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No Risk, All the Rewards

This is a subject more complicated than can be explained in a game recap, but it's the biggest problem for the Kings defense: Sacramento does not make opponents take many long twos. So many opponent FGAs come from near the rim or from three. Long twos are the least efficient shot in the game: fewer fouls are drawn than with close shots and the make percentage will be less on average, and there's no 50% bonus you get from threes. There's a huge inverse relationship between opponent long 2PAs per ppponent FGAs and opponent shooting. Teams who force their opponents to shoot long twos tend have better defenses.

How do you force those shots? You cover the three-point line, for one. And you cover for your friends in the paint. If Beno Udrih gets blown by and no one rotates quickly, you have a Luke Ridnour lay-up or free throws. If someone rotates in time, Ridnour might need to pass off to a jump-shooter, a cutter or he'll need to pull-up. Maybe Ridnour keeps driving, maybe it works out for him and maybe it doesn't. But he knows you're rotating now. And if you consistently rotate, you can force the opponent to try a different tact. You don't need one of the game's best shot-blockers to change the opponent's attitude. He'll learn that your rotations are making shots in the paint more difficult, and he'll end up adjusting ... whether he wants to or not.

The threes come from two main factors, it seems: screens and bad doubles. The bad doubles -- that's easy to solve: stop doubling a post player 15 feet from the basket, double off the right shooter (i.e. NOT RASHARD LEWIS) if you must, understand who is responsible for the double so that both wing defenders aren't running around confused as to who is supposed to do what.

The screens -- Beno Udrih just started to fight over the screens to cover the three on Friday, and the 41st game of the season. The other wing defenders have typically followed the same pattern, slipping under the screens. This results in  (get ready for the reveal) ... open threes! Redd's a bit different -- he got the Reggie Miller screens that we always yelp Martin should be getting. But there's never any recognition, never any communication. There are ways to defend the off-ball screens, but I harbor no false hope that the Kings as presently constructed could possibly pull off a defensive strategy, let alone a difficult one requiring trust and communication. If teams run gunners off double-screens, they will get open threes. Accept it. John Salmons can stop it for a while, but Milwaukee's fourth seemed more like a committment to getting others in the ledger instead of making Redd overcome Salmons' great defense.

A mea culpa means nothing, but I would like to admit I sincerely underestimated how much the mediocre '06-08 Kings defense relied on Ron Artest's defensive communication. Ron-Ron yelled a lot, he pointed a lot. And while he didn't take his famous pride in truly fierce defense last year as he did in the '05-06 run, his committiment to communicating and running the defense as a quarterback helped everyone else. The difference between Salmons and Artest in man defense on the standard two-guard/small forward is small, as the fourth quarter against Redd showed. But Salmons almost never talks, the Kings have no anchor to call out rotations and screens, and the frontline isn't quick/smart enough right now to recover from that. Ron wouldn't be able to stop Ridnour from leaving Beno in cement. But his mouth might have helped Brad Miller realize the need for a rotation more quickly.

If Kenny Natt could find a way to inspire Salmons to serve as the defensive quarterback, it'd be an immense help to the defense. Maybe in time, Jason Thompson (who is incredibly smart but doesn't quite seem to fully understand the defensive rotations Natt wants) or Spencer Hawes (also smart, also slow to react) can serve this purpose. But Salmons needs to be that guy right now. I don't harbor any hopes that will actually happen, of course.