Kings Lead

Kings Once Again Failing to Live up to Expectations

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This was the season that all the pieces were supposed to come together for the Sacramento Kings. The Kings were supposed to make the playoffs, breaking their 14-year drought. Kings fans have been desperate to experience success after staying patient for over a decade. This was the year for Sacramento prosperity, but instead, it has been a year of borderline chaos.

Through 33 games last year, the Kings sat at an above-.500 record with 18-15. Seen as a complete underdog in 2018-19, every basketball fan in the country was in awe of their great start. While the Kings ultimate goal of playoffs was not met, last year was still a huge overachievement. Then, Sacramento bolstered their roster in their offseason with free-agent signings, as well as retaining Harrison Barnes and extending Buddy Hield. All this was done in hope of the Kings’ greatest season since 2006.

A star openly complaining to the media, constant boos directed at the team in the Golden 1 Center, seemingly apparent coaching issues, and a 12-21 record were not apart of the plan.

So, Kings Fans, How Did We Get Here?

First off, I have an undeniable answer as to why this season has been so disappointing thus far. The Kings franchise, along with their fans, had expectations. They had expectations for the first time since Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Doug Christie were the headliners. And with a little over one-third of the season complete, these expectations have haunted everyone with ties to Sacramento. Expectations do not translate to results, that is why they can be so dangerous to a sports franchise. Execution produces results, and the Kings have been overwhelmingly lackluster when it has come to executing.

As soon as Luke Walton was hired as head coach, he strongly emphasized his intentions of how he envisioned the Kings playing. Walton longed for significant improvement on the defensive-end and he wanted his team shooting a lot of threes. To Walton’s credit, the defensive rating and three-pointers attempted have improved. In 2018-19, the Kings team defensive rating was 111.5 (20th in the league) and this year it is 109.9 (17th in the league). For three-pointers attempted per game, last year it was 29.9 attempts per game (20th most in the league) and this year it is 34.6 attempts per game (12th most in the league).

Unfortunately, these two improvements have come at the cost of arguably the Kings most valuable weapon last year, their pace. They have dropped from the 5th quickest pace last year, to the slowest this year (103.1 to 96.9). While Walton has recognized the effectiveness of the Kings’ speedy play, he also believes they have things to improve on, like the half-court offense, before the team makes it a priority as they did last season.

The Kings are Shooting a Lot of Threes… But

I mentioned the increase in three-point attempts this year — almost five per game — but what really matters is if it has been effective. Last year the Kings shot an impressive 37.8% from beyond the arc. Through this point in the year, the Kings three-point percentage is 34.7%, a decent decrease in efficiency. It is also important to recognize that Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes — both top-3 in three-pointers attempted per-game for Sacramento — have been in slumps shooting the long-ball this whole year. Both their percentages from deep have dropped over 6%.

The three-point struggles should straighten out as we get further into the year. but there is an argument to be made for the quality of looks Sacramento’s shooters are getting. Buddy Hield himself said he could not remember the last time he had a “wide-open catch-and-shoot” opportunity. Hield has made it present multiple times in post-game interviews that he has issues with the coaching staff this year.

The Difference From Last Year

The truth is, a lot of the wide-open opportunities Hield speaks of came on fast-break opportunities last year. When the Kings would outrun their opponent there was plenty of great looks for Buddy, and it was where he thrived. The point is, sacrificing quick pace has also resulted in sacrificing the number of quality looks for a top-5 three-point shooter in the NBA last year. Frankly, the Kings “focus” of half-court offense has looked slow and basic thus far, but that’s a different conversation. Considering a change in speed of the game could not hurt, as the Kings have lost their last five in a row while looking subpar on offense in all five games.

The Kings have spots to improve and Walton’s vision is for the long run, but if the Kings don’t utilize what works for them and start to put some wins together now, Oklahoma City and Portland will easily run away with the last two playoff spots.

Defensive Improvements?

Honestly, it was quite disappointing to discover the minimal statistical improvements our defense has made this year compared to last season. For instance, Kings’ opponents field goal percentage has only dropped one-tenth of a percent (46.6% to 46.5%). As I mentioned, their defensive rating did drop 1.5 points, so a noticeable refinement in that category. Unfortunately, they are forcing less turnovers this year, about 0.6 less turnovers per game to be exact.

The biggest problem appears to be the lack of three-point coverage. Sacramento’s opponents have improved their long ball percentage from 34.8% last year to 35.6% this year. While it is not a large differential, this area is more so a problem when it comes to the eye test. I think I speak for all Kings fans when I say it is ridiculous how many more open threes opponents seem to have than Sacramento. Last Monday, the Kings played the Rockets and Coach Walton said they “knew they wanted to run zone.” The Rockets rank number one in the league for three-pointers attempted and made. Not coincidentally, Houston went on to shoot 15-39 (38.5%) from beyond the arc and it was a big factor in a no-doubt win at the Golden 1 Center.

Fortunately, there are 49 games left and plenty of time for improvement. But, it seems the team is just as stagnant as they were on opening night in Phoenix, no change. This team is young, fast, and athletic and I question if the new style they are trying to play is hindering them. It comes back to pace. Is the massive advantage they lose when they do not run the floor worth the few extra seconds of mediocre defense? If I had to answer, I would say no.

Something Has To Change for the Kings

Well, the last couple of weeks for the Kings have been far from smooth. Sacramento was coming off of a 9-8 stretch without Bagley and Fox, and the city was thrilled to have their superstars back. Unexpectedly, the team in their last five have now gone winless against weak opponents with Fox and Bagley both healthy. Center Dewayne Dedmon has asked for a trade. Buddy Hield has clear issues with the coaching staff. Oh, and Sacramento’s two top-5 draft picks are hurt once again. De’Aaron Fox has been diagnosed with back spasms and Marvin Bagley is in the midst of seeing a foot specialist.

Something has to change. It may come in the trade market, it may come on the court, or it may come from the coaching staff.

The easy answer is the coaching staff. It certainly reflects poorly on Walton and crew when the roster was greatly fortified in the offseason, yet the results on the court are far worse. Not necessarily any firings, but at least a change in strategy and method. Plus, I highly doubt firings will occur after GM Vlade Divac and Walton just signed four-year deals.

A trade (or two) are likely to occur, especially one with Dedmon involved. He sees virtually no meaningful minutes and makes over $13 million a year.

Execution Is a Priority

Outside of acquiring an All-NBA type player, it is hard to find glaring holes in this roster. That is, of course, assuming that each member of Sacramento’s squad is playing to the high-potential their fans have seen glimpses of. This all gets back to execution. Sacramento has the assets and the support from the fans. Walton is persistent on praising their preparation and practice. And, until Buddy Hield recently, every player have shown love for Walton as well as belief in him. It seems like a situation that requires patience, but there is none left in Sactown. The Kings need to execute now, before they are on the clock again with another lottery pick.

Here’s my final thought: Winning fixes everything. I don’t care if it means benching a star, running abnormal lineups, or Walton ruffling feathers with a player. The team will not care that Walton is (or isn’t) a player’s coach if they continuously win. Sacramento needs victory and they need to see the franchise putting together the fullest effort possible for victory.

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About Kyle Easter

19 years old. Sacramento, California. Currently in school studying media arts- Journalism and Communications- Public Relations.

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