Sacramento Kings mid-season report

There are some positives to build on, but the reality of the halfway point of the 2017-18 NBA season for the Sacramento Kings is that they are a bad basketball team. Not "bad" meaning good, but bad meaning bad. The Kings completed game-41 with a record of 13 wins and 28 losses. Sacramento ranks last of 30 NBA teams in both offensive and defensive rating. Furthermore, the Kings are dead last in point differential.

Is it possible for the Kings to be better NOW? Are they in touch with reality? Who are the five most efficient at each position? And, which players have defensive ratings better than the team defrtg? These are the questions we will answer in our Hoop Obsession mid-season report.

Cauley-Stein made strides in the last year.

The Kings have been hard to watch, frankly. There have been huge variances in the player rotation and a rhythm has yet to be established. Half of the Kings losses have been by 15 or more points.

George Hill, who under-achieved in the first half of the season, is the Kings best option at Point Guard. But Hill has missed seven games for a variety of reasons. No player on Sacramento's roster played in all 41 of the games this season to date. In fact, among all the teams in the NBA that have completed 41 games, the Kings are the only team that does not have a player with 1,000 minutes played. This statistic speaks volumes about the lack of a star on the Kings roster.

This was not unexpected. After trading DeMarcus Cousins last February, it was clear that Sacramento was in a serious rebuild mode. For Kings fans, there was preseason hope that lottery pick DeAaron Fox might flash enough of his gifts to stand out. Instead, Fox has been nowhere near the offensive player that many thought he was capable of being in the first 41 games of his rookie season.

Sacramento ranks last in the NBA in free throw attempts. Fox should be getting to the line more than he does (presently at 2.3 FTA per game) but so should Buddy Hield. Hield only averages one free throw attempt per contest.

Sacramento is actually very good in three-point percentage, ranking third in the NBA. However, in three-point ATTEMPTS, Sacramento ranks last. Hill and Hield are the team's best deep threats and Sacramento needs to encourage Hill and "Buddy Buckets" to play with more freedom and aggression on offense.

While Hill's first 34 games as a Kings player have lacked flow, we think he is in the 9-1-6 to stay. He is making 20 million dollars this season, and we think it is very doubtful that any team would be willing to take on his contract before the trade deadline.

Garrett Temple leads Sacramento in total minutes played. Coach Dave Joerger relies on the undrafted LSU player because he provides effort and intensity on defense. Temple is an unquestioned off-court leader and a total professional but his overall ability relative to the rest of the NBA would make him a deep bench guy on a good NBA team. On our HoopObsession efficiency per-minute scale, Temple owns a .296 EFR, which ranks outside of the top 60 NBA Small Forwards.

Temple simply is not dynamic enough on offense to warrant the minutes he has received. Clearly, if the Kings are rated 30th of 30 in DEFRTG, Temple's defensive prowess is not doing enough. It may surprise some to find out that in the first 41 games of the season, the Kings were .9 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Temple OFF the floor.

Could the Kings be better?

Sure they could. A couple more games could have easily been won. However, the BIG PICTURE is very important for a franchise that last made the NBA Playoffs in 2006. If the Kings won more than 30 games this season, that would be over-achieving. Wildly exceeding 30 wins, with say, a 36 win season would still keep Sacramento away from playoff contention.

Most important for the Kings is establishing the habits that will one day lead to consistent winning for their young players. In the modern NBA there is no shortage of ways for players to gradually gain experience. The ever-expanding NBA G-League can be used as a proving ground for real game situations. Through practice with the NBA team, observation from courtside, and occasionally getting some NBA minutes, a young player CAN progress.

In our opinion, were it all about winning, the Kings best five-man lineup TODAY would be Hill, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Jakarr Sampson, Zach Randolph, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Rotation players should include Fox, Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, and Kosta Koufos.

At this stage of the BIG PICTURE, the Kings should be one hundred percent committed to selling HOPE to their fan base. Winning some games with your best lineup, without agendas, also establishes and reinforces that in the end, winning games is what REALLY matters in the NBA.

It is our belief that many NBA front offices are too worried about "playing their young guys" when the truth is, playing youth and winning do not go hand-in-hand. How much are you really learning if you are losing by double digits nightly? Regardless of the amount of NBA minutes any of the young players receives or does not receive, they are still under contract. Make them EARN NBA playing time.

As we have outlined, Sacramento's second half core could include young pieces, Bogdanovic, Cauley-Stein, Fox, Hield, Labissiere, and Mason.

