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The Yetisburg Address: 2016-17 Year End

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The tale of two different seasons.

Kimani Okearah

What a season it was. Despite the team missing out on the playoffs for the 11th straight season, it might have been the most impactful in that time because the Kings finally showed they weren’t too scared to press the reset button, for better or worse.

The High Post

It’s weird to feel more optimistic about this team after seeing them go 8-17 after a huge trade than being only a game behind in the playoffs before the trade, but that’s where I’m at today. The Kings weren’t going to make the playoffs with DeMarcus Cousins and it was hard to see how they would get there.

Cousins was a fantastic player who also happened to come to the Kings at their most chaotic. Ownership changes, front office changes, coaching changes, Cousins went through more in 7 years in Sacramento than most players go through in their entire career. He wasn’t entirely blameless himself, but the dysfunction and misuse of assets while he was here really cost the team a chance to build around him.

Now the Kings are going forward with youth. We don’t know if this youth will amount to anything in this league yet but I’ve liked what little I’ve seen. Malachi Richardson showed no fear in his short time playing, and showcased his nice handle and aggressive mentality. Willie Cauley-Stein went from playing timid to showcasing a skillset that I’m not sure any of us saw coming. Georgios Papagiannis went from a draft night joke to at least sparking some curiosity and optimism with his late season run. And Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere both look like guys that could grow into players to build around.

This rebuild is just getting started, and a lot can and probably will change over the next couple years. But if the Kings can properly develop the youth, nail some of these draft picks (and for all of Vlade’s faults he has a pretty good track record in the draft so far), make more smart signings like Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver, and for the love of God, have some stability for once, this team can potentially turn it around sooner than we expect.

The Low Post

The Kings received a lot of flak for trading DeMarcus Cousins and rightly so. Most of the criticism centered on what the Kings got back rather than if they should have traded him or not, or how the Kings handled the trade by publicly declaring not even two weeks prior that they were not going to trade him. All those criticisms are fair.

But what disappointed me the most was the timing. This is a trade that should have been done months ago, before the season had even started. It wasn’t exactly hard to read the tea leaves and figure out that the Kings had already wasted too much time, opportunity and assets to build a contender around DeMarcus Cousins. So of course, the Kings wasted even more time and opportunity on the off chance that this team would be able to figure it out under Dave Joerger and not simply be first round fodder in the first place.

The Kings wasted too much time, and that is what ultimately hurt their return and reputation. They should have pressed the reset button, and they actually did, but they spent too long figuring it out. The Kings could have spent all season seeing how their young guys fared. They almost certainly would have gotten a better return.

In the end, I think the Kings did the right thing. But it’s hard to trust this front office and ownership group right now after they spent so long selling us on one thing and then flipped the script on what seemed to be a whim. Here’s hoping that this team has learned from its mistakes and is a little more patient with this rebuild than they were with the last one.

The View From Section 214

I’ve been waiting for the season to wrap up so that we could play the final version of: Tank / Not a Tank. Let’s take a look at our 14 lottery teams and separate the pretenders from the offenders.

14) Miami Heat – Posting a 41-41 record for the season, the Heat played .600 ball (15-9) after the all-star break. The team that most experts had pegged for a tank played hard to the end, and wound up as the only .500 or better team to miss the playoffs. Verdict: Not a tank.

13) Denver Nuggets – Their 40-42 mark would have projected them into the playoffs back at the all-star break. But Portland finished even stronger, and the Nugs were left cursing the team that handed the Blazers Jusuf Nurkic (and the 13th pick in this year’s draft!). 15-11 after the break, with no pick influencing them. Verdict: Not a tank, but a pretty big black eye for the front office that green-lighted the Nurkic-pick/Plumlee trade.

12) Detroit Pistons – The Pistons were a disappointing 37-45 for the season, and 10-15 after the break. While the Pistons finished the season significantly worse than they started it, the issue here was more of chemistry than it was a team shooting for lottery positioning. In fact, the team had reached .500 at 33-33 before the floor caved in on them. Verdict: Not a tank.

11) Charlotte Hornets – The 36-46 Hornets were actually better after the break (12-14, .462 winning percentage) than they were before (24-32, .429). The team played hard throughout the season, a Steve Clifford trademark. Verdict: Not a tank.

