Even before the end of last season, Kings coach Michael Malone spoke often about changing the team’s style of play.
Malone wanted the Kings to play smarter and faster, move the ball and commit more to defense. That’s how the San Antonio Spurs won the 2014 NBA championship.
Through free agency (point guard Darren Collison) and the draft (shooting guard Nik Stauskas), the Kings believe they have taken steps toward those changes while counting on growth and maturity from returning players.
Some of the returnees are being drilled in the new strategy during the NBA Summer League. Saturday, the Kings won their fourth in a row, beating the Chicago Bulls 80-61 at the Thomas & Mack Center to reach the semifinals.
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With a roster including as many as seven players who could be at training camp this fall, Malone needs the players to start embracing the new mindset as soon as possible.
Point guard Ray McCallum, shooting guard Ben McLemore and Stauskas will play a lot next season, so their progress in summer league is paramount to Malone’s vision.
“The reality is we cannot come back and play the same way we played last year,” Malone said. “Changes have to be made. And the fact that all three of those guys who are going to play on our perimeter played unselfishly ... they’re moving, they’re attacking, they’re playing with pace. Those guys can help set the tone when our veterans come back in September.”
McCallum said the play during the summer can carry over into the regular season and he likes the revisions.
“I think a lot of it is we’re sharing the ball, we’re playing for each other, we’re defending, and when we get stops on the defensive end, our team is very athletic and gets out in transition, and good things happen,” McCallum said.
“We’ve added a couple different sets, we’ve kind of changed the offense around a little bit, and some of the guys returning have a better understanding of coach Malone’s system. And once we get back to training camp, I think we can be fine.”
Practices have emphasized moving the ball, figuring out how to do so without dribbling in transition and in halfcourt sets.
The Kings have been prone to watch one player hold or dribble the ball on offense, making them easy to guard and their attack stagnate.
“We’re trying to get the ball up with advance passes, not so much dribbling, (and) playing for each other, trying to find the open guy and find the hot hand,” McCallum said. “We’re really trying to attack on the perimeter and make something happen.”
The faster the Kings can play, the more opportunities for everyone to become involved on offense.
Malone wants the defense to produce more stops to create transition opportunities that take advantage of the Kings’ offensive players.
In past seasons, the Kings grumbled after losses about “selfish” play.
McCallum said if the Kings from summer league can help execute Malone’s new sets during the fall, it will help team morale, as it has this summer.
“It does a lot,” McCallum said. “We have a lot of weapons on the offensive end, a lot of great shooters, guys who can attack and be aggressive. We’ve gotten better each and every game, we’re understanding the system that we’ve got going on out here, playing for each other, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
The fun continues todaywith a semifinal game against the winner of the Washington-San Antonio game Saturday night.