Following the 113-104 loss, head coach Luke Walton was asked about the transition of incorporating De’Aaron Fox back into the offense and how balancing playing with pace and the flow and fundamentals of the half-court offense is going. His response shed some insight into what the team may be going through at the moment and what the coaching staff is trying to develop.
”It’s about our team learning how to execute in the half court. It’s about realizing that being able to get defensive stops and execute game plans is what wins you games and definitely leads to winning once you get into the playoffs. So, it’s focusing on that,and we’ve come a long way in that. We held Houston to 16 in the fourth tonight and that team is pretty hard to stop. So, we’ve made big strides with some of that stuff, with some of the defense, with some of the execution of what we’re trying to do, but 30 games in we’ve had our whole roster for one game, the first game of the season. So, it’s mixing that back in. Pace is important, I think the game should be played fast. We have things we have to get good at before that becomes our top priority, but now that Fox and Marvin [Bagley] are back, two of the faster players on our team and in the league, then yes, we’re going to start pushing pace again. But we have to continue to realize our defensive execution and execution in the half court is important to us,” Walton said.
Based on this comment, it would seem Walton realizes the team needs to play fast to utilize Fox and Bagley’s talents (and the pace has picked up somewhat naturally since Fox has been backin the lineup). The apparent challenge is that he wants them to continue to build on the defensive mindset and strides in that area that were developed while Fox and Bagley were out with injuries, and make that priority one. In that sense, it doesn’t seem as though Walton is willing to go all out on pace at the expense of the other aspects of the game he is trying to teach.
Fox shared his thoughts on the pace:
”The second and fourth quarter, the pace was high for us. If we can be able to do that and put that together for a whole game. Obviously, it’s difficult to play at a high pace for an entire 48-minute stretch. So, I think we were at our best when we were playing fast, but at the same time we were getting stops. So, I think for us, 90 percent of the time it always comes back to our defense,” Fox said.
Fox’s comment there seems aligned, for the most part, with the priorities of the coaching staff in terms of understanding the importance of pace, but realizing it won’t matter much without defensive principles in place. Fox also said the coaching staff is demanding more out of the players and having them watch a lot of film. He said it is more film watching than what he remembers from the last two seasons. Fox said the coaching staff is emphasizing keeping their guy in front of them on defense.
An argument could certainly be made that the Kings could have won a few more games recently if they transitioned back into the fast style of play we saw last season and made that a top priority, but it is clear the current plan from the coaching staff is to ease back into that style only after nailing down more fundamental elements of basketball. This seems to be a long-term approach to trying to make this team better at the expense of potentially winning a few more games now with high pace. If it works long-term then it will be considered a success, but the team has tofully buy in (and stay healthy). Only time will tell if this roster and coaching staff ends up being able to pull off the plan.