“Get up and down and run — and have fun — and shoot the basketball.”
That’s what Kings guard Buddy Hield told me when I asked about the style behind the success of Sacramento’s backcourt of him and De’Aaron Fox, who combined this past year to lead the Kings to their best record since the 2005-06 season.
But despite their resurgence, Kings VP of basketball operations and GM Vlade Divac decided to part ways with head coach Dave Joerger.
Joerger went 98-148 in three seasons with the Kings, but appeared to finally have the team ready to make the leap to contention. Instead, Divac decided to replace Joerger with former LA Lakers head coach Luke Walton after he agreed to part ways with Los Angeles at the end of the season. Walton, ironically, also went 98-148 in three seasons with the Lakers.
There were reports of Joerger clashing with Divac and assistant GM Brandon Williams throughout the season, leading to the change. Despite the Kings being in contention for a playoff spot, Divac told media after the move that he was contemplating a change since the All-Star break.
Enter Walton, who was Divac’s teammate during the 2004-05 season with the Lakers and has won championships as a player and assistant coach.
“We understand each other very well,” remarked Divac at Walton’s introductory press conference. “We have the same soul about basketball.”
“I think it’s a great group Vlade has put together,” Walton added regarding Sacramento’s front office.
Walton revealed that his drive to coach again led to the quick turnaround.
“It happened very fast, but I’m passionate about coaching. I love the game of basketball,” Walton said. “I’ve known Vlade for a lot of years now. It was identical to how I saw the game and what this Kings team was about and where they were headed to.”
He was also drawn to the fans, who are considered some of the best in the NBA despite being in the middle of the pack attendance-wise.
“Sacramento has always had one of the best crowds in the NBA as far as the type of support they get, the type of atmosphere they have at their games,” Walton said.
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When asked about his scheme fitting with the roster, Walton echoed Hield’s previous sentiment.
“They play fast, they have 3-point shooting, they’re young, they’re versatile,” Walton said. “That’s how I want to play, that’s how I think the game should be played.”
According to NBA.com, the Kings played at the third-highest pace in the league last season, while Walton’s Lakers finished fourth.
Here’s how Walton’s LA teams stacked up in pace and 3-point shooting over his three-year span.
|LA’s Splits (via NBA.com)||3-point attempts||League Rank||Pace||League Rank|
Even with a roster that lacked shooting, Walton’s Lakers hoisted 3-point attempts at a league-average rate. And despite the addition of an aging LeBron James, they managed to keep their up-tempo style and play at a top-5 pace.
Walton’s coaching philosophies of playing fast and shooting triples will fit well with Fox, Hield and the rest of Sacramento’s roster.
The Kings attempted 29.9 3-pointers per game, ranking 20th in the league. However, they made triples at the fourth-best clip, mainly because of Hield’s 42.7 percent mark from behind the arc.
Another trait Walton said he expects championship-caliber teams to have is a dominant defense, an area where the Kings could improve. Sacramento ranked 26th in opponent points per game and 21st in defensive rating, a far cry from the last 10 NBA champions.
|Team||Opponent PPG League Rank||Defensive Rating League Rank|
*Walton won a championship in these seasons as a player or assistant coach
Outside of the Warriors during last season (who still finished just outside the top 10 in defensive rating), six of the last 10 champions are in the top 10 in both opponent points allowed and defensive rating.
If the Kings want to make the postseason, this is the side of the ball they need to improve on. It’ll be up to Fox, Hield and Marvin Bagley to set the tone defensively under Walton.
That trio’s overall development will also be key under Walton, who oversaw a talented young group in Los Angeles with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.
Here’s a look at that group’s numbers over the last three years.
|Brandon Ingram’s Splits||Points||FG %||3-point %||Rebounds||Assists|
|Kyle Kuzma’s Splits||Points||FG %||3-point %||Rebounds||Assists|
|Lonzo Ball’s Splits||Points||FG %||3-point %||Rebounds||Assists|
Despite helping LA’s young core improve as a whole, Walton doesn’t come without faults.
He struggled to…
- manage rotations,
- produce offensive results despite playing fast and shooting 3s, and
- surround himself with a strong coaching staff.
But his challenging tenure in Los Angeles should help him refine his weaknesses in Sacramento.
“I feel much more prepared and advanced as a coach right now,” Walton responded when asked about his time with the Lakers. “I do feel like I’m much further along through the experiences I’ve had in the last three years.”
If Walton truly has learned from his past experiences, then the young Kings will be on the path to breaking a 13-year playoff drought and rewarding its long-suffering fan base.