10) New Orleans Pelicans – The Pelicans traded a couple of young assets (Buddy Hield, 2017 top-three-protected draft pick) for DeMarcus Cousins at the all-star break. The Pels were 11-14 (.440) after the break, an improvement (though a disappointment) over their 23-34 (.404) pre-break record. The Pels did have a late run where they won 8 out of 11, but once they were out of the race they dropped 5 of their last 6. Verdict: Not a tank, especially considering the long odds that they would retain their ’17 pick.

9) Dallas Mavericks – The Mavericks went 33-49 for the season (.402). They were 23-34 (.404) before the break and 10-15 (.400) after the break. Basically, they were the same team throughout the season…but there is a bit of an asterisk here. The Mavs started the season 6-20, followed by a 22-16 run, followed by a 5-13 finish. Basically, this team was left for dead, then made a push for the 8th playoff spot, and then packed it in once they were eliminated from the playoffs. Looking at the last 18 games, the Mavs would have probably been favored to win roughly four to six games. Yes, Dallas made the determination to protect their longer-term investments down the stretch and not subject on of the all-time NBA greats to garbage time. But bottom line, while the Mavs were obviously disinterested down the stretch, the numbers show no signs of a tank job. And frankly, unless you were a Kings or maybe Timberwolves fan, the thought of the Mavs tanking would have never entered your mind. Verdict: Not a tank.

8) Sacramento Kings – 32-50 (.390), 24-33 (.421) BC (before Cousins) and 8-17 (.320) AD (after DeMarcus). By the numbers, this would be a tank job. By virtue of a team trading its only top player for a group of players that would currently not crack the NBA’s top 100, this would be a tank job. In the Kings defense, they probably won one or two more games than they would have been favored to win after the trade, though that’s really a tribute to young players cutting their NBA teeth and a couple of true professional veterans. If anything, the Kings made a deal that they should have made months earlier, so in that regard it would not be a tank. But when you’re looking at a team that has potentially zero 1st round draft picks at the all-star break and now has potentially two top ten picks at the end of the season (at the expense of its franchise centerpiece), well, if you don’t think that’s a tank, then you are a Kings fan.

6-tie) New York Knicks – OK, most folks thought that the Knicks would not be very good this year. And 23-34 (.404) at the break is nothing to write home about. But 8-17 (.320) after the break? 6-14 over the final 20? Yeah, this was a team that angling for draft position over perhaps the final 30 games of the season. Jackson, you magnificent bastard, I read your book! Verdict: Tank.

6- tie) Minnesota – The T-Wolves were 22-35 at the break, so they went 9-16 after the break to finish at 31-51. Minnesota was one game better than the Knicks after the break. So how did the Knicks tank while the Wolves didn’t? The Wolves didn’t stop playing hard and continued to use its core players down the stretch. The injury to Zach LaVine was really the blow that Minny couldn’t overcome, though it certainly was not through lack of effort. The Wolves did drop their last six games of the year, but that stretch included five road games (against four playoff teams) and a two point home loss to Oklahoma City. Verdict: Not a tank.

5) Orlando Magic – The 29-53 (.354) Magic were 21-37 (.362) before the break and 8-16 (.333) after the break, so they were pretty much the same team throughout. They had every opportunity to finish with a worse record than the Sixers, but they did not. Make no mistake, Orlando is a bad basketball team, perhaps even Sacramento East. But nothing in their post-break effort smells like a tank job. Verdict: Not a tank.

4) Philadelphia 76ers – Ugh. 28-54 (.341), 21-35 (.375) and 7-19 (.269) respectively. But here’s the thing: this team was one thing with Joel Embiid and another thing without him. Before Embiid was lost for the season, the Sixers were 4-9 without him (.307) and 13-15 (.464) with him. Even had they Sixers maintained that .307 percentage upon losing Embiid, it would have translated into maybe one more win. Philadelphia did lose its last six games of the season, including a 23 point home loss to Brooklyn and a season-ender at New York. No doubt, the Sixers had little interest in winning games over the last couple of weeks of the season. But their 28-54 record is largely due to the injury of Embiid (and perhaps Ben Simmons). This one is close, but on the sum of the team’s work the verdict here is: Not a tank.

