Forget Strength of Schedule, A Home Court Advantage is Vital

The schedule for the 2022-23 Sacramento Kings season was released this week. 

As is the custom when minds thirst for real basketball, there was some fun provided in looking at the “statistics” regarding the toughest and easiest schedules.

The primary point of reference for a lot of this discussion came from the analytics and data visualization company Positive Residual. They calculated the list of most and least difficult using their the strength of schedules (SOS) statistic, which, as they say, “measures an opponent’s win probability against average league competition, given a set of scheduling conditions.”

They indicated that the Nuggets have the best scenario for the upcoming year and the Spurs have the toughest road ahead. Sacramento fell in as the ninth most difficult SOS.

“Conventionally, SOS reflects opponent quality, which is often defined by win percentage, net rating, or points above or below average,” it says in their glossary description. “But, beyond team strength, other factors can also influence the likelihood of victory. Since this app focuses on regular-season calendars, it makes sense to incorporate schedule-related variables and have a broader definition of SOS.”

One variable would be that the Kings are set to travel the fourth most miles of any team in the league. 

Another could be the fact the Kings play in a tough conference, even a tough division with Phoenix and Golden State, and have a tough start being underdogs in 10 out of their first 12 games.

While those and other viable factors are involved, a good deal of this is based on their Vegas-informed Estimate of Team Strength (VETS) statistic–in other words, preseason over-under win totals–as it is the only reference point being used to measure how good a team is. 

Every year, Vegas oddsmakers piss off a bunch of fans, and this year, with the 32.5 wins calculation for the Kings, it seemed even more the truth. But then again, what do they know? 

In fact, what does anyone know in mid-August?

Well, one thing might be for certain: Regardless of whether Sacramento has the ninth most difficult schedule or the ninth easiest, the important thing for them–the thing that is somewhat under their control–is to win at home.

Last season, when talking about how the Kings can turn their franchise around, interim head coach Alvin Gentry often pointed to that as an imperative.

“In order to be a playoff team in this league, you gotta have a home court advantage,” Gentry said with his characteristic honesty following a hard fought victory in San Antonio at the beginning of March. He added that while the fans have been both “great” and “supportive,” the Kings really “have to do something tangible, and it’s not (just) play well, but… win games at home.”

He was ceaseless in reiterating that sentiment.

“You gotta believe that you can win all your home games,” Gentry admitted at a practice in mid-March. “I think that’s how the really good teams with the really good records — if you look at their home record it’s usually pretty impressive.”

Last season, the top-ten winning percentages at home were some of the best teams in the league: 

Team – Home Record

1. Phoenix Suns – 32-9 (.780)

2. Golden State Warriors – 31-10 (.756)

3. Memphis Grizzlies – 30-11 (.732)

T-4. Dallas Mavericks – 29-12 (.707)

T-4. Miami Heat – 29-12 (.707)

T-4. Utah Jazz – 29-12 (.707)

7. Boston Celtics – 28-13 (.683)

8. Atlanta Hawks – 27-14 (.659)

9. Chicago Bulls – 27-14 (.659)

10. Milwaukee Bucks – 27-14 (.659)

And Kings fans may know better than anyone that overall success is directly tied to success at home. 

During the eight-year tenure of Rick Adelman from 1998-2006, the Kings dominated at home, going 241-71 (.772 win%) at Arco Arena, which is over 30 wins a year on average at home. Between the dominant stretch of 2000-2004, Sacramento won 55-plus games in each of those four years, winning 61 in 2001-02. That doesn’t happen if Adelman doesn’t lead the Kings to 33-8, 36-5, 35-6, and 34-7 records at home in those four seasons.

As great and as widely revered as Arco/Sleep Train Arena was, it’s, as Gentry noted, on the team to give the fans something to cheer for and the stadium something to explode over. 

While it’s vastly more akin to a ritzy space ship than it is a rowdy farm house, the Golden 1 Center itself is not to blame for any lack of a home court advantage. Throughout the playoff drought between the 2006-07 season and last year, the Kings have gone 278-359 (.436 win%) at home. During the first ten seasons of the drought in the older venue, the home win percentage was .435, and in the previous six seasons downtown, they’ve posted a comparable .438 percentage.

In all the time of missing the playoffs, they’ve simply been terrible at home, finishing over .500 only twice in that atrocious span. Once in 2007-08 during Reggie Theus’ first season (26-15 at home) and then more recently in 2018-19 when Dave Joerger lead the Kings to a 24-17 home record before being fired.

Analytics aside, every NBA schedule is tough, every game a battle, so it’s vital that every team make sure they take care of business on their own floor. The Kings went 16-25 last season at home, and that has to be a completely different story this season if that playoff drought is going to end. 

If they can pick up where they left off, take things to the next level under Mike Brown, and become a defensively sound team (which may be as important as anything), then perhaps they can establish that home court advantage and take the next step.

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