The Kings’ perimeter defense has been politely described as passive, soft and timid.
Considering the numerous season and career highs posted against the Kings, it also could be called the “slump buster.”
Most significantly, opposing guards easily get to their favorite spots on the court. To address that problem, Sacramento used some fullcourt presses in Friday’s win over the Denver Nuggets. The Kings occasionally have employed that strategy this season, but they might need to stick with it to stay in the playoff hunt.
The trick is knowing when to use that tactic, because it forces guards to expend more energy. It’s also risky, because if opponents break the pressure, they can create unfavorable matchups for the Kings’ big men that lead to easy baskets or foul trouble.
Pressure on the ball usually begins with the point guard, and Rajon Rondo has had some success applying it.
“Myself and Ben (McLemore) come up with the idea (of when to press),” Rondo said. “Obviously, you can’t do it 82 games. (On Friday) I picked it up a little bit after I got the (technical foul). DC (Darren Collison) picked it up as well. It’s a collective team effort. It’s hard to do for 82 games, so you have to pick your spots and do it in spurts.”
In Rondo’s final seasons in Boston, the Celtics used Avery Bradley to defend elite perimeter players, allowing Rondo to focus on running the offense.
The Kings desperately need their version of Bradley. That could be McLemore’s role if he can be more fiery on defense. The third-year guard is 6-foot-5 and the team’s most athletic player on the perimeter. But he’s averaging a career-low 21.1 minutes this season as coach George Karl turns to Marco Belinelli and his offense.
Belinelli missed Friday’s game after having a tooth extracted, and McLemore played 24 minutes and guarded multiple players, including point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Denver’s leading scorer, small forward Danilo Gallinari.
“I can defend different guys, and they can use me in different ways,” McLemore said. “So it’s about being aggressive … anything I can do to help the team.”
McLemore said he’s comfortable picking up the defense before halfcourt when necessary. The goal that often has eluded the Kings is to unsettle opposing guards and small forwards so they don’t play as if the defense is nonexistent.
“We’ve just got to be aggressive,” McLemore said. “Coach stressed being aggressive defensively, letting them feel us and making them feel uncomfortable. That’s what I tried to do on Mudiay, (Will) Barton, different guys – just make them uncomfortable and not let them have anything easy.”
Another key is Collison, who backs up Rondo at point guard but plays alongside Rondo for long stretches. Karl called Collison’s defense Friday “great” and said McLemore and small forward Rudy Gay “had a good defensive effort, too.”