The Sacramento Kings were one of the fastest teams in the league last season. Dave Joerger unleashed De’Aaron Fox and allowed — nay, commanded — the Kings to run. The Kings had an identity that matched their personnel.
The team’s offseason seemed geared towards embracing that identity. The Kings hired Luke Walton who had overseen high paced offenses as an assistant with the Warriors and as a head coach with the Lakers. Divac hired Walton with the premise that the two were on the same page.
And yet this season started with the Kings among the league’s slowest teams. Through Wednesday’s games the Kings rank 28th in the league in pace. The explanation we heard early in the season was that Walton was still working to instill his offensive and defensive systems before opening up the offense and letting the Kings run. The results of this slow down have been disastrous.
The Kings have finally started playing with pace, though. Through the last 7 games, the Kings are second in the league in pace. De’Aaron Fox’s return from injury has certainly helped, and the increase in pace has seen fantastic production from Fox. Over those 7 games Fox has averaged 24.1 points, 8.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game. Those numbers are up across the board from Fox’s season averages.
While the team itself hasn’t been winning more games with the increased pace, it’s been more entertaining basketball. Even if the team lost the game, it made sense to see the team playing faster. So it was a bit disheartening to hear Walton blame the pace for last night’s loss to the Mavericks.
"When you play fast, you get fatigued. When you get fatigued, you make mental mistakes." - Luke Walton— Matt George (@MattGeorgeKHTK) January 16, 2020
Worse still, the team’s defensive rating isn’t much different over the last 7 games than it’s been over the course of the season. Blaming the pace and fatigue for the defense being bad only makes sense if the defense was good before.
For what it’s worth, De’Aaron Fox disagreed with Walton’s assessment.
"I dont think they should go hand in hand. When we are scoring, we should get stops..." - Fox on pace effecting defense— Matt George (@MattGeorgeKHTK) January 16, 2020
The Kings haven’t been a good defensive team this season. You can come up with a lot of explanations or excuses: injuries, player performance, scheme.
But you can’t blame it on the pace.
I had based this article primarily on the quotes I saw online. The quote around fatigue leading to mental mistakes was actually followed by a more detailed explanation from Walton:
It’s not that you have to pick one or the other, but we have to continue to challenge ourselves mentally to embrace that defensive mentality while playing fast.
So, that’s my fault. Twitter isn’t always the best way to consume a post game presser. While Luke did say that increasing the pace was impacting the defense, he wasn’t suggesting that it needs to be one or the other.
You can see Walton’s full presser here.