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Should Sacramento be tanking harder?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Kings defeated the Brooklyn Nets 104-99, and that victory has sparked some questions among the fan base. Are the Kings winning too much? And are those wins simply a byproduct of overplaying veterans? Should we be tanking harder?

The Kings aren’t winning too often

As one who leans more pro-tank than others on the staff, I’m perfectly happy with an 11-20 record at this point in the season. According to tankathon, a wonderful resource, Sacramento is currently one game out of the third-worst record in basketball. They’re also one game away from the 10th slot in the lottery.

Six teams have 11 wins, one team has 10 wins, and two teams have 9 wins. The middle of the pack in the NBA will continue to jostle back and forth in positioning throughout the next couple of months, and then the real race for the playoffs or for the bottom of the barrel will commence.

While the Kings are much more likely to be in the lottery than in the postseason come summer time, deliberately tanking with a team chock-full of young, impressionable players isn’t the path to take this early in the year.

Joerger is striking a balance

Walking into the season, everyone could envision a dystopian universe in which player development was sacrificed at the altar of pleasing veterans, the Front Office demanding a playoff run, and Coach putting the rookies and sophomores under lock and key in hopes of keeping his job.

Thankfully, that frightful world has never been realized. Here’s how the minutes and points per game break down when the Kings win.

Minutes Per Game

Player MPG
Player MPG
Temple 27.9
Cauley-Stein 27.5
Randolph 27.3
Hill 26.3
Bogdanovic 25.6
Fox 24.9
Mason 22.4
Hield 21.1
Jackson 20

Points Per Game

Player PPG
Player PPG
Randolph 19
Cauley-Stein 14.4
Hill 11.2
Hield 11.2
Bogdanovic 9.9

In victories, six of the nine players with the most minutes are on their rookie contracts, and three of the top five scorers are as well. The minutes disparity between the top-5 teammates is a paltry 138 seconds of game time. Kosta Koufos and Vince Carter can’t be found on either list.

While Joerger rarely plays five young players at once, the last three victories (and that’s as far back as I cared to look), each saw at least two of the kiddos close the game. Against the Nets last night, the final five was Hill, Temple, Bogdanovic, Randolph, and Cauley-Stein. The night prior, Temple, Hield, Richardson, Randolph, and Carter got the call. Finally, Mason, Hill, Hield, Bogdanovic, and Randolph ended the game vs the Suns.

The rookies and sophomores aren’t being thrown to the wolves to figure things out, and the veterans aren’t being over utilized either. Instead, Coach is using a balanced approach throughout games to give young players time on the court while also staying competitive.

Everyone is earning minutes

There have been individual moments, or certain parts of games in which I’ve been frustrated with Dave Joerger’s rotations or personnel decisions. Sometimes I think he sticks with units too long, while there have been other instances in which I believe he’s forgotten about a player who had a good stint earlier in the game.

However, those brief moments of exasperation don’t equal a coach refusing to play the youth. What we’ve seen is everyone being held to the same level of accountability. If you’re absolutely sucking, you’ll find yourself on the bench. If you’re producing, welcome to the game.

There’s no example of a young player regularly outperforming his veteran counterpart, yet only being relegated to garbage time. The closest example of that is probably Frank Mason III; but as he’s shown he can contribute, his minutes per game have also risen, which is the way it should be on a rebuilding team.

Another common complaint surrounds Skal Labissiere’s disappearing role on the team. It’s not as though Labissiere hasn’t been given his chances though, it’s that he hasn’t been able to take advantage of the opportunities placed in front of him. Zach Randolph has been the Kings best player, while Skal has been ineffective every time he’s hit the floor. In all likelihood, this is an example of Joerger requiring solid play to earn minutes, rather than a personal grudge.

Here’s some proof that you’re going to find your butt planted on the bench if you’re under performing, no matter your age or experience. George Hill, the guy we’re paying $20 million and who was the marquee signing of the Front Office in the offseason, has played under 25 minutes 14 times and over 25 minutes 13 times. Garrett Temple has played under 25 minutes 16 times and over 25 minutes 14 times. Zach Randolph, probably the individual whose minutes receive the most complaint, has played under 25 minutes 13 times and over 25 minutes 15 times.

What about that indicates a Coach unwilling to develop or play young talent?

What about culture?

This is the question I have for those unhappy with wins, or those unhappy with the reigns not being immediately handed over to inexperienced players. Haven’t we seen that enough times to know that it doesn’t work out so well?

For years we saw Nik Stauskas, Ben McLemore, Jimmer Fredette, Hassan Whiteside, and even DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans to a certain extent, fail to live up to what they were projected to become. Certainly, some of that was due to poor drafting or personal issues, but the lack of culture and leadership has long been a rightful complaint of fans and media alike. How often did we simply wish for a skilled veteran to take DeMarcus Cousins under his wing and show him the ropes, both on and off the court?

We finally have a management team, as well as a coach, focused on finding the right balance between learning through mistakes, and education through player-led mentoring. That ability to guide inexperienced players through the beginnings of their NBA careers is certainly worth a few lottery balls six months from now.