Navigating the Challenge of Going from “Good” to “Very Good” in the NBA: A Look at the Sacramento Kings’ Struggle

This season, the Kings are experiencing firsthand how difficult the jump from “good” to “very good” can be in the NBA. After the feel-good year of 2023, the next step has not taken place.

by Seb Dumitru

Impressive victories against top teams are offset by embarrassing defeats. How good is Sacramento really?

It was one of the most frustrating defeats of the season for the Sacramento Kings: With 109:102, the Californians had to admit defeat, of all teams, to the Washington Wizards, in a “back-to-back”, after only having been beaten at 2 o’clock in the middle had flown in from Toronto that night (where they had easily won 123:89).

Against the Wizards, the team from the Pacific Division was temporarily behind by 19 points, only hit eleven three-pointers and 42 percent from the field. Two massive runs of 18:0 and 15:0 simultaneously illustrated how much power this team has once it gets rolling.

Sacramento Kings at Orlando Magic: LIVE Saturday from 11:55 p.m.! on ProSieben MAXX, and Joyn.

The unnecessary bankruptcy came in the middle of what were supposed to be successful weeks (the Kings had won six of eight games) and pushed Sacramento (40-29 record) down to eighth place in the relentless West table.

The three-way battle with Phoenix and Dallas (41-29 each) for sixth place and thus direct playoff qualification is currently one of the big flash points, ahead of the decisive last three weeks in the regular season.

the essentials in brief

The vibes in the current season seem completely different than in 2022-23. A year ago the Kings were die Feel-good story in the National Basketball Association, achieved 48 wins and finally reached the playoffs again after 16 long years – the longest postseason drought at the time in all four major US professional leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB).

Level Up: Harder done than said

Mike Brown’s team, who came from the Golden State Warriors as championship assistant coach in the summer of 2022 and took over the chronically unsuccessful Kings as head coach, went into the postseason as Pacific Division champions and number three on the seed list – and had to settle there Only gave up defeat against the same Warriors after seven games.

Led by the explosive one-two punch De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, who both made the All-Star Team, and Brown, who was voted Coach of the Year, “Sacto” shone with an offensive rating of 118, 6 points per 100 possessions – at the time, the most efficient attack in NBA history.

A lot has happened since then: almost the entire league has catapulted its offensive output into unprecedented levels, with five teams attacking more efficiently than the Kings last year. And although the team from the “River City” plays similarly successful basketball – the difference in the record is currently only two wins – the public perception is completely different.

The West is more balanced, the field is much closer together, and the margin for error has shrunk. The jump from “good” to “very good” is one of the hardest in this league that never rests.

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Dynamic core as a guarantee of success

These Kings are by no means a lower-class basketball team. However, they will be measured using a different standard this year. Although the internal improvement is particularly noticeable on the defensive end – Sacramento ranks 15th in defense, up from 24th last year – the handicaps of this team seem to have come into focus much more prominently.

The strengths are known and unchanged. The congenial two-man punch Fox/Sabonis remains the engine of the Kings attack. Big man Domantas Sabonis leads the league with 24 triple doubles and 65 double-doubles. Particularly notable is his active double-double streak, which stands at 52 in a row. The Lithuanian has now overtaken Moses Malone and is now just one double-double away from Kevin Love’s all-time record (53) since the merger of the NBA and ABA.

Sabonis has long been one of the most feared post players in the NBA, offensive lynchpin, second-best scorer (20.0 PPG), best rebounder (13.7 RPG) and assist provider (8.3 APG) on his team. He loves creating from mid-range. The Kings score the second-most elbow touches in the league, holding and initiating the ball from so-called “elbow sets” more than 13 times per night.

Sacramento Kings at Orlando Magic: LIVE Saturday from 11:55 p.m.! on ProSieben MAXX, and Joyn.

Thanks in particular to Sabonis, the “Kings of the Hand-Off” will be unstoppable in 2023-24 when they unpack this play: More than eleven of Sacramento’s actions – that’s more than ten percent of all plays – end in a hand-off. The Kings score 11.5 points per game, almost twice as many as the next best team on the list.

Paired with Fox’s speed, accuracy and crunch time presence, the Kings engine is always humming along effectively. The lightning-quick guard scores 26.6 points per night and hits better than ever before in his career with 2.8 makes on 7.6 attempts (36.6 percent) from the three-point line. Only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson and Jalen Brunson score more than Fox’s 11.0 points per game on drives. 22 games with 30 points or more, and seven with 40-plus, have once again confirmed Fox as one of the most dangerous ones in the league.

The Kings also have one of the best backup sets in the NBA, scoring 37.4 points per night off the bench. Of all the playoff contenders in the West, only the Golden State Warriors are better (43.5 PPG). The bench mob is led by electric high flyer Malik Monk – one of the most spectacular dunkers in the league and at the same time one of the best backup wings around.

Monk, who is earning less than ten million dollars this season, wants to win a new, lucrative multi-year deal in the summer and is delivering powerfully in his contract year. With 16.0 points and 5.3 assists on average, the 26-year-old is having the best season of his NBA career and is rightly considered the favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year trophy.

Well-known problems and where there are particular problems

The bench quality and depth is currently being put to the test. In the 121-111 win against the Memphis Grizzlies, starter Kevin Huerter dislocated his left shoulder and tore a muscle. The guard is in danger of being out for the rest of the season.

Huerter fell short of expectations with 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Not much was possible, especially from a distance: 36.1 percent three-point rate is the worst value of his career. Defensive expert Keon Ellis will start in his place. With big man Trey Lyles also nursing an injury, Brown’s rotation is severely impacted.

What the Kings continue to lack is length and defense at all positions. General manager Monte McNair has to put up with criticism because he had more than enough opportunities to improve the roster in these crucial areas.

Both before this season and in February during the trade deadline, when the Kings inexplicably kept their feet still, there would have been a chance to turn the aging Harrison Barnes into an upgrade at the big wing positions, for example.

The fact that the Kings didn’t find a trade suggests that they didn’t want to part with Keegan Murray – their most versatile and important defender. Murray is only 23 years young and in his second NBA season. However, his increased responsibility at the back end is reflected in major problems from the three-point line.

The Kings’ problems seem to be more of an existential nature than a tactical and personnel one. How does this team want to take the next step without fundamentally changing? The role model here remains the Denver Nuggets, who, with a similarly operating star big (Jokic) and without an elite defender, managed to improve year after year and ultimately win the NBA title. Is this replicable?

Sacramento not only wants to reach the playoffs, but also finally win a series there again. This franchise last achieved this 20 years ago, when Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby wore the Kings jersey. Lack of consistency, less dominant strengths and embarrassing failures against basement kids illustrate the difficulty of reaching the next level.

Only 18 wins against teams with a negative record is the worst value of all playoff aspirants in the East and West. Sacramento has suffered losses to Detroit, Charlotte, Portland and Washington – four of the five worst teams in the NBA. That doesn’t speak for the mental strength and discipline of this team, which too often makes lapses, lack of concentration and bad decisions.

At the same time, the record shows 22 wins against teams with a win rate over 50 percent, only the three teams at the top of the West have more. And these Kings are 7-3 against them. They have won three times against Denver and twice each against Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Dallas, Phoenix and Golden State. They got four wins in four duels against the Lakers and at least one against the Clippers. They have impressively proven that they have more than enough quality to beat any competitor in the West.

Fans still fear a play-in scenario. Not because the Kings have to be wary of any opponent. But because they remain their own worst enemy. “These bankruptcies are our kryptonite this year,” says Monk. “I don’t really know. We still have 13 games left. We really need to work out a few things before the playoffs start…”

2024-03-23 14:54:00
#NBA #Sacramento #Kings #Das #ultimative #Jekyll #Hyde #Team


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