The Sacramento Kings have never really had high expectations entering a season. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs, Rick Adelman guided them to 44 wins during the 2005-06 season. That team was led by Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Peja Stojakovic and Metta World Peace. The face of the franchise now is De’Aaron Fox, who was just eight years old the last time this team played in the postseason.
The last 15 years have been a wild ride, but there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel. Most of that depends on how the off-season goes. The Kings have just nine games remaining on their schedule, with a trip to Dallas up next.
Sacramento has won just four of their last 16 games, which began with a nine-game losing streak and a 49-point blowout at the hands of the Utah Jazz last Wednesday. They did follow up that game by beating the Los Angeles Lakers on their home floor to spoil LeBron James’ return after missing 20 games. This came without the help of their star point guard. Last Friday the team announced that Fox would miss at least the next 10-14 days due to health and safety protocols.
The 12th-seeded Kings are currently 5.5 games out of the final spot in the Play-In Tournament, on the brink of elimination. In addition to Fox missing time, Sacramento has been without Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III over this stretch as they continue to deal with injuries. Bagley made his return on Friday but this is still a very young team without much veteran experience to help guide them.
With their season seemingly headed for the finish line, it is important to get a gauge on where this team is at. What changes are likely coming in the days ahead? Where do they need to improve in the offseason? What is working and what needs to be fixed? The answers to these questions can be found below.
Despite their lack of collective talent, the Kings do have a young, All-Star-caliber point guard that should be the face of their franchise for years to come. Fox has elevated his game this season in a multitude of areas. The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging career-highs in points (25.2 per game) and field goal percentage. His shot-making and ability to get to the rim will give even the strongest defenses serious trouble. Fox’s scoring has increased but he is also trusting his teammates more, and distributing the ball before the double-team can get to him.
Sacramento also found a real gem in Tyrese Haliburton. The Kings stole the Iowa State guard with the 12th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and he has truly been a bright spot for this organization. With Fox being 23 years old and Haliburton just turning 21, this backcourt duo gives Sacramento something special to build around going forward.
Tyrese Haliburton since De’Aaron Fox went out:
23 PTS | 10 AST | 4 3PT
13 PTS | 8 AST | 1 3PT
14 PTS | 10 AST | 2 3PT
24 PTS | 8 AST | 2 3PT pic.twitter.com/czGwqKH79q
— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 1, 2021
The Kings also rank fifth in terms of field goal percentage as a team this season. This is due to them getting quality shots by moving the ball, instead of relying heavily on isolation plays. Despite their youth, the Kings don’t turn the ball over much, ranking ninth-best in the league in that category.
Luke Walton is finishing up his second season as head coach and the results have not been great. Walton’s Los Angeles Lakers teams increased their win totals each season under his tutelage, but that has not been the case in Sacramento. The Kings have suffered the same type of late-game collapses and struggled with in-game adjustments with Walton at the helm.
The Kings have gone through ten different coaches since their last playoff game. Whether or not the organization decides another coaching change is in order, there is still much more work to do. One other area they must improve is their team defense. This season they rank dead last in both defensive rating and opponents scoring. They were in the bottom third in those same categories last season.
The last time Sacramento ranked better than 20th in defensive rating was the 2005-06 season; the last time they made the playoffs. That is not just a coincidence. If they want to turn this ship around, they are going to have to start playing solid defense.
Other weaknesses that need to be addressed include free-throw shooting and three-point shooting as a unit. While Buddy Hield has been one of the best shooters from distance this season, the team as a whole has struggled. Sacramento shoots 22.7 free throws per game, which is the seventh-most in the league. The problem is, they are hitting just 74.6 percent of those, which ranks 25th. Many of their close games have been decided because of poor shooting from the charity stripe.
The future still looks bright for the Kings, as they have the majority of their core under contract through at least the next couple of seasons. Fox signed a multi-year extension before the season and is under contract through the 2025-26 season. Barnes is signed on through the 2022-23 season and Hield’s contract goes a year longer than that. Haliburton has three more years on his rookie contract and the team has some options on a few other guys.
As far as the draft goes, the Kings do have all of their own first-round picks to use over the next seven years. Should they get a little bit of luck in the Draft Lottery, a top-four selection could land them Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green. A talent like Mobley would certainly fit right in with this young group and really allow them the opportunity to blossom together.
There will be plenty of opportunities for guys to continue to grow and prove themselves. This is a very young team with nine players having less than five years of experience. With some added veterans, additional talent and a possible coaching change on the horizon, the Kings should be able to improve next season and possibly push their way into the postseason.
The biggest threat facing this team going forward will be what happens to their core of big men. Richaun Holmes and Hassan Whiteside are both hitting free agency, and while Whiteside probably won’t be a huge loss, the team desperately needs to bring back Holmes. The former Bowling Green big man has had a career year in Sacramento, increasing his numbers in nearly every statistical category. His rebounding has been crucial for this team, which currently ranks dead last in hitting the glass.
Since Sacramento signed Holmes to a two-year deal in 2019, they do not have full bird rights. The Kings don’t have cap space so the maximum deal they could offer him would be around $43 million over the next four seasons. That may not be enough to keep the talented big man, although he has carved himself a nice role with this team.
The bigger story might be what happens with Bagley, who will be a free agent after next season. The second overall pick in the 2018 draft is averaging career-lows this season and has only played in 38 games after missing the last six weeks with a hand injury. Bagley is eligible for a rookie-scale extension before next season, but James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area believes his time in Sacramento will soon be coming to an end.
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) April 26, 2021
Bagley may just need a change of scenery to get his career back on track. The Kings will have a handful of games to showcase him to other interested teams as the regular season comes to a close. The organization did sign Chimezie Metu and Damian Jones to multi-year deals and could always look elsewhere, but retaining Holmes should be a major priority in the offseason.