It’s been a long time since the Kings could be considered a good, or even average, defensive team. In fact, it was all the way back in 2006 under Rick Adelman, when the Kings finished 12th in defensive rating and last made the playoffs. Since then, the Kings haven’t ever had a year better than 20th and last year were just 25th.
Coach Dave Joerger prided himself on having a good defense in Memphis, but that was with a veteran, experienced team. The Kings don’t have that same kind of experience. The veterans the Kings do have though are all solid on the defensive end of the floor. Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple were probably Sacramento’s best defenders last season. New addition George Hill has a reputation as a tough defender on his own, and the Utah Jazz were over 3 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the floor last season. Even Vince Carter and Zach Randolph have been part of good defensive teams, although they are past their prime and Randolph in particular has seen better days on that end of the floor.
While those vets will lay a solid foundation for a defense, it’s getting the youth to buy in and not make too many mistakes that will be difficult. The Kings actually got some players known for their defense in college among their top draft picks this season, with both De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson being pests on that end. However, both really need to get stronger, especially Jackson who will be dealing with much bigger players than he was used to in college.
Of Sacramento’s returning youth, Willie Cauley-Stein has the tools to be a multi-positional defender but needs to show it on a consistent basis. This will be a big year for him, as if he figures it out, he could be the lynchpin of a great defense. Malachi Richardson showed some promise on the defensive end as well with his size and length, but didn’t get too much opportunity to show it last season and will have even more competition this year with Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic looking for minutes. Skal Labissiere has the physical tools to be an imposing presence on that end as well.
It’s rare for young teams to excel defensively, but it’s not impossible. The Philadelphia 76ers in particular have built a young team that has competed on that side of the floor, even though their offense has faltered. Under Brett Brown, the 76ers have been about an average defensive team, although their offense has been dead last for four years running. The Kings hopefully won’t be that bad offensively, and if they can remain competent on the defensive end, they’ll keep games closer and more entertaining. More importantly, it will provide a solid foundation for our youth to build on, as it seems clear that great defensive teams do better in the long run than great offensive teams (and truly great teams excel on both ends).
So I don’t think this year’s Kings team will be great or even good defensively, but there’s certainly a big opportunity to lay down the framework so that changes sooner rather than later.