Opposing point guards have hurt the Kings repeatedly.
Starting point guards average 17.3 points and 7.4 assists against the Kings this season. That doesn’t include the 31 points and 11 assists the Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford came off the bench to produce Friday night with star Chris Paul out with a sore right hamstring.
But it really hasn’t mattered most of the season as point guards repeatedly have broken down the Kings’ defense, and until the Kings begin solving that problem, they’ll find themselves scrambling on the perimeter and struggling to slow down opponents.
The Kings will be tested again today at Sleep Train Arena when they face Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who hit the Kings for 22 points and 12 assists in a Warriors win Nov. 2 in Oakland.
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Coach Michael Malone said the Kings’ problem slowing point guards isn’t complicated to understand.
“We can’t contain them,” Malone said. “Your defense starts on the ball, and obviously a lot of nights we’ve gone into it and we’re not able to contain the ball on the perimeter. And when you add that to the fact that we don’t have much shot blocking on our back line – we’re 30th in the NBA in blocked shots per game (3.4) – that’s not a good combination.”
That combination has led to several nights where the Kings are searching for someone to shut down the perimeter. Point guards have been good, but several perimeter players have had success against the Kings.
Once they break down the Kings on the perimeter, opposing guards are able to force them to collapse on defense and create open shots for teammates. It also exposes the Kings’ frontcourt players to foul trouble.
Malone said it was his fault for not making adjustments to stop Crawford, who picked apart the Kings with his shooting and passing. But the Kings also haven’t shown they have the personnel to contain guards.
The one player Malone trusted to slow perimeter players, Luc Mbah a Moute, was traded last week. But even with Mbah a Moute, opposing guards had their way. Guards have blown by the Kings on the perimeter and hurt them with pick-and-rolls, too.
“The challenge is for our perimeter players, whether it’s one-on-one or pick-and-rolls, is to do a much better job of containing the basketball and giving space if we need to, to keep those guys out of the paint,” Malone said. “Because we get hurt from the 3-point line quite a bit. Usually when you get hurt from the 3, it’s because you can’t contain the basketball.”
Opponents are shooting 37.7 percent from 3-point range against the Kings, 23rd in the NBA. The Kings are 24th overall in opposing field-goal percentage at 46.5 percent.
Fixing that won’t happen quickly. The Kings have long struggled to contain the ball defensively and will be challenged almost nightly.
The Kings on Tuesday face Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who puts as much pressure on teams as any guard in the NBA.
On Friday, the Kings host the Los Angeles Lakers. Steve Blake starts at point guard for the injured Steve Nash. Blake isn’t a star, but he carved up the Kings for 12 assists in a 100-86 Lakers win last Sunday.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni also told reporters there is a possibility Kobe Bryant could make his season debut against the Kings. Why not test his repaired Achilles’ against a team that has trouble defending the perimeter?
Regardless of who has the ball today and going forward, it will take a collective effort to fix the problem.
“It’s a team effort,” Kings guard Greivis Vasquez said. “The NBA’s about pick-and-rolls, and we have to defend pick-and-rolls better. We have to be on a string. One guy has to be responsible to stop the ball, but when they set picks, we have to communicate.”
If not, the Kings will find themselves in a familiar position – watching opposing guards control the game.