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The Royal Mailbag: Answers to Session 4

You asked, we answered!

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

This week, Bryant got tossed down into the STR Office Basement for stealing Akis’ Vivek-issued company card and buying plane tickets to Chapel Hill to see UNC v. Gonzaga. As penance, he now has to participate in this charade with Tim, the dude the rest of the staff all refer to as the “Ray Ratto of Sactown Royalty.”

From 1951 via the comments: How well do you think Joerger will do in Chicago?

Zach Lowe Tim: It seems a little odd to ask for a game prediction a week before the competition takes place, but I’ll do my best. The Kings won in Chicago last season behind a 25 point, 13 rebound effort from Zach Randolph, and although the veteran won’t see a single second of playing time on the 10th, Sacramento should have a solid chance at victory. The Bulls are one of the worst teams in the NBA, sitting at 5-19, and their defense is atrocious. I’ll predict an easy win for the Kings and won’t address the question from any other viewpoint.

Bryant: Since Tim took the easy way out, I’ll address the REAL question with another question... do you really think Joerger is gonna go from the messy front office in Sacramento to the dumpster fire that is the Chicago ownership/management group? If Joerger really gets loose this summer, he could probably do better. Minnesota easily makes the most sense, given that (1) he’s from the region, (2) he almost took the coaching job there in 2014, (3) Karl Anthony Towns is better than the whole of Chicago’s roster, and (4) Minny’s madness will vanish the moment Tom “I would be a fantastic coach if I wasn’t the second-most stubborn human in literal existence” Thibodeau is booted from the state. Or, if Joerger just wants a moderate level of management incompetence, he can go to Cleveland, where he can finish the hyper-pace offense he started in Sacramento with Collin Sexton (getting overly criticized for a rookie, just as De’Aaron Fox was last year) and Zion Williamson (it’s happening, ya’ll).

But let’s circle back for just a moment and marvel at the sheer Kangz insanity here. An assistant General Manager publicly made a power-play move against his coach over a minuscule minutes difference between his prized rookie and a vet playing at a career-high level. He threatened the job of the best Head Coach this franchise has had in a decade and hoped the fanbase would swallow this as rational just because we had campaigned for more youngster minutes last season. And now, Joerger—who has almost completely changed his offensive gameplan to match and benefit his players, who clearly believe in and trust him—is now at the top of every fanbase’s coaching wishlist... all while Vlade’s main statement on the issue basically reads as “we’re not gonna do anything about a dude undercutting you and threatening your job, Dave...get over it.” Yeah, that seems like a fantastic way to alienate your coach WHILE ALSO dooming your chances at getting any other respected coaching candidate to replace him.

Brandon Williams may have a ton of responsibilities for this franchise, and a hands-on assistant may be totally necessary to help Vlade manage the day-to-day, but Williams would be much easier to replace than Joerger will be. Even when the product on the floor is as good as it has been in 12 years, the Kangz just shot themselves in the foot again... and their response to this madness has basically been to try to dislodge the first bullet by firing more bullets at it.

From 1damutt via the comments: What is going on with Troy Williams? I would like a better understanding on his 2 way contract. If he has 45 days with Sac. Kings, is that 45 games or just days? If it’s games and we have played 22 games already, will he be sent down to Stockton Kings soon so we have him avail later in season? Or is there plans just to keep him with Sac. Kings and pay him cause he is working out very well?

Tim: We had several questions come in regarding Troy Williams, his recent play, and his contract situation. Williams is currently signed to a non-guaranteed two-way contract, giving the Kings full control over his prospects for the season, assuming they don’t release him at any point. The two-way contract allows the G League player to spend 45 total days with the Kings, which includes practice and game days, but does not include travel days back and forth between Sacramento and Reno. So far, Williams has played in 12 total games, and by my completely unofficial calculation, has spent 18 – 20 days with the team. If he reaches the 45 day maximum, the Kings must either keep him in the G League for the remainder of that season, convert him to a full-time contract, or pay a penalty for each day past the initial 45 that he’s with the team. I imagine he’s played well enough to eventually earn a guaranteed deal, which means the Front Office will try to clear a roster spot through a minor trade or they’ll cut someone (likely Ben McLemore).

Beyond Williams’ contract status, I think he’s shown enough to earn minutes within the regular rotation. To be quite frank, if Justin Jackson hadn’t been drafted with the fifteenth overall pick last year, Troy would likely be taking all of the sophomore’s minutes. He’s shooting 50% from the floor, 43% from deep, and is one of the better perimeter defenders on the team.

From Sacto_J via the comments: De’Aaron Fox seems to be struggling lately. To what can this be mostly attributed?

Tim: This is by no means a bad question, it’s actually pretty on point, but it’s funny how our expectations for Fox have shifted in such a short time. Over his last six games (the “slump”), he’s averaging 13 points, 3 boards, 9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. We would have wildly celebrated those numbers last season. But to Sacto’s point, Fox’s scoring was at a much higher level earlier in the year:

Fox Slump

Range Minutes Points FG% 3P% FTA FT% Assists Rebounds Steals Blocks Turnovers
Range Minutes Points FG% 3P% FTA FT% Assists Rebounds Steals Blocks Turnovers
First 16 Games 33 19 51% 42% 6 69% 7% 4% 1% 50% 3%
Last 6 Games 33 12.8 32% 20% 5.2 77% 8.8 3.3 1.5 0.7 3.3

Almost all of De’Aaron’s contributions have stayed level, or have actually increased in that time period, aside from his scoring and shooting. His field goal percentage and three-point percentage have crashed pretty hard, which is directly affecting his ability to score the ball. Fox’s hot start to the year probably wasn’t sustainable, and this current rough spot also isn’t going to last, meaning he’ll find his averages somewhere in the middle. Some might point to Bogdan Bogdanovic’s return as a negative for our young point guard, but Fox’s net rating has suffered greatly with Bogi off of the floor, dropping to -14.4 during this streak, compared to -2.9 when he’s sharing the floor with Bogdanovic. There’s probably a comfort level still being established between the pair, but if Fox can just hit his shots, his scoring numbers will jump right back up.

