Heyo SBNation. I just finished this article for me and my friends' blog, and thought I'd post it here too. If you like it, please come check us out at http://ballstothewallsportsreport.wordpress.com/, we have a lot of fun stuff like an article about the greatest dunkers all-star team. Thanks for your readership and enjoy!
Full disclosure: I am a Kings fan. I want them to succeed. And as a Kings fan, I love my man, Boogie Cousins.
But I’m scared of Boogie. And I’m not scared of Boogie because he has attitude problems. Maybe he loses his temper now and then, but that is not what will ever hold this team back. It is his defense.
Boogie is a minus defender and in this league, it is hard to have a good defense when you center is a minus defender. No one protects the rim. You need to rely on your perimeter defenders stopping the likes of Lebron James. That is a problem. In fact, looking back at NBA history, there are few teams that have won championships without starting a good shot blocker. The Spurs had Tim Duncan. The 2005 Heat had Shaq. The early 2000 Lakers had Shaq. The Pistons had Ben and Rasheed Wallace. The Celtics had Perkins and KG. It’s a theme among championship teams.
But that is not the root of the problem. The root is this: most championship teams play at least top 15 in the league defense. The Kings don’t. In fact, they do worse than don’t, they completely and utterly suck at defense. They are a team of minus defenders and an average defender (Rudy "The Great Rudini" Gay). So, at least if we are following a historical model, the Kings should probably play defense a bit better. How to accomplish this...
First lets assume you are sticking with Boogie. He just got a maximum contract. Beyond that, don’t forget that Boogie is one of the most dominant post players in the league and he has a sneaky good elbow jumper. He can be the best scorer on a championship team. But you have to go forward knowing you are starting a minus defender at the center position. That is not ideal.
So how do you make up for the lack of Boogie blocks? The first option is simple: get a good interior defending power forward. The key here is to get a solid mid range jump shooter, because Boogie clogs up the paint. Ideally, you have Boogie in the post, PF in the midrange, Rudy/Williams in mid and three point range, then Ben McLemore and I.T. from three point range. That would space the floor well and give Boogie room to operate in the post.
The first guy that comes to mind is Serge, a good midrange jump shooter, and a league leader in blocks over the couple seasons. More important than blocks is the Opponent FG% when that player is on the floor, as the actual goal of having a great defensive big is not to block shots but to prevent the opponent from scoring in the middle. Opponent FG% in the paint against Serge was an impressive 41% last season, about 20% below the average of 60% FG% in close. And looking at his shot chart, he is impressive from the mid range.
Serge would be an intriguing at for the Kings. Do I think it will happen? No. The Kings really don’t have anything to offer. Rudy isn’t really an asset and I can’t see them moving any other pieces like I.T. or Ben McL. Still, maybe for a 2015 first round pick…
The second option is to get better perimeter defenders. I.T. is probably always going to be between a minus and an average defender. Ben McLemore has potential to be a decent defender, but not a good enough defensive beast to make up for the lack of Boogie defense. That leaves the forwards, where the Kings could improve, but the Kings would still be getting torched at guard. So if you want to go the route of upgrading perimeter defense, you need to probably play I.T. off the bench and get a good defending PG, or hope that McLemore develops into a really solid defending guard. As for forward, you might be able to survive with Rudy or Williams at SF or PF, but one of them will probably have to go to get a better defending forward. That being said, the Warriors this season have managed to be a top defensive teams with huge defensive liabilities at PF (David Lee) and PG (Steph "Three Point Monster" Curry). They have done it by having Andrew Bogut (good rim protector) down low, and Klay Thompson (a plus defender) and Andrew "Iguanadon" Iguodala (a lock down perimeter defender and secret Iguana) in the back court. That suggest that with a good defensive PG and a decent rim protecting PF, the Kings could be a very good defensive team. Of course, then we are back to the problem of needing a rim protector. That would make the Kings two or three moves from the playoffs, and that is before even mentioning championship contention.
Yet, a very notable team has thrived without any sort of rim protector: the Heat. The Heat do something special, lots of double teams. Well and they have an average, if old defender in D-Wade, average defenders in Mario Chambers and Chris Bosh, a plus defender in Shane Battier, and the best perimeter defender in the game in Lebron. The Heat are able to put Lebron on anyone who is going off (as long as it is not a center), and use a ton of double teams to force turnovers. The massive amount of double teams also hides minus defenders like Ray Allen. Yet the Heat can still get pushed around inside against bigger lineups, and their greatest weakness is going against teams that force them to go big to defend dominant post players. Still, the Heat represent a way to avoid the need for high level rim protectors by relying on top notch perimeter defense. The Kings would still need to upgrade a forward and a guard to pull of a system like this, not to mention having the coaching to teach it.
At this point, the Kings best option is to put a plus defender next to Boogie at power forward. It would allow more flexibility in the front court, and keep opponents from scoring at will at the rim against the Kings. In truth, you do not need a good rim protector to play good defense, it just greatly simplifies your situation. You don’t have to use complex schemes or good perimeter defenders. Not having a rim protector limits what you are able to do in the front court, as you need to keep strong defenders on the perimeter to avoid getting scorched. The Kings don’t have that kind of plus defender. The best option in the NBA right now is Serge, but that trade is unlikely, unless it involved more than just the Kings and the Thunder, and even still, the Kings don’t have a ton of assets. A trade for a more interior offense oriented rim protector is possible too, but the Kings would be loath to clog up the paint when most of their scoring comes from Boogie inside. More likely this team will be looking for a power forward answer in the draft come Spring. Perhaps Embiid? Or Noah Vonleh?