When Kings coach Michael Malone speaks about his team being unselfish, he’s not simply referring to passing the ball.
After two days of training camp, everyone is saying and doing the right things, and the ball is moving too much sometimes, Malone said.
Malone, however, knows the real test of the team-first approach will come in games. That’s when players will have to put their egos in check and realize being a team player might mean not touching the ball, not playing as much or allowing DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay to go to work on offense.
If the Kings can be unselfish in those situations, that will prove the roster is accepting the message.
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“Yes, right now we’re going to have equal opportunity offense,” Malone said, “but when the time and score dictate, we’re going to have a situation where it’s no more. Let’s get DeMarcus in the post, let’s get Rudy in the pick-and-roll, let’s get Rudy and DeMarcus playing a two-man game together, and we’ll go ahead and do that. But we’ll still need the other players to do their jobs and do them effectively.”
The Kings’ emphasis on ball movement, player movement and sharing will work only if players accept their roles, even if they aren’t shooting. Selfish play was a big problem for the Kings last season. Spacing on the court was compromised when players who didn’t have the ball inched closer to the ball in hopes of getting the ball instead of running a play.
“Being unselfish is also if we’re not running a play and I’m not the main option, I still have to run my route and my cut with speed and force to set the play,” Malone said. “Because if, say it’s not for me and just go through the motions, we’re never going to generate the shot we’re trying to get for our teammate. That goes into being a good teammate, being selfless and sacrificing for one another.”
Malone is using drills to promote ball movement. He used some of those drills during summer league. There are situations in practice in which players are not allowed to dribble. In others, players are limited to two dribbles. So, the emphasis is on ball movement and sharing.
“We actually got to a point a few times where we were passing up wide-open shots to try to get an amazing shot,” Malone said. “And I don’t ever want to take guys of their shot. If you’re open, shoot it. But have a trust-the-pass mentality, have a play-for-each-other mentality.”
Being unselfish also includes trusting Malone, who has more roster flexibility this season. He said he occasionally won’t use a traditional lineup. That could mean using Cousins at power forward with Ryan Hollins at center. Malone also could look at bigger players on the wing and use Gay at shooting guard, which the coach did at times last season.
It’s part of the “positionless” approach the Kings want. That requires players to be engaged in a game even if it means they might not play.
“At times, you’re going to need five guys out there that can score,” forward Carl Landry said. “At times, you’re going to need five really good defenders out there. Whatever coach wants from us, we’re willing to buy in. We can’t continue to do it our way. Obviously we tried that last year, it didn’t work, and we can’t have that again.”
Cousins and Gay will be the focal points of the offense, but Malone does not want them draining the shot clock looking for their own shots.
Cousins has shown he is a good passer. Gay, who came to the Kings last season with a reputation of being a ball stopper, will be expected to be more of a ball mover this season.
But when they are called upon, Malone expects other players on the court to do their part and not bog down the offense in search of their own shot.
“There are going to be points in a game where we need a basket and we’ll go to our best players where they’re most effective,” Malone said. “So we’re going to continue to play through DeMarcus at times on the left block and put Rudy in post-ups and pick-and-rolls. And even Rudy said it himself this summer: ‘I held the ball way too much last year.’ And he wasn’t the only one. We want to have a pass, shoot or drive without any hesitation mindset.”