Michael Malone, who describes his most important function in his second year as head coach as “teacher,” is chaperoning a significant field trip as Sacramento faces the Brooklyn Nets in Shanghai, China on Saturday, 10 p.m. PT and in Beijing on Wednesday, 4:30 a.m. PT.
The trip to China in the middle of a training camp includes 13 new players who weren’t in camp last year with Sacramento and represents a branding opportunity for the NBA. But the Kings desperately need to improve their brand and improve upon two consecutive 28-win seasons.
The Kings, who have split their first two exhibition games versus Toronto, also face a tough early regular season schedule -- seven of the Kings' first ten opponents made the playoffs last season. Therefore, progress must be made during the trip -- on and off the court.
“It’s still training camp and we have to find a way to get work in with the distractions and obligations of the trip. China is a very long trip but a great time to bond as a team,” according to Malone.
In addition to cohesion off the court, here’s a look at the specific numbers Malone wants to see on the floor that will prove the team is coalescing:
Running with a caveat
Goal: High teens in fast-break points
“Always have to have discipline. We want to run, but run with discipline,” Malone has stated.
Tuesday’s 113-106 exhibition victory versus Toronto included 18 fast break points, which is encouraging.
Last season, Phoenix edged out the Clippers (18.2) and Rockets (18) with 18.7 fast break points per game to lead the NBA.
Sacramento was middle of the pack -- 15th in the league with 13.1 fast break points per game.
“Attack the clock”
Goal: Cross half court with 21 seconds on shot clock
The Kings strive to cross half court with 21 seconds on the shot clock to explore early scoring opportunities. As Malone explains it: “Attack the clock.”
If early scoring opportunities are not there, plenty of time remains to get into your offense with the goal of multiple ball reversals and ultimately uncontested looks.
Quickening the pace and ball movement are paramount as Sacramento tries to improve upon last year, when it was last in the league with the fewest assists per game.
Take care of the ball
Goal: Fewer than 13 turnovers
Sacramento was 23rd in the NBA last season with over 15 turnovers per game. Charlotte paced the league with just under 13 per game.
As Malone recently lamented after a five-point loss to the Raptors in Vancouver that included 29 Sacramento turnovers, “You can’t beat yourself and your opponent on the same night.”
Limiting open looks
Goal: Keep opponents shooting under 44 percent
Holding the opponent to below 44 percent shooting will land a team in the top six or seven in the NBA, and from Jan. 1 to the end of last season, the Kings were 12th in the NBA at 45 percent.
Malone would like this trend to continue with a goal of keeping opponents to 43 percent from the field, which could lead the league this season. The Kings finished 20th last season at 46 percent field goal percentage against.
Goal: Allow fewer than 20 points in fourth quarter
The Kings have a goal of allowing 20 of fewer fourth-quarter points. Even though it’s a small sample size, it’s been a struggle early as Sacramento has allowed 31 and 30 fourth-quarter points to the Raptors in their first two exhibition games.