Sacramento Kings

Kings tinkering with small ball to push tempo this season

With Vivek Ranadive as principal owner, the Kings just might corner the market on terms for new-age basketball.

Last season, the catchphrase was “NBA 3.0.” This year, the chatter is all about positionless basketball, or not be bound to the traditional lineup of a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center.

What the Kings want to do with their version of positionless basketball really isn’t new. Coaches in the past have put their five best players on the floor regardless of position.

Coaches such as Don Nelson used unconventional lineups years ago, as has Gregg Popovich, who led the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA championship last season by getting five multifaceted players on the floor to keep pressure on the defense.

The Kings finally have enough player personnel diversity to give it a try and did so in Sunday’s preseason opener, rolling out their three-guard lineups in an exhibition loss to the Toronto Raptors.

The Kings host the Raptors tonight at Sleep Train Arena, and some guards are excited at the possibilities of small ball.

“We play a lot faster when we get out on the break; we’re in tune defensively,” point guard Darren Collison said. “I think that’s going to be a good lineup for us throughout the year. You look at how a lot of teams are playing, they’re playing small ball. That’s going to be to our advantage.”

The Kings used two point guards, Collison and Ramon Sessions with shooting guards Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas sliding over to what would normally be the small forward spot.

It helps the Kings with their goals of playing faster and creating more space on the court.

“When you have Darren and Ramon in the game with a Ben or a Nik you have two very effective ballhandlers, pick-and-roll players with Ramon and Darren; and you have the shooter component with Ben or Nik,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “So it allows us to play that positionless basketball with drive; kick, read and play off of each other as opposed to having that true small forward in the game. You know the NBA is getting smaller and smaller, and you see a lot more of these small-ball lineups all the time.”

Going small isn’t something the Kings are accustomed to, but Malone wanted to try it against the Raptors.

“We really haven’t done a lot of that in practice so it’s something different for me,” Stauskas said. “At this point in time, you’ve just got to go with it, learn on the fly, and that’s what we did.”

The three-guard lineup figures to benefit Stauskas and McLemore by taking the pressure off to be the secondary ball handler. That would allow either player to be spot-up shooters, who have the option of creating off the dribble.

“It helps me get my rhythm going,” McLemore said. “Instead of me trying to create for myself off the dribble, I can read off them and flow off them and it’s a lot easier for me.”

And when the Kings get a defensive rebound, there are two outlets to start a fast break.

“With me and D.C. out there being playmakers, that’s tough to guard,” Sessions said. “Anytime you’ve got two point guards that can break down a defense, it’s tough to guard.”

Then there’s the tempo factor. The Kings are obsessed with increasing their pace of play, which could almost put Collison and Sessions in competition to see who can get the ball up the court faster.

Two point guards give the Kings another way of getting the ball across midcourt with at least 21 seconds on the shot clock and either find early offense or a set for the Kings to run.

Sessions is intrigued by the possibilities.

“I think it went well considering it was the first time we did it,” Sessions said. “We didn’t even do it in practice. We’re all trying to get reps at (point guard), trying to learn the system and learn their primary position, but I think it went well. I think it’s something that can be reckoned with. I can see it getting better and better as the year goes on.”

Malone plans to change his starting lineup for tonight’s game. As the game goes on, he’ll experiment with lineups again at times, regardless of position.

“We’ll go big some nights,” Malone said. “We’ll go small some nights depending on the matchups and the personality of the game.”

And in some cases, smaller will be better.

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