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What can we expect from Sacramento’s defense?

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The unit could be in for a better year.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Switching, versatility and flexibility. Three things I enjoy watching in a defense and key fundamentals to a successful one - the most recent example? The 2019 NBA Champions, the Toronto Raptors.

The Kings defense last year wasn’t particularly great, having a defensive rating of 110.8 which ranked them 21st in the league. Surprisingly, this is worse than their 2017-18 rating of 110.4 that placed them 27th but that’s because there were much worse defensive teams this past season. They also were 26th in the league in points allowed at 115.3 a game and tied at 19th in field goal percentage allowed at 46.6. Sacramento had to sign players to improve on defense.

Ironically, three of the four new free agent acquisitions played on teams with an inferior defensive rating than Sacramento, while the other played on a team built by their defense. Nonetheless, they all bring in skilled defensive qualities.

Cory Joseph will no doubt be a key piece to the bench unit and a player who will bring his defensive presence every night. The Kings lacked size and defense at the point guard spot last year. De’Aaron Fox exhibited stellar defense from time to time, with quick lateral movements, chest-to-chest defense, chasedown blocks, intercepting passing lanes and more - but it wasn’t enough.

The Kings needed to look at the point guard market to find a guard that plays defense and ideally had size. Yogi Ferrell isn’t a shoddy option if you want to build point guard depth, but I’d much rather have him as my third choice than second. He still provides offense with a 36 percent clip from deep but his size and shaky defense were reasons to upgrade.

Joseph was one of the best options if you wanted defense and since Patrick Beverley went back to the Clippers, Joseph was there for the taking. As Tony mentioned previously about Joseph, the Pacers defense was one of the best in the league last season (ranked third in DEF RTG) and Joseph had an important role in that. I’m not looking for Joseph to put up big points, but I’m fully expecting him to make an impact on defense. His ability to switch and defend both guard positions will be a valuable asset to this team and he also provides better size at 6’3”. His versatility also helps running multiple types of lineups, like going small ball and playing him and Fox as the guards. Joseph’s energy and intensity on the defensive end could also have a big impact in Fox’s progression on that end of the court.

Trevor Ariza has a reputation among the league as being a solid defender, but with his inefficiency last season, how much of a difference will he make? I dove more into Ariza in depth here, where the question(s) around him are is he on the decline as a 34-year-old or did his bigger roles on bad teams lead to bad numbers? This dilemma will be solved throughout the course of the season and even though Ariza wasn’t high on my list because of his past season, playing him 15-20 minutes a game in a lesser role could be significantly better for the forward.

Ariza can be utilized in small ball defensive lineups or going tall on the floor and he offers the versatility to guard multiple positions as well with his height and frame. It’ll be interesting to see how he comes out on defense, because if he’s playing the way he did a few years ago or close to that (and not like last season), the Kings will be even better with wing defense.

Bringing in a new starting caliber center was a talking point for months and the Kings grabbed their guy in Dewayne Dedmon. I’ve talked about his offense before but his defense is also an upgrade for this team. He brings in at least a block a game and that is automatically better for the Kings than last season. Dedmon also held opponents to less than the average field goal percentage on every category and that was a big weakness for the Kings last season. I’m also a fan of his lateral quickness when switching out to guards off pick and rolls, screens and more so the Kings aren’t getting a 30-year-old who is completely liable outside of guarding bigs - he can hold his own.

Richaun Holmes is going to be another solid addition to this team no matter how many minutes he plays. Having him as the fifth potential big on the team or the third center is definitely a better fit than Kosta Koufos who had a declining season recently. He also fits the uptempo identity better than Koufos. Holmes only played 17 minutes a game and averaged 1.1 blocks with a block percentage of 5.6. He also displays the foot movement and lateral quickness to hold his own against smaller players while also being capable of playing the 4 and 5 despite not having the modern shooting qualities of a typical 4. Holmes, similarly to Dedmon, held opponents to under the league average when it came to shooting except he was better in all categories.

Another interesting note is that the Kings were tenth in the league in steals a game at 8.3 and they’re adding players who will help get better in that category. Joseph and Dedmon each averaged 1.1 (career highs for both), Ariza averaged 1.3 and Holmes came out at 0.6.

When you compare the new signings to players who left at the same position, the Kings got better with their defense. Joseph’s defense is better than Frank Mason’s, Dedmon’s better than Willie Cauley-Stein, Holmes beats out Koufos but Ariza is one I’m not fully sold on just yet because of this past season so I’m leaving that open.

The Kings went into free agency and rounded out their depth proficiently to put out a skilled 12 man rotation with multiple adept lineups and versatility. The defense had to enhance this offseason if Sacramento wanted a better chance to make the playoffs and they definitely did that with their signings. With these additions, I’m expecting the defense to perform at a higher level than previous seasons and they certainly have the talent to do so.