The Kings struggled on the defensive glass in Friday's loss to the Blazers in Portland, and Sacramento has had a couple games in which turnovers were a problem. But the reason the Kings are 1-4 is that the Kings can't shoot and can't defend opposing shooters.
On the season Sacramento actually ranks No. 6 in defensive rebound percentage and No. 4 in turnover rate. Both numbers are pretty surprising: the Kings were bad on the defensive glass last season despite playing DeMarcus Cousins (one of the league's best boarders) lots of minutes, and the addition of Greivis Vasquez was expected to boost that turnover rate.
But part of the offsetting benefit from Vasquez was supposed to be better shooting percentages for the guys playing against him. That hasn't happened yet, and most of the roster is shooting poorly. The Kings are No. 26 in shooting this season. Among the rotation players, only Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore and Travis Outlaw have effective field goal percentages above .500 mark. John Salmons, averaging eight shots per game, is shooting an eFG of .321.
Even if the Kings fixed their shooting woes -- maybe by playing Jimmer Fredette and by exiling Salmons to a distant planet -- it wouldn't fix the even-worse defensive problems. The Kings rank No. 30 in opponent shooting, a heavy influence in a defense ranked No. 29 overall. (God bless that rebounding!) That's what Michael Malone focused on in the postgame comments Friday: he said Cousins could score 50 and the Kings would still lose because they can't stop anybody. He's right. And while Jimmer in place of Marcus Thornton (.438 eFG, minus defense) is a popular choice for those of us upset with the 1-4 record, Fredette isn't fixing the defense. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute might help along those lines, and even though he's not "ready" for major minutes we might see Malone get too itchy to avoid inserting him.
There's not a single plus defender in the Kings' backcourt -- not in the rotation or on the bench. There's one shotblocker on the team (Hamady N'Diaye), and he's the 15th man with only a cup of coffee in the league to his name. There's one frontcourt defender of note (Chuck Hayes) and one wing defender (Mbah a Moute). Defensive improvement will require either real improvement from the guys who are on the roster, particularly heavy-minutes players like Cousins, Patrick Patterson and the guards, or it will require trades. Hell, both would be nice in the long run. I'm particularly concerned about pairing Cousins in the frontcourt over the long haul. He's improved his activity level on defense this season, but he does little to slow guard penetration, isn't a terribly good man defender in the post and can't scare off opponents as a weakside shot blocker. He needs a defender next to him. Like a Serge Ibaka or Anthony Davis. Those aren't easy to come by. (I will note that Patterson played good defense on LaMarcus Aldridge on Friday. Like, stunningly good. I was stunned.)
The defensive struggles also make me concerned about Vasquez at point guard. He's a sieve. Having a poor defender at that position makes it tougher for the entire unit given that's where so much offense is created. I fear I'd be saying the same if Isaiah Thomas were starting; the difference is that I.T. is credible off the ball offensively, where Vasquez is less so.
It's really, really early, both in the season and in Pete D'Alessandro's rebuild. But I don't see much of a way out of the defensive disaster the Kings find themselves in right now. The team is totally watchable when it plays with effort, but it's hard not to wince when the other team has the ball.
More from Sactown Royalty:
- Kings 91, Portland 104: Cousins Dominates but gets little help on the offensive end
- Kings vs. Blazers: Q&A with Blazer's Edge on Terry Stotts, Portland's bench and more
- Kings vs. Blazers Fan Predictions
- Kings vs. Blazers Preview: Time to get back on the right track
- Kings Links: Breaking DeMarcus Cousins' habit, improving customer service and more