Luke Walton Reflects on the Season, Working from Home and ‘Tiger King’

Walton speaks on the development of his team, ‘The Last Dance’ and more.
by Jordan Ramirez
Digital Managing Editor

“I have watched every episode of Tiger King.”

Kings head coach Luke Walton is keeping busy during the shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19.

“I’m teaching math to my son and he kept getting bored with math,” Walton joked. “If he gets the question right, I let him, from about 10 feet away, throw the volleyball at me when we are all done. He wakes up every morning now and cannot wait to get to math because at the end he gets to throw a volleyball at his dad.”

In his first interview since the NBA season was postponed, the first-year Sacramento coach reflected on his team’s improving play before it was put on hold.

“We were playing high-level basketball,” Walton explained. “As far as a team embracing what it needs to do. What I mean by that is individuals understanding their roles, individuals understanding what we need out of them and those individuals making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. I think that’s why we were winning games at a pretty solid rate towards the end.”

Walton reflected on the team coming together at the right time, with development from his roster and the newest acquisitions.

“Alex [Len] and Kent [Bazemore] coming over to add some toughness and physicality that we needed and the defensive level that was being played,” said Walton of his team’s play. “A big part of it was having De’Aaron [Fox] get going like that and getting to the free-throw line consistently. In the last few games, I know it’s a small sample size, he was shooting around 90 percent and if you get there eight times a game, that is going to help.

“Buddy [Hield] was just really dominating his role for us coming off the bench. Bogdan [Bogdanovic] in the starting lineup was making nice basketball plays. We had a lot of good positive things going for us as a team and we were excited. We were looking forward to every matchup that we had, and our guys were giving us everything they had.”

Despite the extraneous circumstances, Coach Walton continues to aim for development from his players while the shelter-in-place order is ongoing.

“A big part of what I believe in as a coach is player development,” Walton detailed. “This is a great time for some of those things, whether it’s reading books or listening to podcasts. Meditation is something we encourage our players to do and get into.”

While at home, Walton has continued to study film and is encouraged by what he’s seen from his team’s play.

“I was really pleased with how we were playing over the last 20-25 games,” Walton continued. “We were really starting to play some consistent basketball. Defending and playing the way we really wanted to. Guys were really understanding each other and knowing, playing, and feeding off each other.

“There was some really exciting stuff to continue to build on and there were some things that I wanted to try more five-out action with some of our smaller lineups that we were getting to. Having De’Aaron [Fox] back and having him play at the level that he was playing at. Running more of the Pistol action and continuing to give Harrison [Barnes] more looks at the four.”

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Studying film and working with his players aside, Walton is still finding time to unwind, watching ‘Tiger King’ and most recently, the ESPN Michael Jordan documentary, ‘The Last Dance.’

“I hope everyone on our team watched it,” Coach Walton said. “I think some of the footage and messaging that’s portrayed, whether it’s from Michael [Jordan] or whoever in those first two episodes, there’s a lot to learn from that. From the challenges of winning to becoming a dynasty — it was fun to watch.”

Finally, Walton is encouraged with his team’s development, whether the 2019-20 season has concluded, or gets underway in the future.

“I love where we’re at as a group. I think our future is bright. We have a great group of guys. Winning consistently in any pro sport is hard, but when you get a good group of guys that work hard and like each other and are willing to trust each other, I think this is how you make that happen.”

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