The season starts tomorrow. Nothing can be written here that can mollify the excruciating pain and rush that accompanies the intense anticipation of something on the very edge of returning to existence.
However, nothing’s going to stop a decent attempt.
Game 1 of 82 is just hours away, really, but given the length of the season, now is a good time to examine the big picture.
How good are the Sacramento Kings?
The exact answer to that will come to light soon enough as it will with the other 29 teams in the NBA, but for now, with training camp and preseason in the rearview, at least some idea can be formulated.
So let’s try to appraise this team before it hits the road.
What are its strengths and weaknesses?
Here are three of each at this extremely early point.
Strength: Three-point shooting
The Kings have undeniably flipped around their standing in regards to three-point shooting.
Last season, they were ranked 25th in three-pointers made per game (11.4) and 24th in three-point percentage (34.4%).
Much of the production came from Harrison Barnes, an inconsistent Davion Mitchell, as well as Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton, who both played a little over 50 games for Sacramento.
This year, however, the Kings should get significantly more production beyond the perimeter with the acquisitions of Kevin Huerter (38.9% from three last year) and Malik Monk (39.1%). Keegan Murray—who shot 39.8% from three in his final year at Iowa and hit 7 of 10 in the preseason—was also drafted.
One can’t lose sight of the fact Terence Davis is returning with a healthy wrist. Davion Mitchell is entering year-two after putting major focus on his deep stroke. Harrison Barnes will presumably continue his efficiency. And Trey Lyles, as Monte McNair said, “combines the size of a power forward with the ability to shoot like a guard.”
Perhaps most intriguing is what De’Aaron Fox will do from that range. After the Sabonis trade, Fox hit 36% of his looks from deep through 15 games. In the preseason, he shot 35.7% (5 for 14).
If Fox—a career 32% three-point shooter—can keep his deep percentage around 36%, that will be icing on the cake for an already nice three-point shooting team.
But it’s hard to ignore that Fox is still missing his catch-and-shoot looks from three. 13 of the 14 three’s he took were off the catch and he only hit four. Excluding the single pull up three he took and made, Fox shot 30.8%.
Still, as mentioned, this team can hit it from deep. In four preseason games, they hit the 3rd most three’s, took the 5th most attempts, and tied for 5th in three-point percentage. In fact, about two out of every five shot attempts were from beyond the arc.
Strength: Activity and ball movement
Mike Brown may be a defensive minded coach, but his impression on the offense really stands out just ahead of the start of the season.
The activity the head coach emphasizes extends to all aspects of the game. That includes defense, where guys are bought into the competitive grind, but how well this defense holds up collectively is a little less certain at this junction.
That isn’t to say that there’s certainty about a season that has yet to begin, but it’s evident that Brown brought the love of movement with him from Golden State and his guys are embracing it.
It was highly entertaining to watch Mike Brown during the four preseason games. As the camera panned from baseline to baseline throughout any of those nights, observers had plenty of chances to see Brown wave that arm and move his mouth to encourage his team to push it.
Offensively, guys are taught to bust their tails getting back with the same urgency as getting back to defend. Taking advantage of numbers, keeping the opposition on their heels, and setting up early offense is a big thing.
Additionally, making sure the ball is moving as crisply and frequently as the players is vital. That’s where things feel straight out of Golden State.
The Kings had the 7th highest assist percentage in the preseason (66.9%). In the game against the Trail Blazers, the Kings assisted 34 of their 45 made field goals (75.6%) to Mike Brown’s delight. Boosting that joy, the team also hit an impressive 21 three-pointers.
“It’s how we’re getting the shots is what I like,” Brown explained the day after that game. “If we make them, man, that’s icing on the cake, especially in the preseason. But the way we’re getting the three’s, it’s the right way. And so that excites me, especially right now, more than making them — we got good shooters, we work on our shooting — and so a lot of times when the shot goes up, if we’re getting the three’s the right way, I expect it to go in just because we work so hard on it, trying to do the right thing.”
The shots, whether from three or not, are more often than not going to be high percentage looks if the ball and the players continue this beautiful display of frenetic movement.
