Sacramento Kings season review. Analysis.

The Sacramento Kings recently completed their 2017-18 season, winning 27 games and losing 55. The dust has settled so let’s analyze what we witnessed and where we think the Kings need to improve.

In general, given trying to overcome poor decisions from the past, and given all the youth on the team, we like the way the Kings roster is presently constructed. Sacramento has a team full of players who get along with each other and support each other. Young talent in Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox and Harry Giles gives Kings fans reason to believe they can one day get back into the NBA Playoffs. That goal is still seemingly far away however, in a ridiculously loaded Western Conference where it took 47 wins to make the post-season.

Captain Obvious would point out that the Kings are void of an All-Star player. Zach Randolph was the Kings leading scorer, averaging just 14.5 points per game. In comparison to really good teams who are still alive in the NBA Playoffs, Randolph’s 14.5 ppg offers solid evidence of how badly the Kings need a modern lead scoring option.

NBA Playoffs final 8 teams, and their leading scorer’s average: Houston – Harden 30.4, New Orleans – Davis 28.1, Cleveland – James 27.5, Golden State – Durant 26.4, Boston - Irving 24.4, Toronto – DeRozan 23.0, Philadelphia – Embiid 22.9, Utah – Mitchell 20.5.

We also applaud the Kings for making what we feel were correct decisions in trading George Hill, and releasing Georgios Papagiannis. Nothing slows a team down like being anchored to players that were clearly mistakes. History has proven that more often than not, it is best to cut that rope, and move on.

Z-Bo was the Kings best scorer.

Point Guards: De’Aaron Fox is 20 years old. Never forget that when critiquing his game. He simply does not have the experience that 95% of his opponents have. Fox showed signs of being able to rise to the occasion and he seems to be dedicated to improving. Relative to the rest of the NBA, however, point guard is not an area of strength for the Kings. In the future, Sacramento may have a great backcourt but that day is not today, and I doubt that simply the change of the calendar will give Sacramento a top-30 point guard. For the record, Frank Mason ranked 51st in point guard efficiency per minute in 2017-18. De’Aaron Fox was 62nd. Rankings like these suggest two players who in reality, at this stage of their careers, would be backup guards on poor teams. How much Fox and Mason will improve is unknown but the Kings would be wise to add a veteran point guard next season, while Fox and Mason mature into better NBA players.

Lots of folks like to compare Fox to John Wall. Well, as we pointed out prior to the draft, that is dangerous. Wall is longer by more than three inches, (Wall has a 6'9.75" wingspan!). Wall has a historically better assist-to-turnover ratio, and Wall has more strength than Fox. …Fox’s rookie year efficiency per min. rating was .376. Wall, as a rookie, posted a .480 EFR. In year two, Wall raised his EFR to .504.

Shooting Guards: This is an area of strength for the Kings. Buddy Hield has developed into a top-15 two-guard and Bogdan Bogdanovic ranked 40th among SG’s. We don’t care who starts or comes off the bench, but Sacramento needs to play Buddy Hield more. He needs more shots, and more responsibility. It seems like there is a narrative being peddled that Hield is a career sixth-man. We think that is selling Buddy short. He has improved as a defender. In fact, Hield was one of only 20 two-guards in the NBA that had a defensive rating at, or better than their team’s defensive rating. He can shoot with anyone in the NBA, and he even made some plays off the dribble this season.  As heralded as Bogdanovic was as a rookie, we think Hield is the better player today. …The Kings have Iman Shumpert under contract if Shumpert opts into being a Kings player for 2018-19. If Shumpert is healthy (he had knee surgery in November 2017), he will give Sacramento a top-tier defender at the guard position.  

Buddy made big strides in 2017-18. Get the man more shots!

Small Forwards: The Kings simply do not have a starting caliber 3-man on their roster. Their highest ranked SF on the 2017-18 Kings roster was 41 year-old Vince Carter who rated 49th among small forwards in efficiency per-minute. The Kings were also better defensively with Carter on the floor. Carter is an unrestricted free agent heading into the summer. Garrett Temple rated 63rd, and Justin Jackson was 67th out of the 72 small forwards that qualified (300 minutes played minimum). …Temple has a player option to return next season. …Perhaps Jackson will make a big leap but I would be hesitant to enter 2018-19 without two more efficient SF’s on the roster. We think the Kings could make significant strides by landing a top-30 small forward somehow. If that does not happen, Sacramento would be wise to look at playing Bogdanovic at the THREE. Although, “Bogi” is 6’6”, he has arms long enough to make him fit in with the physical landscape of the NBA at the position. Doing this would free up time for Hield to shine at the TWO.

Who is available? It sure sounds like Kawhi Leonard will be. There is not any player on the Kings I would not trade for Kawhi. …Mario Hezonja really improved this season. He will be an unrestricted free agent. The pool is not deep with great small forwards. If the Kings are serious about winning more games in 2018-19, they need to get much more production from the position.

Power Forwards: Zach Randolph carried the Kings at times offensively. Z-Bo is still a starting caliber NBA PF (at least on offense). He ranked 20th in efficiency per-minute. Behind Randolph, Skal Labissiere, and Jakarr Sampson both showed that they can be top-tier bench guys. While Labissiere is sometimes criticized for not making decisions quickly enough, or for fading from contact, he is still a nice NBA prospect at just 22 years of age. Skal ranked 37th in efficiency per-minute among PF’s. Sampson actually was one spot better than Labissiere in the efficiency per-minute rankings. This comes as no surprise to those who watched the Kings this season. Sampson energized the team bringing some toughness to the roster. The Kings were 4.8 points per 100 possessions better with Sampson on the floor. That is a significant number. We hope the Kings do not overlook what Sampson brought to the table. He just turned 25 years-old. Sampson will be a free agent and we would love to see the Kings sign him.   …Nigel Hayes was added late in the season. We’ve followed his career from Wisconsin to the G-League and we think his defense is ahead of his offense. …Bruno Caboclo is still just 22 years old. His defensive instincts merit keeping him as a member of the G-League’s Stockton Kings. Perhaps with development, Cabocloo can become solid enough on offense to warrant some time in the NBA. …In summary, with Z-Bo, Labissiere, and Sampson, we think Sacramento is very solid at PF.

Sampson energized the Kings, and played defense at an elite level.

Centers: I thought Willie Cauley-Stein made some strides this season. That said, I view both he and Kosta Koufos as NBA backup Centers. Koufos, who has a player option to return next season, ranked 31st in efficiency per-minute, while WCS checked in at 49th out of the 82 pivots that qualified. …Waiting in the wings is Harry Giles, who most observers believe will be the Kings best BIG. The Kings should be in the market for another quality Center just in case the Giles blossoming takes longer than anticipated.

The Draft: Sacramento will find out where they are selecting in the 2018 NBA Draft when the NBA Draft Lottery takes place May 15th. As in all cases, we would advise the Kings to select the best player available regardless of position. Denver traded Donovan Mitchell to Utah on draft day because they felt they were set at the TWO with Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Will Barton. Mitchell seems on his way to super stardom and while all of the Nuggets guys are good players none has the projected future of Mitchell.

Summary: More than anything, Sacramento needs a starting small forward that can produce like a starting small forward in the NBA. A veteran point guard that can produce yet not slow the growth of Fox and Mason would also be a priority if we were in charge. Finally, a top-tier Center, that is more efficient than Willie Cauley-Stein, would be a welcome addition.