One of the strangest things about the 2019-20 Kings was how slowly they played. A year after running the ball down opponents’ throats with De’Aaron Fox’s speed, the Kings had the 19th-ranked pace in the NBA and only finished 14.1 percent of their possessions in transition, below the league average.
That should no longer be the case in the 2020-21. These Kings are even younger, even faster, and more importantly are now under the offensive tutelage of Alvin Gentry, who the team hired as its associated head coach last month. In the last 10 years, Gentry has been an assistant for two seasons and a head coach for seven others; his teams finished in the top ten for pace all nine seasons, and in the top five four times. A Gentry offense will run.
No one knows that better than Harrison Barnes, who spent a year under Gentry in 2014-15 with the Golden State Warriors.
“I love being coached by Alvin,” Barnes said at his media day availability Wednesday. “He definitely loves a free-flowing offense, getting out and running. When you look at competing against him last year, those New Orleans games, and how much of a track meet it was, I think that’s a testament, and even when you go back and look at his older teams, that’s always been a staple of who they’ve been. And so I think with us, with the talent that we have, obviously with Fox, Cory (Joseph), Tyrese (Haliburton), guys who can play make and push the ball, you know us getting out and running and him leading that charge will be huge.”
With the specific talent the Kings have, Barnes anticipates an offensive transformation taking place in Sacramento this year.
“I think you’re gonna see a lot more space,” Barnes said. “I think you’re gonna see us running, having a bigger commitment to running. Traditionally, you know how we played last year, I think there’s going to be some tweaks that like I said are going to allow different ball handlers to handle, not necessarily as much of a post presence, potentially five out and things like that, to really just kind of open the floor and let guys create.
“When you look at where the league is going, having the ability to switch, having the ability to play a small lineup, having the ability to play, you know, multiple wings at one time, maybe having a traditional center but not having that as well, is really where things are going. So being able to have so many different guys that we have this year that can defend multiple positions, that are athletic, that can get out and run, that’s huge for us. Like I said, us changing our identity to be more committed to running and doing that will be huge.”
Barnes’ vision aligns with neatly with what Monte McNair had in mind when he put together the roster: a group that plays with pace and is aggressive on both sides of the ball. The Kings will have to tap into their depth to access this kind of speed, which means there will be opportunities for the team’s stable of young players to contribute immediately.
Justin James, DaQuan Jeffries, Haliburton, Jahmi’us Ramsey, and Robert Woodard II all have no more than one year of NBA experience, and they all project to be on the 17-man roster (including two-ways), which means they’ll have to jump right in without Summer League or much of a training camp.
Barnes said that usually he tells his younger teammates to prepare for when they’re needed, to stay ready so they don’t have to get ready. However, this season, he knows they’ll be called upon.
“The biggest thing with us this year is that the young guys are gonna play,” Barnes said. “It’s not a matter of saying, ‘hey, when the moment arises, be prepared for X, Y and Z.’ No, the moment is going to be here. It’s going to be here for you in 10 days or 12 days or whatever it may be. So you have to learn on the fly. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Try to stay even keeled, it’s going to be ups and downs, but you know as a young player, you have the opportunity to be thrown into the fire and you just got to embrace it.”
Another benefit to running and playing more freely is that it simplifies the playbook for the younger Kings. That could help ease the learning curve with the regular season tentatively set to begin in less than three weeks.
Even though the Sacramento front office did well to pivot after losing Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings will probably still be at a talent disadvantage on most nights. That’s why they have to utilize the strengths they do have, chief among them their quickness.
“It’s just maximizing the personnel that we have,” Barnes said. “I mean when we have a guy like Fox who is one of the most dynamic players in the league, to not capitalize on that is criminal.”