Dave Joerger deserves a lot of credit for the Sacramento Kings’ hot start. Especially since his start with the organization did not go well.
If you think back to the day DeMarcus Cousins was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, it was either a sad or great day for Sacramento Kings fans. Those loyal to Cousins had the thought of him being the Kings’ only chance to win. On the other side of the coin, however, was starting over without Cousins’ attitude which had the power to wreck the franchise.
Well, we know what choice Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac made back in February 2017. I liked the decision made as Boogie is a top five big man but the team did not win much during his tenure. I have been a critic of Dave Joerger saying the progress of young talent was inconsistent. The coach talked about being an up-tempo team but the play was the exact opposite as the Kings were last in pace during the 2017-18 season. Joerger talked about it this year too, and so far, he has been successful. Let us look at the reasons why.
Reason #1: Joerger Sticks To The Game Plan
I have to be honest. There were times I had no clue what Joerger was doing. As the coaching staff talked of defense along with pace, the statistics did not support that. Advanced statistics put the Kings pace at 97.1 which was last in the league. With black circles under his eyes for much of last season, Joerger had to be frustrated and tired from not seeing good results on the floor. His collection of youth flashed glimpses of quickness occasionally on a fast break, but generally, they inbounded and brought the ball up the court like every other team.
Last year when the Kings picked De’Aaron Fox, he was the perfect player to run Joerger’s style of play. Yet we did not see any changes in a faster tempo. When Zach Randolph is your leading scorer, it means the half-court offense is being played. Randolph has never been a guy who sprints down the court, and at the age of 37, it was not going to start. Joeger was yelling much of the prior season for players to pick up the pace. This season has to be the time the team puts it all together. So far, the Kings have delivered better than anyone predicted. The pace this season is 109.2 which is the second fastest in the NBA.
Reason #2: Joerger’s Staff Deserves Credit Too
With this being a critical point in the rebuild, the coaching staff put into action offseason workout goals. I saw a focused group of players who were dedicated to being better this season. I believed in this group of guys who had remained positive during the stretch of losing the prior year. They were tired of losing and wanted to put an end to it.
This year’s campaign has been different for this group of players. They have been playing the way Joerger and staff had prepared them to play. They made sure they were in better shape to run, run, and run some more. Whatever the magic piece is for the team to finally put it all together, it has worked. These Kings play for each other and themselves. On both ends of the floor.
Reason #3: Joerger Is Pushing Defense
The defense is much improved and still a work in progress. By staying in front of the ball this year, opposing teams do not blow by the Kings with straight line drives to the rim. This team is better at switching then previous teams. This group knows who their man is when they switch. Talking when heading back on defense like the way it should be done.
The Kings now play like a team that wants to compete on both sides of the ball. They can play lockdown ball when they need to get a stop. Not since Michael Malone was the coach have the Kings looked this solid on defense. Joerger could have the other coaches in the NBA talking about how his defense is more efficient than his offense. That would be the first time that has happened in quite awhile.
This is what I expected to see the second half of last year. The defense has always been a sore spot personally with the Kings for many years. But if they put forth the effort that is half the battle while playing defense, they can be competitive with any team on any given night.
Whatever magic sauce the coaching staff fed the players over the summer, it has made them click together, and suddenly, they are a proficient team that is exceeding all expectations the NBA world had for them. Will Joerger and his team’s success sustain for the entire season?