Questions remain with Kings’ perimeter defense


If defense wins championships, the Sacramento Kings weren’t worthy of a ribbon in 2014-15. Jaw-dropping individual and team shooting displays were witnessed at the expense of the Kings’ incohesive, slow-reacting units.

After allowing the most 3-point makes in franchise history, the Kings’ perimeter defense needed dire attention. Vice President of Basketball and Franchise Operations Vlade Divac gutted and rebuilt the roster, but outside defensive woes weren’t directly addressed.

Luc Mbah a Moute was supposed to become Sacramento’s new stopper, but a failed physical and grievance filed against the team quelled any hope of the rangy swingman donning the uniform. Divac pursued Wes Matthews but the guard rejected top dollar to sign with the Dallas Mavericks.

The free agent wings the Kings did land are talented defensively, yet don’t inspire greatness.

Caron Butler was once counted on to guard elite scorers, but at 35-years-old his effectiveness has waned noticeably.

Quincy Acy reliably holds down stretch fours, but his lateral speed makes him less than ideal to shadow twos and threes. Undrafted rookie forward Duje Dukan is unproven guarding threes or fours.

Since turning pro, off guards Marco Belinelli and James Anderson have underwhelmed as defenders. Belinelli in particular produced the ninth-worst DRPM (Defensive Real Plus Minus) among shooting guards in 2014-15. Anderson has yet to convert his tools into results.

At the point, D-League sensation Seth Curry’s defense has been a liability since leaving Duke. Nine-year veteran Rajon Rondo holds the most upside to slow opponents out of the entire free agent haul, but he also arrives with imperfections.

A feared stopper early in his NBA career, Rondo’s defensive mastery has regressed the last few years. While a torn ACL in January 2013 didn’t lend any favors, the four-time All-Star actually hurt the Boston Celtics defensively the season following. Rondo managed his best defense since the injury with the Dallas Mavericks, holding assignments nearly nine percent below their typical 3-point accuracy, but a 46-game sample size can’t guarantee success with the Kings.

Sacramento’s hopes may lie in a rookie lottery pick, along with internal development. Willie Cauley-Stein was heralded as a player who could guard every position at the University of Kentucky, and though that seems unrealistic in the NBA, his expertise derailing pick-and-rolls will be leaned upon. At the least, Cauley-Stein’s presence in the paint should give outside defenders added faith that the rookie will be available to help with drivers in the halfcourt or the break.

A team competing for the playoffs can’t depend on a lone rookie however. Holdovers Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi, Darren Collison and Ben McLemore must all hold themselves accountable for uneven 2014-15 efforts.

While Gay showed promise as a power forward, his help defense for the season was lacking. Casspi’s effectiveness fell off the face of the Earth after a positive year with the Houston Rockets. Collison was playing the best defense of his career before a sidelining injury, but he’ll need to prove he can guard twos with more minutes off the ball in store. Perhaps no one is under more pressure than McLemore, who’ll have to rediscover his lock-down form from last November and parlay it over a full schedule.

The Kings are counting on their more experienced roster to do little things like getting back on the break, which should help the NBA’s worst transition defense. Additionally a full training camp under George Karl and his coaching staff should be vastly beneficial. But without a proven shutdown wing in the fold, Sacramento is rolling the dice on their well-being.

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