The Sacramento Kings have sat around the bottom of the Western Conference standings for 17 seasons straight. Last appearing in the playoffs during the 2005-2006 season, the Kings made nearly no strides toward a competent future for over a decade thanks to a series of bad management decisions. With a combination of poor draft scouting plus questionable free agent signings and trades, Sacramento fans have been eagerly waiting for the day their franchise finds relevancy once again. To the luck of the patient fanbase, the Kings will likely have their first taste of playoff basketball in 2023 after years of torment.
After a 5-9 start to the season, the Kings have found their groove. They’ve gone 21-10 since, good enough for a 26-19 record. Sitting at third in the West over halfway through the season, this organization has failed to taste this type of success in years. Their high octane offense has been their calling card, averaging the most points across the association while dishing out 27 assists per contest, good for fourth in the NBA.
Sacramento’s depth from top to bottom has been the biggest catalyst for their historically good offensive season. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis have led the way, proving to be an elite tandem capable of producing deadly results for opposing defenses. Both stars are having career years. Fox is posting 24 points per game along with six assists while Sabonis averaging an impressive 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Many thought Sabonis wasn’t capable of being a winning player due to his lack of shooting and defense, but he has silenced the doubters this year.
Coach Mike Brown has put Sabonis in a Nikola Jokic-esque role, allowing him to be the main offensive generator of the team. The offense has run through the two-time All-Star, with him creating good looks for the rest of the players on the court at all times while also scoring within the post at a high rate and pulling down a league best total of rebounds. This compliments Fox’s services perfectly due to his slashing and creation ability, allowing the sixth year guard to have his most efficient season to date.
Both Sabonis and Fox are near locks to make it to Utah for the All-Star game, but the rest of the talent on this roster shouldn’t go unnoticed. Both Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk have been fantastic compliments in the backcourt to Fox thanks to their respective career years. Role players like Harrison Barnes, Trey Lyles and rookie Keegan Murray have helped Sabonis hold down the fort in the frontcourt.
The most underlooked part of Sacramento’s success this season has been head coach Mike Brown. After a six year stint as Golden State’s assistant coach, Brown has implemented all he’s learned from that system to the Kings offense. Sacramento has had loads of offensive talent for years, but no coach was able to put it all together. Brown has fully exceeded expectations in doing so, making Sacramento one of the best offenses in recent memory.
Arguably the most impressive part of Sacramento’s game plan has been their ability to get out in transition, largely due to Brown getting them out and running at a consistent rate. Not only that, but he’s polished out their half-court offense to make them deadly in that aspect. The Kings have nearly zero flaws offensively, all thanks to the combination of pace and spacing Brown has put into place for this squad.
Despite the offense looking nearly flawless thus far for Sacramento, the defense remains to be a problem. Sacramento sits 25th in the league defensively, large part due to a lack of personnel on that end. Barnes and Murray are both solid wing defenders respectively and both Fox and Sabonis have improved in that aspect this season. However, there’s simply not enough on this team for them to be respectable on that end.
Personnel isn’t the end all be all, as we see every season teams with minimal defensive personnel overachieve on that side. However, Brown’s defensive schemes simply aren’t good enough to cancel out the lack of personnel this team has. A combination of poor personnel and coaching isn’t a recipe for success, and due to that, Sacramento has remained a one-way team this season.
Although they’ve struggled defensively, there’s no argument that the Kings have been basketball’s surprise team nearly 50 games into the season. In what seems to be a Western conference that’s wide open, are the Kings a legitimate threat to make it out of the conference? It’s been a fantastic story thus far for a team that’s been at the bottom of the barrel for years, but the simple answer is no.
This Kings team mirrors what you look at in a team that’s purely successful in the regular season. They’ve dominated teams offensively, but lack the defense and experience to go far if the offense slows down. Although this is the craziest the NBA has ever been offensively with the absurd pace teams play at, pace inevitably always slows down in the playoffs. This is something the Kings have yet to learn, and they’re bound to struggle come playoff time.
There’s a very likely shot they play the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State Warriors come playoff time. Against any one of these three teams, it’d be hard to place a bet on Sacramento making it past them. All three have deep playoff experience and far more than Sacramento has. These teams also all have more starpower than the Kings, along with sufficient depth to keep up with Sacramento’s.
It’s likely that the Kings fall to one of these groups round one, and even if they pass them up, they’d have to go up against either the Memphis Grizzlies or Denver Nuggets. Both Memphis and Denver have been two of the league’s juggernauts thus far, and like the other teams listed, have far more playoff experience than Sacramento.
It’s hard to place bets on Sacramento doing much of anything come playoff time. However, that’s not a problem. At the end of the day, Sacramento’s goal will likely be fulfilled come the end of the regular season. They never went into this season aiming for a title run. Instead, the Kings went in hoping to break the 17 year long playoff drought. Them even being in the conversation for “contender or pretender” is a success in it’s own right, and Kings fans should have nothing to be ashamed of if they’re knocked out early. However, although they’re third in the West, they’re simply not good enough to surpass the other teams in the West at this point in time.