Before we get started, I just need to give a solid thank you to everyone who voted for the Sacramento Kings. When this poll initially went up, there was a lot of love for Detroit, and I knew as soon as I typed them in that I would regret it. I was/am not ready to talk about Avery Bradley the Detroit Piston. Can’t do it (yet), won’t do it (yet). I just barely got over the fact that he wasn’t a Celtic like 3 days ago so it’s safe to say I was sweating these results until the polls closed. But I was thrown a prayer, and instead we get to talk about a team full of promise who has had a pretty great summer.
Let’s begin shall we?
2016-17 Season Highlights
Make no mistake, this isn’t your parents Sacramento Kings. Is it a little weird there’s a chance a #GoPresGo stoolie is reading this blog having never known a competitive Sacramento Kings team? I mean the Kings haven’t made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season, and haven’t advanced past the first round since 2003-04. Their best season since their last playoff year was a 38 win team. So much futility over such a long period has most likely made NBA fans forget how good the Kings used to be. From 1998-99 to 2005-06 the Kings made the playoffs every year, even had a team win 61 games and make the WCF in 2001-02. Over this span they averaged 49 wins (includes a lockout year), and never had a winning percentage under .537. After being one of if not the best team in their division during this 8 year run, the Kings haven’t finished better than 3rd since, and that includes five last place finishes.
Often the butt of many NBA jokes, this summer has been a breath of fresh air for Kings fans, and with good reason. For starters, THEY ARE ACTUALLY ACTING LIKE A REAL NBA FRANCHISE! It all started at the Draft. I feel as though SAC had one of if not the best drafts of any team in the NBA. They got their guy at 5, and took two high upside guys to round out the first round. Frank Mason is a solid enough reserve guard. Dare I say it’s almost as if the Kings knew what the hell they were doing. Before we get too carried away, here’s a look at their roster as it stands this second
Right off the bat things are drastically different from what we saw last season. The Kings have undergone a massive roster change. Rudy Gay, Aaron Afflalo, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Tolliver, Langston Galloway, Ben McLemore, Ty Lawson, and Darren Collison are all gone. All in all, a total of eight players, essentially more than half their roster has been replaced as they enter the next season. Those are a lot of veterans leaving a team, but you can’t look at that roster above and tell me you don’t like that one better. The Kings were tasked with replacing half their team, and to our pleasant surprise, they nailed it. Not to mention they also have around $5.3M in cap space to continue to add.
It wouldn’t make sense to look at this group and compare them to whatever Sacramento’s numbers were last season, because all those guys are gone. Instead, I want to focus on why this team could potentially be very exciting to watch very quickly. Sure they might not win right away, but are a League Pass watch 10/10 times in my opinion.
For starters, I think their backcourt got better. I would rather have Hill/Fox/Mason over Evans/Collison/Lawson but that’s just me. We saw this summer what Fox is capable of, as he was among then best players in Vegas. It’ll be interesting to see how Dave Joerger handles his point guard spot. I’m not sure George Hill, a player who has been a starter basically since 2012 is going to want to come off the bench, and that’s the difference with this year’s Kings team. They have a potential franchise player in De’Aaron Fox. How many time have we seen the Kings throw a teenage high lottery pick not named Boogie out on the court before he’s ready and he’s ruined forever. Now, Fox is going to be able to learn from a solid NBA point guard and who knows, maybe he’s so good he wins the spot anyway. The point being, even if the Kings choose to NOT start Fox, Hill brings his own reasons as to why he’s an upgrade over either Ty Lawson or Darren Collison.
Let’s start with something you’ll probably see a lot based on the players on this roster, and that’s pick and roll offense. George Hill, ranks in the 91.6th percentice in P&R offense. Lawson (73rd) and Collison (66th) certainly are not that caliber of player for that situation. The problem was the Kings ran a P&R 44% of the time Lawson was on the floor, and a solid 35.9% when Collison is. You could say they run it a fair share. Now bring in Hill, who scores more per possession (1.00) shoots better (47%) turns it over less (13.8 compared to 20.1% for Lawson) and scores more frequenty (46.2%). Now Hill did all this working with a guy named Rudy Gobert, who certainly is much much better than any Kings front court player, but that brings me to my next point.
We are about to see fully unleashed Willie Caulie-Stein. Something happened for him when the Kings finally traded Boogie, and the best way to put it is WCS finally got his opportunity. Last season, WCS started 21 games. In 11 of those games he played between 30-39 minutes. What was his production? Would you take 15.3/10.0/3.0 while shooting 52% from the field? Offensively, he showed a taste of what could be a very reliable offensive game. Add that with two PGs who thrive in P&R, and this has breakout season written all over it. WCS finished the season with extreme confidence and it showed, remember, he’s only 24!
A common theme you’ll hear when people talk about the Kings is this idea of promise. Well that doesn’t just apply to their rookie class. It’s no secret that the Kings owner/font office have a clear hard on for Buddy Hield. Well, since the All Star break, in 25 games as a King, Buddy averaged 15.1/4.1/1.8 with 48/42% splits. A certain improvement from his numbers with NO (8.6/2.9/1.4 with 39/36% splits). Much like WCS, when Hield played 30-39 minutes, he was a very productive player. I would say his 17/4.6/2.3 with 45/45% splits is promising. Hield played with a different swagger after the trade, almost as if he was reborn offensively.
Every part of his offensive game was better as a King. Now with Gay, Afflalo, McLemore, all gone, Hield doesn’t have any blockers.
For me, that’s where most of the excitement for this team is coming from. Numerous guys over a two month period showed enough on the court to make you think the Kings might have some legit young pieces. Then they draft four additional promising young players to add to the lot.
But everyone knows it’s extremely hard for kids to win in the NBA. This is where the Kings impressed me. We already mentioned Hill, but I’m a fan of every other veteran they brought in to fill our this roster. Who knows how much Vince Carter has left, but you damn sure I’m here for some Vince/Fox fast(ish) breaks. The important thing to remember is for the Kings guards to excel, they need to have legit shooting threats around them. Vince shot a respectable 37.8% from deep last season. He at least forces the defense to play honest defense. Garrett Temple is looking to use one of his best three point shooting seasons last year as a King (37%) as a spring board as well. Then they added Bogdan Bogdanovic over from the Euroleague, the 6-6 guard who shot 43% from deep last year in Europe. Simply put, I don’t think spacing is going to be a problem.
And then there’s ZBo. At 35 he keeps on chugging along. Still getting it done in a reserve role last year for MEM (14/8) he’s going to be a great thing for this team in terms of production and mentality. Post MEM ZBo is the perfect thing for this team, because on a team with all these kids, someone of his stature is important. This isn’t the ZBo of Portland, he’s going to be looked upon as a leader by this team, and that’s something at this stage of his career he has more than showed he can be. This Kings front court could certainly do worse for a mentor as they take a step in their rebuild. Big year coming from ZBo, I can feel it.
One more thing about this idea of promise. I want to throw one more guy at you, a player you’ll probably see a main focus of the second unit, and that’s Skal Labissiere. Another player that got more opportunity in a post Boogie world, he responded after the All Star break as well. 10.8/6.0/1.0 on 54% shooting over 25 games (12 starts) is nothing to sneeze at. If you figure Skal settles at around 20-29 minutes a night, it should excite you to learn in those situations last year, he averaged 14.5/9.0/2.0 on 57% shooting. Again, these are small sample sizes, by no means do they guarantee what’s to come once the actual basketball starts, but they sure as hell as a great way to get an idea of what is possible.
So look at the big picture. The Kings play in the Pacific Division. They obviously can’t win it, but they are in my opinion, in a better position than either LAL or PHX. The Clippers, who finished 19 games better than them last season, are a goddamn disaster right now. They could be headed for a massive slide. Would it be crazy to think if this Kings team reaches it’s potential that it can’t close the gap a little between them and the Clippers? Could they even surpass them as the second best team in the division? That might be a little over dramatic, but I can’t say it’s impossible. To do that, they are going to have to start winning games at home. No playoff team in the West won fewer than 24 games at home. Last year SAC won just 17. You can get to the playoffs by playing as poorly as SAC did on the road, look at POR. The difference comes on your home court. Take care of business there, and they could very easily be part of that DEN/POR/MEM group that is fighting at the bottom of the West standings.
Official Greenie Prediction: 41 wins