Shown: Kings fans' hearts and souls embarking on recent six game road trip.
Your Sacramento Kings are currently about two games behind the pace that I had predicted for them back in October, and 75% of you said at the time that I was being too optimistic. Yet many of us are now dissatisfied with this 29 win (adjusted projection) team. Why?
Through the first 36 games of this year, the Kings had not lost a game by 20 points or more. The team’s scoring and points yielded average were almost identical, a result of largely competitive and hard fought games. But in the last seven games, the Kings have dropped games by 21 and 31 points. So we’re not just dealing with losses here. We’re dealing with the team being less competitive. During this recent seven game stretch, the Kings have only cracked the 100 point mark once, and they are losing by an average of 15 points. Wha’ happened?
First of all, the schedule has taken a brutal turn. Let’s take a look at the "true winning percentage" of the Kings schedule. By true winning percentage, we don’t just look at an opponent’s record; we look at their home and road record, and take into consideration whether the game is a home or away game. For example, you can look at the recent Charlotte game and say that the Kings lost to a .500 ballclub, or you can consider that the Bobcats are 18-5 at home, a .783 clip that exceeds the Lakers season winning percentage of .767. This is an important factor. The Kings, for example, are a .571 team at home (hey, we’re the Phoenix Suns!), and a .136 team on the road (hey, we’re in between the New Jersey Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves!). Let’s take a look at the schedule by month:
October – Only 3 games, all losses. The true winning percentage (TWP) of these teams totals .681, roughly the equivalent of Boston’s record this season.
December – A 6-9 month playing against a .510 schedule, the equivalent of playing Charlotte or Toronto all month.
January – 1-11 so far, versus a .607 schedule, sort of like playing against San Antonio night in and night out. The good news? The Kings finish the month facing a .375 schedule, so hopefully they win two of the next three.
Recapping on this item, the TWP of the Kings schedule has gotten progressively tougher from November to December to January. The team that looked pretty good playing against a Clippers/Bucks level of schedule has struggled much more against the Spurs level of schedule.
Next, there is the rookie wall factor. Frankly, I think that there has not much impact here, at least not yet. Tyreke Evans is down statistically this month, most notably in rebounds (4.7 for the season, but 3.6 for the month), but that might be partly a result of the tougher schedule. That said, tired legs might be a contributor as well. Omri Casspi’s minutes are up this month, but his numbers are down, and his shot looks like it might have flattened out a little bit. Jon Brockman is showing no signs of hitting the wall, but he is better rested than Evans or Casspi.
Finally, there is the Kevin Martin factor. Martin is trying to work his way back into the flow, and his teammates are trying to get used to him. At times it appears that Martin is trying so hard to fit in that he is not simply playing his game. He is passing on shots that he normally takes, and forcing passes where he may not have passed before. To be fair to Martin, he has played against a much tougher schedule. Referencing back to true winning percentage, the Kings played against a .500 schedule (Toronto/Charlotte) in Martin’s absence, and Martin has suited up to face a .607 schedule (Portland). But what can’t be denied is the fact that the offense has taken a big step backward, and it appeared to occur just one game prior to Martin’s return.
Conclusion? The schedule has gotten tougher, the young players may be getting tired, and the team is trying to figure out how to integrate their most lethal offensive player back into what used to be the flow. In other words, it’s not any one thing – it’s a lot of things. The schedule needs to back off a little (you’re looking at .529 TWP for February), the rooks need to get their second wind, and Kevin Martin needs to meld with his team and with himself. Accomplishing these three things might not translate into significantly more wins, but it should get us back to where the last two minutes of most of these games matter again.