Are The Sacramento Kings For Real?
With a 4-1 start – and two of those wins against playoff teams – the Sacramento Kings have been the surprise team in the first week of the season. Sacramento started off their season with a loss to their Northern Californian rivals, the Golden State Warriors, They were winning by two at halftime but broke down in the second half and ended up getting pummeled by 18. Yes you read that right, the Kings, without one bad half of basketball, would be having a perfect season right now. The Kings now sit in the top fourth of the Western Conference as the enter Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns.
So what does this all mean? Is this just another early season fluke? There are factors that lean to both sides of the spectrum. We are only a year removed from the Philadelphia 76ers staring 3-0, beating the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, and Chicago Bulls. The Sixers then went on to lose a record-tying 26 games in a row later in the season. The thing about the Sixers last year was that it was clearly obvious that the organization was tanking and happened to get hot and catch those 3 teams slipping. Those three wins were led by three players who arguably had their best games of the season in the first three games. The first game, Evan Turner had a game high of 26 points which was followed by Thaddeus Young’s 29 and Michael Carter-Williams’ career high of 26. Philadelphia showed us quickly that they were a fluke. On the other side of the spectrum we have surprise teams like the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers who who finished the season with 48 wins and a 22-4 start to the season respectively.
On the other hand we have a Sacramento Kings, playing in the Western Conference, arguably the toughest conference ever seen in the history of the league. Last season the Suns became the second team since the Warriors in 2007 to miss the playoffs with 48 wins. Let that paint a picture of how tough the Western Conference is right now. Sacramento has pulled off impressive wins against the elite Los Angeles Clippers, a good team in the Trailblazers, and a Denver Nuggets team who is near unbeatable at home. You are probably asking why and how this is happening, well lets take a look.
Who currently leads the league in rebounding rate? Yes, you got it right. At 55.1 percent stands the Kings. They are also sixth in the league with a Defensive Efficiency Rate at 96.5 percent and allowing only 96 points per game so far this season. This is a major improvement from last season, where they allowed 103.4 points per game. So it’s fairly simple: the Kings are putting more effort and playing harder than last year, and some credit has to go to second year coach Mike Malone, who was a defensive mastermind for the Warriors before he took the head job for Sacramento. Personnel-wise, the Kings have been carried by Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins to go along with great support from Darren Collison, Jason Thompson, and Omri Casspi. The two Sacramento stars have had monster seasons as Cousins is averaging a nice 24 points, 10.6 rebounds, two assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. He has also posted a player efficiency rate (PER) of 30.0 while only averaging 29 minutes per game! Look forward to his numbers to improve even more. Cousins’ best game so far has came against Blake Griffin and the Clippers where he posted 34 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
The Kings star small forward Rudy Gay has played great as well. Gay has a player efficiency rate of 27.3 as well as averaging 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. His best game came against the Portland Trailblazers where he put up 40 points and eight rebounds.
Even with all the nice play, the Kings still have more room to improve, which makes this question even more interesting. Sacramento is currently 27th in three-point field goal percentage at 25 percent and last in the league with only 3 three-pointers made per game. Furthermore, the Kings have gotten absolutely no production from starter Ben McLemore, as well as rookie Nik Stauskas and Ramon Sessions. McLemore and Stauskas are a combined 14-48 in five games so far. This can be detrimental to the team especially when those two players don’t yet specialize in any other things such as being a great defensive player, passer, or distributor amongst other things.
Stauskas is a rookie so he gets a pass right now, but it’s troublesome to see McLemore still struggle after getting a lot of minutes last season and given the starting spot this season as well. Sessions was brought in to continue to be one of the best backup point guards this league has, but it hasn’t gone his way so far. He has a Player Efficiency Rate of -.09, which I just learned was possible. He is only averaging four points and 1.3 assists per game. He also is averaging two turnovers per game and shooting a “pitcher’s batting average” at .133. If those three players get it together, the Kings may have something good here.
So yes, you’ve heard it here first, the Sacramento Kings, who had 28 wins last year, are now 4-1. They have beat two playoff teams while pretty much playing 4-on-5 on offense for most of the game. Do we know if the Kings are for real? Not yet, but their start looks more promising than previous flukes we’ve had in the league. After the the Denver win last night, the Kings will go on a four game road trip where we will really see what they are made of.