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Luke Walton is Not the Problem in Sacramento

After a short stint with the Los Angeles Lakers that saw them missing the playoffs despite having all-time great LeBron James and a solid young cast around him, Luke Walton was hired by the Sacramento Kings to be the next head coach of their franchise.

The Kings had just had their first promising season in a while. Led by De’Aaron Fox, the Kings were the ninth seed going 39-43 and just missing out on the playoffs.

The Walton signing was ridiculed at the time because many believed he didn’t have what it took to be a quality head coach in the NBA. Those same fans are now calling for Walton to be fired after the Kings went 29-38 this season. I’m here to tell those fans that Walton needs another chance, and he has not been the problem with this team for several reasons.

Injuries

We need to stop looking so much at Walton, and we need to realize that the Kings were riddled with injuries all season long. It wasn’t bad players either; the Kings had three of their biggest injuries occur with players in their starting lineup.

First, Fox missed 19 games due to an ankle injury. Fox was the only 20+ PPG scorer on the Kings roster, and he is their clear cut best player. Their starting center Richaun Holmes enjoyed a great season with Sacramento; however, he missed 25 games due a shoulder injury. Lastly, their starting power forward Marvin Bagley, who was projected to take a huge leap this season, missed all but 13 games where he was clearly hurt and not playing up to his full potential.

Here’s where things get interesting. Fox missed 16 of his games between November 12th and December 17th. You’d figure that in that timeframe Walton and the Kings would completely fall apart, right? No, the Kings went 8-8 in that span of time. However, problems arose when Fox came back.

The Kings went on an eight-game losing streak. Yes, that’s awful and there’s no denying that, but a lot of things went wrong for them in that span of time. First off, five of the teams they faced were playoff teams and most of them were high level ones. However, against some lower level teams, they only lost by a very small amount.

They lost to the Timberwolves by one point in double overtime, they lost to the Suns by two without Fox, and they lost to the Hornets because their starters combined for 55 points on 20/53 shooting.

When teams win games, the players are often the ones that get a majority of the credit. However when they lose, we blame the coaches. Somehow, Walton is going to get blamed for that Hornets game despite the starters shooting 38% from the field and 32% from three. He managed to help the Kings retain a solid record while his best player was on the bench.

Then, they had to go up against a plethora of great teams alongside losing some nail biters with bad teams. How much blame can we really put on Walton for that? That double overtime game they lost to the Timberwolves? Both Bagley and Fox left the game with injuries leaving Cory Joseph to play 40 minutes.

However, against any team there are times where the Sacramento Kings just lose. Why is this? The answer is pretty simple in my eyes. 

Sacramento Just Isn’t Good

To be brutally honest, Sacramento just isn’t that good. Last year, they overachieved because they had nothing go wrong for them. For starters, they benefited a lot from beating up on bottom feeders. They were 25-12 against below .500 teams. However, against teams above .500, they were just 14-31. Why? Because the roster was simply inferior to a majority of rosters in the NBA. 

So their roster really wasn’t that good, and in the offseason the only notable addition they had was the signing of Holmes, who has been very good this year. The roster wasn’t good and Walton was a first year head coach just trying to figure out that roster. You can’t expect every first-year head coach to be Nick Nurse.

Walton had to come in and teach a completely different system to a relatively young roster in a loaded Western Conference. So obviously the Kings were going to struggle a little bit at first because the players and Walton were still getting used to one another hence the 0-5 start for them. 

However, Walton made one game-changing move that really helped Sacramento win. Despite their season being virtually over at 15-29, Walton decided to give one last effort to turn the Kings season around. After a loss to the shorthanded Pistons in a late February game where Buddy Hield shot 6-16, Walton proposed the idea of having him come off the bench.

This move seemed questionable at first, as Hield was probably their second best player and their best shooter, but Walton stuck by it. Just two games later, Hield made Walton look like a genius. The Kings beat the Timberwolves 133-129, and Hield erupted for 42 points on 14-24 shooting. The Kings were now 2-0 with Hield coming off the bench, which was an idea that once seemed preposterous. 

The Kings were not done quite yet either. With Hield coming off the bench, the Kings went 13-7. To put that into perspective, that would translate to a 53-win season if they played like that for 82 games. Obviously, it’s unrealistic to sustain that type of great play through 82 games, but it shows that Walton made the right choice.

Seemingly the only one who wasn’t happy was of course Hield, but the Kings were great other than that. And a lot of this credit should go to Walton for making such a bold yet effective move.

The Clear Positives

The biggest thing when it comes to analyzing is that people often tend to key in more on the negatives. The reality is Walton has been more of a positive than a negative this season. Obviously, we’ve got to rewind on the stats I brought up earlier:

  • Kings went 8-8 in the big stretch of time where Fox missed games
  • After Walton benched hield, they went 13-7
  • They were 7-3 before COVID-19 forced the season to end

Those are obviously the biggest positives with Walton that seemingly everyone except Kings fans throw out the window. Instead let’s look at some of the other areas where Walton has made an impact because again, Luke Walton has been more of a positive than a negative this year

The Defensive System

One of the positives for Walton this year is that the Kings have been a really solid defensive squad. They have the lowest points allowed per game of any non-playoff team in the West and they have a better PA per game than two of the West’s playoff teams. While that may not seem that impressive, keep in mind that the Kings are a roster filled with players who are poor defenders.

Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, Jabari Parker, Harry Giles, and even Fox are mediocre to bad defenders at the moment. The best defender, Holmes, missed about half the season as well. So while it doesn’t seem amazing on paper, you have to notice the context behind it. 

Three-Point Shooting

The Kings have been a better three point shooting squad this season than last year. Sure, they have a lower percentage. But they’re taking and making more shots and that’s really all that matters for this team. This team has a bunch of really good three-point shooters with Hield, Bjelica, Harrison Barnes, Bogdanovic, and Cory Joseph.

Shooting threes has become the hot trend of modern basketball. The top three-point shooting teams shoot over forty three’s a night because it’s a more efficient shot. Shooting more threes has allowed Sacramento to score more even if it’s at a slightly less efficient rate. 

My point is, there’s a lot of really good things that Walton has brought to Sactown. Are there bad things, too? Of course – he’s not perfect. No coach is, but he’s making the best of a pretty poor situation in Sacramento. 

Walton received an unnecessary amount of backlash this season. You have to look at the context of this year and look at the Kings roster as a whole. They are not an amazing team or even an average team. They have a below average roster and they dealt with injuries to several of their best players this season and still competed for a playoff spot.

Why?

Because Luke Walton was better than a lot of people give him credit for. He’s not the best coach ever I understand, but he is by no means a bottom five coach in the league and was actually a pretty big positive for Sacramento this year.


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