COMMENTARY | Former Golden State Warriors assistant Michael Malone has been a hot commodity in the NBA coaching world. Already well known for being an experienced defensive assistant, Malone gained more recognition following Golden State’s unexpected rise from lottery team to the second round of the playoffs in 2013.
On Thursday May 30, Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Sacramento Kings have signed Michael Malone to be their next head coach. But was signing Malone ahead of proven head coaches like Byron Scott, Stan Van Gundy and Lionel Hollins a wise decision? And what can we expect from Malone’s Sacramento Kings?
A closer look at how Michael Malone teams perform
Michael Malone first became a lead assistant in 2005-2006 when he joined Mike Brown, then newly hired head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Per basketball-reference.com, the Cavaliers improved their defensive rebounding percentage (the share of available rebounds they claimed from the offensive team) from 12th to fourth in the NBA , but didn’t see much defensive improvement elsewhere.
The next year the Cavaliers took a step forward in points allowed per 100 possessions, going from 14th to fourth in the NBA. That jump was matched by improvement in opponent’s effective field goal defense (a metric which accounts for the fact that three point buckets are more valuable than two point buckets) from 18th to seventh.
2005-06: 105.4 Def Rtg(14th), .490 opp-eFG% (18th), 75.7 DRB% (4th), 12.8 TOV% (27th)
2006-07: 101.3 Def Rtg (4th), .480 opp-eFG% (7th), 75.8 DRB% (2nd), 14.7 TOV% (5th)
Despite the big increase in turnover percentage from 27th to fifth, Malone’s Cavaliers defense did not rely on creating turnovers (TOV%). Creating turnovers usually requires defenders to jump into passing lanes and intercept passes or lunge for steals while defending the ball handler, and players who guess wrong often get beat for a foul or points.
Malone coached defenses show solid defensive fundamentals and avoid unnecessary risks, both indicative of well coached teams. For the remainder of his tenure, Malone’s defense continued to defend and rebound exceptionally well but remained an average to below average turnover forcing team as you can see below.
2007-08: 106.4 Def Rtg (11th), .494 opp-eFG% (10th), 75.9 DRB% (2nd), 12.9 TOV% (16th)
2008-09: 102.4 Def Rtg (3rd), .468 opp-eFG% (2nd), 74.6 DRB% (9th), 13.5 TOV% (10th)
2009-10: 104.1 Def Rtg (7th), .482 opp-eFG% (3rd), 77.2 DRB% (2nd), 12.3 TOV% (25th)
When he joined the New Orleans Hornets in 2010-2011 Michael Malone had the same positive impact , but the improvement was more sudden. The Hornets saw their points allowed per 100 possessions, effective field goal defense and defensive rebounding improve in Malone’s only year in New Orleans.
*2009-10: 110.1 Def Rtg (21st), .523 opp-eFG% (26th), 73.8 DRB% (14th), 13.5 TOV% (13th)
2010-11: 105.2 Def Rtg (10th), .501 opp-eFG% (17th), 76.2 DRB% (2nd), 14.4 TOV% (6th)
Malone’s next stop with the Golden State Warriors should serve as the clearest example yet of his impact. Though it is important to keep in mind that the Warriors roster changed significantly from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013, remember that the Warriors introduced four rookies into the playing rotation and still managed to produce huge gains.
*2010-11: 110.7 Def Rtg (26th), .509 opp-eFG% (21st), 69.3 DRB% (30th), 14.5 TOV% (5th)
2011-12: 109.1 Def Rtg (27th), .496 opp-eFG% (23rd), 69.1 DRB% (30th), 13.6 TOV% (18th)
2012-13: 105.5 Def Rtg (14th), .486 opp-eFG% (8th), 75.5 DRB% (1st), 12.4 TOV% (28th)
Malone’s coaching career has consistently featured teams improving defensively and that’s great news for Kings fans. Even more importantly, Malone’s work results in wins. In the past 8 years, Malone’s teams won 59% of their games (or about 48.5 games per season). That’s no small feat considering that none of his teams (the Cavaliers, Hornets or Warriors) reached the playoffs the year before he arrived.
What does Michael Malone mean for the Sacramento Kings?
Kings fans should be optimistic with the hire of Michael Malone. Not only do his teams show improvement on the court, but they show improvement in the same specific areas of play regardless of the roster. This is a strong signal that Malone’s coaching influence will help his new team.
But there’s more here to like. The 2012-13 Kings were statistically quite similar to the Warriors in 2010-2011, the year before he joined Golden State. This isn’t proof that the Kings will follow the Warriors to the playoffs, but it is a challenge Malone has seen before. And unlike the Cavaliers and Hornets, the 2011 Warriors and 2013 Kings both feature rosters that are a work in progress.
2010-11 Warriors: 110.7 Def Rtg (26th), .509 opp-eFG% (21st), 69.3 DRB% (30th), 14.5 TOV% (5th)
2012-13 Kings: 111.4 Def Rtg (29th), .517 opp-eFG% (27th), 71.0 DRB% (30th), 13.6 TOV% (17th)
Malone’s Kings might spend much of next season like the 2011-2012 Warriors: a team quietly forging an identity while learning how to play team defense. And like the Warriors, don’t expect drastic across the board improvement in year one. The Kings roster is still in flux, and ownership still has to decide on a new general manager and draft plans. But I am confident the finished product will be a much-improved Kings team that plays disciplined, fundamental defense and works hard on the defensive glass, regardless of personnel.
Malone and the Kings have a lot of work to do before they can start thinking playoffs, but for the first time in years it looks like they’ve hired a coach who can take them there. Let’s hope they make it.
*Before Malone joined staff