Kings Lead

Why the Kings Can’t Win the “Should Win” Games

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After recent disappointing losses to the Bulls, Knicks and Grizzlies, along with the Charlotte Hornets completing the season-sweep of the Kings last Tuesday, some serious concerns are rising for Sacramento. This team struggles to win games against opponents they “should beat”, if there is such a thing for a sub-.500 team in the NBA. On the contrary, they seem to put forward their best efforts versus the thriving franchises in the NBA. A two-point loss to the Lakers, one-point loss to the Celtics, four-point loss to the Raptors, and victories over the Celtics, Nuggets, Rockets, and Mavericks are all examples of this. Thus far, the Kings are the epitome of the phrase “playing up (or down) to the competition.”

As it has for most Kings fans, their wins and losses left me feeling perplexed. So, I did some research and thinking to hopefully grasp a better understanding as to why this is happening, and I found three relevant problems. 

Sacramento Doesn’t Crash the Glass? They Won’t Win

Through 29 games, the Kings grab 41.3 rebounds per game, and allow 42.5 rebounds per game to opposing teams. They have allowed more team rebounds than their opponents average against them (about 52) in every single loss this year, apart from four defeats. I mention team rebounds because it also shows how careless Sacramento has been with the ball in their losses, on top of the sub-par glass-cleaning.   

They were also straight-up outrebounded in 9 of 17 defeats, the worst cases coming when they played the Brooklyn Nets (outrebounded by 15, November 22nd), the Charlotte Hornets (outrebounded by 18, December 17th), and the New York Knicks (outrebounded by 7, December 13th). These teams are nothing special when it comes to grabbing boards, as they are quite literally the most mediocre rebounding teams in the league, ranking 14th, 15th and 16th in average of total rebounds. Their glass superiority over the purple and black seems rather spontaneous, and it takes me right back to my earlier point of them playing down to their opponents level of competition, or in this case, below it.

Now, in general, Sacramento is not a good rebounding team. That 41.3 rebounds per game I mentioned earlier is second-worst in the league, with only the Washington Wizards trailing. Thankfully, it is plausible to think this weakness can be improved with coaching, effort, and perhaps even adding a better glass-cleaner before the trade deadline. I suppose the bigger issue is when, where, and against who the Kings worst rebounding performances become apparent, and how they seemingly relate to their worst losses. 

No Games Are “Should Win” Games

My next problem is less factual, and more so opinionated. As a disclaimer, I have never played in an NBA game in my life and never will, so I do not truly know what goes on in a player’s head or what they are thinking. With that said, I have a theory.

A few weeks back in a shocking and dumbfounding loss to Chicago, Buddy Hield was quoted after the game saying that the team “didn’t respect” the Bulls and “can’t be slacking” in any games they play. On a side note, while it was infuriating to fans, I appreciate Hield’s honesty here and recognition of their mistakes. With recognition comes a means for fixation, so you would think.

Unfortunately, the trend of upset losses and unfavorable statistics has been a continuous theme for Sacramento, as I noted previously. The Kings’ roster should be aware that they hold an abundance of talent at full health and strength, presenting the problem.

The problem is the mindset of knowing they are better than their opponent on a given night, and convincing themselves they will win simply because they are better basketball players than the guys matched up against them. Outsiders, analysts, and even the team themselves label these games as “should win.” The truth of the matter is, every game needs 48 minutes played to complete it, and none are over before they start. A passive and expecting mind can be a burden in the NBA. All it takes is a team willing to hustle their tail off, get hot from three, turn up the defense, or a combination of it all to ruin your night.

Here’s a Couple of Examples

That’s exactly what happened in the most recent Charlotte game. Bismack Biyombo (10 points, 12 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (17 points, 9 rebounds) outworked Sacramento’s frontcourt in the paint, and Malik Monk (23 points, 9-12FG, 10 rebounds) went lights out from the field. Even in a victory against the Warriors, Sacramento turned the ball over a whopping 29 times. Steve Kerr himself said he has “never seen a box score like this,” referring to how the Warriors still lost despite such sloppy ball handling by the Kings.  It is fair to say the Kings outmatched both these teams, starters and bench, yet they were still able to cause significant issues towards them on the court.

Recent Shooting Woes

Sacramento’s shooting their last three games (@CHA, @IND, @MEM) has been below average, to put it nicely. Respectively, they shot 41.9% FG/35.9% 3PT, 45.1% FG/31.3% 3PT, and 43% FG/30.6% 3PT against the Hornets, Pacers, and Grizzlies. And to be honest, their performances seem even worse than what the numbers depict. There are two reasons for this. First, these three games were all losses and the Kings were allowed gimme buckets in the final few minutes. For example, they cut the Grizzlies lead from twelve to four in the final two minutes on Saturday night.

Second, the guys who regularly put up the most shots for the Kings, Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes, have looked the worst from the field. In Sacramento’s last three games, Hield has shot a combined 11-46 (23.9%) on his field goals and 7-28 (25%) from beyond the arc. Barnes’ case has been better, yet still extremely inefficient. 15-42 (35.7%) from the field and 6-16 (37.5%) from three represent Barnes’ numbers over the recent three-game stretch. While it does seem fair to frantically worry, Barnes and Hield are typically recognized are a couple of the hardest workers on the team. They have put in the work to perform at a high level, and this is truly an appalling slump. And if something within their game is not right, Kings fans can trust that they will work to fix it.

As wild as it seems, the Kings are not good when they don’t put the ball in the bucket, therefore accounts for the losing streak.

On another negative note, recent Kings opponents have been quite the opposite from three-point land. Last Tuesday, Charlotte shot 43.3%, on Friday, Indiana shot 45.2% from three, and on Saturday night Memphis shot 42.9% from three.

Don’t Panic, The Kings Still Have Some Learning to Do

In defense of coach Walton and the players, this team is still very young and the roster all together is fairly new. I believe the overconfidence and execution concerns will fade with time, as the time the team has spent together increases. Time will hopefully solve the shooting issue as well, because any average viewer would notice that a fair amount of Sacramento’s shots are blatantly forced. The Kings at sufficient performance are a playoff team and one of the more hopeful franchises in the NBA.

Sacramento beat Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City consecutively, without two of their best players. Talent and preparation have never been in question. Rather, it is the execution that the Kings lack and underlying reasoning as to why they lack it. They need to treat the next game as the most important game of the year, no matter the color of the jerseys on the bench across from them. The Kings are not better than any other team until they beat them, throw the records out the door. Nothing is given in this league and if the Kings want success, they have the ability and the personnel to take it. If they do this, I think we will start to see consistent W’s and advancement for your Sacramento Kings.

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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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