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The Kings are playing faster since Malone's firing to the detriment of their defense

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sacramento's firing of Mike Malone has to date been one of the more confusing firings in recent memory.  Malone had the Kings playing well over the first part of the year, leading them to a 9-6 record before star center DeMarcus Cousins fell ill with viral meningitis.  Just one game before Cousins was expected back, Malone was fired after a loss to the Detroit Pistons at home that dropped the Kings to 11-13 and just 2-7 in the prior nine games.  The reasoning given for Malone's firing was that he wasn't playing the uptempo style of basketball that the Kings front office wanted to see.

Regardless of whether or not that is true, it was the timing of Malone's firing that was the most perplexing to Kings fans and others around the league.  Without DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings are not a good team, and for Malone to be fired without given the chance to see if he could bounce back once his star was back in the fold was confusing to say the least.

Since Malone's firing, the Kings have committed to interim coach Tyrone Corbin for at least the rest of the season, as general manager Pete D'Alessandro reaffirmed on Carmichael Dave's show on Monday morning.  Under Corbin, the Kings have adopted a much more uptempo style of basketball, but it hasn't translated into any more wins.  In fact, the Kings have gotten much worse in these last ten games, particularly as the focus has shifted from being a half-court, defensive-minded team to one that is more offensive-minded.

Let's take a look at some numbers, courtesy of NBA.com.

Wins Losses Opp. Win% ORtg Rank DRtg Rank Pace Rank eFG% Rank TRB% Rank AST% Rank TOV% Rank
Malone Total 11 13 0.549 103.6 15th 104.2 19th 95.7 17th 0.484 24th 54.20% 1st 54.70% 26th 16.80% 27th
Malone With Cousins 9 6 0.585 104.7 15th 103.6 15th 95.8 16th 0.482 24th 54.90% 1st 52.90% 26th 16.40% 24th
Malone Without Cousins 2 7 0.489 101.7 20th 105.2 18th 92 26th 0.487 23rd 53.10% 4th 57.80% 19th 17.40% 28th
Corbin Total 3 7 0.400 103.9 14th 111.6 28th 99.4 2nd 0.511 9th 50.10% 11th 53.60% 27th 16.90% 28th

(All rankings are based on the time period for which these games were played)

As you can see, the Kings under Malone were not a fast team.  What's interesting is that the Kings slowed down even more under Malone without Cousins than with him despite the fact that the Kings without Cousins weren't a particularly good half-court team.  It seems clear that the front office both noticed this trend and was frustrated with Malone's unwillingness to bring the pace back up.

Now under Corbin, the Kings have completely changed gears, jumping from 17th in Pace under Malone to 2nd in Pace over the last 10 games, just behind the Golden State Warriors.  The result has been a slight increase in offensive rating and efficiency but a steep fall-off on the defensive end of the court.  The only teams that have defended worse than the Kings these last 10 games are the Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks.  Sacramento's also slipped in terms of rebounding, where they previously were among the league leaders.  Part of that is due to the Power Forward shuffling Tyrone Corbin has introduced, playing a lot more small ball with Derrick Williams there instead of relying on guys like Jason Thompson or Reggie Evans.  Turnovers have remained a consistent problem all year for Sacramento, both under Malone and Corbin.

Pace isn't everything when talking about an uptempo offense however.  You also have to look at things like fast break points and points off turnovers.  Here are those numbers, calculated per 100 possessions to negate pace inflation.

Pts off TO / 100 Poss Rank 2nd Pts / 100 Poss Rank PITP / 100 Poss Rank FBP / 100 Poss Rank
Malone Total 15.1 25th 14.2 14th 46 7th 13.5 12th
Malone With Cousins 15.4 21st 13.6 15th 47.6 6th 13.8 12th
Malone Without Cousins 14.5 25th 15.1 9th 43.4 17th 12.9 16th
Corbin Total 17.4 11th 12.1 23rd 46.8 7th 16.9 7th

Under Corbin, the Kings have been pushing the break a lot more, as they've seen a big jump in both points off turnovers and fast break points.  Interestingly enough, the Kings are still scoring about the same amount of points in the paint under Corbin as they were under Malone.  Because the Kings are trying to score more on the break, 2nd chance points have slipped, as oftentimes the Kings have already shot a basket before every one of their players has gotten down the court.  This is yet another reason for Sacramento's rebounding downturn.

What makes the above stats even more interesting is the fact that the Kings schedule has been so much weaker these past 10 games than at any point during the season.  Under Malone, the Kings faced one of the tougher schedules in the league and came out smelling like roses.   Even with Cousins out, for the Kings to have been just two games under .500 despite facing opponents with a collective .549 winning percentage was still pretty impressive.  The slight improvements Corbin has made to the offense seem to pale in comparison when you consider the combined win percentage of Sacramento's last 10 opponents is just .400.  That also means that Sacramento's already horrid defense is probably even worse than it looks on paper.

It's hard to change a team's identity in the middle of the season, but Corbin is definitely trying.  He's listening to management and trying the uptempo thing.  However in doing so, he's lost the team defensively.  Defense is all about effort and right now the Kings aren't giving much effort on that end.  Corbin has been with the team since Day 1 of this season; there shouldn't have been a change in the defensive principles that Malone was trying to instill.  Perhaps the team is trying to conserve energy on that end of the court because of the tiring nature of the fast-paced offense;  Perhaps they just simply don't care any more.  Whatever the case, the Kings have become one of the worst defensive teams in basketball and something needs to be done to fix that.  Some of that has to do with Sacramento's abysmal bench play. Per NBA.com, Sacramento's starting lineup is still the 2nd most effective lineup in the NBA next to the Warriors lineup with Bogut, with a net rating of 21.5 points per 100 possessions.

A change is needed, now more than ever.  The Kings are in a tailspin and team morale is low.  If the Kings have any hopes of redeeming this season, they have to get their act together quickly.  The front office made the move to fire Malone with the promise that by doing so, they'd be making the Kings better.  So far that hasn't been the case, and now the ball is squarely in their court to rectify the situation.

UPDATE:

Excellent point brought up by Ziller in the comments:

The trick with Pace is that a lot goes into it. Offensive rebounds, for example, create longer possessions, which drops the number of possessions you'll get in a game. Reggie Evans has been a DNP machine under Corbin. He's one of the top offensive rebounders in the league. That goes into the increased possessions per game under Corbin. It also helps to explain why the Kings looked slower on paper under Malone with Cousins (a spectacular defensive rebounder) out of the lineup. Opponents were getting more offensive rebounds, lengthening their own possessions, which affects how frequently the Kings get the ball.

Pace as we talk about it is really possessions per game. Adjusted pace is a bit difficult to calculate but accounts for those factors to get a truer pace figure. I'm betting under that the Kings would be faster under Corbin but not by as much as possessions per game is telling us.

Per Tom's point, the Kings were tied for 1st in Offensive Rebounding Percentage under Malone.  Under Corbin, they're just 14th.