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Kings vs. Nuggets Preview: The Start of Something New

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As Sacramento hits reset on their season, they find themselves facing the eighth seeded Nuggets, a team the Kings are only a game and half back of in the standings.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first game of the rest of the season. Gone is DeMarcus Cousins and in his absence a sheer numerical and philosophical vacuum. For better or worse, the Sacramento Kings have gone the last seven seasons as DeMarcus Cousins has gone, rising and falling on the whims of the man who would be King and now, a hole lies in place of his presence and all the opportunity in the world for the young guns of the Kings to fill it. The reboot is in full swing, the tank is on and a new era in Sacramento basketball is now fully upon the Kings and their fans. Here We Rise, right?

Toss everything you knew about the 2016-2017 Sacramento Kings out the window, because folks, this is Game 1 A.D. (after DeMarcus).

Let’s talk Kings basketball.

When: Thursday, January 23rd; 7:30 pm PST

Where: Golden 1 Center, CSN-CA, KHTK Sports 1140 AM

Matchup & Breakdown

Team Stats

Team Points Per Game Opp. PPG Pace Offensive Rtg Defensive Rtg 3 Pt % 2 Pt % Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers
Team Points Per Game Opp. PPG Pace Offensive Rtg Defensive Rtg 3 Pt % 2 Pt % Total Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers
Kings 103.0 (22nd) 105.7 (17th) 94.5 (27th) 107.8 (16th) 110.6 (23rd) 36.3% (13th) 49.8% (18th) 41.1 (28th) 22.6 (12th) 8.2 (8th) 4.0 (26th) 14.6 (22nd)
Nuggets 110.6 (4th) 111.8 (28th) 98.1 (7th) 112.2 (6th) 113.4 (30th) 37.0% (8th) 50.4% (13th) 46.7 (4th) 24.7 (4th) 6.7 (29th) 4.2 (24th) 15.4 (24th)

Opponent Stats

Team Opp FGM Opp FGA Opp FG% Opp 3PM Opp 3PA Opp 3P% Opp 2PM Opp 2PA Opp 2P% Opp Turnovers
Team Opp FGM Opp FGA Opp FG% Opp 3PM Opp 3PA Opp 3P% Opp 2PM Opp 2PA Opp 2P% Opp Turnovers
Kings 37.6 (7th) 81.3 (4th) 46.3% (23th) 11.1 (30th) 29.7 (28th) 37.3% (26th) 26.6 (3rd) 51.6 (1st) 51.5% (27th) 14.7(11th)
Nuggets 42.2 (28th) 88 (23rd) 48% (29th) 9.6 (12th) 25.6 (9th) 37.4% (27th) 32.6 (30th) 62.4 (26th) 52.3% (28th) 11.9 (30th)

So What Does It All Mean?

Unfortunately for this particular game, these Kings stats mean about as much as a Vlade promise. With DeMarcus Cousins leading the Kings in scoring, rebounding, assists, three point makes, on and on and on, the Kings are basically back at zero with nearly everything and while the hole won’t be filled immediately or by any two players in this particular group, we can still look to the Nuggets and see how the new Kings might be able to exploit the Nuggets weaknesses.

For one, the Nuggets don’t allow teams to shoot many threes, but when those teams do get a long range bomb off, they’re hitting them at a high percentage. In fact, the Nuggets are one of the worst teams in the league in terms of opponent field goal percentage in both two and three point shots while giving up the third worst opponents points per game in the league. So how do they find themselves in the eighth seed?

Well as you can see, their offense is pretty stellar. They’re fourth in scoring and running at the seventh fastest pace, while touting the sixth highest efficiency rating in the NBA. They shoot well from both two and three point range, and pass with the best of them; 4th in the league in assists, with five guys averaging over three assists a game. For reference, the Kings now have two players over that same mark; Darren Collison and Ty Lawson. The rebounding of the Nuggets is also a major key to their success. They’re fourth in the entire league in rebounding, bolstered by snatching the second most offensive rebounds in the league.

Kings Focus

So what are the Kings to do? With one vocal leader shipped to New Orleans, and the second sent back to the Upside-Down, the new voices in the locker room are going to first have to get everyone to commit to continuing the trend of team first basketball. This isn’t a time for someone to step up to be the new DeMarcus; This is the time to prove they don’t need him to continue the things that have them a game out of the 8th spot.

On the defensive end, the Kings can still be one of the top 10 teams in steals. With more minutes for Willie Cauley-Stein, they can improve immensely on their bottom-five standing in blocks. While fans should expect this team to dip in terms of being the best team in the league in opponent two point field goal percentage, the Kings can still pressure teams out of the paint and further away from the hoop.

