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Are the Sacramento Kings finally turning the corner?

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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

This past week has been a lot of fun for Kings fans.  The team is riding a four-game winning streak, is sitting in sole possession of 8th spot in the Western Conference and has a better record at this point of the season than in any year since 2005.  There's a real excitement around the team right now but is it the start of a long-term trend or just temporary relief from the pain and disappointment we've endured for 9 seasons?

There's real reason for optimism with this Kings team, particularly based on their play in January so far.  The Kings have won 7 of their last 10 with one of those losses being a Deron Williams buzzer-beater away from yet another win.  They have won 4 of their 5 road games in January, including wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.  On the flip side however, 4 of their 7 wins in January have come against teams with sub-.500 records (including two wins against the Lakers).  They also had a particularly bad loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at home.

Let's take a look at some of the advanced numbers of Sacramento's recent play:

Games Played ORtg DRtg AST% AST/TOV REB% TS% Pace
2015-16 Season Totals 42 102.8 105.1 62.2% 1.49 50.5% 0.545 101.94
Before Jan. 1 32 101.1 105.3 62% 1.44 49.4% 0.538 102.13
Since Jan. 1 10 108.1 104.3 62.8% 1.65 54.2% 0.565 101.35

The numbers for the Kings are better across the board since January, but there are a couple of places where they have made significant leaps.  For one, their offense has been way more effective since January with a 7 points per 100 possession jump.  It should be noted that number is a little misleading; If you take away the game against the Phoenix Suns in which the Kings scored 142 points, that offensive rating number dips to 105.3.  That's still a significant increase, but not nearly as drastic.

The Kings have been the top rebounding team in the NBA since Jan. 1st

The other area where the Kings have seen a noticeable jump is on the glass.  While the percentage increases don't look like much, the Kings have been the top rebounding team in the NBA since Jan. 1st, while they were 18th before January.  Willie Cauley-Stein's return from injury and return to the starting lineup has been a big part of this rebounding surge.  According to basketball-reference, Sacramento's total rebounding percentage goes up by 2.6% with Willie in the game and their offensive rebounding percentage goes up almost 5.6%, a big increase.  Having Willie in the lineup moves Rudy Gay to his more natural position of Small Forward and makes the rotation a lot simpler and more cohesive.

DeMarcus Cousins has also been playing on another level in January.  Here's the splits on his statistics before and after January 1:

Games Minutes FG% 3P% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Fouls
Before Jan. 1st 24 32.6 0.418 0.295 24.1 10.3 2.7 1.2 1.5 3.3 3.8
Since Jan. 1st 10 35.9 0.489 0.471 30.9 13.8 3 1.8 1 3.8 3.9

Before January, I think a real case could have been made that Cousins was not playing at an All-Star level.  He was shooting way too inefficiently despite taking a ton of shots and wasn't performing on the defensive end as well as he should have.  A large part of that was probably Cousins dealing with various injuries and ailments that caused him to miss 8 games throughout the early part of the season.  There were definite times during games in November and December where Cousins did not look like himself, visibly hobbling or moving slower.  Since January however, he's been absolutely dominant.  His 30.9 points a game is currently leading the league in scoring for the month of January.  He's also been second in total rebounding during that time, only trailing DeAndre Jordan (14.2 rebounds a game).  There aren't many players in the NBA, if any, who are playing better than DeMarcus Cousins is right now.

Perhaps the best part about Sacramento's recent play is that they still have so much they can improve upon.  Their defense, while it's been better, is still far from consistent.  Their game against the Hawks on Thursday was their best defensive performance of the season and even that game had lapses.  The Kings have also been lacking in production at the Shooting Guard position all season, although Ben McLemore has recently had a nice little run by being aggressive on both ends of the floor.  Marco Belinelli on the other hand has always been aggressive, but unfortunately is seeing his shot fall at career-low rates as he's making just 39.1% of his field goals and only 32.1% of his three pointers.

Despite the excitement surrounding the team's current play, the Kings seem to be doing a good job of keeping themselves grounded in reality.  Nobody seems too celebratory or over-excited about getting wins or being in the playoff hunt.  Both DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl have repeatedly made statements about not being satisfied yet in recent post-game comments to the media and that's exactly what I like to hear.  This team needs to stay hungry and motivated and can't afford to take games off like they were doing earlier in the season.

Win streaks don't last forever, and there's sure to be more adversity over the rest of this season, but it's nice to see this work-in-progress team actually making progress (which hasn't always been the case).  If Sacramento's play in January has been any indication of what's to come over the final 40 games of the year, we might finally have something to do in April aside from checking out the latest draft prospects and lamenting what could have been.

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All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference