One month in to the NBA season and the Kings are who we thought they were: an incredibly young team that is bound to excite and frustrate us on a night-to-night basis.
The High Post
The hardest part about a rebuild is the losing. Young, inexperienced teams are going to lose and they’re going to lose a lot. But at least with the way the Kings are rebuilding now they can give us some flashes. This isn’t some veteran riddled snooze fest where there isn’t much to root for. On any given night the Kings are playing as many as three rookies and three sophomores. They have the ability to make games exciting and we got that at home in two memorable wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers win was especially fun because it offered a glimpse of what we could be in a few years. Philadelphia was atrocious but their plan is now paying dividends. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons look like future All-Stars. Robert Covington, an undrafted player that the 76ers found in the D-League is one of the best 3 and D players in the league. They’ve also got some other nice young pieces. Not all of them have worked out (see Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel in particular and Markelle Fultz is still an unknown) but it has gotten them to the point where they likely will be a playoff team for years to come.
Hopefully the Kings can follow that same path.
The Low Post
On any given night, the Kings are going to almost certainly be facing a better team. The Kings have a lot of raw potential, but potential doesn’t exactly stand up to proven talent and experience very often. One area where the Kings should not be beaten though is in effort, and we saw that very thing happen a few times in losses to the Knicks and Wizards.
Against the Wizards especially, there were moments in the second half where Washington was simply beating the Kings to balls that they had no business getting. Zach Randolph simply bent down to pick a loose ball up while a Wizard dove and beat him. Willie Cauley-Stein stood still and watched Marcin Gortat’s go save a ball from out of bounds and then make a layup. No less than four Kings stood around and watched at the rim as Otto Porter scored a tip in (as per this damning screenshot by HongKongKingsFan).
Effort is the only thing this Kings team shouldn’t be lacking and it’s worrisome to see questionable effort at times so early on in the season.
The View From Section 214
And sometimes there are similarities, and then sometimes there are similarities.
Last week I waxed nostalgic in this space, reminiscing about the 1990-91 Kings, a team that had invested in a young core of players that included rookies Lionel Simmons, Travis Mays, Duane Causwell, and Anthony Bonner. “Fun” overlooked nugget of information: That team went on to set the all-time road losing streak in the NBA (and for all I know, every other professional sport) by dropping 43 straight games, a streak that involved two seasons and over a year on the calendar.
After dropping its first seven games of the season, the 90-91 Kings vaulted into the win column with an 87-82 win in Washington. Wayman Tisdale and Antoine Carr combined for 38 points, helping to overcome a 45 point night by Bernard King. The Bullets dropped to 2-7. The win came on November 20, 1990. The Kings next road win would occur on November 23, 1991, a 95-93 nail biter against the Orlando Magic, Lionel Simmons had 27 points in that one, with Mitch Richmond chipping in 20.
That young team struggled, and those struggles were amplified on the road. Whether it was the travel itself, the distractions of being in different cities, being unfamiliar with the road arenas, or a combination of the above, that young team was always a lot worse on the road than at home. This is generally true for the NBA, whose home teams historically win roughly 60% of the time (58% through the first 200 games this season). But it always seems worse for young teams. The 90-91 Kings were 24-17 at home, and 1-40(!!!) on the road. The following season, the Kings were 21-20 at home and 8-33 on the road.
With the '90 Kings again serving as a backdrop, I present your 2017-18 Sacramento Kings, and I promise that the following small sample sizes will not be kind to our road
2-3 at home, 1-7 on the road, with that one win coming against the 2-12 Dallas Mavericks. Home point differential: -6.2. Road point differential: -14.1. Average home score: 98.4 - 104.6. Average road score: 92.3 - 106.4. Home games determined by 10 points or less: Four of five. Road games determined by 10 points or less: three of eight.
Bottom line, this team is destined to lose a lot on the road this year, and they are going to lose a lot by a lot. The ugliest basketball of the season won't be exclusive to the road, but it will be the rule of the road. Visions of what may someday come will be viewed mostly when the Kings are on the G1C floor, while the hard reality of this current squad will be on display at arenas throughout the country for the duration of this season and perhaps beyond.
The tougher pill to swallow is a large-margin loss in which the kids don't give you much to hang your hopes on. And again, this will occur much, much more often on the road. Last night's game against the Wizards was one of those games. George Hill and Garrett Temple were probably the best players on the floor for the Kings last night, with the bar set pretty damned low. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Skal Labissiere were probably the best of the youth movement, with the low bar being set even lower. A bad game "enhanced" by the poor play of De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Willie Cauley-Stein is a disappointment to say the least, a waste of two-plus hours when more accurately stated.
And it gets a bit worse in the short-term for the Kings, as 12 of their next 20 games come on the road. By the time they wrap their road game at the Clippers the day after Christmas, they will have played 33 games, with 20 of those games coming on the road. The Kings could easily amass a 2-18 or 3-17 road record over that period. .500 ball at home (4-4) would bring their record to 8-25 or 9-26, with an aggregate point differential north of -11. There promises to be some ugly, ugly basketball along the way, and it may come in waves at time.
My fantenna will be up to see which young players do the best job of perservering during this period. Which players keep their heads up and make even the smallest of incremental improvements to their respective games. Which players don't disappear on one or both ends of the floor, especially the big guys on the defensive end. I'll be rooting for the small victories that these young players hopefully provide within the confines of these road blowouts.
And 1 - It's early, and I am encouraged by the play of rookies Fox, Bogdanovic and Jackson (and I suppose Mason) so far. But Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum - my goodness! You watch these guys, and throw in what we are seeing from other youngsters such as Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid and Jokic and Giannis and Otto Porter (who sure looks like he is going to be worth every penny), and it makes you realize two things: the NBA's next generation is going to be fun to watch, and the league is not standing still and waiting for the Kings to catch up. Without a little lightning in a bottle this offseason, the Kings could be in NBA purgatory (or worse) for a long, long time.
Kimani’s Photo of the Week
Fantastic shot of our rookie’s first game-winner.
Highlight of the Week
Player of the Week
14.5 PTS, .488 FG%, .667 3P%, 5.3 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.5 STL in 25.3 MPG
Moving Buddy Hield to the bench was a necessary step after his early season struggles and Hield seems to have taken to it very well. His confidence seems to be back and he’s shooting very well right now. He’s also not just settling on being a scorer either, putting serious effort on the glass and in making plays for others. He’s clearly improved his handle, even if he’s still a bit sloppy at times, and he’s also ramped up the effort on the defensive end. This is the version of Buddy Hield fans had hoped to see from the start of the season.
Nov. 15th at Atlanta Hawks
Nov. 17th vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Nov. 18th at Portland Trail Blazers