Keith Smart begs his team to pay attention to the sign behind him. Not the Subway one. (Getty Images)
Ask an NBA fan to blindly, without the help of a smartphone or Internet machine, name all 30 NBA teams, and the Sacramento Kings might be the squad most often left out. In spite of the brilliance of the Chris Webber-led Kings from a decade ago, this anonymous outfit hasn't made much of a dent in the league's collective consciousness of late, missing out on six consecutive postseasons along the way. Their coach, whose name you probably have to be reminded of, is attempting to change both the team's perception and preparedness one possession at a time.
Coach Keith Smart ("That's the guy; forgot for a second, there.") recently underwent an offseason project no non-prisoner should have to endure. He charted thousands of the team's 2011-12 defensive possessions in order to see where his Kings went wrong; coming up with this shocking stat (as relayed by Sacramento Bee scribe Jason Jones, and sent to us by Sactown Royalty) along the way:
This is the first time he's been the head coach throughout all of the offseason in the NBA so he broke down all the film he could to plan for this season. He said in approximately 7,000 defensive possessions for the Kings there were only about 30 where all five players were in a defensive stance at the same time.
That's a success rate of less than half of 1 percent, Sactown Royalty crunches. And this comes on the heels of another feature concerning Smart, from the Bee's Ailene Voisin, about his bleary-eyed offseason work:
Smart spent much of the offseason hunkered down either at the Kings' practice facility or on the living room couch at his family's home in Danville. He half-jokingly says he wore out his laptop and the big-screen TV in both places. Perusing the Internet, he found footage of games dating back more than 60 years, and with little hesitation, pulled out a credit card.
When large boxes of old DVDs and videotapes started arriving at the house, his puzzled wife, Carol, shot him a look.
"What are you doing with that stuff?" she asked.
"You won't believe what I found," he replied.
Recalling the scene Monday, Smart laughed and shook his head.
"She thought I was crazy. But I studied college games, college coaches, NBA coaches, went and talked to everybody," Smart said. "I looked at systems from way back to 1949, and one thing that struck me was that we (NBA teams) all want to run. But when guys get jammed up, there is no spacing. Draw and kick … and then the guy can't make a shot. This goes back to what they teach kids in AAU. I have two boys. I know what they're learning. But we have to be more creative."
This flies in the face of all sorts of well-worn stereotypes regarding coaches that eased their way onto the sideline because of a distinguished playing career.
Smart's time in the NBA didn't last long — he played just 12 minutes spread out over two games for the San Antonio Spurs over two decades ago — but hitting a game-winning jumper on national TV to lead the Indiana Hoosiers to the NCAA title will set you in stone as a jock for life. Usually it's the ones that didn't play ball at a high level — your Van Gundys, Mike Browns, Tom Thibodeaus, Lawrence Franks, Mike Dunlaps — that are noted as the game-tape hoarders. Even if Jeff Van Gundy has gone to great lengths, during his time as an ABC/ESPN analyst, to trump up conventional pro basketball groupthink and dismiss advanced statistics.
Smart isn't a former No. 1 pick like Doug Collins or an ex-All-Star like Doc Rivers, but he still boasts that jock cred. And the clarion call sent out after taking in 7,000 defensive possessions via DVD from a team that lost two-thirds of its games and finished 29th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency?
It's a call we can get behind, because the skinflint Kings are desperately relying on internal development to put the team back in the playoff bracket. The roster is filled with players working off of rookie scale contracts, and would be nearly $10 million under the salary cap heading into 2012-13 had it not biffed a deal for John Salmons over a year ago. The team's owners are dealing with all sorts of Kings and casino-related financial hardship, though this hasn't stopped them from releasing their own brand of vodka, and the team's future in Sacramento is uneasy at best.
The improvement has to come from other sources. As much as we respect the team's selection of Thomas Robinson in last June's NBA draft and Aaron Brooks' abilities to get sneaky-hot, the team didn't make a massive upgrade to its roster over the offseason. Growth has to be of paramount importance, and the seeds aren't going to bloom if you don't know where to plant. Or pivot. Or when to bend your freakin' knees, Jimmer.
Smart has put in the work. Now it's time for his youngsters to follow his example.
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