This week a year ago, the Sacramento Kings had just stunned the Lakers on a thrilling, last second, step back three by Bogdan Bogdanovic over the outstretched arms of 7’1″ Tyson Chandler. The game winner improved Sacramento to an impressive and surprising 19-16 record, firmly in the playoff picture, and hope and optimism was ubiquitous.
Fast forward a year and hope and optimism are scarce. Losers of eight straight games (finally broken by a win on Thursday), the Kings don’t resemble that fun loving, ball sharing group from a year ago. The most obvious change from last season is the injury bug. De’Aaron Fox has missed 18 games with a severe ankle sprain and Marvin Bagley has missed 24 contests with a broken thumb suffered opening night. Sprinkle in five times Bogdan Bogdanovic was unavailable and the Kings have been the walking wounded through the first third of the campaign.
The Jekyll and Hyde transformation from a year ago has taken shape under newly installed coach Luke Walton. Walton was adamant all off-season about an increase in 3 point attempts and that’s come to fruition. As the saying goes, you live by the three and you die by the three. On the nights when the Kings hit 17 or 18 threes, they’re competitive and have knocked off multiple elite teams. And on the nights when the Kings struggle from downtown they lose, often times to the cellar dwellars of the league.
The box score can tell you a lot of information about the game but with this group it may come down to something as simple as that…did the Kings hit their threes or not? Sacramento is attempting 34.5 threes a night, up from 29.9 in 2018-19. Unfortunately that is the one statistical area that is up, as the Kings are down in points per game, assists per game, free throws per game, rebounding, and pace.
Pace was the Kings’ greatest ally a year ago, pushing and sprinting out at every opportunity and forcing opponents to put on their track shoes every time they faced Sacramento and their stable of elite young athletes. This year, the Kings’ pace has been completely neutered and ranks dead last in the NBA.
Sacramento entered the offseason last year with significant cap space to compliment their much ballyhooed young core. That money was largely funneled to three veterans, Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza, and Cory Joseph. Dedmon has had the worst season of his professional career, lost his starting job, his confidence and is now completely out of Walton’s rotation. Ariza has shot dreadfully from the field but has been solid defensively. Joseph has been pressed into duty as the team’s starting PG in Fox’s absence, and has been a stalwart defensively but has similarly struggled from the field. Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes, the two wings whom Sacramento resigned to massive contract extensions, have both seen their efficiency dip from a year ago as well.
As disappointing as this season has been for the Kings, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Where Sacramento would be without the contributions of Richaun Holmes this year is a frightening proposition. Holmes was an unheralded free agent signing from Phoenix who has established himself as a screen setting, rim running, monster dunking force. Predictably, Richaun Holmes has quickly established himself as a fan favorite.
So the Kings limp into the New Year with a 12-21 mark, desperately searching for something to hang their hat on and to find consistency. With 49 games remaining, there is time for the Sacramento Kings to turn things around and get back in the playoff race.
Despite their abysmal record the Kings find themselves just two games out of the eight seed and 3.5 games out of the seven seed. With De’Aaron Fox back and Marvin Bagley expected to return this week from his most recent injury, a sprained foot, Sacramento will have their chance to find an identity.
Will they unleash their speed and athleticism, and resuscitate the breakneck pace that had opposing teams bamboozled? Will Buddy Hield ever break out from his career worst three point shooting slump? Will Fox and Bagley build on their chemistry and finally form the dynamic pick and roll combination that on paper should be a nightmare to stop? Will Vlade Divac explore the trade market to improve the roster?
Hopefully 2020 is more kind to them than 2019 has been.
Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings