Basketball is a complex game. It’s more than just a ball, a hoop and 10 players. It is artistry and mathematics and even a science, wrapped together in 48 minutes of chaos. When the perfect pieces are put together, it can result in something poetic and transcendent. But when the mix goes bad, it is impossible to hide the inadequacies.
The Kings have turned off the “win at all costs” sign that typically hangs over a team for 50 or more games. They have transitioned to the player development and lineup experimentation phase of the season. It’s a subtle way of waiving the white flag, while building for the future.
We’re not judging, just stating the facts. This season was never about wins or losses. It was about rebuilding and assessing the assets in place. It’s been a season of massive change from top to bottom, and as such, neither a success nor a failure.
Four transactions have reshaped the roster dramatically and as the Kings head down the stretch, at least one glaring weakness in the construction of the current team is beginning to stand out.
With the loss of Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton, the Kings are not a good perimeter shooting team. They weren’t a great perimeter team with those players, but without the threat of shooters to stretch the defense, teams are now packing the paint and making life extremely difficult for both DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.
“We’re 28th in 3-point percentage,” coach Michael Malone said before the Kings’ 117-111 win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday evening. “We don’t have good shooting and that’s been a problem for us all year.”
To a certain extent, Malone is correct. Through the first 53 games of the season, the Kings shot 34.3 percent from long range, which ranks around 26th overall in the NBA. It’s nothing to write home about, but since dealing Thornton on Feb. 19 and buying out Jimmer a few days later, the Kings 3-point percentage has plummeted to 29.9 percent, which would rank last in the league.
“The one thing about Jimmer, is that every time he shot the ball, make or miss, you thought it was going in, at least I did,” Malone said. “Marcus Thornton, not as consistent, but very streaky and he could have those nights where he could get it going.”
While he doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify for the league leaders, Jimmer’s 49.4 percent shooting from behind the arc is the best in the league. Thornton, on the other hand, shot just 31.8 percent from deep with the Kings, but he was still a known threat.
As of now, the Kings must rely on Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore or an occasional 3-pointer from Derrick Williams, Travis Outlaw or rookie second-round pick Ray McCallum, who leads the team in 3-point percentage in his limited opportunities.
“When you lose two guys that have that ability, the floor does become a little bit smaller,” Malone said. “Teams are shrinking the floor, giving a lot more help on Rudy and DeMarcus and in turn, their percentages, especially Rudy’s percentages have gone down quite a bit.”
More than shooting percentages or scoring averages, the ripple effect has accentuated the Kings’ lack of team play. Without floor spacers, the Kings have resorted to more one-on-one basketball, causing the team’s assist rate of 19.5 per game to shrink to just 17.3 per game.
“When you have a guy like DeMarcus that demands a double-team and a guy like Rudy that commands a double-team a lot of nights, and you don’t have the ability to make teams pay on a consistent basis, that becomes very hard,” Malone said.
With less ball movement, comes higher predictability in offensive sets. When teams become predictable, the double-teams come quicker and more frequently, leading to an increase in mistakes.
Over the last 15 games, the Kings are turning the ball over 17.6 times per game. Teams are keying on Cousins and Gay, something they couldn’t always do before. Through the first 53 games, Sacramento averaged just 14.9 turnovers per game.
When these stats are spaced out, it might not be that obvious, but there is a huge difference between 19.5 assists with 14.9 turnovers and 17.3 assists with 17.6 turnovers.
Without shooters on the perimeter, Sacramento has turned to rebounding talents like Reggie Evans and Quincy Acy. The results have been an increase in rebounds per game from 43.7 to 46.9.
The Kings have also taken advantage of the new aggressive approach by their opponents, increasing their chances at the free-throw line from 26.2 per contest to 32.2 over the last 15 games.
Perhaps the most shocking result is that despite the look and feel of this team, they’ve gone 6-9 (.400 win percentage) over the last 15 games versus 18-35 (.340 win percentage) through the team’s first 53 affairs.
But here’s one last stat to consider: In the Kings’ last six wins, they have shot 35.4 percent from 3-point range. In the nine losses, they have shot just 27.2 percent.
This team is not a work of art; it is a work in progress. There are a lot of different ways to address the 3-point shooting going into next season, but if this team is convinced that Thomas, Cousins and Gay are its offensive anchors, there is a substantial need to add long-range shooters, regardless of position.