In the Houston Rockets’ brand of basketball, pretty much any shot beyond the arc is considered a good one. That proved especially true against the Kings last season.
So when Houston visits Golden 1 Center for Wednesday’s season opener, it will provide an immediate test of what was one of Sacramento’s biggest weaknesses.
“We have a lot less experience this year, so it’ll be more difficult this year than it was last year,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger of defending the perimeter. “The guys are receptive and we don’t get down, down, down if it doesn’t work the first time. We just try to keep grinding and learn from things. And each situation, each practice, guys have done a good job.”
Kings’ opponents fired up 3-pointers comfortably and confidently last season, making 10.9 per game, tied for second most in the NBA. The Rockets took full advantage of the porous perimeter, attempting a then-NBA-record 50 3-pointers last November in Sacramento. They averaged an NBA-record 40.3 attempts from beyond the arc last season.
There is no way to simulate the pressure the Rockets put on defenses with perennial All-Star guards James Harden and Chris Paul, who are complemented by a collection of shooters on the roster.
The Kings don’t have the luxury of easing their youngest players into the mix. The rotation is expected to feature at least two rookies: guards De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, though the latter won’t play Wednesday due to a sprained right ankle. Rookies Frank Mason and Justin Jackson could also see time.
And it’s not as if all the second-year players have a lot of game experience. Only shooting guard Buddy Hield played in 82 games last season, the first 57 of those with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Add to that how the Kings are still figuring out their defensive identity, there could be a lot of confused looks on the floor at tipoff.
“It’s difficult because we’re trying to get our scheme in, and this is a team that takes you out of your scheme,” guard Garrett Temple said. “It’s going to be learning on the fly some of these minutes in the game. But guys play basketball and you know you don’t want James Harden shooting an open 3, we want to run Trevor Ariza off the line.
“If we individualize players, what we want them to do, what we don’t want them to do, I think it’ll be a little easier for guys. But it is what it is. It starts counting (Wednesday).”
No matter how much the Kings try to simplify the game, there are some things the young players won’t know until they feel them – like running into a screen from Houston’s P.J. Tucker.
“The biggest adjustment for young guys defensively is the physicality, to have people on them and being on other guys’ bodies,” Joerger said. “Otherwise, if you’re not, and they beat you, you go, ‘Where’d he go?’ Or you’re fighting for a spot on the floor and you’re just not experienced or strong enough for a guy ... it’s a body-on-body game and it takes some time for guys to become pros.”
The Kings will rely on the knowledge of their veterans and hope the youngsters learn quickly, especially when it comes to Harden and Paul.
“For us we just want to try to make it as uncomfortable as possible,” said guard Vince Carter, the oldest active player in the NBA at 40. “That’s our job, just to make them uncomfortable. Of course when the game is clutch, each one of them wants the ball in their hands and there’s only one basketball. So hopefully we’re put in a situation where we’re winning the game and it doesn’t matter.”