“Grit and grind.”
It’s a phrase that defined the Memphis Grizzlies under Dave Joerger. They were physical and intense. The Grizzlies had no problem roughing up teams to win.
But the Kings’ defense in recent seasons has been soft. Players have avoided contact, allowing opponents to fire at will.
Perhaps that will change this season now that Joerger has taken the helm in Sacramento and brought most of his assistants from Memphis, where Joerger coached the Grizzlies to the playoffs in each of his three seasons with the team.
All-Stars to also-rans ran through and around the Kings last season, when opponents averaged a league-high 109.1 points per game and shot 46.2 percent, tied for seventh-highest in the league, against Sacramento.
Opposing players routinely rang up season or career highs against Sacramento. If a player was in a scoring slump, the cure was a game against the Kings.
Joerger’s staff plans to infuse the Kings with some grit and grind on defense.
“We’re going to bring that here,” said lead assistant coach Elston Turner, who served under Joerger in Memphis. “We’re going to pick up the physicality; we’re going to put our hands on you. Teams are going to know that we’re on the floor. So the (Kings’) scoring may come down a bit, but believe me, the defensive part is going to raise up.”
The hands-on approach began Friday night with the Kings’ summer league opener against the Toronto Raptors at Cox Pavilion.
Turner said defense will be stressed in practice and the regular season.
“That’s what we want to do as an organization,” Joerger said. “If we’re going to play winning basketball, we feel like we’ve got to do a better job defensively, and we want to set that tone with this crew and especially the guys that are going to be on the roster. They’re going to have three steps forward in advantage when training camp comes.”
Turner is beginning his second stint in Sacramento after serving six seasons (2000-06) on Rick Adelman’s staff during the Kings’ playoff era.
For all the flashy offense then, Adelman’s Kings were solid defensively. Turner believes if the Kings embrace aggressive defense, they will gain a reputation as a physical team, much like the Grizzlies under Joerger.
“If you play that way and start some type of tradition, the officials usually lean in your direction,” Turner said. “They allow you to do a little bit more than a non-aggressive team. I think the main thing is working on it.”
Many players disagreed with coach George Karl’s defensive schemes last season, and it showed in the results.
But the Kings also will be asked to show fortitude on defense, which does not require a scheme.
“A lot of what happens defensively is really not a skill,” Turner said. “It’s athleticism; it’s tenacity. It’s stuff where you don’t have to have a big-time skill set to play it; you have to a big heart and be smart.”
What if you don’t have those intangibles?
“The guys (who don’t) have it in their heart will slowly be weeded out,” Turner said.
Turner said the skills needed to score a lot of points – as the Kings did last season – are the same as those needed on defense.
Running, lateral movement, agility and aggression are all part of scoring – and defending.
“That part is there,” Turner said. “It’s just a matter of putting them in the right mindset. We’re changing the culture a little bit. You’ve got to think a different way – defense first.”
Raptors 88, Kings 47
King of the game: Rookie forward Skal Labissiere had seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks and showed flashes of good ballhandling and court awareness. In a lopsided he loss, he was the bright spot for the Kings.
Rookie watch: Guard Malachi Richardson had seven points. Guard Isaiah Cousins (right groin strain) and center Georgis Papagiannis (left knee stiffness) did not play. Papagiannis is scheduled to undergo a precautionary MRI.
Next game: Sunday vs. Houston