we can’t do that,” Brown said Thursday afternoon. ” We have to be better than that, and we had gotten as high as 13th (in defensive rating) at one point. I know it’s a small sample size, but it’s a small sample size both ways. You can only go with what you have. We have to be better, and obviously, I want to try to address anything that can help us move forward. And, right now, even including the win against the Nuggets, our defense hasn’t been good.”

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Interestingly, their opponent’s shot profile has been ideal for the season. Only 28.6 percent of their opponent’s field goals have been taken within four feet, the third least of any team in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass. But, the two teams that allow less than them (Golden State and Minnesota) both concede a bottom-10 percentage on those looks, while the Kings allow 68.4 percent, the sixth-highest percentage allowed.

It’s a similar story with corner threes, the other most sought-after shot in the modern era. 8.6 percent (13th best) of shots taken against them come from that spot, but 39.7 percent are converted, which also ranks in the top half.

Teams only attempt a higher percentage of mid-range looks against the Warriors (38.9 percent) than the Kings (38.0 percent).

So, if their opposing shot profile is ideal, why have the Kings not been able to find success on that end? When Brown was questioned on this topic, he pointed toward a specific defensive detail.

“That means our closeouts have to be better,” he said. “We’re trying to find the fine line of getting guys off the line and still trying to stay in front. The one thing we can’t do, and we have a habit of doing, is closing short.”

Brown has often mentioned that his group is often undersized, which is a factor in this conversation. He used 6’10 Trey Murphy III as an example, which is seen multiple times in the clips above.

“You’ve got to get to their body,” he continued. “Now, when you get to their body, you’ve got to figure out how to get to their body, but not let them blow by you to where now we’ve got to collapse and they can kick again.”

“Trying to emphasize that has been something that we’ve done all year, but we’ve put a little bit more emphasis on it the last couple of days.”

Stopping early on the closeout, then contesting as the shot goes up with a size disadvantage, will hardly bother high-level shooters, who are littered throughout rosters across the association.

That’s not to say jumping to contest is frowned upon, but it should be used as a last resort. First, try and closeout hard, when appropriate, to the point where they are chest to chest with the offensive player, then rise as the shot goes up. But, when a jumping closeout is necessary, Brown is looking for his players to land in front of them and remain positioned to limit their drive.

Throughout the aforementioned three-game span, there are many examples of the Sacramento Kings flying by, only to allow an easy side-step triple.

A big part of this is knowing your personnel. On game days, the Sacramento Kings have a shootaround during the morning. During that time, they label which opposing players are ‘hot,’ meaning they require additional emphasis from beyond the arc, including hard, disciplined closeouts.

“Sometimes we’ll close out to a guy who may not be labeled as a ‘hot shooter,’ and that’ll hurt us on the defensive end,” Keon Ellis said after practice. “Just little things like that, helping each other out… Those are the things that are going to help us on the defensive end.”

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It’s typically not difficult to predict which players warrant the ‘hot’ label and which do not. Zion Willamson, for example, is someone who has given the Sacramento Kings trouble in their matchups. Still, his shooting ability does not warrant a hard closeout — he’s a prime example of where stopping short is ideal, and that can be seen in their coverages.

The Sacramento Kings do not have elite defensive personnel. That’s no secret. Therefore, their attention to detail is crucial on that end of the floor. It’s why Brown and his staff have tirelessly emphasized physicality since the start of training camp.

Their five defensive staples are communication, ball pressure, not giving up the middle of the floor, being physical without fouling, and providing multiple efforts. Since being implemented last season, those key points have not been changed.

All five factor into their closeouts. It’s mental as much as it’s physical.

“You have to know what the other player wants to do from the scouting report,” Sasha Vezenkov said Thursday. “You have to work early and be mentally ready first and then physically.”

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Every NBA team watches plenty of film in preparation, but Brown is known for being meticulous. He shared that they try not to show more than 15 offensive and 15 defensive clips per film session, as they can get lengthy, but each player is also given individual film to study.

“It’s pretty in-depth with what we try to go through in order to help the guys out,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, some of it is on them to take advantage of it because the reality of it is some guys don’t like to watch film on their own.”

The Sacramento Kings rank 21st in defensive rating (115.1) on the year, slightly improving from their 116.0 rating in 2022-23. While their offense has slowed down a bit, the group remains confident in their ability to score the basketball at a high level.

As has been echoed since the start of the season, they know defensive improvement is required to make a postseason run. It’s not one player holding them back. Defense is a team effort that requires the five players on the floor to be on a string and value the details, especially given their unideal size.

Attention to detail will be crucial in improving that end of the floor moving forward, with their closeouts having been a theme in recent practices.

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

The Kings will travel to Phoenix on Friday night, where they will face Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns for the first time this season.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Suns coverage, beginning at 4:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 6:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Phoenix.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Friday, December 8th – Sacramento Kings @ Phoenix Suns – 6:00 PM PST
  • Monday, December 11th – Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets – 7:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, December 12th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers – 7:30 PM PST
  • Thursday, December 14th – Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – 7:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, December 16th – Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz – 7:00 PM PST

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