Bogdanovic is a prime example of a player that gives the fan base hope. Not only is "Bogi" skilled, he is also enthusiastic. His interaction with his teammates and visible joy to play basketball has been perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the Kings first 41 games. Bogdanovic has shown stretches where he looks like he is capable of playing Point Guard on offense. His 1.75-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is solid, especially for a rookie adjusting to the faster pace of NBA play. However, defensively, we see him as more of a TWO-guard due to the foot speed disadvantage he would face against most NBA Point Guards.

Vince Carter makes the Kings better defensively with his experience. Sacramento is 4.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Carter on the floor. That is a significant number. I think it speaks to Carter's savvy but also to the inexperience of Justin Jackson and Malachi Richardson who also see time at Small Forward.

Frank Mason has played well on many nights but he has also had some games, especially on defense, where his lack of NBA experience shows. Mason is presently out of action with a partial tear of the right plantar fascia. Once he returns, he should also be in the mix. Offensively, on a per-minute basis, Mason has been better than Fox, but Fox has been better on the defensive end.

In our estimation, Justin Jackson, Malachi Richardson, and Georgios Papagiannis should all be G-League players exclusively at this point. Justin Jackson played nearly 500 NBA minutes this season. It was clear to us in Summer League that Jackson, at this stage of his development, is not ready for NBA burn.

And then there is Harry Giles. Giles, another Kings rookie, has yet to play in a NBA game. The 6'10", 240 lb., 19 year-old was drafted after one partial season at Duke. We have heard reports that Giles has looked good in practices. One source has even gone as far as to say that Giles has days where is the "best BIG" on the floor.

Will he play this season? On one hand, if the Kings do not allow Giles to play this season, perhaps that can be a source of hope for 2018-19. On the other hand, Kings fans have suffered losing for so long, why not let them get glimpses of Giles on the NBA hardwood as soon as he is medically cleared?

Are the Kings in touch with their reality?

Yes. Sacramento, for the most part, is a team with their eyes on a finish line that is three to four seasons away. Their roster has nine players age 24 or younger. The Kings are headed for another NBA Lottery and they should have their fair share of chances at a top draft pick in June.

At this point, Sacramento has keepers in Bogdanovic and Cauley-Stein. Giles, Hield, and Mason all look like they are headed in the right direction as players Kings fans will want to watch in the years to come. Fox, for all his gifts, needs to continue to improve offensively before we can give him a full endorsement. The Kings rank 27th (of 30) in pace of play, which seems way too slow given the speed that Fox possesses. He needs to focus on looking for his own offense more often by attacking the paint.

Labissiere, while not taking as big a step as Kings fans would like, is still a 21 year-old player with skill. His body continues to look more ready for the NBA than it did just 15 months ago. While we would not in any way "give-up" on Labissiere, we would also not give him any minutes he doesn't earn. Randolph, Cauley-Stein, and Koufos are simply more effective players at this stage than Labissiere.

It goes without saying that if Sacramento is offered anything decent for Randolph or Koufos before the trade deadline, the Kings should pull the trigger. By the time Sacramento is ready to be an NBA Playoffs team, the careers of Z-Bo and Koufos will likely be over or very near the end. If Randolph or Koufos were to be traded, Labissiere's playing time would likely increase. What would be lost in veteran leadership could be gained in accelerated NBA opportunities for younger players (like Giles.)

Meanwhile, Jakarr Sampson has played just 102 minutes with the Kings despite looking more than capable to succeed in the NBA. Sampson, entering his athletic prime, at age 24, is a pesky defender that would unquestionably help Sacramento's dreadful DEFRTG and team rebounding with his toughness. Sampson's combined NBA and G-League 3-pt. shooting percentage is 34.6% this season. He has improved in that area, up from a a career 24% from beyond the arc.

Five most efficient by position

PG - George Hill .401, SG - Buddy Hield .453, SF - Jakarr Sampson .559, PF - Zach Randolph .635, C Kosta Koufos .572

Which players have defensive ratings better than the team defrtg? (players w/ 300 minutes played minimum)

The Kings TEAM defensive rating is 111.9 (30th of 30). The players with defensive ratings better than the team average: Vince Carter 107.1, Kosta Koufos 108.7, Willie Cauley-Stein 109.9, Skal Labissiere 111.2, and Zach Randolph 111.5. (Sampson would make the list too if he met the minutes minimum.)


NBA related. Trade targets.