As De’Aaron Fox sat out six games recently with a thigh injury, he paid close attention to the Kings’ offense and made a decision.
He would play more aggressively and do his best to increase the team’s tempo, something he said he should have done from the start.
Fox and the Kings are finding out that’s easier said than done, as their latest attempt ended in a 99-86 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Tuesday night.
Coach Dave Joerger said before the game that he’s been emphasizing a faster tempo and that he’d like to play at the pace the Los Angeles Lakers have made routine. Los Angeles (13-27) leads the NBA in pace (103.91) while Sacramento (13-27) is 27th (96.73). Pace estimates the number of possessions a team has per game.
But playing faster isn’t just about running. It’s about the ability to make quicker decisions, see the game faster and take advantage of situations before the defense can settle in.
“It’s not who is faster or who is more explosive, it’s about reading the game,” said Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic. “That’s what makes the game faster, and when you play together, the game looks easy and fast.”
The Lakers, however, are in coach Luke Walton’s second season of that emphasis. Joerger’s first season was forced to reboot last February when DeMarcus Cousins was traded, so the philosophy on offense shifted drastically.
Joerger’s message is easier to preach now that Fox sees the benefits for this team. The rookie point guard from Kentucky was drafted to captain that style, and now has a better understanding of how to increase tempo after his time out with his injury.
It also helps that Bogdanovic has emerged this season as a capable playmaker who sees the floor well. Teammates seek him out to get a better understanding of the game.
Bogdanovic had team highs of 19 points and four assists against the Lakers. Fox had 15 points, four steals and three assists.
With so many Kings learning each other’s tendencies and the NBA game, there will be mistakes.
“We really try to pick up our stuff in practice so the game almost feels a little slower,” Joerger said. “And try to make them play, fast, fast, fast and make mistakes and that’s OK because we learn from them.”
Fox said it’s about more than just scoring.
“It’s about trying to get in a rhythm and tempo, just to get those guys in a rush,” he said. “Today, shots just weren’t falling.”
Fox believes if he can speed up the pace and the Kings can move the ball faster, it will create more opportunities for everyone. But he also acknowledges that takes time.
“It just comes from practice,” Fox said. “The first game that we came back (after) we had three good days of practice and guys were running and in sync and we’re still working on it. Nothing’s perfect, it’s never going to be perfect but we’re still getting there.”
The Lakers had 35 fast-break points against the Kings, the most Sacramento has allowed this season. The Kings had just eight.
Sacramento entered Tuesday last in the NBA in scoring, averaging 97.4 points and 1.15 points per possession.
Fox is doing his part to change that, but it takes more than one player running.
“It takes all five to run though,” Joerger said. “I think there’s times where we’re not getting everybody up and down the floor, getting guys all the way to the corners. You’ve got to learn how to play with a speed guy like that and give him space, because if you give him space you’re going to be the beneficiary of it on kickouts and swing arounds.”
Bogdanovic said fans will notice a change when the team speeds up its tempo through reading the defense, as opposed to depending on players running faster.
Like Fox, he said the process of playing fast will pay off eventually.
“If you can play like that for 30 minutes, that’s something different,” Bogdanovic said. “You don’t even need to score every time, but it keeps the game in rhythm, you have flow, you have rhythm. That’s how you gain confidence and when the ball starts to go in, everything changes.”