The Sacramento Kings were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. How are they this good?
As the sixth-worst team in the NBA last season, the Sacramento Kings were not expected to compete this year. However, the team is currently in the playoff picture, as they hold the eighth-best record in the Western Conference. As a team that was projected to be among the worst in the league, how are they managing to get the most out of their roster?
With an overall record at .500 (10-10), the Kings are certainly exceeding expectations this season. Although their unforeseen winning would normally hurt their chances at a great prospect, the Kings don’t own either of their picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, giving them no incentive to tank this season. The main reason behind their early success thus far has been their potent offense, which is eighth in the league in points per game. Also, the Kings have done extremely well pushing the ball, as they have the second-fastest paced offense in the NBA.
As a result of their three-point and paint shot tendencies, the Kings have had an extremely efficient offense up to this point, as well. The team’s effective field goal percentage (53%) is fifth in the NBA, and they hit three-pointers at the third-highest rate in the league. They also score the third-most points per game in the paint, and this area, along with three-point shooting, are the two areas Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni strictly emphasizes in his system. Although Sacramento doesn’t take a ton of three-pointers, their recent success with perimeter shooting could encourage them to adapt the three-or-layup mentality to a greater extent going forward.
Leading the way for their stellar three-point shooting is European power forward Nemanja Bjelica, who was signed as a free agent by the Kings in the offseason. Bjelica is shooting an absurd 50% from deep this year with an overall effective field goal percentage of 63%. While this stat would make it seem that the Serbian sharpshooter is getting open, he’s actually consistently scoring when contested, which proves his ability to make shots from long range - regardless of whether a defender is present or not.
The Kings’ shooting guard rotation is another big reason for their success from beyond the arc, along with providing an impressive scoring output. Starting shooting guard Buddy Hield leads the team in points per game this year with 19, while the other two, Iman Shumpert and Bogdan Bogdanovic, are both averaging double-digit scoring. Further, all three are shooting at least 37% from beyond the arc, with Hield leading the way from deep at an astounding 45%.
In addition to their shooting guards, the Kings’ big man rotation has been wearing opponents down, too. The unit is led by former Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein, who’s averaging 15 points per game on 53% shooting. Along with Bjelica, rookie forward Marvin Bagley is having a productive season off the bench. The second overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft is averaging 13 points per game on 51% shooting, which are impressive numbers for a first year player with limited minutes. Bagley has also protected the rim well for Sacramento, averaging over a block per game so far.
The Kings’ true key to their success this season, however, has been second-year point guard De’Aaron Fox. The former number five overall pick has improved vastly for Sacramento, becoming a dynamic ball handler who has opened up the offense for his teammates. Fox is averaging 17 points and eight assists per game, the latter of which is good for ninth in the league.
He’s matched this intensity on the defensive end of the floor, as well. The pesky point guard is averaging over a steal per game, and is fifth in the league in loose balls recovered per game. Fox’s tenacity for 50/50 balls is helping the team generate more chances on the offensive end, while simultaneously elevating his status as an established defender.
Led by Fox, the Kings are generating a huge amount of their offense from steals. The team is averaging 20 points per per game off turnovers, third in the NBA. Their ability to create opportunities by taking the ball from their opponents has been a vital component to their offensive firepower, and will have to continue if they want to remain in playoff contention.
So far, the Kings have managed to vastly surpass their preseason expectations through a team-based attack from a variety of contributors. Sacramento has seven players averaging double-digit scoring this season, a testament to Fox’s unselfishness as a playmaker and each member of the rotation understanding their specific role within the offense. With this strategy in place, the team leaves opponents vulnerable to role players that may be overlooked in scouting reports.
Now that Hield and Fox have significantly elevated their play from last year, the Kings are in the surprising position of being early-season contenders. Considering dynamic guard pairings are a recipe for success in today’s NBA, Sacramento could be on the way towards fierce competitiveness within a jam-packed Western Conference. With no motivation to lose games and the team starting out stronger than expected, there’s no turning back now in Sacramento.
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