Inconsistent [in-kuh n-sis-tuh nt]
The team’s frustrating Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act can best be encapsulated by the last week, where on Dec. 30, the Kings lost at home to the NBA worst Philadelphia 76ers, a franchise whose chief objective is literally to lose games. Then just five nights later these same Kings travel to their own personal house of horrors in Oklahoma City, a venue which the Kings had yet to win a single game in since the Thunder franchise relocated there almost eight years ago, and wiped the floor with the 24-10 Thunder. That win also added the latest milestone in a long line of extraordinary achievements for head coach George Karl. The victory was his 1,156th of his career, surpassing Phil Jackson for fifth in NBA history.
On this date a year ago, Sacramento was 14-20 as they are now, but this year has a more optimistic tenor to it.
For starters, the Kings’ have weathered the storm of a murderer’s row of opponents the first month of the season, and survived their dreadful 1-7 start. By any measure, the Kings boast one of the premiere offenses in the NBA.
Sacramento is averaging nearly 106 points per game, highlighted by the jaw dropping 142 points scored on the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 2 (the most scored by any team in regulation in more than two years). Sacramento remains firmly in the top ten in nearly every significant offensive team metric, field goal percentage, three point percentage, points per 100 possessions, and team assists.
A discussion on assists can’t be had without prominent mention of Rajon Rondo. Rajon Rondo has been a godsend for the Kings. He has fit like a glove alongside his fellow 2006 NBA Draft alum Rudy Gay and fellow Kentucky Wildcat DeMarcus Cousins. Rondo is the unquestioned floor general and currently leads the league in assists at 11.6 per game. His basketball acumen is absolutely off the charts. Minute details like Rondo imploring his teammates to pick up full court in the last seconds of quarters, or allowing the ball to bounce off of an in bound thus securing every precious tick of the clock in a critical late-game situation, have added up to a more sophisticated level of basketball than Sacramento has played in years. His unselfishness has been contagious and he has been the catalyst for an improved willingness among the Kings to be more generous with the rock as a team.
Perhaps most importantly, Rondo has the ear and respect of Cousins, and has helped calm him at times when necessary. Rondo has proudly acknowledged their relationship is similar to the one he and Kevin Garnett forged while the two played in Boston, with Rajon Rondo serving the role as the big brother, mentor type to the 25 year old Cousins. As of this writing (and it seemingly increases on a nightly basis) Rajon Rondo has registered ten 15+ assist games thus far this season. The rest of the league combined? Eleven such games.
There’s a very realistic scenario where both DeMarcus Cousins (24.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and Rajon Rondo (12.0 ppg, 11.3 apg, 6.4 rpg) are both All-Stars in Toronto in February. It’d be the first time two Sacramento Kings made the All-Star team since the glory years, when Peja Stojakovic and Chris Webber both warranted All-Star consideration in 2003. Statistically they both do belong but it will come down to what the Kings win/loss record is a month from now. Historically it is a very difficult achievement for a single All-Star to come from a team with a losing record, let alone two.
Fortunately for the Kings, the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff picture isn’t nearly as competitive as it was originally thought to be. Sacramento, with their 14-20 record, currently sits just 1.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the 8th seed. Before the season began, it was believed it would take 45-50 wins to be the 8th seed in the West (last year the Thunder won 45 games and didn’t make it).
This year, 38-40 wins could be all the Kings need to line up the all elusive Northern California playoff battle that’s never been seen before, a Warriors-Kings series. The Warriors will no doubt hold up their end of the bargain, they will be the one seed. But can the Kings break their nine year playoff drought?
If they can find solutions to their inconsistency, absolutely. Transition defense and limiting turnovers are the two biggest keys. The only possible explanation I can surmise for the alarming inconsistency is the Kings are a massively overconfident group who overlooks opponents they shouldn’t. For a team that is still six games under .500 themselves, the Kings clearly aren’t in a position to play up or down to the level of their competition on a nightly basis.
It’s not realistic to expect the Kings to treat every single game like it’s a playoff game, but if they want to be a playoff team themselves, they need to.
Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings