On 2 separate occasions this season the Kings have gone on a 7 of 8 stretch. And each time, they lost 5+ games in a row following the hot streak.
In late January/early February the Kings climbed as high as the seventh spot in the Western Conference after winning 7 of 8. What succeeded that was 9 straight losses and a subsequent free-fall in the standings.
Sacramento was officially in standings purgatory—too good for a high draft pick and too bad for a play-in tournament spot—and for a whole month, too, before they went on another 7 of 8 run following Tyrese Haliburton’s move to the starting lineup.
After clawing their way back up the standings yet again into a position to compete for a play-in tournament spot, the Kings recently lost 5 in a row to teams like the Timberwolves, Pistons, a Lakers team without LeBron, AD, or Drummond, and Giannis-less Bucks team.
If the Kings are consistent at anything, it’s definitely being inconsistent. During each of the team’s 7 of 8 streaks they looked like a legitimate playoff contender. But in the span of a week and a half, they make a complete 180, showing that they can’t even keep up with the league’s worst teams.
So what gives?
It’s often hard to diagnose problems facing a team that’s teetering on the edge of success and oblivion. But in Sacramento, it’s been the same two lingering issues: defense and the lack of a second-option necessary for any successful team.
Sacramento’s defense has been about as useful as cold coffee or warm beer this season. Which is to say it hasn’t been very useful at all. In fact, the Kings have consistently had the worst defensive rating of all time throughout the season, and their current DEFRTG of 117.6 would take the top spot of all time.
Fox, Haliburton, Holmes, and Barnes are all solid when it comes to getting stops, but none of them are considered great defensive players.
Holmes is arguably the team’s best defender, and is solid at helping out in the paint and blocking shots, but when it comes to defending other centers, most of which are bigger than him, he struggles.
On top of lacking a great defensive player, Sacramento has too many liabilities on that end of the floor. One of whom is Buddy Hield, who is atrocious on defense. And then there’s Marvin Bagley, who looked in need of a compass or something because of how absolutely lost he appeared on that side of the ball before his injury.
It’s asking a lot to expect the worst defensive team of all time to grab a play-in spot, and at this rate, it doesn’t seem like the coaching staff has the answer to fix this issue.
The Kings really should have gone after a defensive minded player at the trade deadline like Justise Winslow, Myles Turner, or Matisse Thybulle, even if that meant giving up someone like Barnes in return. Without that defensive presence, the Kings will continue to struggle on that side of the floor and continue to add losses to their record.
The Kings’ other glaring problem is the lack of a real second-option.
De’Aaron Fox is Sacramento’s proven number one and has played at an all star level for most of the season. But every now and then Fox will have a bad game or a cold streak and that’s when a solid second-option is sorely missed. It’s a volatile reality, but when Fox struggles, the team struggles.
Barnes tried filling in the role of the number two for most of the season, and although he’s done well at points, expecting number two numbers out of Barnes on a consistent basis isn’t realistic.
It never has been. A player like Barnes is better suited as a third or fourth option on a real playoff contending team, and although Haliburton has stepped up his fair share as well, a rookie as a second-option is an unrealistic expectation.
Fox will struggle from the field on occasion and there’s no antidote for that fact, so the Kings need a player who is able to step up in that situation and drop 30 without it being considered a career night. Although Barnes, Buddy, and Haliburton are all capable of this, they don’t always deliver when needed and we can’t really expect them to.
This Sacramento Kings team has been one of the most frustrating squads to watch in recent memory—they look like a playoff team one week and a bottom dweller the next.
Their defense is a huge issue but their lack of a viable second option poses as a huge liability as well if the culture is going to change into a winning one.
With the Kings’ current losing streak, the possibility of a play-in tournament spot seems less and less likely. But since this team has been the definition of streaky, it wouldn’t be surprising if they won 10 straight to finish off the season and snag a play-in opportunity.
But considering that’s pure fantasy at this point, the team needs to adjust their defensive schemes, and the front office needs to sort out who to go after to complement Fox.
The Sacramento Kings roster does have real talent and it’s just a player or two shy of being a true playoff team. A legitimate two-way player can do wonders for this team. Until then, this team will remain inconsistent and have us pulling our hair out on a bi-weekly basis.