And to make it all the more impressive is the fact that despite all the passing (28.3 assists per game in the preseason), the Kings remained in the top half among the league in turnover percentage and turnovers per game.
Last season, prior to the acquisition of Domantas Sabonis, the Kings were giving up 11.1 offensive rebounds per game, the 4th most in the league in that timeframe. By the end of the year, they filed it down to 10.6 which was 9th most. However, it was clear how big of an issue that was.
There were plenty of times where the inability to secure defensive stops looked like it was going to be the death of interim head coach Alvin Gentry.
This year, though, it appears another weakness is becoming a strength.
Sabonis and Lyles helped the effort on the glass since both are more than adept at that. Not to mention Murray is coming out of college known as a high effort player, which extends to the boards. And they were added to a team that already had Richaun Holmes and Harrison Barnes.
But much like defense, rebounding requires effort and all-around team commitment. And all guys look engaged on the glass.
In the preseason, the Kings allowed the 2nd least offensive rebounds (7.8 per game) while grabbing the 7th most (12.5).
The ability to grab their own offensive rebounds was exceptional. Barnes had 9, Sabonis snagged 8, and both Lyles and Alex Len grabbed 4. In just two games, Holmes came down with 5. Even De’Aaron Fox had 3.
It may go under the radar, especially compared to the beautiful shooting and movement, but the team rebounding in Sacramento is a strong suit.
Weakness: Discipline when it comes to fouling
One reason Mike Brown’s defense here in Sacramento can’t be a strength is because it’s neither proven nor astounding on paper. It could be a major strength by the end of the year, but at this point it can’t.
Another reason for that is because the Kings kept breaking one of Brown’s central rules to defense: being competitive and playing hard on that end, but doing so without fouling.
The Kings averaged 28.3 personal fouls a game in the preseason, which was easily the highest of the 30 NBA teams.
This just bails out the opposing team, often sending them into the bonus early, and giving them chances for a surplus of free throws.
Fox, Sabonis, Huerter, and Holmes all averaged 3 personal fouls or more a game in the preseason. In the simplest terms, four essential guys to the rotation cannot be committing such high amounts of violations.
Admittedly, the officiating wasn’t perfect and it’s just the preseason, but a certain level of discipline apparently needs to emerge throughout this team.
It’s not a horrible problem to have—the guys are playing hard—and it should be mended as the year goes on, but asserting that discipline early is important.
The Kings look like one of the more prepared teams coming out of preseason, lack of discipline can spoil that.
Weakness: Free throw shooting
It’s been a major focus of training camp. At the end of practice, it’s hit your free throws or get running.
Again, free throws are opportunities for free points, and they make all the difference in deciding the outcome of the game. And so far, the Kings have not shown much promise.
Last season, Sacramento was a subpar free throw shooting team, hitting 76.8% of their attempts from the charity stripe, good for 18th in the league. In the preseason, they shot 67%, which is good for second to last.
Teams don’t have to shoot over 80% from the free throw line in order to be contenders. That’s clear from last year when the Warriors shot 76.9%, one spot above the Kings. But around or below 70% is just a continuous act of shooting yourself in the foot.
It will be important for the foundational pillars of this team to make a better effort. Fox and Sabonis have shot just over 72% from the free throw line in their careers, though Fox had his best season last year, shooting 75% from the line. But both shot under 70% in the preseason.
It’s probably a little more imperative for Fox given the fact he’s primarily a downhill attacker, which sets up for plenty of foul opportunities. He’s got to be able to maximize the fact that he’s one of the better players in the league at driving into the paint.
Overall, though this team has to shoot better from the line. It’s more than Fox and Sabonis, Davion Mitchell missed his two attempts in theses four games and Barnes was 6 of 10.
67% from the free throw line just won’t cut it. It should improve, but it’s really got to be a whole lot higher.
Is that even a weakness?
Not exactly, but it is a glaring fact (for now).
For all the dazzling they did together as a team over the last couple of weeks, that was just the preseason. And a season goes 82 games, which is quite the marathon at the highest level of basketball.
To keep this one short, the Kings—this group of guys in particular—simply have the burden of proof on them. They have to show the basketball world that they are legit, they have to prove that they don’t have glaring weaknesses that can fall under this list.