Prior to the start of the season, the Sacramento Kings’ over/under for wins this season was 34.
Through 11 games, the Kings are on pace to finish under their win’s prediction, as they’re 4-7, which puts them on pace to win just 29.8 games this season.
So, what are the Kings doing really well and where do they need improvement? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives about the Kings four weeks into the season.
Kings’ starting lineup – In 128 minutes of play, the Kings’ starting lineup of Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos are scoring 105.6 points per 100 possessions, which would be slightly below league average. But, it’s the defensive end where this group is working well together, as they’re holding teams to 99.1 PP/100, which would put them in a Top-5 defensive category if there was a 15-person team full of just those five players. Overall, the Kings’ starting unit is outscoring opponents by 6.6 PP/100.
Getting to the free throw line – The duo of Cousins and Gay are a handful for opposing defenses, as Cousins has been getting to the free throw line 10.7 times a night and knocking down 76.3% of his free throws, while Gay is visiting the line 6.5 times a game, and shooting 80% from the three throw line. Overall, the Kings are ranked 6th in the league in free throw attempts, with 25.2 visits per night.
Protecting the Paint – Though the Kings have some major issues on the defensive end, protecting the paint so far isn’t one of their worst areas. The Kings currently rank 4th in limiting opponent points in the paint per game (38.9 points) and they’re also doing a really good job of limiting opponent second chance points (11.5 points), as they’re ranked 3rd in that category. In terms of allowing opposing team’s offensive rebounds, the Kings are ranked 12th in giving up 10.0 offensive boards, and that mainly is contributed to the team playing small for a good chunk of the game, with Gay at the 4 and Cousins at 5, surrounded by wings who don’t grab a ton of rebounds.
Cousins’ shooting from the left wing 3 – From the left wing 3-pointer through 11 games, Cousins has shot and made 5 of 12 left wing 3s (41.7%), which means he’s shooting 5.8% above league average from that area. Cousins is mainly getting those types of 3s off pick-and-pop action from the Kings’ guards Lawson and Garrett Temple, but as you can see in the clip below, he’s also taking those 3s when the big is already too far in the paint and Cousins is entering the halfcourt as the trailer.
Now, this doesn’t mean Cousins should be shooting 3s from the all over the place, as overall, he’s shooting 31.4% from distance on 3.2 attempts per game.
Gay’s efficiency in the paint – Gay is very efficient in the paint, as he’s made 44 of his 67 attempts in the restricted area (65.7%), which means he’s shooting 9.2% above league average right now when attacking the rim.
With his size and length at 6’8”, Gay can be difficult to guard in the post against typical NBA 3s, but then, when he has a mismatch with 1s and 2s, it’s almost automatic points for Gay if the defense isn’t quick enough to send a double team. In the video below, you’ll see how Gay is taking advantage of mismatches in the post and how he’s a threat at any time in the open court to get out ahead of the break for leak outs.
Overall offense and defense – The Kings currently rank 17th in offense (102.4 PP/100) and close to last in defense (27th, 107.1 PP/100). Let’s begin with some of their issues on offense.
Lack of generating fast break points – Though Gay might get a few leak outs every and now and then, the Kings as a team just don’t generate many easy baskets out on the break. They rank 27th in transition points, with just 9.9 per game. A big part of this has to be because they run such a slower halfcourt type of pace (28th in pace, 95.28 possessions per 48 minutes). On his latest podcast, Zach Lowe of ESPN.com and David Thorpe also discussed the Kings’ issues with a slower pace.
Lack of supporting fire power – Outside of Afflalo, Gay and Temple, the Kings don’t have any other core players shooting above league average from 3-point range, which makes it easy for defenses to create game plans that double and swarm Cousins or Gay for a majority of the game, since there’s not really an outside shooting threat to punish those defenses. Together, Cousins and Gay a responsible for 62.7% of the Kings’ offense, according to the NBA’s usage percentages. Next up behind them as playmakers – Darren Collison and then Ben McLemore.
Transition Defense – One reason for the Kings’ near bottom of the league defense is their difficulty in preventing opponents from scoring transition points. The Kings are allowing teams to score 15.4 transition points a game, which is ranked 25th in the NBA. When looking at their turnover numbers, the Kings are coughing up the ball 14.3 times per night, which is near league average and might be an indicator of what’s causing teams to score on them out on the break.
Rebounding – The Kings are ranked 27th in this department with 41.4 boards per game, and while playing small ball lineups was discussed earlier as part of this area, it’s also the fact that teams shoot a high percentage on the Kings’ defense, which leads to less rebounding opportunities. Opponents are shooting 46.2% against the Kings’ defense, which ranks them 26th in the league.
Allowing too many corner 3s – While the Kings’ 3-point defense is around league average and they’re top-10 defensively in preventing above the break 3s, they do let opposing teams shoot one of the more efficient 3-point shots far too often – the corner 3. The Kings are ranked 29th in allowing corner 3s, as team’s are taking 8.0 per game against them and knocking down 35.2% of those looks. Giving up corner 3s usually means your defense is having trouble guarding spread pick-and-roll formations, allowing too much drive and kick action, or when double teams are implemented, teams are moving the ball around the arc until it finds the open 3-point shooter.
Keeping opponents off the free throw line – While the Kings are really good at getting to the free throw line themselves, they cancel some of those points out by fouling teams too much on the other end of the floor. The Kings are allowing opposing teams to shoot 27.9 free throws per game, which ranks them 26th in the league, and the teams are knocking down 79.2% of those freebies each game. It’s a simple math equation that isn’t working well for the Kings on the defensive end:
19.5 (Kings made free throws per game) – 20.3 (opponent Made Free Throws per game) = -0.8 points for Sacramento each game.
While it’s still mid-November, the Kings have to be careful not to slip behind in the Western Conference, as there are already nine teams with records of .500 or above. While the players on the roster won’t magically turn into league average 3-point shooters overnight, the Kings can do their best to try to prevent turnovers on offense, and on the defensive end, work to execute their rotations, get back in transition, and try to limit fouling opponents.
Stats gathered from NBA.com/stats