The New Kings Regime: Week 1 Talking Points


The Sacramento Kings are one week into the 2016-2017 NBA season, and more importantly, one week into the Dave Joerger Project. 

The Kings played three games last week, opening in Phoenix, followed by two contests in their new home arena against the Spurs and Timberwolves. They finished the week 2-1, starting with a convincing victory over the Suns, where the Kings opened up a 23 point lead and were rarely threatened. The next night, the Spurs came to Sacramento fresh off of the season-opening victory over the Warriors. The Kings played well and led by as many as nine points in the third quarter before Kawhi Leonard took over the game and sealed the win for the Spurs. The third contest was a thriller, as the Kings came back from an 18 point deficit to defeat the visiting Timberwolves to give Sacramento their first victory in their new home.  

After watching and assessing this weeks games, it is clear to see that these are not the same Sacramento Kings that we’re used to. The attitude is different, the game play is different, and the hustle is different. It is a small sample size, and it’s too early to be excited about anything, but it seems as though the players have bought in to the new regime brought by head coach Dave Joerger. 

It was known that Joerger would attempt to implement a new defensive scheme, but it was yet to be seen whether the players would buy in, given the recent history of the team and their mediocre showing in the preseason. However, the changes in the team through the first week of games are apparent. Before Saturday’s comeback win against the Timberwolves, Sacramento had lost 112 straight games when trailing by 18 or more points at any time. Joerger’s new Kings broke that streak in their third game. After the Kings lone loss, Spurs head coach Greg Popovich said “Coach Joerger’s got them playing defense after one game already the way they played defense in Memphis. That’s because he knows what he’s doing, and its a tribute to those guys to pick that up and jump in and buy in all of a sudden.” High praise from the best in the business. Here are three reasons for the Kings early success.

Guard Play

The Kings have been plagued by mediocre guard play for years, but GM Vlade Divac signed a handful of veteran guards in the offseason to try and fix that. The early season backcourt remained a question mark, given the eight game suspension being served by starting point guard Darren Collison to begin the year. Thankfully, veterans Ty Lawson and Matt Barnes have stepped up in a huge way in Collison’s absence. 

Ty Lawson has brought his pass-first mentality and paired it with his still blazing speed to be the point guard that the Kings have long needed. He runs the fast break especially well, both with over-the-top outlet passes and his ability to get past the defense on the dribble. He even hit a clutch three pointer that sealed the win for the Kings over the Timberwolves. (After which cameras caught Divac fist pumping and high-fiving an assistant.)

Matt Barnes has been the veteran presence that Sacramento has longed for. He played for Joerger in Memphis last season, so the coach knows he can trust the well-traveled Barnes in crunch time. Barnes has averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in the Kings two victories, but it his merely his presence on the court that has helped the team excel thus far. He has been battling a rib injury throughout the week, and was visibly grimacing while holding his upper torso in the Timberwolves game. Joerger decided to trust his veteran and leave him in the game, and Barnes came up with a huge block on Karl Anthony-Towns to help the Kings to victory.  

Defense

Despite the lack of success in Sacramento in recent years, the offense has remained respectable. In fact, the Kings were 3rd in points per game last season (106.6), but were dead last, by a mile, in points allowed (109.1). Joerger is already turning these numbers around. Through the first three games, the Kings have maintained a high average with 104 points per game, while their defense is keeping opponents under 100. They “held” the Spurs to 102 points, after San Antonio dropped 129 on the Warriors two nights prior. However, the real display of the changed defensive culture came in the Timberwolves game. In the past, the Kings were never able to mount large comebacks, because of their inability to stop opposing teams from getting baskets. In the third quarter of Saturday’s contest, the Kings held the Wolves to just 12 points, turning an 11-point halftime deficit into an 8-point lead heading in to the final period. There was a 23-1 run in the third, which was highlighted by a seven minute stretch in which the Kings defense held the Wolves without a field goal. The comeback was fueled by the play of Matt Barnes. 

Effort

There are positives about this Kings team that go deeper than the box score, primarily the newfound effort and intensity on the court. They seem to play with a controlled sense of urgency on both sides of the ball, and players are held responsible if their performance lacks. When the Kings allowed the Wolves to open up an eight point lead late in the first quarter, Joerger became severely disappointed in the lack of intensity from his starting five. He made substitutions for all five players, sending a message to his starters and also in hopes that the second unit would pick up the slack. They didn’t, but when the starters returned half way through the second quarter, they played with brand new intensity, and the Kings began to chip away at the Wolves 18-point lead. Joerger’s plan worked. 

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