If you like to spend money then bet that one of the first things the Kings new head coach- Luke Walton- is going to say is he wants to change the culture. Every new coach on a losing team says the same thing. They want to change the culture. Luke said it when he was coach of the Lakers. He wanted to change the culture. He will say it as the coach of the Sacramento Kings. But while a work culture is significant, it is easily changed by winning and so what Luke Walton really needs to do is change the defense first, institute half court sets, play Marvin Bagley more and then the culture will change.
Luke has been around elite talent. He was a teammate of Kobe and LeBron and he coached Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. He has also nurtured young talent in Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball. He has been scrutinized, weaponized and treated as if he didn’t really matter. He wanted the Lakers to be patient with the young guys knowing the Lakers were never going to be patient with the young guys, it’s not what they are about. It ended up in a disastrous crash with flames a thousand feet in the air.
A get out of jail card fresh in his back pocket, Luke gets to take his Lakers system of fast break basketball and mold it to the Sacramento Kings which will be good for the Kings in the short term. Luke will have a relationship with Valde. He’ll play Marvin Bagley and the Kings will be a top-5 fast break team. The question that he will have to answer and what his coaching tenure will depend on is can he institute some form of a half court offense and can he get the Kings to play hard on defense?
The Kings, contrary to opinion, don’t play hard on offense. They don’t play, like say the Brooklyn Nets, where they are just hard nosed and tough. The Kings are talented on offense; they can do things. De’Aaron Fox isn’t the fastest pg in the league (though he thinks he is) but he can finish at the rim, beat his man off the dribble, drain a three. He has a motor and he competes like a mother.
Willie Cauley-Stein, who is an unrestricted free agent and will get calls from other teams, will never be Chris Webber. But he is solid on both ends of the floor and he can be an even better rim protector when challenged.
Buddy Hield has scoring talent that fits this era, layups or threes. Hield and Dave Joerger had issues and that will not be the case with Walton who is universally loved by everyone not named LeBron James and Magic Johnson. Buddy though is one dimensional. He can’t make a mid-range shot and was a horrific 24% 3-10 feet last season. He has to improve his versatility.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is the best all around shooter, able to score from everywhere. And then there is the Harrison Barnes question. If he opts-in, Barnes is a good veteran for Walton who is trying to teach a young team a winning culture. Expect Marvin Bagley to get at least 30 minutes playing time and to start for the Kings.
But defensively is where Luke Walton will have to prove he can coach at this level. His defensive rating in Los Angeles ranked 30th, 12th, and 12th. He will have more offensive weapons in Sacramento but less defensive talent.
For the Lakers this year, the worst defensive rating was Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram and Reggie Bullock, all earning a 112 rating.
On the Kings, the worst defensive rating was 114 shared by Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Harrison Barnes and Yogi Ferrell. Walton has his work cut out if the Kings goal is making the playoffs and not just developing talent.
Walton was the right man after Joerger, whose relationship with some of his young players was spotty. Walton had negatives in L.A. He was terrible at substitutions, after time outs and his offense was….? What exactly was his offense? It was hard to recognize. It wasn’t pick and roll. It wasn’t pick and pop. It wasn’t drive and kick. It wasn’t some hybrid triangle-D’Antoni mad scientist experiment. Walton admitted he didn’t run a lot of plays.
As NBA coaches go, Walton is average in the x and o’s department. He is good as far as his players playing hard for him. Just like his young players, he needs to improve the overall game. He needs to require toughness and his rep as a disciplinarian isn’t exactly making Gregg Popovich squirm.
But in Sac-town he won’t have the fiery breath of Lakers Nation breathing down his neck. He’ll be able to coach and go home.
Sacramento was exciting this past year and we love to watch a team play fast. But of the 10 slowest paced teams, 6 are in the playoffs (Houston, San Antonio, Detroit, Orlando, Indiana, Denver). Of the 10 fastest teams, 5 are in the playoffs (Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Clippers, Brooklyn, Philadelphia). Pace doesn’t guarantee you anything.
Defense does. Of the top-10 defensive rebounding teams, 8 are in the playoffs (Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Golden State, Utah, Portland. Clippers, Toronto, Brooklyn). Of the top-10 scoring defenses, 8 are in the playoffs (Indiana, Orlando, Denver, Utah, Toronto, Detroit, Boston, Houston).
Sacramento was miserable at both. They were 26th in scoring defense and 19th in defensive rebounds. They are not as close as everyone thinks.