Luke Walton’s First Impression Is Blah

Not smooth sailing in Luke Walton’s first two games isn’t a shocker. The Kings are young, as is their head coach. They don’t have versatility.  Preseason showed an inability to defend anyone.  They didn’t replace Willie Cauley-Stein,  no one with talent in the middle. And so here we are.

In game number one, the Sacramento Kings, who just extended Buddy Hield (he’ll make $24 million next season), lost to the Suns by 29 points. Hield was the best thing on the floor. Harrison Barnes who inked a free agent contract over the summer of $85 million had one assist and 12 points. Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned down an extension, had 2 points. De’Aaron Fox was a disappointing 8 points and 5 assists. From the line, the Kings were a disaster. They turned the ball over…and over…and over.  26 turnovers for the game. The Kings were a -34 points in the paint. Against the Suns.

In the home opener, anticipation and optimism were high, despite their game one catastrophe. The Kings nearly made the playoffs last year. The hire of Luke Walton was to keep the train rolling so the playoffs become a reality. Walton was tremendous coaching the iconic talent of the Warriors and he held serve with developing Laker talent: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma.

Last year’s Sacramento coach, Dave Joerger, didn’t handle the young talent of the Kings the way Vlade Divac and the young players, Buddy Hield particularly, had hoped. The Kings need stability and a teacher who is patient and not looking over his shoulder, worried about job security. The relationships between coach and player cannot be adversarial.

The home opener was an re-introduction to Dame Lillard. On paper it looked like the Kings would be humbled. Their defense is pretty much garbage and Dame should have been able to do whatever he wanted. With Bagley Jr. hurt, Hassan Whiteside could deliver in the post. Kent Bazemore is an athletic defender. The Blazers are a veteran team and the Kings are young. But still. It was the home opener. Perhaps that was motivation to turn around the disaster of opening night.

Nah. Not so much.

De’Aaron Fox stepped up with 28 points. He’s the Kings best player. And Buddy Hield played well. But no one else did. Harrison Barnes plays like he’s in a coma half the time. There isn’t much offensive talent you can depend on. Remember that Trevor Ariza signing? A waste. He had 0 points in the home opener, missing all 4 shots he attempted in 21 minutes. (3 of the 4 were three pointers.) Bogdanovic was a little better dropping 16 but it wasn’t enough firepower for the offensively dominant Blazers who toyed with the Kings. Someone named Afernee Simons (drafted out of high school) had 15 points for Portland.

Things don’t get easier for Walton.  His first two games, teams made 52% of their shots. While the Kings made 40% of their threes in the home opener and improved their points in the paint, turnovers and free throws, their defense continues to be apoplectic. At this point, they have to outscore their opponent.

Which puts the pressure on Walton and his schemes. Not having Bagley and having lost Willie Cauley-Stein makes the Kings vulnerable in the middle. Dewayne Dedmon is no one’s answer.

Walton has had a tough 2019. He was a lame duck coach once the Lakers season went into the tank after LeBron James was injured. While he bounced back quickly with the Kings job, he had a sexual assault allegation hanging over his head. The NBA cleared him but he still has a civil suit. As far as his Kings job goes, the sledding isn’t easy.  A lot of hills and traps.

They play Utah, Denver, Charlotte, Utah before they go to New York to play the Knicks. The Raptors are part of that road trip, as is Trae Young and the Hawks before coming home to play the Blazers and Celtics. Then going home to L.A. to play the Lakers.

Two things can be true. Luke Walton can be good with young players. And he cannot be the coach to get a team to the playoffs. So far, he hasn’t proven anything as a head coach. He hasn’t demonstrated he has the x’s and o’s strategy, nor the motivational pep talks to make players reach higher and succeed.

Phil Jackson had a rule. 20 games and you know who a team is. After 2 games, we know something about the Kings. They are a horrible defense. So, not much has changed.