By far the most impressive facet of Sacramento’s victory over the Trail Blazers last night was the swarming and effective defense they brought for a full 48 minutes. On Twitter last night, I posited that this was the best defensive effort I’ve seen from the Kings in the last decade. Turns out, statistically it wasn’t, but it was definitely among the best performances.
The Kings have been notoriously bad at defense for the last decade and even when they were good, they weren’t known for their defensive chops (even though they were actually a quite good defensive team, finishing 2nd overall in Defensive Rating in 2002-03, a year after they were 6th overall). Still, no team has had as few good performances on defense than Sacramento over the last decade. According to basketball-reference, the Kings have only had 23 games in 10 years in which they have had a defensive rating of 91 or lower. The next lowest teams are the Suns and Nets with 30 each. Last night’s victory against the Blazers (90.9 DRtg) ranks as just the 22nd best performance in that timespan, and it wasn’t even the best one this season; Sacramento’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 7th was the 8th best with a DRtg of 86.2.
Sacramento’s defense last night was even more impressive because it came against a team above .500, a team expected to make the playoffs. Only 7 of those 23 games came against teams with a .500 or better record, and one of them was even a loss (an impressively low scoring game against the New Orleans Hornets in 2010).
After the game, Sacramento’s defensive rating for the season jumped to 110.7, still bad and 27th in the league. But in six games at home, the Kings have a DRtg of 104.3 compared to a ridiculously bad 116.8 on the road. That home mark would be good enough for fifth in the entire league.
Right now, this Kings team doesn’t really have an identity aside from being young and experienced. If they can bring it on defense like they did last night on a more consistent basis, that’s at least a start. They won’t be as effective every night, but the effort can still be there.