Special to The Enterprise
SANTA BARBARA — The Sacramento Kings wrapped up training camp in Santa Barbara on Monday, ready to surprise Western Conference opponents with offseason acquisitions and a revamped front office.
Sacramento hasn’t won as many as 30 games since 2007-08, but owner Vivek Ranadive, general manager Pete D’Alessandro and head coach Mike Malone — all new to the Kings this season — are ready to right the ship.
Shooting guard Marcus Thornton said Malone was pushing defense on the Kings, who allowed 2.4 more points per game than any other team last year.
“We (were) last in just about every category on the defensive side,” Thornton told The Enterprise on Saturday. “Everything has been about defense, and that’s what we need.”
Malone’s defense-first approach helped Golden State reach the second round of the playoffs last season when he was an assistant to head coach Mark Jackson. The Warriors went from 28th in points allowed per game in 2012-13 to 19th last year.
Meanwhile the Kings’ offense was sometimes directionless last season, often ending up with players like Thornton and Tyreke Evans going one-on-one with defenders. For the 2013-14 campaign, Sacramento has brought in point guard Greivis Vasquez to call plays and be the key ball distributor.
Vasquez’s 9.0 assists per game last year with the New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans) were third in the NBA, and he also chipped in 13.9 points per game.
The fourth-year Venezuelan will be counted on to lead the Kings on and off the court. Part of his plan includes unifying the team before the season starts.
“I’m going to be kind of like the bodyguard for everyone,” Vasquez said. “Compared to other teams, I feel like we’re doing things the right way. And when you do things the right way, you always get rewarded.”
Vasquez said he is about 85 to 90 percent healthy after undergoing ankle surgery in May, and plans on being at full strength for the Kings’ opening night on Oct. 30. He became more active in practices throughout training camp.
“There’s no point for me to overdo it right now,” he added. “I think I’m going to be better this year overall, and I’ve got plenty of confidence that we’re going to do well as a team.”
Sixth-year power forward Jason Thompson has the longest tenure of any King, and noticed the difference between the past and current front offices.
Thompson said he has bought into Malone’s defensive preaching and is optimistic for the next season. He said he wants to see Sacramento back in the playoffs, but declined to name a benchmark for wins.
“I don’t think it really matters how many wins we have if we can get a playoff spot, like the seventh or eighth (seed),” Thompson said. “I think the goal should be playing as a team, being one of the top defensive teams. Stuff like that shows in the stats, it shows in wins.”
Rookie Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, said he fed off veterans like Vasquez and Thompson in training camp. McLemore dropped 15.8 points in 30.0 minutes per game in Summer League.
The soft-spoken Kansas product was drafted at 189 pounds, and is focused on beefing up his 6-foot-5 frame while improving his repertoire.
“I was just working on my all-around game. Shooting, getting my ball-handling right, conditioning,” McLemore said. “It’s a big, different stage for me coming from college and transferring to the NBA.”