Ask Cal freshman Jaylen Brown about playing defense, and he gets excited.
Brown already envisions making life miserable for offensive players.
“When I got to Cal, coach (Cuonzo) Martin, that’s what he hangs his hat on, defense, and that’s what I’m going to hang my hat on, too,” the 6-foot-7 forward said at the NBA draft combine. “I just can’t wait to get to the NBA and lock guys up. That’s what I want to do and that’s my calling.”
The Kings have sought players such as Brown for some time. Last season, they ranked among the NBA’s worst defensive teams, and shoring up the defense must be a priority to end a decade of losing seasons.
Never miss a local story.
With its 2015 draft pick, Sacramento selected forward-center Willie Cauley-Stein, generally considered the best defensive prospect in the draft. Cauley-Stein, DeMarcus Cousins, Kosta Koufos and Quincy Acy generally solidified the interior defense.
But the Kings’ inability to defend the perimeter was embarrassing. All-Stars to also-rans rang up season and career highs at Sacramento’s expense.
Everybody (asks). I live off that. I’m not worried about the defensive end.
Oregon State guard Gary Payton II, son of one of the best defenders in NBA history
The Kings hope new coach Dave Joerger and his staff, which is expected to include former Kings assistant and noted defensive expert Elston Turner, can improve the defense with schematic changes missing under George Karl last season.
Those adjustments might garner more enthusiasm from the players, whose woeful defense sometimes could be attributed to a lack of trust in the system.
Still, the Kings need players who can defend to carry out Joerger’s philosophy. So using their first-round pick on Brown, should he be available, would be wise.
Cauley-Stein’s ability to switch defensively and cover a lot of space should only improve in his second season. Cousins’ instincts and smarts are keys to protecting the rim in the halfcourt.
What the Kings need is a player who can switch off and defend guards and small forwards and occasionally harass a point guard at a high level.
But expecting such versatility from a rookie is risky. For all the positives Cauley-Stein displayed, he had moments where his rookie status showed. And all prospects probably will express eagerness to play defense.
Providence point guard Kris Dunn said he’s been compared to Washington Wizards All-Star John Wall and noted it’s not just for his offense.
I just can’t wait to get to the NBA and lock guys up. That’s what I want to do and that’s my calling.
Cal forward Jaylen Brown
“John Wall, he’s not a bad defender,” Dunn said. “He definitely works hard on the defensive end and that’s one of my greatest strengths.”
For at least one prospect, defense is genetic. Gary Payton II is the son of the Naismith Hall of Fame guard who was one of the best defenders in league history. The 6-3 guard from Oregon State was the Pacific-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016.
Payton knows when he speaks to a team, defense will be a topic.
“Of course,” he said. “Everybody (asks). I live off that. I’m not worried about the defensive end.”
Payton interviewed with the Kings at the combine. He’s not projected to be a lottery pick, but the Kings could snag a player such as Payton later in the draft to help contain the many guards who broke loose against Sacramento seemingly every game.
And the more defensive-minded players the Kings add, the better.