The Sacramento Kings are slowly climbing their way up to playoff berths. Pulling themselves up from rock bottom (114 points up from 98.8), the Kings are now placed fifth in the NBA for highest team points per game.
Now at the time of writing with a record over 0.500 at 22-21, the Kings had outdone themselves and are bringing hope to California’s capital. So how did they manage to do it?
Point guard De’aaron Fox enjoyed a breakthrough this season after falling short in his rookie year. The 2018 No. 5 pick was infamously known to be one of the worst rookies in NBA history, attributed to his clumsy shooting and poor form.
Although Fox’s rookie performance appeared unconvincing, Fox eventually adjusted to the league’s high pressure and found the spotlight on his second season. Soaring with 18 points (up from 11), eight assists, and four rebounds per night, he has now become an efficient fastbreak catalyst for the Kings. With a tenacious point guard like Fox leading and directing the plays, the Kings future looks bright.
Alongside Fox, Buddy Hield has been leading the Kings with a career-high 20 points and five rebounds. Hield is closing in on the Kings record for the most points from threes in a season. So far, he has hit 134 shots at the perimeter by now which is also halfway through meeting the current mark of 240, set in 2003-04 by Peja Stojakovic.
The Kings also have a very reliable bench team to back up the starting lineup. Sacramento’s bench boasts the sixth offense in the league at 42.2 points per game. By bringing in Nemanja Bjelica, together with five-star recruit rookie Marvin Bagley III, they can run a bigger unit on the floor due to both of them capable of handling the ball. Bagley is currently averaging 12 points and six rebounds and one block per game with only 23 minutes of playing time.
“It gives us a deeper team with him playing well,” Fox said of Bagley. “He’s letting the game come to him. I think he’s just — he’s executing when his number is called.”
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Sharpshooter Boban Bogdanovic has been on a roll with ten consecutive double-digit games off the bench this season. The versatile Serbian has proven to be excellent behind the perimeter (36.9%). Averaging 15 points (up from 11.8 points) and four assists, he has improved significantly from the previous season.
With such big jumps to their performance, the Kings also have their head coach Dave Joerger to thank for. Adjusting the gameplay to their strengths, Joerger had quickened the game pace in order to enforce a stronger and aggressive offensive play due to their younger roster. The Kings are currently playing at the second-fastest pace in the NBA (105.95 possessions per game, according to NBA.com), which is a complete 180 from last season’s pace at 95.59. Teams are playing faster across the league, but no team has made as dramatic a transition as Sacramento.
“We felt like [increasing the pace] was the best thing for the most number of players,” Joerger said. “It serves the strengths of the guys that we have. Willie Cauley-Stein can get up and down the floor, open up transition looks from 3 for Buddy [Hield]. We’ve got [Bogdan] Bogdanovic who can play as a playmaker or a shooter, and we brought in Nemanja Bjelica, who can stretch the floor for the No. 1 reason, which is we feel like we have one of the fastest point guards (De’Aaron Fox) in the league. It just serves all of those things, and the go fast, play fast, get some easier looks, plays to all of those guys’ strengths.”
Despite standing at a tenth place in the table, the team revamping evidently shows a bright future ahead for the Sacramento Kings in subsequent games and seasons if they keep consistent. The playoffs for the Kings may finally be closer than they think. With a possible Enes Kanter-Zach Randolph trade deal soon, a young and strong center may be extremely helpful for the Kings in dominating the paint since Kosta Koufos could be heading for the exit as an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
The 18-year veteran has not made a single appearance for the Kings this season despite signing a two-year $24 million contract in 2017. According to sources, Randolph was told that he was to make way for younger forwards as they transitioned into a new era.
However, there have been rumors circulating around an alleged conflict between Joerger and the front office. According to reports, the Kings’ front office, particularly assistant general manager Brandon Williams, is displeased with the bench role and limited minutes that Joerger has assigned to Bagley and other young players in the early part of the season.
Things got so tense that Joerger reportedly asked Williams not to attend Thursday’s shootaround before the team’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. General manager Vlade Divac has denied that Joerger’s job is in jeopardy, but it appears that the tension between the two parties has only intensified despite the Kings’ relative success.
Hopefully, matters do not go into shambles now that the Kings are in the right direction. With strong coach-player chemistry, taking Joerger out of the picture would mean checkmate for the playoffs. On the bright side, Sacramento has Joerger under contract for one more season. With the team’s sharp turnaround this season, it’s likely that he could seek an extension this summer or even sooner despite tensions.
“We have an identity, and we’re giving ourselves a chance to be in the playoff race,” Joerger said. “I think every coach and every player, that’s all they ever want in their careers, is an opportunity to be in the playoffs, and that’s really where my mindset is now.”Leave a comment