The Sacramento Kings and defense aren't exactly two things that have been mentioned together much over the years, but new head coach Dave Joerger and his coaching staff have set out on a mission to change that.
Joerger is trying to push his players defensively as they make their way to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League. He made it clear Wednesday that defense will be the focal point.
"Really trying to get after it defensively and have a focus on that," Joerger said. "That's what we're going to do as an organization. If we're going to play winning basketball, we feel like we've got to do a better job defensively and we want to set that tone with this crew, especially the guys that will be on the roster."
Joerger's assistant coach Elston Turner, who also served as an assistant coach under Joerger with the Memphis Grizzlies, discussed how things are going to be changing with the Kings.
"We've always been a grit and grind defensive mindset type of system, especially in Memphis, and we're going to bring that here," Turner said. "We're going to pick up the physicality, we're going to put our hands on you; teams are going to know that we're on the floor first. So the scoring may come down a bit, but believe me, the defensive part is going to raise up."
Under George Karl last season, the Kings allowed 109.1 points per game, good for worst in the NBA. On the flip side, they had the highest pace in the NBA at 102.2, just slightly ahead of the Golden State Warriors, and averaged 106.6 points per game (third in the NBA). While Turner said the Kings have proven they can score, he wants to see the effort on the defensive side of the ball.
If the Kings do play a tough style of defense, Turner believes it could also help when it comes to the officials.
"If you play that way and you start some type of tradition the officials usually lean in your direction - they'll allow you to do a little bit more than a non-aggressive team," Turner said.
This may perk up the ears of DeMarcus Cousins, who was a big believer in the team identity being associated with defense under Michael Malone. And, of course, Cousins doesn't always exactly to see eye to eye with the referees so maybe Turner's mantra could help Cousins' point of view there. In addition, Joerger is often labeled (especially by Turner) as a guy who likes to build relationships with his players so he can connect with them on and off the floor, something Malone excelled at with Cousins.
Turner said a lot of the Kings practices are heavily weighted toward defense, with 60 percent of the time focused on that side of the ball. The coaching staff will make the players work at it, constantly show them film and Turner expects them to grasp the defensive schemes.
Time will tell.