When the Sacramento Kings snatched up Luke Walton the same day the Lakers fired him there were high expectations. No one expected Walton to transform the developmental Kings roster into a top-4 playoff seed but they didn’t expect the Kings to go 0-6 either. Their preseason defense continued in the regular season and they often looked lifeless, out of sorts, and unlike the Kings team that nearly found themselves in the playoffs last year.
Walton is a young coach and no one is sure if he can really x and o basketball games, or if he is just a really good mentor and motivator. His early start reignited all the Walton questions. But since the Kings dismal start, Luke Walton is back on track.
Since 0-6, the Kings are 7-3 and a game back of Phoenix who started hot early but are coming back to earth. The Kings are leaning heavily on Buddy Hield who is repeating his 20 ppg of last year and Bojan Bogdanovic. Both are elite three point scorers. Once De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley return, the Kings will have even more weapons at their disposal.
The lure of Luke Walton was that he’s calm under pressure. He was calm as a player and he has proven to handle adversity with ease. Like his mentor Phil Jackson, Walton doesn’t panic when he is in a difficult stretch. He continues to preach teamwork, togetherness, and chemistry. As the Kings were losing early, there was a lot of talk about Walton’s privilege, that he has failed up, that he has never shown that he can really coach. His 0-6 start was indicative of what we still don’t know about his coaching. Particularly, is he the right man to take this exciting Kings team to the playoffs?
While Walton is still somewhat of a mystery because it is still early, there is more optimism now. The Kings have the kind of offense that can compete in road arenas because they are a top-10 three point shooting team. Their defense can have lapses at times but they are contesting shots on the perimeter and are middle of the pack in scoring defense, an improvement over last season when they were near the bottom of the league.
So far, it looks like a Luke Walton team. With the young talent in L.A., he upped their defensive numbers. Ditto in Sac-town. This Kings team has better perimeter scorers than L.A. had but both teams still play the same way. A fast pace, bristling three point bombs, and great chemistry. A consistent Walton criticism however is that he is stubborn about the way he wants to play and sometimes he just needs to adapt a little bit more. Be flexible.
Flexibility wasn’t what derailed Walton in Los Angeles though. It was LeBron James and injuries. Quiet as it was kept, Walton’s rotations were a mess and he never mastered after time out execution (like dialing up a Harrison Barnes drive with Anthony Davis at the rim instead of putting the ball in a hot Bogdanovic’s hands) nor did he have a great sense of who should be out on the floor in the crunch. His philosophy overrules his common sense sometimes.
With the Kings, Walton has a lot of players who are equal talents. While that has positives, it can be confusing. Players have to know what their roles are. Everyone cannot be equal. A young group like Sacramento learns by doing and they still don’t have their full complete team yet.
When they do, they should pick up where they left off last season, pushing for the 8th seed and redeeming Luke Walton from his 2018-19 Hollywood nightmare.