Offensively, the Kings should see this as a chance to unshackle themselves to the ball and chain that Boogie Cousins could be getting up and down the court. With 7 shooting guards and possibly the most mobile center in the league, the pace in which the Kings play should absolutely change going forward. While this would certainly look to mean the turnovers start climbing as well, remember that the Kings are now rid of a center who averaged the third most turnovers in the entire league. Between Matt Barnes and DeMarcus moving on from the Kings, 5.3 turnovers a game are gone, and while that will absolutely be made up by the young and inexperienced pieces, they don’t have to climb as much as you’d think.

The most important thing for the Kings to do today is, well, show up. They need to play 48 minutes of basketball without DeMarcus Cousins, and realize that the season is moving forward. He isn’t there, for better and for worse, and this is now the largest opportunity most of these young guys will ever have to prove themselves. This is Willie and Kosta’s paint now. It’s Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver and Kosta Koufos and Ty Lawson leading the practices and encouraging the younger players and showing up for work to provide an example of how the Kings should play from here on out. Journeys of a thousand miles begin with a single step, and for Sacramento’s road to a championship, that first step is being taken tonight. It isn’t a massive leap forward, or even a step forward at all, but its a step in the right direction, and win or lose on Thursday night, the Kings will have something to build from.

Match-Up of the Game

Buddy Hield vs. The World: Tim wrote a great piece about Buddy on Tuesday and in it, laid out just who Buddy is and isn’t as a player, as well as what he might one day become. Thursday’s game against the Nuggets will be the first of many for the young shooting guard, and not only will he have to come up against the gamut of expectations from fans, he’ll also have to actually some basketball. His first run in Sacramento will be against a very talented group of shooting guards when the Nuggets trot out Gary Harris, Will Barton and fellow rookie (and Rising Stars MVP) Jamal Murray. With Harris and Barton scoring a near identical amount (13.4 vs. 13.9 points per game respectively) there will be no rest on defense for a rookie defender looking to make a splash with his new franchise.

If you’re a fan who is looking for Buddy to come out and score 30 in his first game for the franchise, if you’re searching for that instant gratification that the trade that sent away the best player the Kings had in the last decade, this game might not be for you. I wouldn’t even expect Buddy to necessarily start for the first week or so of games. It takes time to acclimate to a new system, and escaping Dave Joerger’s disgust with throwing rookies into a game will probably take some time as well. Look at Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore; bench fodder for most of the season, and now recently playing well due to Coach Joerger finally giving them a chance.

Make no mistake about it, the new star of the Sacramento Kings isn’t Buddy, isn’t Willie, or Malachi or Skal. The newest franchise cornerstone is a guy who sits the bench and won’t ever play a minute in the NBA, and if you expect him to be warmed to the idea of starters minutes for a guy who hasn’t spent his time in the system, well, then you’re about to be sorely disappointed. Buddy will come around soon enough, but temper those hopeful thoughts, at least between 7:30 and 9:00 pm on Thursday night.

For Your Consideration

Storyline from the Pine

[This is a little extra something that I’ll be doing from now on where I’m going to try to highlight some of the D-League call ups and bench players on opposing teams that haven’t quite made their jump into the spotlight just yet.]

Today’s spotlight falls on the Nugget’s streaky rookie shooting guard (no not that one), Malik Beasley. Taken with the 19th pick in the 2016 Draft, Beasley has found himself stuck behind the talented triumvirate above him in the shooting guard slot, but the guy has a ton of talent. The son of a professional basketball player in Chile, Malik was named Player of the Year in the state of Georgia however, as a high school senior, he was left off of the McDonald’s All American list, wasn’t chosen for the Nike Hoops Summit team and wasn’t even in the top 30 prospective players for 2015.

After committing to Florida State University, he became one of only three ACC freshman in the last 20 years to average 17 points on better than 50% field goal percentage and 40% from three point range, with those other two being Rashad McCants and Kyrie Irving. Having spent most of his time this season on the bench of the Nuggets instead of their D-League affiliate, Malik’s numbers with the Nuggets are expectedly bad. In 18 games with the Nuggets, he’s averaging 2.7 points in 4.7 minutes while shooting 35.3 from deep. In his four games for the Sioux Fall Skyforce, Malik has faired much better; 18.5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists a game on 44.6% from the field and only 27.3% from deep. Here’s a couple of highlight reels from his time in college, in the NBA, and while in the D-League, and if you have suggestions on who do next in the coming games, hit me up in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.

Prediction

With the entire crowd hyped to begin this new era of Kings basketball, the Kings will jump on the Nuggets early. As the game goes on, the crowd roars will cascade into a fever pitch and seven years of pent up emotion will finally manifest itself into 17,800 people sobbing in hysterics. The game will get called in the fourth quarter due to the moisture on the floor, and the Kings will have to play the rest of this game on Friday with no fans in the stands.

Kings 112, Nuggets 104

Game Day Distraction

Take 30 seconds out of your day to peep this highlight reel of the greatest Nuggets team to ever make the playoffs:

For the other side of this matchup, go see our friends over at Denver Stiffs.