3) Los Angeles Lakers – This was such an obvious tank job a couple of weeks ago, right? But then the Lakers won 5 of their last 6 and cost themselves the #2 seed in the ping pong ball drop. 26-56 overall (.317), 19-39 (.328) before and 7-17 (.292) after. The Lakers effectively untanked their season, and the statistical odds favor them getting the 4th pick (thus losing it to Philadelphia). The verdict here should have been one of the more obvious tank jobs, but much to the chagrin of most Lakers fans, their tank ran out of gas. Verdict: A trackless tank.

2) Phoenix Suns – Now here’s a team that knows how to throw up a white flag! 24-58 (.293), 18-39 (.316) before and 6-19 (.240) after. Losers of 13 in a row down the stretch and 16 of their last 19, including losses to Sacramento and Orlando at home and Brooklyn and Sacramento on the road. This was simply a bad team up until the last quarter of the season, when they threw it (literally) into a brand new gear. Verdict: The most effective tank job of 2016-17.

1) Brooklyn Nets – When is a 20-62 team not tanking? When it has already given up its draft pick, in this case to the Boston Celtics. Amazingly, the Nets won half of their games over the final 20 games of the season.

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Take a look at the finishing order of these teams and ask yourselves who is out of place. Who is significantly worse than your pre-season predictions? I think that I had Charlotte and Detroit in the playoffs, but neither of those teams tanked themselves to their current standing. I figured the Nets, Suns, Lakers, Sixers and Magic to be among the very worst teams in the league (along with Miami). I thought that the T-Wolves and Kings would be a little better, on a par with New Orleans and Dallas, while I thought that Denver would be a little worse. But overall, no one sticks out here as a team that shocked the world with surprising suckitude.

A lot is written every year about lottery reform, as though tanking is rampant and will be the ruination of the NBA. But the numbers simply don’t support it. Is tanking real? Yes. Did it happen this year? Yes. Is it as widespread as some think? No. Is it having a substantial impact on the draft proceedings or the balance of the league? No.

The problem with lottery reform is that whatever you come up with, it will simply provide a new line for teams to game and cross. Never mind that it really is much ado about nothing. As I have noted in the threads, tanking is more of a semantics issue, one that is promulgated by neglecting research in favor of memes, overlooking data in favor of buzzwords. It is the Twittersphere at its worst: If you can’t refute it in 140 characters then it must be true.

Recapping, Phoenix was an effective tank commander this year, followed by the Knicks. Beyond that, there was not a team out there that out-tanked your Sacramento Kings. If the Kings pick 8 and 10, they will pretty much get what they deserved.

Kimani’s Photo of the Week

A big thanks to Kimani for all his awesome shots from the season.

Highlight of the Year

I think there are two clear contenders for highlight of the year, but one tops the other. Here’s my runner-up:

And here’s the winner. As Jerry Reynolds would say, that’s one hell of a wham-jam.

Player of the Year

Buddy Hield

15.1 PPG, .480 FG%, .428 3P%, 4.2 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.8 STL in 29.1 MPG over 25 games

I might have been wrong on the how, but Buddy Hield was destined to be a Sacramento King. Buddy is my player of the year, not necessarily for stats but because he himself might have been the impetus that finally allowed the Kings to part ways with DeMarcus Cousins. He was the centerpiece of the trade that sent out Cousins and with how he struggled in New Orleans before the trade, not many were too excited to bring him in.

Taking a look at his final year end numbers, he easily surpassed my expectations and probably those of many both in Sacramento and around the NBA. Those numbers are more than solid for a veteran NBA player let alone a rookie. Sure, it was only over 25 games or so, but keep in mind he also managed that efficiency despite the Kings not having a legitimate threat to take attention away from anyone.

Buddy came into the NBA with the reputation of someone who could flat-out shoot and score. He wasn’t able to do so in New Orleans but he found that gear after the All-Star break. Maybe it was just an adjustment period, or maybe it was Dave Joerger putting the ball in his hands more. Whatever it was, it left me really excited for what Buddy will be able to do in the future.