Over the last few months, Vlade Divac has been doing everything in his power to upgrade the talent level around De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, and the rest of the young Kings. The front office targeted outside shooting and defense in the free agent market, and no addition will have a more substantial impact on those areas than new center Dewayne Dedmon. Last week, I broke down his offensive versatility, and now we’ll take a crack at his strengths and flaws on the defensive end of the floor.
Sacramento’s rim protection was laughable last year, and that may be putting it a little too kindly. The Kings allowed the second-highest field goal percentage within six feet of the hoop and also placed next-to-last in opponents’ differential at the rim at +2.8%. The only team worse in either category was the 19-win Cleveland Cavaliers. If an opposing guard or wing found a hole in the perimeter defense, they were almost guaranteed a bucket or a trip to the free throw line.
That lack of interior defense can be laid directly at the feet of Willie Cauley-Stein, a gifted athlete who refused to use his abilities in help situations. Citing a fear of injuring his hand, the seven-footer quite literally refused to lift his hands on defense. A large percentage of Willie’s teammates managed to record a better defensive field goal percentage in the paint: Justin Jackson, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Corey Brewer, Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere, Kosta Koufos, and Marvin Bagley. From a league-wide perspective, Cauley-Stein ranked 53rd out of 53 centers who defended at least four shots per game within six feet of the basket, and he was the only big man to allow his opponents to increase their average field goal percentage – by a margin of +3%. Bring any center to mind who has garnered a reputation as a poor protector; Willie Cauley-Stein was inevitably worse.
Willie’s replacement isn’t exactly Dikembe Mutombo reincarnated (which would be especially difficult seeing as how Dikembe is still alive), as he posted a defensive field goal percentage of -5% with the Hawks, ranking in only the 36th percentile among centers. Though he wasn’t at the top of the pack, Dedmon’s 8% improvement over Willie is still incredibly important, as the differential is equal to that of Rudy Gobert, who placed sixth in the league at -11%, and Thomas Bryant, who rated 46th at -3%.
A similar trend can be found in the two centers’ shot-blocking numbers. Dedmon rejected 2.2% of his opponents’ attempts, good enough for the 69th percentile, while Cauley-Stein blocked only half the number of shots at 1.1%, ranking in the 36th percentile. Moving from a league-worst disaster to merely competent will work wonders for the integrity of Sacramento’s interior defense.
As infuriating as Cauley-Stein’s lack of help defense has been over the last few years, his coverage against ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll has been quite effective. Willie deploys his foot speed and length to corral guard and hedge against screens, often preventing a team’s initial set from developing. On the season, Cauley-Stein allowed just 0.81 points per possession, among the upper echelon of big men, and he held opponents to just 39.6% shooting from the floor in those situations.
Dewayne Dedmon offers a similar long-armed build to his counterpart, but he lacks the same degree of speed and athleticism, resulting in a slightly less impressive showing. He was at the middle of the pack among centers, allowing 0.89 points per possession, and offensive players sunk 44.5% of their attempts when guarded by Dedmon in the pick-and-roll. Dewayne was actually the more accomplished stopper when defending rolling big men, placing in the 28th percentile to Cauley-Stein’s 11th percentile, but that scenario occurred far less often, 5.5% of the time, compared to 52.9% of the time for pick-and-roll ball-handlers
There is a good chance that having more competent defenders around him will bolster Dedmon’s performance in the screen-and-roll game, as De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes are far more effective than Trae Young and Taurean Prince, but that boost may not fully make up the ground between the two centers. The Kings should expect to feel a minor decrease in their versatility and success rate in defending the pick-and-roll next year.
Along with their interior defense, the Kings were also an atrocious rebounding team under Dave Joerger. Their inability to snag opponents’ misses likely cost them multiple wins, as they placed 25th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, 26th in the league in second chance points surrendered, 25th in the league in offensive rebounds given up, and 20th in opponents’ total rebounds per game. Willie Cauley-Stein took the brunt of the blame due to his erratic performances, but the rest of Sacramento’s big men didn’t fare much better. Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, and Nemanja Bjelica were all worse than their positional average on the boards.
Unfortunately, as well as the front office performed in free agency, they weren’t able to adequately address the rebounding concerns on the open market. Dedmon is about the same level of rebounder as Willie, recording a defensive rebounding percentage of 22% (79th percentile) to Cauley-Stein’s 21.3% (75th percentile). The consistency puzzle hasn’t exactly been solved either. Willie’s standard deviation to the mean (the lower, the more consistent) in games in which he played at least 17 minutes rated at 2.87, while Dedmon was slightly better at 2.66. When using the same minutes qualifier, Dewayne failed to grab at least five defensive rebounds in 28.8% of his games, with Willie missing the mark 27.5% of the time. Dedmon may represent a minor upgrade in defensive rebounding, but the Kings will need their other rotational bigs to produce at a much higher level next year.
Swapping Willie Cauley-Stein for Dewayne Dedmon should work wonders for Sacramento’s’ defensive performance. They may experience a minor decline in their pick-and-roll coverage, but that sacrifice will be well worth the cost in exchange for a competent rim protector and help defender. The rebounding issues that plagued the team in 2019 are still relevant heading into October, and while Dewayne Dedmon won’t aggravate the situation, he isn’t some magic elixir solution either.
A final, immeasurable component of Dedmon’s addition is his attitude and ferocity on the defensive end of the court. Whatever he lacks in ability, he makes up for in effort, the exact opposite attitude of his predecessor. He won’t refuse to guard his man because he hasn’t touched the ball on several consecutive possessions, and that determination should spread like wildfire to the rest of his teammates. With De’Aaron Fox manning the perimeter, Harrison Barnes on the wings, and Dewayne Dedmon in the middle, the Sacramento Kings have finally assembled a defensive-minded nucleus.