With their 96-83 victory over the Houston Rockets last week, the Sacramento Kings closed the curtains on the 2017-18 season. Sacramento finished the year with a 27-55 mark, good for 12th in the ultra competitive Western Conference and again on the outside looking in with regards to the playoff picture.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04, Sacramento now holds the unenviable distinction as owners of the longest playoff drought in the league. Remember that Mike Bibby, Kevin Martin, Bonzi Wells, Ron Artest outfit that slugged it out with the Spurs in what feels like a lifetime ago? That was 2005-06, and that was the last time the Kings punched their playoff tickets. Obviously the Kings ownership and front office would love nothing more than to host postseason action at their shiny new crown jewel, the Golden 1 Center.
A large portion of that drought came during the seven years with DeMarcus Cousins as the team’s franchise player. The organization grew tired of toiling around the 25-30 win plateau and made the pragmatic, yet controversial decision to deal him away fourteen months ago. They opted instead for a full fledged rebuild/youth movement. No NBA team had their nightly rotation stocked with such an abundance of rookies and sophomores, with the Kings giving large minutes to De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, and Frank Mason. A few nominal veterans were mixed in as well, including free agent additions Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill prior to his trade to Cleveland in February.
It’s a widely known fact around league circles that, with very few exceptions in league history, youth does not win at this level. If you look at almost every team that qualified for the playoffs, most teams play 1 or 2 young guys with their veterans earning the majority of minutes.
It’s tough to sugarcoat a 27-55 record. By most metrics, the Kings were one of the worst team’s in the league. But the team’s biggest issue was scoring. They ranked dead last in the league at 98.8 ppg, and in a league increasingly putting an emphasis on shooting threes and on pace, only two teams took less threes than the Kings and they finished last in the association in pace. Coach Dave Joerger just completed his second season at the helm in Sacramento, and during his tenure the Kings have been one of the premiere teams in the league in three point efficiency… they just don’t attempt enough of them. Perhaps a big reason for that is the roster he is given to work with, including a copious amount of big men who are far more comfortable playing offense and defense in the paint.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Prized rookie PG De’Aaron Fox showcased his game changing speed and quickness, showed he is capable of getting his shot off routinely against NBA defenses, displayed his potential as a plus defender, and had a knack for hitting the big shot. Fox delivered on multiple occasions in critical situations, knocking down big shots to win games or to take the lead.
Bogdan Bogdanovic met and exceeded expectations. Bogdanovic stepped in on day-one equipped with a lethal jump shot and demonstrated the ability to run a pick and roll at a very high level.
Buddy Hield completed his second NBA season and improved in virtually every category over the year before. Hield isn’t just a respected shooter, he is a terrifying three point shooter (shot 43.1% from downtown, good for 9th in the NBA). Opponents who don’t hug up on him or lose track of him for even a split second get treated to a barrage of swishes from deep. Hield’s ball handling improved from year one to year two as well, showing improved creativity in creating his own shot and causing defenses headaches with his constant motion. Buddy also has earned the reputation as a high motor competitor on defense.
All three players figure prominently as critical building blocks moving forward. Another potential name to add to that list is Harry Giles. Sacramento purposely red-shirted rookie Giles this season, giving him a full calendar year to return to 100% and they are hopeful he is an impact player on both ends. Giles, still only 19 years old, was the highest rated prospect in his high school class in 2016, but suffered two devastating ACL injuries.
The Kings also head into the NBA Draft Lottery at the 7th slot. They have a 5.3% chance at winning the lottery and getting the first pick, and they have an 18.3% opportunity at landing in the top three. The 2018 draft class is regarded as a talented, but top heavy group. The Kings do not own their own first round pick in 2019, so where they land in the 2018 Draft Lottery is significant. It is imperative that Vlade Divac hits on this pick.
Building Into the 2018-19 Season
Coming into the 2018 free agency period, Sacramento remains one of the few teams in the league who have appreciable cap space. One positional need they must address is small forward. The combination of rookie Justin Jackson, undersized Garrett Temple and the ageless wonder Vince Carter occupied the role of starting small forward for much of the year. At this point in their respective careers, none of those gentlemen should be starting.
Unless Divac believes he can get LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul George to sign here (approximately the same likelihood of Nikki Minaj marrying the author of this article), the small forward free agent crop is rather bleak. Some interesting names include Jabari Parker, Trevor Ariza, and Doug McDermott. If they are unable to sign a difference maker in free agency, the option of taking on a bad contract in exchange for future first round draft picks remains a possibility as well.
Another year comes to a close, and with it another year of the Kings in the draft lottery and not in the playoffs. But with a solid coaching staff in place, a few intriguing core pieces, a boat load of money to spend, and another high draft choice, maybe the Kings are ready to take the leap. I can’t think of a single fan base that deserves it more.
Photo by Steve Martarano