What Kings Fans Should Expect From New Head Coach Mike Brown

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The Sacramento Kings made it official and crowned Mike Brown as the team’s head coach on Sunday. Sacramento team owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Monte McNair selected Brown as the Kings’ head coach over announcer Mark Jackson, the other rumored finalist for the job.

Brown became the Kings’ new coach after a well-publicized search. Brown last oversaw a middling Cavaliers team as head coach in 2013-14, but boasts a track record of sustained success prior to that season. He coached the Cavs from 2005-10, partnering with LeBron James on a Finals run in 2007. Brown spent the 2011-12 season coaching the Lakers, then was dismissed after five games for Mike D’Antoni (with a cameo by lifer Bernie Bickerstaff) the following year. Overall, he missed the playoffs once as head coach over seven seasons, which you’d wager came up in his interviews. The Kings last made the postseason in 2005-2006, the longest playoff drought in the NBA. What can fans expect from the Kings’ new coach, the first hire in a significant offseason?

What Kings Fans Should Expect From New Head Coach Mike Brown

Brown leans defense

Mike Brown has always emphasized defense as a head coach. Per Cleaning the Glass, teams with Brown coaching have had the 11th-best offensive rating in the league on average. Five of those seasons were coaching James, however, and his singular brilliance drove much of that success. The Cavaliers were 2nd in offense in both James’ MVP years, 2009 and 2010. We can assign more credit for his teams averaging the 10-best defensive rating to Brown. His Cavaliers teams had solid if unspectacular defensive personnel. James made two All-Defensive teams in his time with the Cavaliers, and Anderson Varejao (surprise!) made one. Kobe Bryant was a legacy selection while Brown coached Bryant in L.A. in 2012. 

Don’t expect the defensive focus to change when Brown takes over as Kings’ new coach. He spent this season as the defensive coordinator on the Warriors’ bench. With fellow Gregg Popovich alum Steve Kerr, Brown led an extremely experimental Warriors unit. The Warriors experimented with a box-and-one and a one-two-two zone at times this season. They toggled between switching and a drop coverage against the pick and roll. Notably, their triangle-and-two helped lead to a big road win against the Kevin Durant and James Harden-era Nets on Nov. 16th. Brown will deploy Davion Mitchell, Harrison Barnes, and (hopefully) Donte DiVincenzo in creative ways as the Kings’ head coach. Perhaps he can help De’Aaron Fox rediscover the defensive potential he showed leading up to the draft, as well. Undoubtedly Brown’s pedigree will help the Kings, who last finished higher than 18th in defense in that royal 2005-06 season.
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He will let his best players control the offense

LeBron James’ usage rate under Mike Brown never dipped below 31%. That means one-third of the Cavs’ possessions over five seasons ended with a shot, turnover, or free throws by James! Bryant’s usage in his one season under Brown was 35.7%, the highest in the league that season. Brown will allow his best players to dictate his team’s scheme on offense. He encouraged Durant to eviscerate Rudy Gobert in the second round of the 2017 playoffs. Brown coached Golden State against Utah while Steve Kerr was out with a back injury. In a tense Game Three, he instructed Durant to repeatedly call Gobert’s man to set on-ball screens. Durant dribbled free and fired, rendering the towering Gobert helpless as he drained multiple midrange jumpers in the Warriors’ win. It will be interesting to see if the Warriors use more pick and rolls and iso plays with Brown coaching in Kerr’s absence.

In Sacramento, this should translate to the Kings’ new coach depending on Fox to push the pace in transition. Fox and Domantas Sabonis can then flow into halfcourt sets built around Sabonis’ passing and post play. Fox can use his speed to glide off handoffs and get to the rim or find open shooters. The Kings have two main offensive hubs, which Brown’s teams haven’t had in the past despite the individual brilliance he has coached. Hopefully, the presence of co-leads with naturally symbiotic games leads to more unpredictability than previous Brown offenses.

Brown can also stagger one of Sabonis or Barnes to ensure one plays on the second unit with Mitchell. Mitchell showed impressive growth as an offensive player to end the season. Starting in February, he averaged 14.4 points a game on 44% shooting, including 32% from three. Pairing him with a frontcourt scoring option would allow the Kings to put pressure on opposing offenses for 48 minutes.

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Playoff pressure

This is less about Brown the coach, and more about the circumstances surrounding his new position. The Kings’ new coach absolutely must get this franchise to the playoffs. That’s not just my opinion. McNair said before this season, “​​We want to get this organization back to the playoffs. We want to get back there (and) that helps (that) we have a singular focus.” That’s a specific goal that won’t be easily attained next season. The Kings finished ahead of only Houston, Oklahoma City, and Portland. The first two teams were tanking since October; Portland waited until it knew Damian Lillard would miss the season. The West will presumably feature healthier teams in New Orleans, Denver, and LA (the Clippers), as well. 

McNair must be feeling the pressure to perform. Ranadive has cycled through a number of lead decision-makers since purchasing the Kings in 2013. Pete D’Alessandro lasted two years and was replaced by Vlade Divac. Divac maintained his position for five years, but saw high-level executives like Joe Dumars and Ken Catanella brought in around him. Former Pistons GM Dumars outlasted Divac and just exited the organization, but not before attempting to seize more power. Even now, former Hawks GM Wes Wilcox looms as a potential McNair replacement should Ranadive make the move.

Brown won’t be spared in his first season. Ranadive has hired (and fired) more coaches than GMs in his tenure. Current Denver head coach Michael Malone got particularly short shrift. He was fired 24 games into the 2014-15 season, despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to an illness after the team started 9-6 with him. Brown will need to lead Sacramento to a fast start, and probably end the season in a play-in game at least. Otherwise, the Kings’ new coach will become the King’s old coach quickly.

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