Bryant: I think the easiest attribution is that Fox is somewhat of a streaky player. He was last year (check out his January numbers), and I think he will continue in the next few pre-prime years. I don’t think this struggle is really connected with Bogi; Fox’s usage rate has dropped a tad during this slump (23.8% in the first 16 games to 22% in the last six games), but that doesn’t seem connected to Bogi’s role as the secondary initiator. On the season, Fox actually has a higher usage rate WITH Bogdanovic on the floor (23.9%) than he does when Bogi is off the floor (22.8%)

As Tim pointed out, his non-scoring stats have either stayed relatively the same or improved, which is good to see—it just comes down to that shooting success. Teams are learning how to battle him, and they’ll continue to play up close and physical with him, but this is all part of the learning curve for Fox. We knew Fox wouldn’t continue to shoot 44% from deep the whole season, and while this is a painful regression to the mean, Fox will bounce back and settle his shot in somewhere.

From airmaxpg via the comments: If the Kings swap out JJ’s minutes for Otto Porter and WCS for a center who can rebound and rim-protect, how many championships do you think they’ll win in the next 10 years?

Bryant: Not one. Not two. Not three, not four, not five, not six...

I had a die-hard Kings fan/more casual NBA fan ask me the other day why Porter has been getting so much attention across the fanbase. Yes, Porter’s per-game numbers haven’t looked great this year, and it’s even hard to argue that his career peak numbers are worth $26 million dollars a season. But Porter is the literal missing piece for this team; a combo forward who can defend both forward positions at a high level and hit deep shots at an above-average clip (44.1% from three on 4.1 attempts per game last year, and 40% for his career). Imagine the spacing for Fox—and, almost equally important, for Marvin Bagley—in a Fox/Buddy/Porter/Bjelica/Bagley lineup. Swap that to Fox/Buddy/Bogi/Porter/Bagley when needed, and you’ve got 3 above-average to near-elite shooters on the floor at any given time. THAT’S how you optimize De’Aaron Fox in the half court, and that’s how you give a developing Bagley plenty of space to get past his defenders. Wings with Porter’s two-way excellence are rare in today’s NBA, and I truly think he’d have a strong bounce back the second he’s out of that disastrous Washington locker room.

airmaxpg did nicely capture the major downside to that lineup, though; Porter may be the missing defender this team needs on the wing, but the Kings severely need some more rim protection help. Bagley has become a solid help-side rim protector far quicker than I ever expected, but as Mr. Jirafa pointed out, he’s still not (and will probably will never be) an above-average on-ball rim protector. Without some unicorn-level streach/rim protector big on the roster, it was always going to be difficult to optimize a Bagley-led front court on both ends with the same lineup. There are some solid rim-protectors in the upcoming draft class who might be there for the Kings in the second round; Sagaba Konate (13.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG, and “where did that come from?!” 42.9% success rate from three) is my personal favorite, but he’s a tad shorter than you’d like (6’8” tall, 7’0” wingspan). Or maybe the Kings opt for a cheaper rim protector—Taj Gibson, Noah Vonleh, or Nerlens Noel—in free agency. It’s not an easy puzzle to solve, but it’s the one the Kings asked for when they drafted Bagley.

Tim: If I answer anything less than 10, am I a “real fan”?

In all seriousness, Bryant covered almost every major point as to why Otto Porter would be an incredibly important pickup for the Kings. Sacramento has lacked a true two-way wing for years, an important piece on any wannabe contender, and they likely wouldn’t have to sacrifice a ton to get him. He’s overpaid, there’s no question about that, but the Kings have to overpay every single free agent they acquire. For example, to sign a wing like Tobias Harris this summer, Vlade Divac would likely need to offer a max contract, 4 years/$145 million. That kind of deal makes Porter’s salary much more palatable.

Rim protecting centers that fit our timeline, style of play, and locker room aren’t exactly easy to come by. Marvin Bagley is probably the best hope for a future paint protector, and I think he’ll get there in the next 2 – 4 years. In the meantime, shoring up the porous perimeter defense with an acquisition of Porter would prevent some of that initial lane penetration, boosting the Kings chances of getting stops.

From DrBellpepper via the comments: At what point can we drop the feeling that an eight game losing streak is just around the corner?

Bryant: My personal barometer for “this team is actually good” is if they’re still playing this way come February. But even then, I don’t know that you can ever shake the mental habits instilled from 12 years of this rebuilding madness. We might still be expecting this when the Kings are in the playoffs next year.

Tim: Is it crazy that the feeling of constant worry has mostly gone away for me? I feel like I’ve dived in pretty quickly into believing in this team and this coaching staff, a far cry from where I was during the summer. The King should end the month of December over .500, a huge accomplishment in and of itself. If they can end January with a similar record, I’ll be ready to fully put those fears to rest.

That’s all folks! We appreciate all of the wonderful questions, and we’ll be back with the mailbag early next week. And yes, more Greg fan fiction is on the way.