Defense has been one of the biggest issues for the Sacramento Kings this season. For most of the early part of the year, the Kings ranked near the league's worst in most defensive categories. Sure, the Kings could score a ton of points, but they were giving up even more to their opponents.
That hasn't been the case during this recent five-game win streak. While there have been other notable factors in Sacramento's streak, such as DeMarcus Cousins playing the best basketball of his career, perhaps the biggest change has been on the defensive side of the ball. John Schumann illustrates just how well the Kings have been playing defense in the latest edition of his weekly Power Rankings:
DeMarcus Cousins has been putting up big numbers (he scored a career-high 48 points against the Pacers on Saturday), but defense has been the story as the Kings have won five straight games to put themselves in position to end their nine-year playoff drought. Over the course of the winning streak, they've allowed just 95.2 points per 100 possessions, their best five-game defensive stretch since Feb. 2007!
Now, the Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams for a long, long time now, but this is still something worth celebrating, especially if this is a sign of long-term improvement. There's no doubt that rookie Willie Cauley-Stein's return to the starting lineup has been a huge boon to Sacramento's defense. We've already illustrated how Cauley-Stein has affected the Kings' rebounding, but his impact on defense has been just as big. Cauley-Stein's defensive rating in January has been a very good 99.2 (second only to Omri Casspi's surprising 95.7 rating). His impact around the basket is being felt as well. According to NBA.com's Player Tracking, Cauley-Stein is forcing opponents to shoot 13.7% worse on shots less than 6 feet to the basket and 12% worse on shots less than 10 feet to the basket.
The team's also been defending the perimeter better as of late, allowing teams to shoot just 25.3% from distance. It should be noted that team's still are shooting a ton of threes against the Kings (about 30 a game during this stretch), they just haven't been falling at a very high rate.
This team still has a long way to go, and five good games doesn't mean they're a defensive juggernaut now. They'll have to work hard to sustain this production, but hopefully they see that the effort on that end of the floor is paying off and we'll see fewer and fewer lapses as the season progresses.