Hired for His Offense, Luke Walton Needs Defensive Improvement to Win

SACRAMENTO -- Luke Walton loves for his teams to get out and run. Last season in Los Angeles, Walton's Lakers pushed the tempo, finishing the year fourth in pace in the NBA.

When searching for a new head coach, one of the keys for General Manager Vlade Divac was that the Kings' uptempo style remain in place moving forward.

"The way we played last year, that's kind of the identity for Kings basketball and that's what we're going to stick with," Divac said. "We have a nice core of players that are going to play that kind of style."

Playing fast is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but on occasion, it can lead to massive swings on the scoreboard. While the Kings could put the ball in the basket at will, they struggled to keep their opponents from doing the same.

The next step in the evolution of the team is to not just focus on one side of the court, but to play with tempo on offense combined with solid team defense. At least that should be the mindset if the Kings are going to improve on last season' 39-43 record.

"Defense wins. Defense wins championships," Walton said during his introductory press conference Monday in Sacramento. "I love offense, I love how beautiful it can be when you have five guys moving the ball and shooting and everything else. But defensie is how you win when it really counts."

Walton had plenty of veteran players last season in Los Angeles, which usually helps on the defensive side of the ball. The Lakers finished 21st in points allowed because of their pace of play, but 12th in defensive rating.

The Kings struggled to get stops on plenty of nights last year. Sacramento ranked 26th in points allowed and 20th in defensive rating. The Kings failed to get the necessary stops they needed in the final minutes of games, which was especially apparent late in the season.

There is no magic pill to make someone better on the defensive side of the ball. It takes time and chemistry and a want to improve. It also takes a priority by a coaching staff.

"We'll put a huge emphasis on our defense, challenge our guys daily, start practices with defense," Walton said.

This isn't to say that Dave Joerger's group failed in this aspect last season. Handed an extremely young and inexperienced roster, they chose first to focus on tempo and then worked to improve on defense throughout the year.

Walton will need additional players with defensive acumen to succeed. Adding a proven shot blocker and post defender would help and maybe a defensive-minded wing.

The midseason additions of Harrison Barnes and Corey Brewer gave a glimpse into how seasoned players can affect the defensive side of the ball. Divac needs to search out more of these types of players in free agency.

A year of growth by their young core will aide in this process as well. Players like De'Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles all have tremendous potential to grow into stronger defenders in the future. But it will take effort for this to happen.

Known more for his offensive style during his short coaching career, Walton has played for some incredible mentors both during his in both college and the pros, including Lute Olson, Phil Jackson and Rudy Tomjanovich.

While his play style is better represented by the two years he spent as an assistant under Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors, he's gleaned plenty from some of the best the game has known.

"It's attention to detail that they had," Walton said. "Holding people accountable or to the standard of play that they wanted as a coach that really separates the great coaches that I've played for and the way that they've influenced me as a young coach."

It should be noted that during his half season as an interim head coach for Golden State, the Warriors posted the number one scoring offense with the second fastest pace while finishing fifth in the league in defensive rating.

The Kings haven't spent years together like that Warriors team, but there is hope that with time, this group can take another step forward with better communication and a few key additions.

After many years of struggles, Sacramento has an identity. Walton is a perfect fit for the style of play, but the team has to more than just a flashy offensive juggernaut if they hope to snap the franchise's 13-year postseason drought.

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